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Vets flood American Legion seeking help with care

Veterans Health Care Crisis Center

By Emaun Kashfi

PHOENIX (AP) - Vietnam veteran Gene Stoesser has been waiting nearly two months for an appointment with a Veterans Affairs doctor to schedule his heart surgery.

The 71-year-old former Marine from Glendale went to the emergency room at the VA's Phoenix hospital on April 28 with chest pains. He said he was told he'd need surgery soon, but has yet to get an appointment.

"They sent me home to die," Stoesser said Tuesday, surrounded by dozens of other veterans at a crisis center set up by the American Legion in downtown Phoenix in a first-of-its-kind event for the nation's largest veterans group.

The move comes amid growing criticism of the VA's handling of patient care nationwide and allegations of misconduct, lengthy wait times and potential unnecessary deaths.

"All I need to do is get bronchitis or something, and that's it, I'll die," Stoesser said.

The VA, which serves almost 9 million veterans, has been reeling from mounting evidence that workers fabricated statistics on patients' waits for medical appointments in an effort to mask frequent, long delays.

The American Legion was among the first to condemn the VA after the initial charges of misconduct, falsified wait times and patients dying while awaiting appointments in the Phoenix area about two months ago. The group almost immediately called for the ouster of the agency's secretary, Eric Shinseki. He stepped down on May 30, and investigations are underway by the VA internally and by the independent Office of Inspector General.

More than 57,000 new applicants have had to wait at least three months before their first appointments, while an additional 64,000 who enrolled for VA health care over the past decade have never been seen by a doctor, according to a VA audit released earlier this week.

The audit said 13 percent of VA schedulers reported getting instructions to falsify appointment dates to meet performance goals. About 8 percent of schedulers said they used alternatives to an electronic waiting list.

"Unfortunately, we have to be here," Verna Jones, the director of veteran's affairs and rehabilitation for the national American Legion, told the crowd at the crisis center in Phoenix on Tuesday. "But fortunately, we're here to help you with the services that you deserve."

Jones addressed a packed room filled with veterans seeking help to expedite their care through the VA while many complained they felt as if they had fallen through the cracks.

"It hurts us to have just one vet stand up and say, 'I'm dying because the VA failed me,'" Jones said. "They're frustrated, they're concerned and they just don't know where to go."

The American Legion said it will operate the crisis center in Phoenix through Friday and expects to assist hundreds of veterans, possibly extending the program to other cities.

William Millar, 67, needed help getting his medical records transferred to Phoenix after he moved from Massachusetts in 2012. He said he tried several times, but got no responses.

In just over an hour at the crisis center Tuesday, he got more than he expected.

"They got my records transferred from Boston to Phoenix," Millar said later in the day. "I'm very happy with the help they gave me."


Associated Press writer Brian Skoloff contributed to this report.

Join the discussion

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mafazyt June 11 2014 at 12:11 AM

Dig a little deeper and I bet you'll find that the vets denied care from the VA were white, conservatives, or Republicans...targets of this administration on various levels.

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21 replies
bb8741 June 11 2014 at 12:29 AM

The only way these veterans are going to get good health care from this gov't is go to Mexico and come back across the border with a young illegal child or find away to get sent to Gitmo. Other than that I am afraid they are S.O.L. This problem goes back for several administrations, but it only seem to be getting worse for our veterans.

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1 reply
1 bb8741 June 11 2014 at 11:27 AM


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BELMO June 11 2014 at 2:00 AM

The VA has been screwed up for years. When I was discharged in 1970 I had to visit a VA Medical Center for review of service connected injuries. They did me a favor when I was turned down for a disability rating and told there was nothing wrong with me. I sucked it up, returned to college, and dealt with the pain for 40 years. Finally things got so bad my primary Dr. and 3 other doctors (all non VA) told me I had to retire.I qualified for social security due to disabilities (all of which are service connectred). My Marine Corps League VSO told me to file again. I did in 2010 and the VA tried to say I never filed a claim in 1970 but, I had copies of the claim. Finally they rated me at 40% disabled. I have a total of 4 non VA doctors who agree as to the reasons for my disability and say I am 100% disabled. However, the VA says they do not consider the opinions of non VA doctors. Still fighting and the VA is just dragging things out waiting for me to die..

