Vets facing challenges getting VA appointments

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Posted: Tuesday, June 24, 2014 11:04 am

SARASOTA, Fla. – Officials with the Department of Veteran Affairs are once again under the gun on Capitol Hill over delays in medical care for veterans.

Problems at the VA go far beyond long wait lists. The latest report finds the department is plagued with poor care that has cost veterans their lives and leaves taxpayers on the hook for nearly $1 billion in malpractice settlements.

Reports say that dozens of veterans died while stuck on secret waiting lists at a VA facility in Phoenix.

“While we've been doing this, these hearings for a couple of months, Americans are literally wondering when this is going to stop.”

Now a whistle blower of that facility where the scandal broke says officials covered up the real numbers of veterans who died waiting for treatment.

“I have surrendered everything.” Pauline Dewenter, a scheduling clerk at the Phoenix VA says in seven cases so far, where she has determined a veteran on the wait list was in fact deceased, someone above her changed the record back; the veteran suddenly listed as alive.

And there were simply not enough doctors or appointments to handle new, backlogged, or very sick patients.

Dewenter was making life and death decisions. “That really overtook even the wait list, because now I have a consult where veterans are very sick so, I have to ease up on the wait list. It just sounds so wrong to say, but I'd work these scheduled appointments so at least I felt the sickest of the sick were being treated."

Thirty five veterans died while awaiting care, and yet more cases are coming out of the woodwork. “I was approached by a mom whose son had committed suicide while he was waiting for mental health services. There was a guy with a detached retina for five months; he didn’t get treated. He was referred to get a biopsy done to determine whether or not he had cancer; he couldn’t be seen for two months.”

One veteran had his first mental health evaluation eight years after he moved into at a long term mental health facility in Brockton, Massachusetts. Another veteran waited seven years.

Florida congressman Vern Buchanan, who represents the Suncoast -- home to more than 66,000 -- says you simply cannot fix a problem if you refuse to acknowledge it even exists.

We will continue to follow veteran’s healthcare. If you are have challenges getting healthcare appointments, or treatments through the VA, we'd love to hear from you. Send health reporter Alix Redmonde an email at aredmonde@mysuncoast.com, or post on our Facebook page.

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