NewsChannel 5 has team coverage of a story that have many people's jaws dropping.
CNN is reporting that U.S. military veterans may be dying because of delayed care at veterans' hospitals. Top management at the VA Hospital in Phoenix is accused of hatching a plan to hide that as many as 1,600 veterans were waiting months to get doctor's appointments. At least 40 of those veterans who were left waiting, have died.
According to the report, the plan included shredding the evidence, to hide the fact that there was a waiting list at all.
But it's not just veterans in Phoenix who are frustrated. A local Vietnam veteran wants to know why the VA can't do a better job of serving our veterans. Art Holliday spoke to Albert Boyd, who hired a lawyer for his battle with the VA.
Boyd, a Spanish Lake resident, is a decorated Vietnam vet struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. He says the news about the Phoenix VA putting the lives of veterans in jeopardy by putting them on a secret waiting list is not surprising to him.
"Delay, deny, until you die. That's what the veterans are saying now," said Boyd.
That's Boyd describing the frustration that he and other veterans experience when seeking timely healthcare from the Veterans Administration.
"There's a lot of appeals, a lot of denials, there's a lot of waiting," said Boyd.
And he has the paper trail to prove it. His overstuffed folder of his decades-long battle to get treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. Boyd served a 10 month combat tour in Vietnam in the late 1960s, and was awarded a Bronze Star for acts of merit in a combat zone.
There are permanent emotional scars.
"I was having nightmares, I was having cold sweats. But I didn't know what was wrong with me," said Boyd.
When Boyd learned of the CNN report that the Phoenix VA had a secret set of records that hid its backlog of disability claims, he said it reminded him of his own struggles with the VA. Two years ago he hired a lawyer to fight his benefits battle with the Department of Veterans Affairs. He doesn't expect a quick resolution.
"My attorneys are saying it'll take from 12 to 24 months before we can get any kind of an answer back," he said.
Boyd says our veterans deserve better treatment.
"They went on and they did their job to serve our country. How come the VA can't serve our veterans?" he said.
NewsChannel 5 asked the St. Louis VA about how long it takes veterans to get doctor's appointments locally, but acting director Mark McGill directed us to the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington. They emailed a statement that the VA is investigating procedures in Phoenix.
NewsChannel 5's Leisa Zigman has been shining a light on systemic problems inside the St. Louis Veterans Administration since 2009. She spoke with a long-time insider who is risking his job to let St. Louisans know what is happening here.
Leisa has known Wes Gordon for a long time. He's been fighting to try and make things better from the inside as a nurse.
He was at the hospital in 2010 when nearly 2,000 veterans were informed they might have been exposed to HIV and hepatitis because of poor sterilization techniques. Seven months later the facility had to stop all surgical procedures because of sterilization issues.
Gordon has high praise for the doctors and nurses on staff, but he says the bureaucratic culture inside all VAs makes it impossible for patients to get care quickly.
"Everyone wants to whitewash it and make it look good, and that is what the VA system is built on form over function. If we can make it go away we'll make it go away. What is hard is to take real change to make real progress with what we are doing and that rarely happens in the VA system," said Gordon.
The VA investigation continues, and you can bet there will be congressional investigations as well. Gordon has seen it all before and he says nothing ever changes.