Local patients speak out for and against current veteran care

A group of local veteran's speak to Mary Ann about their health care.
A group of local veteran's speak to Mary Ann about their health care.
Local patients speak out for and against current veteran care
By: Mary Ann Maloney
The Veteran's Administration System in our country has been under scrutiny since the conditions at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C. were exposed. That spotlight is shining on VA facilities here in the Heartland too.
We've received plenty of calls at the station from veterans complaining of "poor" and "disrespectful" care. They complain that doctors at John J. Pershing Hospital in Poplar Bluff don't listen to them and don't care about their well being. We've heard similar complaints with care at John Cochran VA Hospital in St. Louis.
I spoke with Pershing Director Nancy Arnold who knows that there have been problems in the past with the hospital, but insists that the facility has made tremendous strides over the last ten years. Many veterans agree with her, saying that Poplar Bluff has cleaned up it's act.
Allen Wyman, a veteran from Parma, credits doctors at John Pershing and John Cochran with saving his life three years ago when he was diagnosed with cancer. Wyman says he received tremendous care at both hospitals.
The Sansocie family from Marquand is not so pleased however. Ivan Sansocie died 7 weeks ago from congestive heart failure. His wife Marcella claims that doctors at Poplar Bluff didn't care if Ivan lived or died-telling him one time, "you've outlived your life expectancy, I don't know why you're coming here."
Ivan lived four years after those words were spoken. When he suffered a heart attack earlier this year, his son-in-law rushed him to Fredericktown's Madison Memorial Hospital, just 17 miles up the road. Once doctors there stabilized him, they tried to transfer him to John Cochran in St. Louis. However, the hospital didn't have room and authorized Ivan's transfer to St. Josephs, in Kirkwood.
Today, the Sansocie's are stuck with a $3,000 bill that the VA refuses to pay because Ivan went from a private hospital to another. Had his son-in-law taken him to Poplar Bluff or St. Louis first, and then he was transferred, the VA would cover the bill. The family says they weren't about to risk Ivan's life by taking him to Bluff which is 70 miles away or to St. Louis, 113 miles away. Pershing Public Affairs Officer Chuck Hayden understands the family's frustration, but points out that they're only following the law. He encourages veterans to talk to their Congressmen and women if they want changes in the law.
We also spoke with Harry Bennett who served in the military for nearly 40 years, but can't get a flu shot from the VA. Because of his wife's income and assets, Mr. Bennett is excluded from enrolling the VA system. In 2003, the VA put limits on what it calls "high income veterans." Mr. Bennett wishes he was told that was a possibility when he signed up in 1952, thinking he'd be covered medically for life.
Dale Moore and Jeff McCully complain of negligent care at both Pershing and Cochran. Moore charges that doctors treat veterans like cattle, getting them in and out as fast as possible, with no regard for them. McCully, disabled two years into his military career, is unhappy with his pension and thinks the care in Poplar Bluff is lacking. He says years ago, doctors failed to diagnose a lump in his neck as cancer. McCully says they just poked at it and told him to go home. He later had it removed at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis and underwent 6 months of chemotherapy and radiation.
With 6 million veterans already in the system and more entering every day, the VA is bloated. It may have to look for more ways to cut costs and that may mean leaving more veterans out. Free medical care is a strong recruitment too, but it may be unrealistic as we continue to fight two wars and face a budget crisis. As Congress looks to revamp the system, veterans may find the system isn't and can't be all that it was promised to be.