RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Thousands of veterans may have been improperly diagnosed by the VA.
The federal department admits it was improperly testing for traumatic brain injuries from 2007 through 2015.
Nate Anderson has served in the United States Army for 12 years.
“There’s a promise that we make to service members, that if you serve and you put your life on the line or sacrifice in whatever way you do, we’ll take care of you. I didn’t know what that was going to look like, it’s certainly not what I saw,” Anderson said. “This is something the VA should have been prepared for.”
He enlisted after 9/11.
“It was time in my generation that the desire to serve was strong,” he said.
Fast forward to 2008, Anderson was assigned to his first unit at Fort Bragg and deployed to central Afghanistan.
“The sun had just risen and we were driving into a town,” he recalled. “My vehicle hit a pressure plate IED.”
Anderson said he just remembers a loud blast.
“It was an absolute shock,” he said. “We weren’t really sure what happened, but when I came to, my teammate, who was sitting in the back, had been catapulted over and landed on our hood and his legs were shooting blood into the windshield.”
Luckily, Anderson made it back home but it didn’t take long for him to start noticing problems.
His short term memory just wasn’t the same.
He was having trouble formulating sentences.
He went to the Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg where he was screened.
“They sent me out the door, said I was OK,” Anderson said.
Over several months, he made several trips to several VA hospitals and each time he got the same response.
“They sent me out the door,” Anderson said.
But he knew he wasn’t OK so he sought care outside of the VA. After a few tests, a doctor diagnosed him with a traumatic brain injury.
It wasn’t until this year, eight years after his incident, that this letter came in the mail explaining why.
“I had been seen by a number of physicians that were not qualified to treat or diagnose TBI,” Anderson said.
And it turns out – he wasn’t the only one.
Not even close.
The VA confirmed nearly 25,000 veterans may have been misdiagnosed.
“Almost 25,000 veterans nationwide, that is hardly an isolated incident. That is a systemic failure on the part of the VA,” Anderson said.
Out of the 25,000 potential cases, the VA confirmed to CBS North Carolina Investigates nearly 3,000 of those veterans were screened in Winston-Salem.
That’s more than any other state. Another eight were screened in Wilmington.
CBS North Carolina Investigates sat down with Mark Bilosz, director of the VA regional office in Winston Salem.
We asked if the VA failed veterans in this situation.
“I think so,” said Bilosz. “I think that we as an organization, we care about veterans we care about doing the right thing. In this specific incident with the 25,000 TBI cases, that wasn’t the right thing, it wasn’t done correctly and I think that’s why we’re trying to make it right at this point.”
The VA sent out letters to all veterans they believe may have had an improper screening.
Bilosz said they’re not sure how many of these veterans were actually misdiagnosed.
“We’re not really sure at this point. We’re still in the early stages of getting folks to respond to the letter,” Bilosz said.
He said the problem stems from confusing policies and a lack of understanding about TBIs.
VA policy requires TBI exams to be done by a physiologist, a psychiatrist, a neurologist, or a neurosurgeon.
The 25,000 veterans in this situation were not screened by one of these specialists.
“TBI was back in 2007, it was really a new disability,” said Bilosz. “There was a lot of confusion about it, and it was a signature disability from Iraq and Afghanistan. We didn’t really have a good understanding of what was going on as an organization. To be quite honest we didn’t communicate well as we needed to.”
After getting the letter, Anderson returned to the VA and was diagnosed with a TBI.
The VA is now hoping others will do the same.
“It’s vital,” Bilosz said. “I plead with all those folks to come in. We feel as an organization that we have identified through our data mining all of these veterans but if there are any out there, that didn’t get a letter or feel like they’ve been wronged, they can come in and let us know.”
Anderson now serves as National Field Director at Concerned Veterans for America. He says he’s pushing for VA accountability.
CVA is asking veterans to share their stories.
“CVA is taking a stance on the frontlines of this,” Anderson said. “We operate a grassroots model, ensuring that we protect the freedoms and liberties here at home that a lot of veterans have sacrificed for. I’m telling my story so it will bring some light to the problem. And if there’s anybody we want to treat well in our society it’s veterans because of what a lot of them have sacrificed.”
“We apologize. This is a unique situation it’s a new disability that we weren’t used to dealing with and we’re trying to get through it,” said Bilosz.
He said the VA is taking major steps to better engage veterans including more public meetings, easier to understand paperwork, and better customer service.
“That’s something we’re really focused on here, getting out in the community, talking to veterans, talking about what we can do better and trying to resolve their issues.”
If you are a veteran who is concerned about your TBI exam you can call 1-800-749-8387.
Number of veterans who may have been impacted:
|Station||Regional Office||Unique Veterans|
|341||Salt Lake City||477|
|405||White River Junction||101|
Note: This data set does not include the 317 Veterans initially identified as part of the review