Indiana veteran denied money for medical care
More people are calling for the Veterans Affairs Secretary to step down, following serious delays at VA hospitals.An internal report released Wednesday accused workers at the VA hospital in Phoenix of falsifying reports. The workers claimed patients were seen within a month of setting up their first appointment; the report claims it actually took about four months.
The VA Inspector General is now investigating 26 facilities across the country.
An Indiana Marine, twice wounded in battle, said the VA in Indianapolis denied him the money to pay for treatment. Years ago, he started a charity "Veterans of Valor" to help other wounded vets. Now he can't get the help he needs. While going door-to-door in Fallujah during his second tour in Iraq, an insurgent met Klay South with gunfire during his second tour in Iraq.
"I got shot point-blank in the face by an AK-47," recalled South. "I lost pretty much all my teeth. My tongue was pretty much destroyed and they had to replace my jaw with a titanium jaw and just over time, just rebuild my face."
But the battle he now faces at home with medical care is just as fierce as his fight on the front lines. And up against the VA, South says he's losing.
"You know, we enlist in the military to serve our country and we come back and we have to fight for our benefits. It's frustrating," South said.
He has to get specialized treatment for his jaw so he doesn't lose bone or tissue density. That technology is available at Walter Reed, the military hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. He's been going there and getting treatment ever since the dozen or so surgeries to create his new jaw. But after several visits, he was suddenly told in September by his doctor in Bethesda he could no longer get the treatment because the VA in Indianapolis wouldn't pay for it anymore.
"On my third trip out there, they said 'No more'," South said. "I don't know why. I never got notified by the VA. I went for one of my appointments and the doctor said, 'Hey, I was notified that you're no longer able to be treated out here on their dime. They will no longer pay for you to come out here.' I still can't talk to people that are making the decisions. Dr. Brooks (in Indianapolis) still won't see me personally and he's the one that denied my travel claim."
South's mom, Janet, who acts as his advocate, has engaged in an email battle for months trying to get answers. Instead, she says she's gotten the runaround. She has documented nearly three dozen emails, most with apologies and reasons for delayed responses.
"The VA system is broken," Janet South said.
She said the VA in Indianapolis doesn't have the technology to treat her son, either.
"All of the things that Klay has to face, it shouldn't be by people who have no idea what the blast injury is like and what the repair to it needs to be," she said. "You are not having somebody inexperienced come in and look at his mouth with all the trauma that's been done to it. They don't have that experience."
Frustration is an understatement for this marine who fought for freedom. And he said the consequences of not getting proper care are serious.
"It's extremely frustrating. It's always an excuse after an excuse after an excuse," South said. "Without this treatment (at Walter Reed), that means I would lose all my bottom teeth again. They would take out all my posts and I would have to have another bone transplant, which you're talking another 15 to 20 surgeries and without teeth another two years. It's a painful, long process. I didn't gripe or complain when I had to go on the front lines and go door-to-door. You know, I didn't gripe a bit. I just did my job. And I just want them to do their job, too - not just for me, but for all veterans."
Klay South is still working to get his situation resolved.
About 100 veterans packed an American Legion Post a couple of weeks ago, to express their concerns with the VA.
Last week, the American Legion conducted an on-site visit at Roudebush, as part of an audit. The results of that audit are expected in the next few weeks.