Veterans: East TN is not immune to VA wait times

10News reporter Mary Scott went to a veterans PTSD support group meeting. The vast majority of the 20 or so vets there had similar complaints about VA wait times to what we're seeing nationwide. 6-2-14

The latest report from the VA's Office of Inspector General shows delayed care for veterans is happening everywhere.

The majority of the members of a Knoxville veterans support group say they have experienced it first hand.

It all started in Phoenix, Arizona where officials are accused of falsifying wait times and covering up the problem-- meanwhile, veterans died waiting for care.

At Monday's Legacy Peer Support Group, a PTSD recovery group that meets weekly at Elm Croft Assisted Living in West Knoxville, members voted to organize their stories and send them to the inspector general. They also plan to document their experiences for East Tennessee congressmen.

"Next year I will be 50 years out of Vietnam," said Veteran Fred Owens, "It took part of my private insurance to get me to where I am today. Without the private insurance, I probably wouldn't be standing here. That's a fact. That's how the system has let us down."

Owens said, when he has a medical issue, he can't always wait the 30 to 60 days the VA takes to schedule an appointment.

The 20 or so members present at the meeting shared similar stories.

"I got a letter from the VA saying she's [a doctor] is leaving the system. It will take a couple months before I get to see another doctor," said Vietnam Veteran Jesse Rivera. "Then, I got to wait six months to get blood work done that I need."

Congressman John Duncan (R-District 2) said he has received thousands of calls about the VA in his tenure. His office said the number one complaint is wait times.

He has an entire staff person dedicated to helping veterans get the benefits they need. He said the vast majority of the time his office is successful in getting issues resolved.

He added after years of complaints, he wants to see a complete overhaul of the system that includes giving vets vouchers to use private doctors.

"The thing that would straighten it out more than anything is if they were given some competition," said Rep. Duncan.

The office of Congressman Phil Roe (R-District 1) said they, too, receive thousands of calls. His spokesperson said in some areas like vision care and orthopedics, there are serious backlogs, but they do not see wait times as their number one complaint.

Congressman Chuck Fleischmann (R-District 3) said he is outraged by the VA scandal.

"I have seen firsthand the inefficiencies within the VA through my experiences with my father, and I have worked to increase veterans' access to first-class care with the opening of three new VA clinics in East Tennessee. However, the latest reports clearly indicate there is still much more that must be done to fix this flawed system," Fleischmann said.


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