Local Veteran Says Significant Oversight Needed to Turn VA Around

May 29, 2014

The veterans' health care scandal is growing, and calls for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to step down are continuing.

But a Charlottesville veteran says it will take more than a resignation to fix the problems at the organization.

The VA's internal investigation found nearly 2,000 veterans lost in the health care system, waiting months for treatment.

Lewis Nelson has been following the news very closely.

As a disabled veteran, he receives his primary care through the Charlottesville VA Outpatient Clinic.

After spending seven years in active duty with the army, Nelson medically retired as a Staff Sergeant in 2008.

Nelson is familiar with the patience it can take getting care through the VA, noting long wait times and trips back and forth to Richmond.

He recently sought care through the VA for a hurt shoulder, the cost of which would be covered 100 percent.

Nelson says the appointment was made for eight weeks after his initial call.

Not wanting to wait that long, he opted to dip into his own pockets for quicker care.

"I was able to go to UVA, tell them what was wrong, get an MRI, schedule surgery, have the surgery, all before my initial VA appointment to tell them my shoulder hurt," he said.

He says he's lucky his situation wasn't more serious, but worries for others.

"Look, I'm fortunate. I have insurance. I can go to UVA. I pay a little out of pocket. I don't have to do the wait, but I think a lot about the veterans that don't have that option. Ones that are really in pain and just waiting and waiting. It makes you really sad, I won't lie, just thinking about that."

Nelson fears, without significant oversight, VA leadership can easily manipulate metrics to make it look like things are getting better.

He says actual change is needed so veterans aren't turned off by the VA and miss out on services they need and are due.

"[The] VA is best positioned to know and understand unique health issues common to veterans such as TBI and PTSD, but only if veterans use the system," he said.

Nelson says, while the scandal could discourage some veterans from seeking care, he believes the exposure and IG reports are a step in the right direction to repairing the system.

"We have the politicians involved. We have America paying attention to this. That's what it takes to get the ball rolling. But the next step is that we won't forget. A month from now, is America going to forget about this?"

Nelson says, for him, the true measure of change will be when veterans organizations are praising the VA for its work in turning the system around.

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