Congress members look into VA complaints

Congress members look into VA complaints

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Our series of reports, started nearly five years ago, revealed hundreds of complaints from veterans using health care at the Bakersfield clinic for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

As we reported, a federal government agency is being asked by 30 members of Congress to look into veterans concerns in the Veteran's Affairs Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.

Two years serving in Vietnam, Army veteran Bob Martin has only good things to say about the Bakersfield VA clinic.

"Everything has been great for me. I come in every month and no problems," Martin told us outside the clinic.

But, then, there are veterans like Al Golihar. The Onyx Vietnam vet told us this in 2007: "Down in Bakersfield, you're going to lose your leg, your arm, you're gonna die."

About five years ago, Eyewitness News used a Freedom of Information Act request, asking for complaints filed at the Bakersfield VA clinic. We received more than 800 in all.

In a five year period from 2002 to 2006, one vet complaining to the clinic: "He is very upset his eye clinic appointment has been cancelled. He states that he has been waiting for two years to be seen in eye clinic."

And an entry in January 2005 had this: "Patient called stating that he had a heart attack and was taken to an outside hospital. He was discharged on Saturday and told to see his PCP (or primary care physician) on Monday. But when he called the Bakersfield clinic today to make an appointment, he was told that he has an appointment in April and that he could not be seen any sooner."

Fast forward to today, and 30 bipartisan members of Congress sending a letter to the Government Accountability Office asking to conduct a study. The study would include the Bakersfield VA clinic.

One of those signing the letter was Bakersfield Congressman Kevin McCarthy.

"Just in my office alone I'm assisting in 149 cases now. The office did 209 last year. Now, if vets are having this big a problem because they're not getting through, how many more are out there," said McCarthy on a phone in Washington D.C.

Among the issues requested to be addressed:

- A detailed assessment of the claims procedures that cause delays of timely processing

- A comparison of the claims processing procedures and times for the Los Angeles office to other VA regional offices

- A review of the system that notifies the veteran of the benefits they are eligible for

- A detailed assessment of the reasons for the wait time to schedule needed healthcare appointments, among other requests

Before a study can happen, the GAO has to agree to it first. If the agency does, McCarthy said it will take 30 to 45 days to complete.

We put a call into the Los Angeles VA office for comment, but the call was not returned.