Mixed reviews for area VA facilities

FILE - The Veterans Affairs Hospital in Fort Wayne, Ind.

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Were wait times manipulated, and were there any scheduling problems at VA hospitals in Indiana? That’s what Senator Dan Coats and Senator Joe Donnelly are trying to get to the bottom of: in fact, they’re calling for a meeting with a top government official about it.

Thursday, they sent a letter to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson. They are asking for “a face-to-face briefing from VA leadership” about possible issues within Indiana VA health facilities. It doesn’t mention specific locations or facilities within the state, but they are asking for immediate action. They first expressed their concerns in a letter to then Secretary Shinseki on May 20th. He has since resigned, and they have yet to receive a response from the national department.

Senator Donnelly issued a statement on Thursday saying:

“Senator Coats and I joined together in a bipartisan effort and sent a letter to Veterans Administration Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson requesting a face-to-face briefing from VA leadership about whether wait times were manipulated or scheduling concerns exist at Indiana VA health facilities. This letter is a follow-up to the letter I sent with Senator Coats on May 20th to then VA Secretary Shinseki. I’m troubled by new feedback in the latest news reports that have highlighted concerns about long wait times at some VA facilities in Indiana. We have a responsibility to Hoosier veterans and all Americans to be transparent about what has gone wrong and to fix it. In order to ensure our veterans receive the quality care they deserve, it’s critical we receive a complete and timely assessment of Indiana’s VA facilities so Congress and the VA can take decisive, well-informed action to fix any and all problems at their source. The path forward requires a long-term commitment to the VA, smarter policies, and better resources to ensure we honor our promises to America’s service members and veterans.”

NewsChannel 15 talked to several area veterans Thursday, and they have differing opinions on their experiences with the Fort Wayne and Marion facilities.

Thomas Roberts spent two years in the military. He was stationed in Germany from 2005 to 2007. When he moved to Indiana in 2008, he went to the Fort Wayne VA hospital for several health issues including a broken foot and stomach problems. He said he waited months for care.

“I basically tried to get as much service as I could and they were so poor that I basically gave up. I grew up as a military brat and my old man always told me that they’re going to chew you up and spit you out when you’re done, and I kind of expected it, but I just didn’t know it’d be this bad,” said Roberts.

Mark Linder is a Vietnam veteran. He’s been a patient at both the Fort Wayne and Marion hospitals for the last ten years. He said the only issue he’s had is with the scheduling software they use.

“Every once in a while, I get dropped out of the system. If I don’t get my service, then I know that I have to call in and I get put back in the system again. I guess that’s just a bug in the system. That plagues every VA, not just Fort Wayne,” said Linder.

Linder said he’s received great care, but believes there just aren’t enough people available to provide services.

“I believe they’re understaffed. The people that are there are great. They’re all courteous,they’re all helpful, they go out of their way for you, but I don’t believe there’s enough of them,” said Linder.

He said he’s grateful for his experience but recognizes a need for change on the national level and system-wide.

“When you need to cut the budget it’s always done on the back of the veterans, and it was on their back that you actually had a country to budget in the first place. It’s a promise the government made to the veterans and it’s one that needs to be kept,” said Linder.

NewsChannel 15 reached out to the VA Northern Indiana Health Care System Thursday, and leaders there said they have received the letters and will respond to the senators.

Acting Secretary Gibson is also starting to reach out to centers across the country. He spent Thursday visiting the Phoenix VA hospital that started all of the controversy.

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