Through Their Eyes: Veterans fighting for care

Reported by: Van Tieu
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Updated: 7/22/2014 10:24 pm
RENO, Nev. ( & KRNV) -- They fought for our country, but now they are fighting for health care. Two very different veterans are struggling with the Sierra Nevada VA hospital in Reno. Both claim their appointments are consistently scheduled, only to be canceled.

In recent audit data, the Reno VA hospital has shown improvements in wait times for primary care visits. Some local veterans don't believe the numbers reflect reality.

It is the small moments with his family that Christopher Jackson wants to hold on to. "My wife and kids can't afford to lose me."

The two-tour U.S. Army veteran said he is battling to see his primary care doctor at the Reno VA hospital. "It’s like the war never ended. When the war's over, and you've come home, you shouldn't have to fight your government."

Jackson said he picked up gastrointestinal problems like many of his comrades in Macedonia. His small intestines were removed in 2012, and he now suffers from cramping pain. He had to sign an opioid agreement.

"It makes me feel like a criminal," said Jackson. "Because the requirement is that I’m not allowed to cancel a doctor’s appointment."

However, Jackson shows News 4 several cancellation postcards from the hospital. The first card for his three-month follow-up was canceled, Jackson said, "for no reason." The second appointment, scheduled on his anniversary, he said, "just disappeared." The rescheduled appointment on July 24 was also canceled.

He had three promptly-scheduled appointments, but none of them materialized. "The last time I’ve actually seen and spoken to my primary care doctor was December 6th, 2013."

Under the opioid agreement, Jackson cannot get pain medication from the emergency room or outside pharmacies, and his pain needs can only be addressed during scheduled appointments.

"So what am I supposed to do," said Jackson. "I'm suffering. I’m caught in a vicious black hole or cycle."

Jackson is not the only one struggling with the VA. 61-year-old veteran, Barry, who only wanted to be identified by his first name, invited News 4 to follow him during his visit to the hospital.

Due to privacy laws, we could not record his interactions, but we recorded his reaction. Barry is seen tearing up after an attendant tells him to calm down, because he was, "making it harder than it had to be."

This remark allegedly came after Barry asked why his electric wheelchair had not been fixed. "It's very frustrating. I used to be able to do some many things."

Barry said he is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and stage-4 Parkinson’s disease. He said it has been two months since his medication has been refilled. His tremors are clearly visible, and he has problems speaking, keeping balance, and suffers memory loss.

Barry said his problem with the VA is also keeping appointments. "They had rescheduled it without notifying me by phone, or letter."

News 4 spoke with the hospital, asking them if the hospital and clinics have authority to cancel appointments so frequently, on the same day. "It's no different than any other health care organization," said Public Relations Officer Darin Farr. "People get sick, even in our own medical care, or things come up."

Farr said there are challenges within such a large system and miscommunication can happen, such as Barry’s case. "He's getting caught in the middle and nobody's aware until he says something. We're not omnipotent. We are health care providers, but like I said, we're not mind readers."

Even with a staff of 1,200 for 40,000 enrollees, Farr said cases of cyclical appointment issues are not an understaffing problem. "It's a communication issue more than anything else."

He said it is a challenge to communicate with different age groups. Older veterans prefer snail mail, while younger veterans are more tech savvy. Those with cognitive problems may get confused, and their contact information may be out of date.

"Marrying those communication styles can be a challenge, because one size does not fit all," Farr said.

In cases were appointments are canceled due to unforeseen circumstances, Farr said they are rescheduled within two weeks.

That was the case for Jackson, but he’s still hasn't been able to hold an appointment. When asked if he thought it was a rare coincidence, he said, "I can see every once in a while, but to not be seen by my doctor since December of 2013, that's ludicrous."

No matter what category a patient falls into, Farr said it is important to report complaints to his or her patient advocate.

Jackson said he has tried that, but all he gets is silence. "There's nothing but silence. No response."

However, Farr maintains the majority of Reno’s 40,000 veteran patients do not experience this vicious cycle of canceled appointments. "With that type of size comes certain types of challenges from time to time. We're addressing them. We're moving forward."

To that, Jackson said even if they have failed one veteran, they have failed all. "No man left behind. If you do lose a veteran, because of him slipping, he or she 'falling through the cracks' is unacceptable, because what are we saying to the veterans? What are we saying to the country?"

Since News 4 started asking about Barry’s frustrations, the VA has put him in direct contact with upper management for his special needs.

