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Problems plagued Veterans Affairs long before Shinseki

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Photo: Video by ktnv.com

Problems plagued Veterans Affairs long before Shinseki

By Darcy Spears. CREATED May 30, 2014

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- Our local VA health care system has been under Contact 13's microscope for months, exposing the lack of local access, delays in care and wait lists that are thousands of veterans long.

What does a change in Washington leadership mean for Southern Nevada?

Lawmakers and veterans are giving a mixed reaction to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki's resignation.

Most are concerned with what's going to be done to lower wait times and give veterans access to care, no matter who's in charge at the top. They're wondering, as a figurehead topples, where does that leave troops on the ground?

"The problems with the Veterans Administration is endemic," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, speaking at UNLV Friday morning.

Reid described Eric Shinseki as an American patriot, a 100 percent disabled, decorated combat veteran from Vietnam who was also a lead general in Iraq, where Las Vegas Marine Lu Lobello served.

"The fact that Mr. Shinseki resigned is not what I was looking for as a combat vet," Lobello said. 

Though the recent VA scandal happened on Shinseki's watch, many said the general isn't the problem.

"Simply don't have enough resources," Reid said. "We're short primary care physicians. We have these people cooking the books so they get bonuses."

Cooking the books in the Phoenix VA system to mask long waiting lists is what started the call for Shinseki's resignation.

In Las Vegas, Contact 13 has exposed waiting lists that are thousands of veterans long, and they're in danger of getting longer.

"We have millions, millions of new veterans coming back," said Reid. "The VA is overwhelmed with these new veterans."

Just how overwhelmed?

Nationwide in the VA health care system, there are just over 19,000 doctors, 1,900 physician assistants and 2,500 nurse practitioners to serve 8.9 million veterans.

"I want to hear they're taking the problem of VA health care as seriously as they took the surge in Iraq," said Lobello. "I want to hear that the country's dedicating the resources necessary to fix this problem within a two or three month time period."

That's exactly what Sen. Reid said is not going to happen. 

"The problem's not going to be solved in a matter of a month or two. It's an ongoing, long, difficult problem and we have to recognize it. And we have to give the VA resources to do this."

Lobello said Shinseki shouldn't be the only one under fire.

"Why are we looking at it that now that he's gone, we've made some symbolic gesture to the veterans when in actuality, people have been knowing about this much higher than Eric Shinseki?"

Lobello wants accountability from lawmakers on the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees.

Most of Nevada's delegation issued statements Friday, echoing Reid's assessment of the VA's systemic problems.

Sen. Heller and Rep. Titus spoke of standards not met and grievous failures in management and patient care.

Rep. Horsford talked about pushing for final approval of a VA clinic in Pahrump and raising the level of service at the VA hospital in North Las Vegas.

But veterans like Lobello said actions speak louder than words.

"They can easily blame it on bureaucracy and this is a big system and this will take time, but when we and my friends were down range and we were approaching Baghdad, you didn't hear us slow down because we didn't have body armor. You didn't hear us slow down because we didn't have the right vehicles. They gave us a mission, they gave us a time frame and we got it done within that time frame.  And that's what I expect from my government right now. I expect a surge of resources to go the VA."

In addition to more providers, Lobello said the VA needs quick reaction teams to go out into our community and identify veterans who cannot wait months for care and make sure they're brought into the system right away.

Darcy Spears

Darcy Spears

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Darcy Spears is currently the Chief Investigative Reporter for Action News.