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VFW asks vets about VA health care experiences

May. 9, 2014 - 03:13PM   |  
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Following the firestorm that swept the Veterans Affairs Department this week over allegations of patient appointment delays, off-the-books wait lists and deaths at VA medical centers, two veterans groups want to hear from veterans about their VA health care experiences.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America are asking veterans enrolled in VA to contact them, the VFW through its National Veterans Service line, 800-VFW-1899, and IAVA through its web site.

The groups say the outreach aims to determine what’s happening at the grass-roots level.

“We want brief stories, good and bad. And we want ‘for instances,’ because what we’ve been hearing is largely anecdotal or reports from whistleblowers who have retired,” VFW spokesman Joe Davis said.

“We need to ensure vets get the support and care they need. We also need to ensure the voices of vets are heard,” IAVA officials said.

Earlier this week, the American Legion called for the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and his top deputies, citing a pattern of “poor oversight” and “failed leadership.”

Others, including at least six Republican lawmakers, also have called for the secretary to step down, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., saying a change in leadership “might be a good thing” for VA.

But VFW and IAVA officials have said they are waiting for the results of a VA inspector general investigation into the allegations, although they have expressed concerns about how patients are treated at VA clinics and hospitals.

“Recent allegations about improper care in Arizona, Colorado, Texas and elsewhere have made it difficult to separate truth from conjecture,” VFW National Commander William Thien said. “Veterans die every day, but veterans dying due to wrong diagnoses, unsterilized equipment or while awaiting treatment is a failure of leadership and management both in Washington and out in the field.”

“IAVA is a next-generation, membership organization. Any decision we make will not be a hasty one,” founder Paul Rieckhoff said.

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee chair Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., also has expressed concern over the charges, although he remains generally supportive of VA.

He has called a hearing for Thursday about VA health care in which Shinseki will appear as the star witness.

“Some 200,000 veterans get care every single day and independent studies consistently show that VA provides, in general, excellent care to our veterans,” Sanders said.

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