VA Hospital hears the good, bad and ugly from veterans

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Veterans who served our country are speaking out about a new battle on the home front.

VA hospitals are trying to restore trust following accusations of dangerously long waits and poor service. The issues don't only affect veterans, but also their families.

James Smith fought his war in Iraq. Now he fights one at home - to improve services at Indy's Roudebush Veterans Medical Center.

"Just the mental health side is a little slow," he tells a VA official about response times for service.

Smith and his sister - his caregiver - brought their concerns to a VA town meeting Wednesday.

Unlike other VA hospitals, Roudebush and its staff get high marks from many vets and experts.

"We were cited by the American Hospital Association as being one of the five highest quality medical centers in the country this year," said Roudebush Director Thomas Mattice.

"I'm going to be quite frank and to the point," veteran Kent Morgan told the meeting, "this hospital saved my life."

"I had cancer. Outside doctors told me I didn't," said a Vietnam veteran. "I came here, they found I did have cancer. I was treated."

A female Navy veteran of the Gulf War says her doctor "asks my opinion. What do I think?"

"There are some outstanding people at the VA, but you have a lot of trash," said a VA critic.

He and other vets criticized wait times for appointments, rudeness and unreturned phone calls.

"Psychology, sure. Really good job. Three times I called. No call back. It's a good thing I'm not on the edge."

Julie Tweed, family member of a veteran, said "since March, he has had three talk sessions with his therapist. Not enough."

"For my brother, he can't drive," says Jennifer MacKinday, sister of James Smith, who was awarded the Purple Heart for his war wounds.

James and his sister told the hospital it needs to let patients request appointment times instead of being assigned one.

"Civilian doctors ask what's good for us. The VA asks what's good for them," Smith said.

The stress of James' recovery puts strain on the brother/sister relationship. While there is counseling, "there is more emphasis on the spouse aspect of it and kind of gets swept into the cracks."

"There are a lot of mothers, even children, becoming military caregivers and they really need different kind of support," MacKinday said.

"It is coming," a hospital official reassured them about their request for better scheduling.

But for James Smith, "I wish I could say more good things about the VA, but I just can't right now."

The town meeting was a chance for veterans and their families to meet directly with hospital administrators who might be able to do something about their complaints.