American Legion Setting Up "Crisis Center" in Phoenix to Help People Affected by VA Scandal

The American Legion, a veterans service organization, is setting up a "crisis center" in Phoenix to help people who have been affected by the mess at the VA health care system.

The interim investigation of the Phoenix VA hospital by the VA inspector general found that more than 3,000 veterans were waiting for care, 1,700 of whom weren't even on the electronic waiting list, and were "at risk of being forgotten or lost in Phoenix HCS's convoluted scheduling process."

See also:
-The American Legion Explains the Mess at the VA System in One Image
-Phoenix VA Investigation: Veterans at Risk of Being "Forgotten" in System

People with the American Legion are looking to help veterans set up benefits claims for their lack of health care, and will also help enroll veterans in the VA health care system if they've been unable to do so.

Before his resignation, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said the VA health care system in Phoenix would be immediately work toward correcting the problems leading to these veterans not receiving care, but it certainly doesn't hurt for the American Legion to get involved. The VA often includes the Legion in meetings regarding ongoing complaints against the VA, and the Legion's really been ahead of the curve on the VA scandal, calling for Shinseki's resignation weeks ago -- something the organization didn't take lightly.

The "crisis center" set up by the American Legion will be at the American Legion post in Phoenix, at 364 North Seventh Avenue, off Polk Street.

Here's more information sent to us by the American Legion:

The claims station will assist those who may be eligible to file benefits claims with VA that are associated with their lack of medical care. If it can be proven that veterans perished because of delayed care, or their conditions worsened, dependency and indemnity compensation benefits may be awarded.

Accredited Legion representatives will also help to enroll veterans into the VA health-care system, and help those who believe their care has been unduly delayed but not yet identified as such by VA.

Grief counselors at the crisis center will assist family members who have lost loved ones due to VA negligence. Counselors from VA Vet Centers will also be on hand to help affected veterans. Long wait-times may have caused or aggravated mental-health conditions such as depression.

Ron Abrams, co-executive director of the National Veterans Legal Services Program in Washington, will also be available to discuss any legal issues with visitors. He is also an accredited American Legion representative.

Ralph Bozella, chairman of The American Legion's Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Commission, said the crisis center in Phoenix will serve as a template for helping veterans in other cities affected by VA's wait-list scandal . . .

The crisis center will be open from noon to 8 p.m. on June 10, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on the 11th and 12th, and 8 a.m. to noon on the 13th.

The nationwide scandal over VA scheduling practices started in Phoenix, where a retired VA doctor claimed that 40 veterans died on a "secret waiting list" while waiting to see a doctor.

The VA inspector general is still investigating that claim, although President Obama recently said it appears the veterans' deaths were not related to delays in care.

Still, the investigators did find serious problems with the scheduling system in Phoenix, and similar investigations over scheduling practices have now spread to other VA health care systems around the country.

The investigators chose a sample of more than 200 veterans, finding that the Phoenix VA had reported they waited an average of 24 days to see a primary-care doctor, although only 43 percent had to wait more than two weeks. When the investigators showed up in Phoenix and reviewed the records, they found that these 200-plus veterans actually waited an average of 115 days for this appointment, with 84 percent waiting more than two weeks.

Although the long wait times have been something the VA has struggled with for years, there's more to it than that -- Phoenix VA executives (and higher-ups at other VA hospitals) received bonuses for reducing the wait times, although it appears to have only been done by manipulating the numbers. Additionally, the existence of multiple scheduling lists is not allowed under VA policy, and the 1,700 veterans who weren't on the official waiting list actually weren't on any waiting list at all.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley