I Went Undercover at the VA and Experienced the Sad Reality of Veteran Care in America (EXCLUSIVE)
A Veteran Reaches Out
Reverb Press contributor Walter Yeates went undercover to learn more about the plight of American veterans.
Several days ago a veteran of the United States military reached out me. The individual, who wishes to go unnamed, was familiar with my time at Standing Rock and my desire to cover issues directly affecting veterans. They asked for me to accompany them on their visit to the Greenville, North Carolina VA office. This particular veteran lives out of town, but visited the Greenville location over two months ago to make it their primary care facility.
After not receiving a promised call from the Greenville office (they were told that they would be contacted several days after the original visit) the veteran made the decision to drive back into town to assess the situation. The veteran and I decided that we would not inform anyone at the Greenville VA Health Care Center that I was a journalist. I would document everything on my phone and pass it off as if I were texting.
Flashback: President Trump Meets With Veterans
Several months ago President Trump had an in-person meeting with a number of prominent veterans organizations. Military Times described the meeting in the following way:
The hour-long meeting with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin and senior White House staff covered issues including medical care access for veterans, accountability for VA employees, veterans caregiver programs and the president’s campaign pledges to make veterans services more efficient.
Opinions of some in attendance were quite optimistic:
“Coming out of the meeting, we believe that the president and his administration are committed to improving the VA system of care and expanding choices for veterans seeking healthcare outside of the VA system,” Sherman Gillums Jr., executive director of Paralyzed Veterans of America, said after the meeting.
However, the Republican sponsored healthcare bill – which President Trump supports, could hurt millions of veterans:
Late Monday night, leadership staff released a 22-page technical amendment to the bill in order to make it compliant with Senate reconciliation rules. In their haste, they introduced language that could keep as many as 7 million veterans from participating in the GOP healthcare plan.
While the two dominant political parties often blame the other for inefficiencies of the Veterans Administration, the blame belongs to both, as issues within the VA have existed for decades and transcended party lines.
What Happened on Location
Descriptions in this section are purposely vague to protect the identities of those involved.
The veteran and I arrived at 9:48 am on a day earlier this week. Fortunately, the offices were not that crowded. After the veteran spoke to a helpful individual at the front desk, we were told to speak to another individual at the window. Unfortunately, there had been some sort of error, as the veteran didn’t have any location listed as their primary care facility.
The associate behind the window seemed disinterested and informed the veteran that an appointment would have to be set up with another associate inside of what can be described as a large waiting lobby.
After taking a number and waiting around ten minutes for their turn, the veteran was able to speak to an associate. At this point, the veteran was told that they would have to return to the unhelpful associate behind the window, as her department failed to fill out two pieces of necessary paperwork the veteran needed to schedule an appointment.
At 10:15 am we returned back to the window. The veteran calmly explained to the associate that necessary paperwork was missing from their department. After taking the veteran’s name one more time, the associate searched again and found that the paperwork from the veteran’s visiting in March hadn’t ever been completed.
It took the associate approximately 45 seconds to type in the needed information for both documents. While slightly frustrated, the veteran thanked the associate and we walked back to the lobby. The traffic had increased a great deal and the veteran’s new number was 15 spots from being called.
The associate who had first spoken to the veteran in the lobby noticed he was back. Instead of making the veteran wait, they continued their conversation—which lasted from about 10:23 am until 10:37 am. If the Veteran hadn’t been directly called over, the wait time would have probably been another twenty minutes before even beginning the conversation.
After the conversation, the veteran showed me that their scheduled appointment was set for the middle of August. The veteran was also informed that in the nearly 30 minutes which elapsed from the first conversation in the lobby and scheduling, all available dates in June, July, and the first half of August had been filled. If the associate behind the window had originally filled out the paperwork at around 9:55, the veteran would have been able to schedule an appointment over two months earlier.
Lessons learned At The VA
While this was not the most egregious example of problems within the VA, it does highlight a number of the frustrations veterans are dealing with.
The veteran did not wish to give any direct quotes but did state that they were extremely frustrated with the situation. It’s reasonable to believe that the Veteran’s initial appointment would have been in the month of May if the paperwork had been filed back in March.
When asked about the most frustrating aspect of the situation the veteran did state they did not like that an easy oversight cost them an opportunity to schedule an appointment in June.
While I did not directly confront the associate sitting behind the window, their attitude and approach were dismissive during both interactions with the Veteran I accompanied.
(Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)