Local vet worried about wait times at VA center

by: Aaron Diamant Updated:

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DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - Channel 2 Action News is working to uncover the source of a medical backlog that has a local patient shut out from seeing a specialist.
 
Since Channel 2 Action News started digging into problems at the Atlanta VA Medical Center more than a year ago, we've heard from countless veterans complaining about having to wait months or more to see a doctor.
 
But last week, one vet called Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant after one VA clinic refused to even give him an appointment.
 
"If I need to see somebody, I need to see somebody,” said veteran James Johnson. "Something's got to be done."
 
After waiting six weeks to see his primary doctor at the Atlanta VA's Fort McPherson clinic last month, he got a referral to see a urology specialist at the VA hospital in DeKalb County.
 
But when he tried to make an appointment, Johnson said, "Well, me and the wife was really shocked."
 
Last week, Johnson got an email from the VA saying, "due to high volume" at the urology clinic, it "cannot offer appointments now," and told him to "resubmit the referral in 4-6 months."
 
"I'm 69, and four to six months is a long, long time," Johnson said.
 
And Johnson isn't convinced he'll have any better luck when he tries back in half a year.
 
"It's not a death thing for me, but for some people it's a life-threatening thing," Johnson said.
 
There has been no explanation yet from VA leaders, or any specifics about how many other metro area VA clinics may be telling patients the same thing.
 
Last week, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned over a scathing inspector general report outlining systematic problems nationwide with veterans' wait times for care plus employees complicit in a cover-up.
 
"Somebody's got to care a little more about the situation because people are dying and people are sick, and I'm one of the lucky ones," Johnson said.
 
Late Monday afternoon, the VA emailed Diamant a statement saying, "It is unacceptable for a clinic to communicate that they cannot accept patients," and that the clinic"prioritizes patients based on the severity of their illness."
 
But the VA did not offer any explanation for the delay.



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