EXCLUSIVE: Local Veterans Say VA Failing To Serve

Charlotte, NC — Some potential growing pains causing problems at the New VA Health Care Center.

Some veterans say they are not getting treatment and say it’s a problem across the state.

Veterans reached out to WCCB Charlotte’s Courtney Francisco for help.

To be fair, many veterans have good experiences with the VA, but the people you are going to hear about now did not get that care.

Returning home from war, American troops face a new battle. This one, of frustration, with the VA.

“You lose hope, and when you lose hope, things go downhill pretty fast,” said Matt Thomas.

Thomas is a Marine. He served in Iraq and spent two years removing bombs in a war zone.

At area VAs, he battled to get appointments and waited months to see doctors.

“The expectation was: I’m going to set an appointment, it’s not going to follow through, and, even worse, I’m going to drive out there, I’m going to be sitting in a waiting room for hours,” said Thomas.

Joey Grant was injured in Iraq. He says even at the new Charlotte location on Tyvola Rd., he faced the inability to schedule surgeries that could help his pain.

“If I could wake up one day and get out of bed like a normal 30 year old and play with my kids and run around with them in the yard, oh God,” said Grant.

WCCB Charlotte requested all the complaints at the Charlotte Veterans Affairs Health Care Center since it opened in April 2016. There are 1,123 pages, with several complaints on each page. The VA only gave us the first 250 pages because that is all the VA had time to send due to having to redact names and social security numbers.

Many are similar to these: “…drove over an hour for his mental health appointment, upon arrival… appointment was cancelled…”

Response: advocate made note of it.
Veteran… trying to reach the eye clinic but no one has returned his calls.

The VA insists most complaints involve changing treatment locations.

The VA says it cancelled 2,125 appointments with a day or less notice last year.

The majority of cancellations come from specialty care and mental health.

The VA points out it cancels less than two percent of appointments, but vets say cancellations can be crushing.

“I’d be better off dead,” said Grant. “I mean, at least you know my wife wouldn’t have to worry so much.”

Pastor Ken Furches stepped in as an advocate for Grant but says he faced the same frustrating treatment.

“We left there without any answers that day,” said Furches. “I have written a congressman to get some help with it.”

Congressman Robert Pittenger’s office has fielded a lot of complaints.

He says his team works up to 500 cases at any time.

“It’s deplorable,” said Congressman Pittenger. “The system is so broken. It’s so incompetent. It all gets back to leadership and management and accountability.”

A glimmer of hope came earlier last year when congress passed a bill giving VA directors more power to fire employees.

“The VA has been more about job security than it has been taking care of our veterans,” said Congressman Pittenger. “Employees have been protected, and it’s very difficult to challenge them. They can keep appealing and keep their jobs.”

The VA says the new Charlotte location gained new patients faster than expected.

“We do want to rebuild that trusting relationship and be their provider of choice,” said VA Health Care Center Administrator Kenneth Mortimer.

Right now, 101 licensed independent practitioners work at the Tyvola location with 706 appointments, according to the VA.

Divided up, that would be seven patients per practitioner a day.

“We have hired more doctors, we’ve hired more nurses, we’ve hired more administrative staff. I think, time will tell as veterans come to see us what we’re going to need more of,” said Mortimer. “I think that as we see the veterans coming in with these needs, we make every effort to grow in that way.”

“It didn’t take many of those cancelled appointments for me to just throw in the towel all together,” said Thomas.

However, Thomas knows there are vets who have no choice.

For them, the VA is a lifeline.

He says this to the director:
“I would challenge him to spend some time in their own waiting room,” said Thomas.

The VA urges veterans to never stop complaining so they can keep improving service.

The VA also points out that we all can take action to help prevent suicide, but some don’t know how to support the Veteran or Service member in their life who is going through a difficult time.

The VA says a simple act of kindness can help someone feel less alone.

Veterans, Service embers, and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, send a text message to 838255, or chat online to receive free, confidential support 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.