Veterans vented about poor medical treatment received at U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) hospitals in the Baltimore region at a town hall meeting held at the American Legion Dewey Lowman Post 109 on Monday night.
The meeting was the fifth held across the nation by the national American Legion, following revelations that VA employees covered up long wait times for veterans, a number of whom died before being seen by doctors.
The event fell on the heels of a bipartisan deal announced earlier Monday that would authorize approximately $17 billion to improve medical treatment at VA hospitals, pending votes by the House of Representatives and the Senate, according to an Associated Press report.
"Absolutely, we can do more. Absolutely we should do more. That's what these meetings are about — about getting better, about improving our services, listening to our veterans," said Fernando O. Rivera, director and CEO of the VA Capitol Heath Care Network, after the meeting.
Many of the 20 veterans in the audience voiced frustration with poor care at the center on Greene Street, citing rude clerks, long wait times and poorly trained staff.
The care they've received at the Loch Raven VA Community Living and Rehabilitation Center has been much better, they said.
"This was a much smaller crowd than we're used to seeing in some of the areas, but success isn't measured by numbers — it's measured by that one veteran who walks through the door and we give them that opportunity to speak," Jones said after the meeting.
Among those veterans in attendance was Elmer Henry, 69, of Elkridge, a Vietnam War veteran entitled to full disability benefits through the VA due to a heart condition he developed as a result of the war.
"I'm a 100 percent disabled veteran from Agent Orange," Henry said. "It's not something I caused. It's something the government gave me."
Following a recent triple bypass heart surgery, he said he needed medication to prevent chest pains, but said a pharmacist at the VA wouldn't prescribe the medication because it was too expensive.
Instead, he was prescribed a less expensive medication for a month to see if it would work.
"[The pharmacist] said, 'That's an expensive medicine and we have to look out for our taxpayers,'" said his wife, Carol Henry, who sat in the chair next to him.
"We are the taxpayers," she exclaimed, with frustration.
Her husband had to see a private cardiologist to get a sample of the medication he needed, she said.
Alan Hottinger, 64, another disabled veteran who served in the Vietnam War, complained of an unsuccessful knee surgery at the Baltimore VA Medical Center at 10 North Greene Street.
Hottinger said he recently saw a surgeon, who is supposed to fix the surgery.
"He is so disgusted with the VA orthopedics, it's unreal," said Hottinger, of Woodlawn, wearing a leg brace that encapsulated his injured knee.
A crisis center will be held throughout the rest of the week at the Dewey Lowman Post, located at 1610 Sulphur Spring Road, at the following times:
• noon to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, July 29,
• 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, July 30;
• 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, July 31;
• 8 a.m. to noon Friday, August 1.
Veterans will have the opportunity to sign up for medical appointments, receive assistance with filing medical claims and assistance with enrolling to receive VA medical benefits.
American Legion staff will be joined by VA staff to assist veterans.