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13 replies
GUNSLINGER June 11 2014 at 7:47 AM

What's the Kenyan doing about this??????? His usual nothing???????

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1 reply
sam54ct GUNSLINGER June 11 2014 at 7:51 AM

Let's see, he's increased our budget by 63%, and tried for more, yet CONGRESS turned down the request in February. He's tripled mental health capacity, doubled outpatient clinics, built female only clinics. He's expanded the eligibility of those exposed to Agent Orange for disability payments. He's declared Gulf War Syndrome a disability, along with PTSD.

Only the uninformed would make such an immature comment, go enlist, and mature, make your momma proud.

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8 replies
MARTHA & PERRY June 11 2014 at 12:45 AM

I tried to schedule a visit with the VA for dental work, they sent me a form to disclose my finances. needless to say my teeth are falling out.

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6 replies
Trader X Trader June 11 2014 at 12:48 AM

Think about it.

ACA was passed in 2010, debated in 2009. My guess it the fix was in from at least then. DO EVERYTHING YOU CAN TO SHOW THAT GOVT HEALTHCARE IS BETTER THAN PRIVATE.

Of course no one will own up to it. But it seems shocking that so many varied VA hospitals would all do exactly the same thing without someone at the top pulling the strings and telling them to do so. It required a massive coverup at many levels.

Like the IRS, I highly doubt someone, on their own, just decided on their own to commit coverups and fraud without "guidance" from many the Obama administration.

This helped Obama win again. Had this scandal broke in 2011, the outcome might have been different. Had the actual workings of the VA been known to the wider public there would likely have been massive outrage over the govt taking over private healthcare (we are in phase 1, mandatory insurance) also and the ACA may never have passed in the first place.

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4 replies
rjen164497 June 11 2014 at 7:14 AM

Where are the American Legion and VFW on this? They are silent. I for one will turn my back on him if I am ever near Obama. All real Americans need to turn their backs.

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4 replies
wes-n-family June 11 2014 at 2:37 AM

at one time many years ago this country was worth putting your life on the line and fighting for --it represented the best of everything---and if you look at it today it looks like the devils toilet----I stopped my boy from joining military and Im so glad I did----look at the way the Vets are being treated-- its shameful----fight and die for a bunch of greedy idiots in office the war was never about 9/11 but a war on US. and our freedom----I said it before the military needs to turn it guns on the white house 'congress. and senate and have them locked up---they are the real terrorist---and do the same with bush administration too

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1 reply
frtcruiser wes-n-family June 11 2014 at 11:23 AM

your son would have learned much more than you could have ever taught him simply by being in the service, only fool's let their feelings control their mind's

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markkline June 11 2014 at 4:08 AM

I should have applied at the VA back in '73 when I got out of the service. But right now I am in the group of vets who applied for healthcare help around early to mid March. ( my va card has an expiration date of march 28th so a expect I would have at least applied no later than the 18th of march). After some calls etc. I was told that I have an appointment with dr Ramesh at the S. E. clinic, but the earliest date is AUGUST 14th, 2014. I initially said that I was pretty healthy. So I was told that the 14th was the earliest date available for people in my category. Of course I would consider it to be reasonable that , like in triage you take the most seriously ill first. Still, that means that it will be 5 months before I see my first doctor. Now the reason that I was really interested in VA help has to do with my failing hearing and vision. So, my first visit in august could only result on my being put on more waiting lists for the appropriate eye and ear doctors. Another 5 month wai

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2 replies
sam54ct markkline June 11 2014 at 8:12 AM

You got out in my era. Even if you appled back than, you would have been tossed out in 1982 when Reagan cut eligibility to POW's and those wounded in action. As for delays, I had been waiting for 14 months for my private Gastro guy to scope me, given some problems I'd been experiencing. I called, and went in to the VA last October, they found cancerous polyps. Thankfully, I did not wait, given my private guy got me in last week, I'd had full blown cancer if I had waited. These delays from the top hospital in New England

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ronaldseals markkline June 11 2014 at 5:28 PM

I can relate to
your problem. Still waiting on my appointment that the VA is suppose to make with a third party doctor to see if I really have a hearing problem.

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vietnamvet1967 June 11 2014 at 4:24 PM

Just goes to show you how much Obama has loved the Military
The Buck stops with him, not the Clowns that run VA, bet he is always on the Ball for a fund raiser

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