Charleston VA patients speaking out about care as Congress passes new legislation

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Congress easily passed a bill Tuesday bringing faster care to veterans following a scandal in the VA medical system.

The legislation allows the VA hospital to pay for patients to see local doctors if they are facing long wait times.

Army veteran Roby Adams, "It seems like they don't care. When it comes to being Vietnam veterans, I think they just want you to die."

Adams served 21 years and says he's a widower and lives alone. Now the vet relies on care at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in downtown Charleston.

"I count on them, I trust them but now I don't have any trust in them at all. I can't get any kind of response out of them," said Adams.

A VA audit released this week covered 731 VA hospitals across the country including the one in Columbia and Charleston. The audit showed that new patients in Charleston wait an average of 45 days for their first appointment.

Adams isn't new to the VA and says he's also dealing with long waits.

"I'm very frustrated," Adams said.

He says his health is at risk because the process has been unorganized.

"The lag time between appointments, not getting responses," said Adams.

The audit used information from interviews with 3,772 clinical and administrative staff around the country and focused mostly the scheduling process.

The audit also revealed that workers falsified data on how long vets had to wait for medical appointments.

"I bled for this country, I stood up for this country and I expect them to keep their word," said Adams, "So I'm at the point to where I just wrote the director."

Adams isn't the only vet writing letters.

"I do avoid the VA because for one, it takes a long time to be seen," said Leasonia McAuley.

McAuley says she's grateful the audit happened. She's been searching for the best way to get care for a long time.

"If something's going on, I need to be seen and I don't feel like I have to wait four weeks to be seen and when I call a civilian provider they usually try to get you in that day or the next day and I think the VA should work the same as a civilian provider," McAuley said.

As it stands now, new patients at the VA are supposed to wait no longer than 14 days for primary care.

The new VA Secretary says they will remove that 14-day scheduling goal and create a new program based off response from patients.

The Charleston VA Medical Center responded Monday saying their own records show over the last year 97% of their patients have seen doctors within 30 days.

The Charleston hospital also says its current wait time spans 14 days, which they say is in compliance with VA guidelines.

Copyright 2014 WCSC. All rights reserved.