When Ronald Mays graduated in 1967, he expected to get drafted.
“Back in those days when you got out of high school, you pretty much figured you were going to get a one way ticket to Vietnam,” he says.
Mays spent a year in Vietnam. He was exposed to Agent Orange and suffers from a variety of health problems.
Last year, he had a tumor removed. It was cancer. Ten rounds of chemotherapy, 17 radiation treatments and surgery, and now Mays says he’s doing OK.
He credits the Roudebush VA Hospital in Indianapolis for his recovery.
“They took care of me – no complaints,” he says. “They done everything very quickly and got me going before the cancer had a chance to get going.”
Roudebush has been using the VA for all his medical services for more than a decade and says he doesn’t hear many complaints.
But according to results of the internal audit released this week, the average wait time for a new primary care patient appointment at Roudebush is about 54 days, raking it among the worst in the country.
Once a patient is in the system, though, it typically takes them less than three days to get an appointment.
Indianapolis Hospital Marked For ‘Further Review’
Roudebush is among 81 hospitals and 31 clinics tagged for further review after an initial audit last month that was launched following claims of long wait times and falsified records at VA hospitals around the country.
The audit looked at these main questions:
- Do front-line staff receive appropriate training and, supervision, on scheduling practices?
- Do front-line staff members exhibit the proper understanding of scheduling ?
- Do front-line staff members receive instruction to modify dates when a Veteran wants to be seen?
- What are the main barriers and challenges staff members face in offering veterans timely access to care?
- Do they feel personally capable of delivering high-quality service?
But VA officials have not disclosed why Roudebush, in particular, was flagged for further review.
“Even though I don’t live in Indianapolis I’m sure there are people who live in my district who woke up this morning and asked, I wonder if I’m getting fair treatment, I wonder if I’m getting legit treatment, I wonder if I’m even on the waiting list,” says Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Indiana. “These are questions that are around the country so we all take it pretty seriously that we want answers about what is happening in our state and those are coming pretty slowly.”
Walorski is on the House Committee on Veteran’s Affairs, and at a committee meeting this week she called on the Department of Justice to investigate whether there’s criminal activity involved.
“I guess the things that I came away with two weeks ago was this – there has to be criminal investigation,” Walorski told VA officials on Monday. “To learn there are 69 criminal investigations going on right now I think is breaking news to the American people. Indianapolis and Danville are on your list for further investigation. My Hoosiers in the state of Indiana are going to ask the same questions well what do I do? When am I going to get infomraiton? And I guess I’ll take it on the record that we’re going to get information when you get it.”
In a phone interview after the hearing, Walorski expounded on what she hopes to learn from the Indianapolis facility’s “further review.”
“I want that clean seal of approval,” she said. ‘I want Hoosiers to know that they can trust the facility in Indiana and they should have no reason to worry and their family members should have no reason to worry, but I want those reports to make sure that’s clear.”
A spokesperson for the Roudebush VA Medical Center told the Indy Star it was a surprise that the center was flagged for further review.
“It was quite a surprise,” spokeswoman Julie Webb said of the VA’s list of the 81 hospitals and 31 clinics that are receiving additional scrutiny. “We are not sure why we are on the list with the other 80 medical centers.”
Federal VA officials won’t say whether Roudebush is one of the 69 facilities being investigated for criminal activity.
Jim Brown is the Director of the Indiana Department of Veteran’s Affairs, which is separate from the federal VA. He says his office supports what the VA hospital does because it’s “well managed.”
“We work together rather than throw rocks at them and criticize them, because then you don’t have good communication,” he says.
VA Begins Implementing Reforms
Since the national investigations began top officials at the VA have resigned including Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.
The House and Senate veterans committees have conducted a number of hearings and are planning more to look into wrongdoing.
The interim head of the VA this week also enacted a number of reforms- including removing the 14-day scheduling goal, establishing accountability systems, enacting a hiring freeze, increasing medical staffing and creating a new patient satisfaction measurement.
Back at his home in Brown County, Ronald Mays says he’s sure there are some things the VA can improve upon.
The VA serves more than 9 million veterans across the country, but Mays says for him and his needs, the VA is doing a good job.
“I got some problems,” Mays says. “My ears are very bad form the incoming and outgoing. I have PTSD. I didn’t know I did until my vet rep asked me about it. Then I’ve got the cancer, but I just take one day at a time. Thank God for what you’ve got, thank God for the great country you live in. Thank God for the wonderful VA that is taking care of me today.”