KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The director of the Kansas City Vietnam Veterans of America group says the resignation of the Veterans Administration Secretary Eric Shinseki won’t really affect local patient care. Randy Barnett said the issues are within the system and at individual VA hospitals.
“The last few years, the VA has gotten so bloated with middle level people, that that don’t have anything to do with health care, other than managing it. They never see veterans or patients, and I think because of that, the VA is short on doctors,” Barnett said.
Barnett said the VA has always had a good connection with Secretary Shinseki.
“He listened to what everybody had to say, not just the us, the VFW, the VSOs, all of us had a good rapport with him because he paid attention. They went back and reviewed every Vietnam veteran, their files, their claims. There were guys who filed ischemic heart disease related to Agent Orange back in the '80s, in the '70s and were denied,” he said.
Barnett said the new secretary needs to take a micro approach to examining hospitals and making the proper fixes.
“They need somebody that’s going to look at the individual VA hospitals. Go in there an actually look at them. Not take the director’s word that everything’s fine now, we’ve got everything ironed out,” Barnett said. “Him resigning is not going to change one thing. It’s not suddenly the VA is going to be great and you go over there and as soon as you walk in the door and get things taken care of, it just doesn’t happen.”
Barnett said veterans will often wait three or four months for appointments.
"They don’t have the manpower and it’s like they won’t admit it and just let you go to an outside doctor and pay for it. They’re not short on funding. It’s management of the funding is what the problem is,” he said.
Vietnam veteran wife Kay Booth said she knows this truth all too well.
“It’s shocking to me, but then again it’s not, because I experienced it. We went through all of this,” she said.
Booth said in 2008, her husband John was misdiagnosed at the VA, and that he never got the chance to see a cardiologist.
“He’d been to his primary physician over and over and over. They kept calling it gastroparesis, telling us he had lung pulmonary issues. For six months we’d been trying to get help from the VA and they would recognize that it was his heart or do anything about it,” she said.
A rapid decline in health in a matter of months, illustrated in pictures Booth brought with her to the hospital, which forced John to seek treatment at the University of Kansas Hospital, and months later, a heart transplant at St. Luke’s.
FOX 4 asked Kay Booth what type of reimbursement her husband has received for what they paid out to the outside hospitals: “Nothing. We paid it. Nothing.”
“I expect that they will finally see the light and they will give veterans the opportunity to go to outside doctors when it’s more than they can handle,” she said with the resignation
A Vietnam veteran also told FOX 4 he had to use survival skills outside the battlefield: “I survived. I did it on my own. That’s the way the Army taught me so I just take care of my own business.”
FOX 4 asked the VA specific questions about Booth’s claims, and an e-mailed response said:
“We are unable to comment on care provided to a particular Veteran. We are currently staffed with three cardiologists (an additional cardiologist is scheduled to start on Monday, June 2, 2014), four cardiology fellows and three cardiology advanced nurse practitioners. Additionally, we have other cardiology staff that provide care during weekend clinics. We want to encourage any Veteran (or their family members) who has questions or concerns about the attention or services they receiving to contact the Kansas City VA Medical Center Director’s Office.”
The VA has not yet provided to FOX 4 a statement regarding Shinseki’s resignation.