Right now, the national VA hospital scandal continues to rock VA hospitals around the country. Since Pronews 7 aired a two-part series about the ongoing staffing issues at the Amarillo VA last month, many veterans and their families have reached out to the station.
Pronews 7 was the only media outlet present when the Amarillo American Legion held a town hall about the ongoing issues at the Amarillo VA on Saturday. The town hall provided an opportunity for veterans and their families to talk about issues, both past and present, with the management at the Amarillo VA hospital. The leadership at the VA assured everyone at the town hall that their voices would be heard.
The town halls held have provided a chance for families to express their concerns, and many of them told Pronews 7 that they are burdened by the events that led to the loss of a loved one while under VA care. Carolyn Goodson and Kathryn O'Day are cousins, who said that both of their dads died prematurely because of inadequate care at the VA. Goodson walked in into the VA and found her dad unattended and without life.
??I was crying and screaming, he's dead, he's dead, and you know they killed our dad,?? said Goodson. ?? I really felt that way immediately because I had observed these things.??
??You should provide care for our veterans because they've served this country. Daddy did, so we feel like you should have adequate staffing at the VA,?? said O??Day. ??They don't have today and they didn't have it back in 2003.??
Andrew Welch, the Director of the VA, was at the American Legion's town hall meeting, and heard many of these concerns. He said that the VA is always looking for opportunities to improve care for veterans. We asked what he would say to families who are looking for closure.
??We would like for them to let us know, and secondly we would look into that,?? said Welch. ??If we need to do any kind of a review we do a specific review and we would hear them out and if it was something with a process we would look at that process to learn from anything we could learn from.??
Notwithstanding, the Hamilton family said that leadership at the VA knows about many issues with facilities, specifically the mold in the older parts of the facility. Cathy Hamilton said that her husband James Hamilton who worked at the VA got sick from the mold, and that the care that he received after he became ill was poor.
??They're just saying that there is no mold, but then they put something like this on all the doors stating that they were not to go into that room,?? said Cathy.
??The illness started out as a nose and throat, you know, a cold, and then it went on to where once I started coughing, I could not quit,?? said James, a VA employee and patient.
Once he became ill, his wife began taking him to outside doctors because she felt that the care at the VA was inadequate.
??We started going to outside doctors here in Amarillo,?? said Cathy. ??Had we not done that, we would not have a diagnosis today. Had we not done that, my husband would be dead.??
Even today, there continue to be issues at the VA. Pronews 7 received several phone calls and visits to the station about issues across several departments of the VA. Stephen Walker, a Vietnam Vet, said that he's having trouble because his dentist left the VA. They lost his records, and because they have no record of his last visit, he is at risk of losing his dental benefits.
??He had done the work, but he didn't do the followup stating that I had done the work, but that I needed come back for an appointment,?? said Walker.
Welch admits the national scandal hasn't made life at the Amarillo VA easy.
??I think that the VA is going to be better because of this, although it is very difficult, a challenge for every VA facility and for everybody who works for the VA," said Welch.
Sources from inside the VA told Pronews 7 that all staff has received a memo instructing them not to talk to the media.
Look for Part II of Pronews Investigates: Moving Forward at the Amarillo VA on www.connectamarillo.com.