ST. LOUIS - The St. Louis Veterans Administration is either part of a systemic culture of deception, deceit and incompetence or a world class facility staffed by dedicated professionals determined to care for our nation's warriors.
The two diametrically opposed stories represent what veterans have told us over the past week. On Tuesday, the former head of psychiatry at the St. Louis VA gave a whistleblower interview alleging staff only work a half day and as a result, veterans suffering serious mental health issues are having to wait a month or more for an appointment.
Dr. Jose Mathews alleges 60 percent of those veterans stop seeking treatment after their third visit because they become too frustrated with the system. When he tried to get staff to see more patients, he claims there was a mutiny, and hospital officials demoted him.
Since that interview, our inboxes, phone lines, and social media have lit up with St. Louis Veterans wanting to share their stories and hold VA officials accountable.
Darlene Sims is one of hundreds to contact us this week. She wanted to share her husband's story of when he went to the St. Louis VA complaining about blood in his urine.
"The blood, it was off the chart," said Sims.
Sherman Sim Sr., father of three, Vietnam Air Force corporal, and retired chemical technician, was told not to worry, he just had an enlarged prostate. When the blood didn't stop, he returned, and was reportedly told the same thing, and sent home.
Months later, excruciating pain emerged in his back and the VA sent him to a spinal specialist at Barnes -Jewish Hospital. Sims was shocked when doctors told her Sherman had cancer.
"He did have a mass in that spine that was cancer. They told us it was caused by the kidney cancer," she explained.
Kidney cancer metastasized to his spine. That blood in his urine wasn't an enlarged prostate she said, it was cancer. Sherman Sims, Sr. died two months later.
"He shouldn't be gone. If he had been diagnosed in time he wouldn't be gone. It was because of the VA that my husband was dead," said Sims.
No one can prove that and federal laws prevent the VA from talking about an individual case. But Sims wanted her husband's story told because she says he lived his life as he served his country, with valor and integrity.
After shooting that interview, we decided to set up our news van outside the Veteran's Administration Medical Center off of Grand. We wanted to give patients an opportunity to come over and share their stories about the care they receive.
The first person we met was Lisa Shelley. She is not only a patient but she volunteers at the facility one day a week. She praised her doctors insisting she never has to wait for an appointment and if she has questions that aren't answered she can email her primary care doctor and usually gets a response within 24 hours.
Marvin Marshak loves the care at the St. Louis VA so much he drives 12 hours from a small town outside of Dallas, Texas to come here. He told us he could switch a closer facility, but nothing he says compares to the care he receives in St. Louis.
"I'm very happy with my doctors, especially my primary care doctor. I have to come back to her, coming in once every two to three months," said Marshak.
Missouri Republican Congresswoman Ann Wagner joined Republican Senators Matt Blunt and Democrat Claire McCaskill in calling for an investigation in to Dr. Jose Mathew's claims.
Thursday afternoon, Rep. Wagner sent a statement calling for the resignation of the Secretary of Veteran Affairs, Eric Shinseki: "For over six years, Secretary Shinseki has been in charge of the Department of Veteran Affairs. And for six years, Secretary Shinseki has failed to provide timely services and care for our veterans. Secretary Shinseki has fialed to fulfill his mission at the VA….I am left with no choice but to call for Secretary Shinseki's immediate resignation."
KSDK continues to ask for an on camera interview with officials at the St. Louis VA to address Dr. Mathew's allegations. So far, our requests have been ignored.