Sitting outside of Fayetteville VA in a well-worn United States Marine Corps hat sits a very frustrated, overwhelmed veteran and his care taker.
“We’re just overlooked, kicked under the dirt,” said retired marine Edward Kirby.
Like many marines and soldiers, Kirby went to Fayetteville VA for the health care he was promised. But he says 90 days came and went, with no doctor.
“They said it’d be 60 to 90 days and we’ll get you a primary care doctor,” Kirby said.
It took a year for Kirby to finally get seen by a doctor, he said.
“He looked at my ears, my nose, my throat and said, ‘OK, I’ll see you in 9 months,'” Kirby recalled.
VA guidelines say veterans should be seen within 14 days of their desired date for a primary care appointment. However a recent national audit of 731 VA hospitals and large outpatient clinics found the agency’s complicated appointment process created confusion among scheduling clerks and supervisors.
The department now says that meeting that 14-day target was unattainable given existing resources and growing demand.
For a new patient looking for primary care, the VA’s Fayetteville hospital has the third worst wait times in the system, averaging 83 days; the average wait was 62 days to see a specialist and 27 days for mental health.
The long waits have led some to turn to care outside of VA clinics, which is exactly what Kirby did. That was when Kirby learned he had Stage 3 throat cancer.
The VA doctor “said, ‘I’ll see you in 9 months,'” Kirby said. “I’m not going to live 9 months.”
Had he waited, Kirby said he believes he never would have made it to his next VA appointment.
Kirby, who is battling depression and anxiety, also asked to see a psychiatrist. He said the psychiatrist gave him a rubber bracelet and told him to snap it against his wrist if he feels anxious.
His story isn’t uncommon, though, said Kathleen Volandt, the director of the North Carolina Concerned Veterans for America. She said veterans are losing their lives because of the long wait times.
“They need help now,” Volandt said. “They don’t have time to wait to get into the VA.”
WNCN Investigates reached out to the Fayetteville VA for comment on Kirby’s story but has not heard back. In the past, the VA said privacy laws prevent them from talking about specific patients.
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