ST. LOUIS - U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) released a letter from the VA detailing Missouri facilities where veterans waited for care longer than 90 days. These numbers included 26 veterans in St. Louis, 19 veterans in Columbia, 14 veterans in Poplar Bluff, and 12 veterans in Kansas City.
"It is unacceptable and intolerable that veterans in Missouri or anywhere in America would receive this type of inadequate treatment. But this serious and systemic problem at the VA won't be fixed until the president shows leadership and takes action," said Blunt. "I personally visited the VA hospitals in Columbia and St. Louis last week, and I'll keep fighting to restore accountability at the VA and give our heroes the care they need and deserve," said Sen. Blunt.
Earlier Wednesday, Blunt's office posed the following questions to the VA regarding the extended wait times: Which specific facilities in Missouri had wait lists that "put veterans at risk" or used "secret wait lists?" Was the VA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) made aware of the unauthorized wait lists in VISN-15? Did VISN-15 conduct its own internal investigation without including the OIG? Is it standard practice to notify the OIG through the Hotline with information relating to wait times of this magnitude?
Since word that veterans may have died while waiting for treatment at the VA in Phoenix, we've been digging to see what was happening in the St. Louis region. We've asked for documents regarding wait times but received no answer. We interviewed a whistleblower, the former head of psychiatry at the VA, Dr. Jose Matthews.
Dr. Matthews says when it comes to veterans with mental illness, they are forced to wait longer than a month for treatment because doctors on staff aren't working full days treating patients. He says when he asked staff to increase their case load, there was a mutiny and he was demoted.
St. Louis VA officials denied Dr. Matthews claims saying psychiatrists see 14 patients a day. But the very next day, the VA corrected that statement to say they saw between five and 14 patients a day.
In the meantime, some members of congress believe veterans who have to wait longer than 30 days to see a VA doctor should be allowed to see doctors outside of the VA system.
It is a scenario physicians and administrators at St. Louis University Hospital and St. Louis Medical Center are not only talking about, but preparing to handle.
"We are here to serve the people who served us. We've been very, very active with the armed forces and we've been very active with veterans. We are here to stand up for the people who have served this country," said CEO Phil Sowa.
Spokespeople with Washington University and Barnes Jewish Hospital say they have not had internal conversations about handling the possible backlog of veterans, but they too stand ready to serve, should there be a need.