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Veterans explain frustrations with VA delays to American Legion panel

Monday, March 10, 2014 11:24 PM
Last updated Tuesday, March 11, 2014 1:33 AM
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Michael Kelly has experienced increased swelling in his arms, pain in his legs and recurring problems with his memory since having a colonoscopy last month at the Charlie Norwood Vet­erans Affairs Medical Center.

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Rick Rogers stands next to his wife, Alice Prince, as he discusses his experiences dealing with the Veterans Affairs health care system during a town-hall meeting held by an American Legion group.  TODD BENNETT/STAFF
Rick Rogers stands next to his wife, Alice Prince, as he discusses his experiences dealing with the Veterans Affairs health care system during a town-hall meeting held by an American Legion group.

“I was not like this before my appendix ruptured,” the Navy veteran of Vietnam said Monday night at a town-hall meeting held by the American Legion in Augusta. “My health has declined significantly. The care here sucks – plain and simple.”

More than 50 veteran patients joined Kelly at the meeting to relay issues about care to the Amer­ican Legion’s System Worth Saving Task Force, a decade-old group that chose Augusta this year as one of 15 VA systems it plans to assess for improvements.

They mostly complained of VA staff and administrators failing to schedule appointments with specialty doctors, as requested by primary-care physicians.

The VA revealed last year that problems in specialty-appointment scheduling led to three cancer patients dying from 2011 to 2012 because 5,100 endoscopy consultations were delayed in the hospital’s gastrointestinal clinic.

“Pull up your sleeves,” Alice Prince said to her husband, Rick Rogers, frustrated by the lack of care the couple has experienced at the VA. “Let them see your arms from Desert Storm.”

Rogers, a retired Air Force sergeant, rolled up his sleeves to display arms riddled with rashes.

“They look good today, but they usually bleed. What’s the answer?” his wife asked.

Rogers said he has run out of white T-shirts without blood stains and that he is regularly bounced between physicians at the Augusta VA and the Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center at Fort Gordon for a plan on how to treat his condition.

Each time, he is told to return in six months, in hopes the problem will subside on its own.

“I feel like a tennis ball,” said Rogers, who is diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and sleep apnea. “I just hate getting sent back and forth. It’s not going away, and the VA really has not helped.”

Bob Pollard, an economic support specialist with the Georgia Department of Vete­rans Services, said 10 percent of the claims he receives each week deal with scheduling primary-care referrals in specialty care units.

“I understand there are a lot of people who need specialty care, but it is just hard to schedule appointments in a reasonable amount of time,” Pollard said. “The VA does a fantastic job with primary care and you have to give them credit for that, but when it comes to specialty care it seems like that is where the system really bogs down.”

Kelly said his visit to the Augusta VA’s emergency room last month is a prime example of the scheduling problems.

Bent over from excruciating pain in his stomach, Kelly said he had an X-ray and a radiologist requested a CAT scan for further diagnosis. Instead, he said, the VA sent him home and told
him to drink clear liquids, saying he had an intestinal virus.

Kelly returned five days later, when the scan revealed a burst appendix. When his appendix shrank to the size of a peanut, surgeons ordered a colonoscopy. But he received no preparatory medications for the procedure, and it was delayed a week.

He is still under treatment.

“There are a lot of people in here who have extremely good experiences with the VA, but there are exceptions,” said Navy veteran Har­ry Coolidge.

In 2011, Coolidge, a Viet­nam veteran, had his prostate removed by the VA with less than 1 percent cancer.

To continue his job as a nurse, Coolidge asked the VA to provide him with special clothing to help him handle his swollen bladder. After the VA failed to reply, he faxed every member of the House Committee on Ways and Means and President Oba­ma a detailed letter explaining his situation. Four days later, he said, the VA was “blowing up” his phone, and a week later he got his request.

“Veterans shouldn’t have to do that, but you have to be proactive in your care,” Coolidge said. “It seems that is the only way to get fast results.”

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Junket103 03/11/14 - 05:02 am
Time To Reform the VA

The fastest way to reform the VA is to change the delivery model. Instead of operating a closed healthcare system that relies on an infusion of monies to resolve problems, give veterans a choice at VA expense where to go for their care. VA should be providing high quality health insurance to veterans. This will enable veterans to go to providers of their choice. It will also allow healthcare providers to compete for veterans healthcare. This will lead to innovation, improved customer service and ultimately improved healthcare for veterans. VA could even add incentives for medical providers who treat veterans. This could lead to veterans being a preferred patient among all providers because they would have the highest rated health insurance plan available. After all, they deserve the best for their sacrifice. The current system is broken, has been for years and will not improve in the long run, even with large increases in funding.

nocnoc 03/11/14 - 07:20 am
Treated Like Disposable Heroes

Since I was a teen back in the 70's I had noted:

Our Politicians are always 10x quicker to fund a war, than they are to take care of those that come back from the war.

Historically Vets have had to result to Media embarrassment to get the care and treatment promised.

We have seen this with Vets from Vietnam, The Cold Wars, The Sand Land wars and now the Containment Wars.

Just Google (with dates 1970 to 1990) & Lack of Veteran Care and You'll see things like

250,000+ who served denied VA health coverage,
Veterans dying because of VA health care delays,
The Walter Reed scandal.
How to sue the VA for War related injury treatment
and more ....

It is down right shameful the way The Fed's have treated Vet's.

Statistical data on Vietnam

Sweet son
Sweet son 03/11/14 - 10:45 am
VA, IRS, DOJ and countless more Federal Departments are in

shambles with no one in charge and no accountability.

But look who His Majesty has placed in charge of these entities.

These people are just squandering our tax money on poor service and undeserved entitlements.

We have reached the mountain top and we are sliding down the back side to a certain demise!

daphne3520 03/11/14 - 12:48 pm
Inarticulate "Volunteers," AND the pathetic "on hold,"

Music are PREVALENT at the Norwood Medical Center! Seems like some fool would address the "music," especially AND, for God's sake, CHANGE IT!!!!!!

The Savage Madame
The Savage Madame 03/11/14 - 01:44 pm
The VA, like all government

The VA, like all government installations is run by the lowest bidder. They have never been about care, only about saving costs. Their main goal is to drag out paperwork issues, and put up roadblocks when patients need a procedure, in hopes that the patient will give up or expire before there is a large amount of money spent on them. There is no reason for a highly accredited doctor to be employed by the VA, because they can make much more money in non government run hospitals. When you get a surgery done at the VA, it was done as a last ditch effort.

IBeDogGone 03/11/14 - 08:22 pm
Privatize Specialty Care

The care sucks for Veterans and I feel Primary Care Physcians should be able to refer patients needing a specialist to Private Provider. If they reimbursed at Medicare rates most specialist would see them because they appreciate the service these individuals did for our freedom. Not many specialist are going to work for the VA when private practice is much more lucrative.

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