Veterans voice concerns at American Legion meeting

A routine audit is scheduled of Roudebush VA Medical Center this week.
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Veterans who served our country in the military say they're not being served by the hospital system that's supposed to help them.

The issue is getting national attention because of a scandal at VA hospitals that appears to be growing. It involves secret wait lists to make it appear doctors saw sick veterans quicker than they actually did.

At a VA hospital in Phoenix, the long waits allegedly resulted in the deaths of at least 40 patients. Now, there's evidence of another secret wait list at a VA hospital in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

A packed room of veterans at a town hall meeting hosted by the American Legion Monday say they are concerned about the service they're getting for healthcare and that Indiana's VA medical centers have failed them. The meeting was scheduled long ago, but the timing is expected to bring out more people and get more input because of the recent scandals.

"They left me laying in the bed," said one veteran.

"I've given phone calls and I haven't got an answer back," said another.

Veteran after veteran spoke about serious issues with getting quality care. Some of their stories were shocking.

"One nurse at the hospital told me what I need to do is just go home and die and do it quietly. I was in the Army. I don't do nothing quietly!" said veteran Rusty Johnson.

A snake bit Johnson in the spine during a training exercise 28 years ago. When an electronic implant for the pain had to be moved out of his chest, a VA doctor stuffed the area with gauze, which was supposed to be taken out days later, but never was.

"So then I started having gauze coming out of my chest, out of the skin," Johnson said. "VA came back and said, 'Yes, we did the surgery, yes, we left the gauze in, but because it's service-connected, you can't do a thing about it.

"I have gauze coming out of my chest! I don't know from one day to another if I'm going to be alive or dead!"

The American Legion wants to hear these stories. It's part of an audit at the Roudebush VA Medical Center to make sure VA problems we're seeing across the country don't happen here.

There was also positive feedback at the meeting.

"My husband's not a general, but they take good care of him," said one woman.

Some veterans with concerns got help right on site. But many say they want improvements to speed of service and quality of care - protections they deserve after protecting all of us.

Issues brought up at Monday's meeting will be used by the American Legion to help improve healthcare for veterans.

Tuesday morning, the American Legion will begin a two-day audit of the Roudebush VA Medical Center. Investigators will conduct in-depth interviews with administrators and staff and, perhaps most important, they will talk to patients and the people who use the facility.

The American Legion wants to avoid a nightmare like what we're seeing in Arizona.

"That's just a total disaster for veterans that should never happen," said American Legion Commander Ed Trice. "What we hear here in Indianapolis, it's not going to be anything like Phoenix. I personally feel, at this point, that we're going to hear good things about Roudebush, but we're going to find out tonight."

The audit is routine and the American Legion has been doing them for years. But this particular audit comes just three weeks after an Eyewitness News investigation showed VA doctors have been prescribing dangerous and even deadly amounts of narcotics to thousands of veterans like Jeremy Brooking, a Marine from Indianapolis.

Brooking was prescribed 15,000 pain pills a year.

"I'm surprised I'm still alive. It's a miracle I didn't overdose on these medications. More veterans are dying at home by these narcotics than are dying overseas and that's not right," Brooking said.

VA Centers around the country have been criticized for not enough staff and not enough specialists to deal with veteran's complex medical needs. Staffing, budgets and patient care will all be reviewed as part of this week's audit.

There are 13 pages of questions that will be answered at the Roudebush VA Center over the next two days. Investigators are looking at everything. They hope asking lots of questions and getting lots of feedback will help make the system better.