Jackson has not gotten a new appointment, and is now looking for private care.

According to the most recent VA audit data, the average wait time for primary care at the Reno VA hospital for an established patient is about 10 days. It ranks 11th worst out of 141 in the nation.
The longest wait time is in Fayetteville, North Carolina at nearly 30 days. The shortest is in Butler, Pennsylvania at less than a half day.
6 Comment(s)
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BDeckwa - 7/26/2014 10:36 AM
0 Votes
My last appointment was in Nov. of 2013. I received a card in the mail in Apr of 2014 to make an appointment. I called and was told a date in July. I received a call that my appointment was cancelled and would be called the following week if the doctor was back. I waited till the second week then called to get an appointment. I am now scheduled for 1 Oct. That is will be eleven months. I don't have a doctor anymore. I went to the V. A. on 23 July for a dental appt. at 9 am. I drove around the parking lot and it was completely full, second tier also. I went to emergency and it was full. When I got to Locust and Taylor, a gopher ran out of his hole so my car being small was able to get into his burrow. I had received a letter from Sen. Reid's office and was responding to him when I called the V.A. for a doctors appointment. I included what transpired in my response to Sen. Reid. I also told him to not talk to Darin Farr because he is there to blow smoke. We were told they would be putting in more parking on Kirman St. since they tore out a parking lot for a new urgent care facility. Still they haven't hired more medical staff to cover the patients they had and now they have over 6,000 Irag and Afghanistan vets enrolled. Is this part of O'Bama's planned extermination policy? Let the older vets wait till they die?

adimwoler - 7/23/2014 1:34 AM
0 Votes
my classmate's mom makes $69 hourly on the laptop . She has been out of a job for seven months but last month her pay was $13777 just working on the laptop for a few hours. this page . ?????????

oldguyincc - 7/22/2014 8:02 PM
0 Votes
Are Darrin Farr, or any other Reno VA administrators getting Performance Bonuses? If so, why. In the 1960's, my father relied on VA care, and was told to "take an aspirin and come in in the morning." Later that night, he had to go, with pneumonia, to St. Mary's Hospital, via ambulance. I guess that is the kind of treatment present day veterans would like to have, with only a 12-20 hour delay. Personally, I'm glad I have insurance, and that I wasn't wounded or injured in the service.

Tucker - 7/22/2014 8:00 PM
0 Votes
Darin Farr is an idiot! Yes it is a staffing problem! The physicians are overworked and cannot provide quality health care do bureaucratic constraints passed down from DC. To think it's not all about money and hitting unachievable numbers ( Performance Measures ) is naive! This is not so much a local problem as much as it is a national problem. If it weren't for the caring staff, Doctors, Nurses and behind the line clerks this VA would be a lot worse than it is. It's because of these people that the mission is successful at all. One of the biggest problems at this facility is the HR department. Filling available positions takes 6 months to a year because of their incompetence. When an employee leaves or a staffing issue is recognized it takes the HR department weeks to even get the position posted to USA jobs. Once it's posted into that lovely sight, if a qualified application trudges through the complexity of the application process and doesn't just give up, it can be a year or more before they are called for an interview! ( I know because I have been the one to call them) The entire system wreaks of incompetence and needs a complete overhaul!

zcbu9k7axy - 7/22/2014 6:40 PM
1 Vote
This guy Darin Farr is a bald faced liar. To blame the patients is outrageous and unconscionable. The real reasons for all the scheduling problems are (1) too few providers (back in April, I was told Reno VA was short four authorized positions for primary care providers – that’s 20% - 25%) and (2) the profound incompetence of the administrative staff and the computer systems involved in scheduling. My own VA Primary Care Physician refers to them as "the morons". Yes, resource allocation in a large medical facility is complex and a shortage of those resources makes it even more difficult. But administration at Reno VA is completely hopeless! I should add that I've had universally good experiences with the actual providers - doctors, nurses, lab techs, x-ray/ultrasound techs, etc. When you finally get to them, they are caring people who want only the best for the veterans they serve.

Localyoocal - 7/22/2014 6:11 PM
0 Votes
Bottom line, some useless welfare person gets "entitlements" out the wazoo, and free anytime they want it, medical care. But a Vet that put their life on the line for this country when their country called and all the people that it means something to, GETS NOTHING! Whats wrong with this picture? Shows where this countries' leaders and the people that run these orginizations put their priorities.

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