Local VA hospitals under investigation

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Thousands of Veterans on the First Coast rely on VA hospitals for their medical care. An audit released Monday shows four Florida facilities have been flagged for further investigation amid reports of falsifying wait time records.

Michael Abbey served his country in the Vietnam War and now he spends his time serving other vets at the Five Star Veterans Center.

"I signed a contract with Uncle Sam in 1968 and it seems like he doesn't really want to honor that contract like they said," said Abbey.

During a visit in November at the VA in Gainesville he found out that he has cataracts. Seven months later Abbey says he just received a letter notifying him that he can come in for a consultation in August.

"In my situation with the cataracts where I can hardly see anymore I would think they would be a little bit more concerned about it," said Abbey. "But apparently people are just being pushed aside."

Abbey has been treated at the VA Hospitals in Gainesville and Lake City. Both are on a list of four Florida facilities under further investigation.

Related: 100,000 veterans facing long waits to see VA doctors

An audit released Monday by the Department of Veterans Affairs shows nationwide 63,869 people over the past 10 years have enrolled in the system but have yet to be seen for an appointment.

"There are people moving out of Jacksonville just to go to another VA, they're moving out of Florida for that matter," said James Heeter, who served in Iraq. He says his experience at the Lake City facility was pleasant. But he is familiar with their challenges.

The audit found that some scheduling staff interviewed say they were told by supervisors to enter a date different than what the Veteran had requested in the appointment scheduling system. Some staff members said there was pressure placed on schedulers to make wait times appear more favorable.

"I just wish they would do something more to take care of us better," said Abbey.

He's moving to Tennessee next week to be closer to family and says he's hopeful to have a better VA experience there. The US Department of Veterans Affairs is taking action. They're working on an "Accelerating Access to Care Initiative."

They're in the process of contacting around 90,000 Veterans who have been waiting for care.

VA Hospital Audit

The VA is under fire from the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration as well. The group is suing the VA to let state inspectors access VA facilities in Florida.

"The VA should be commended for conducting this audit and for additional action announced by Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson," American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger said. "The fact that more than 57,000 patients- -- a population equal to Ocala, Florida -- have waited more than 90 days for initial appointments is disgraceful."

Dellinger continued to compare the system to a game of Russian Roulette where veterans are dying because of bureaucracy.


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