PORTLAND, Ore. -- A new report says veterans are being put at risk because of “systemic problems” at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The report from the VA’s Office of Inspector General says nearly 1,700 veterans were left off a waiting list for care in Phoenix. But as KATU’s On Your Side Investigators have found out, there are major problems in the Portland area as well.
A spokesman says so far the local VA system hasn't been made part of an expanding nationwide investigation.
Some veterans say it should.
“I've had it up to here with the VA," said Charles Wade Jr., an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran living in Southeast Portland.
Wade says he's had to wait as long as eight months for a primary care appointment with the VA.
The Center for Investigative Reporting says local veterans have been waiting an average of 158 days for a response to disability claims.
"It seems to be much more stress to try and get help than it is any help at all," said Wade.
The Army veteran says he suffers from severe knee and shoulder pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.
He smiles as he points out happy photos of him and his friends in the service but says often it was extremely difficult.
Wade recalled working on helicopters as a mechanic and “looking over while they're pressure washing the guy you just had coffee with last night's blood right off the concrete there on the helipads.”
Wade says he was prescribed Vicodin after he got out and became addicted to painkillers. He began running into problems with the law and with personal relationships when the prescriptions ran out.
Dan Herrigstad, a spokesman for the local VA, said he couldn’t speak to Wade’s situation directly, “but I would certainly like to hear from him and any veteran who has issues."
Herrigstad says patient advocates are available to help veterans like Wade, who are in need. The spokesman says there are no secret wait lists in the local system and that efforts are underway to make improvements.
“The VA standard is to make sure that less than 1 percent are waiting more than 14 days to get an appointment," Herrigstad said. “Currently about 3.4 percent of our veterans are waiting for care beyond the 14 days."
Herrigstad says the VA is hiring many more staff members and expanding its facilities in the area.
“Thirteen years ago we had two facilities, Vancouver and Portland,” Herrigstad said. “Starting in two weeks we will have twelve facilities across Southwest Washington and Central and Northern Oregon."
The VA’s inspector general says 42 facilities are being inspected nationwide.