WASHINGTON (CBS DC) – Military veterans tell CBS News the biggest obstacle they face in getting care at VA hospitals is red tape.

“When you get between the gears of a big bureaucracy, you’re gonna get crushed unless you’re strong enough to get through it,” said Marine Sgt. Michael Jeffords, a Vietnam veteran.

Even five decades ago, Jeffords had to wait a month before he could get a VA appointment for hearing problems he received after an IED exploded near him during combat. 

“I had to prove where I was, when it happened and how the incident occurred,” Jeffords said from his Janesville, Wisconsin home. “It’s kind of a frustrating experience because you think the government should know all this stuff.”

Jeffords, now 71, said that the VA health care he has received over the years has generally been good, but the bureaucratic nightmare  leaves veterans feeling disrespected and demoralized. He says he’s not surprised by the allegations of misconduct and treatment delays.

Other veterans who spoke to CBS News shared that sentiment.

Ismael Bruno, a 41-year-old New York City firefighter who served in the Navy and the Marine Corps, says he no longer goes to VA hospitals because he felt like the administrative staffs there showed such little respect for veterans. Scheduling appointments sometimes took several months, he complained, and office employees are apathetic while veterans wait for several hours.

“It’s always poor service,” Bruno said. “I think I’ve gotten better service at the DMV.”

A 66-year-old Army veteran, who asked to remain anonymous, said several years ago he had “trigger finger,” a painful condition in which the finger gets stuck in a bent position. The VA told him that he would just “have to live with it,” he said. When he finally went to a civilian doctor, he saw an orthopedic surgeon within a week.

“That’s why I left the VA, the fact that they didn’t care,” he told CBS News.

“There really seems to be a system-wide culture that accepts this substandard efficiency in terms of delivery of care,” said Nick McCormick, an Iraq war veteran who is a legislative associate for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

McCormick and other veterans said the care at most VA hospitals, once it is finally given, is excellent.

“It’s quality care,” McCormick said. “The real issue is the timeliness and efficiency of delivery.”

That’s something Tom Carter, a 59-year-old retired Army captain, can relate to. The disabled veteran said he has received top-notch care in Illinois for years. He had a CT scan in November 2013 after doctors saw possible signs of cancer. But he didn’t receive the results that he is cancer-free until just this month, six months later.

“I would have been the spokesman for the VA,” Carter said. “They always treated me extremely well, until now.”

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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