Veteran Brad Harber’s problems with the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center began with a stuffy nose and watery eyes.
What followed was a five-year odyssey as he sought unsuccessfully to get treatment for his allergies.
Harber, a Gulf War veteran, chronicled his experience, keeping hundreds of pages of medical records and recording countless phone calls with medical center officials.
As the VA struggles with allegations of poor patient care and long wait times across the nation, Harber’s case offers a local example of the frustration some veterans feel when seeking help from the federal agency.
“I know for a fact that the problem is they are way understaffed,” Harber said.
“The second thing is, ... even if they had the amount of staff it took, they don’t have the facilities. There’s nowhere to put these people. And the worst part is, it’s very much a morale killer for those employees because many of them are veterans, too. They don’t want veterans to be mad about treatment. They don’t want people to have to wait so long, and I’m sure these people for the most part don’t approve of these (waiting) lists.”
A different story
In the past two months, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has been placed in the national spotlight over its fractured system of care, with veterans across the country waiting too long for care.
A Veterans Affairs audit released Monday showed that wait times for new patients trying to see a primary care physician, specialist or mental health professional vary widely across the nation.
Overall, wait-time figures for the Oklahoma City and Muskogee’s Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center Home were generally better than dozens of VA facilities in other parts of the U.S. where there were longer wait times for new and established patients, but officials said they are still working to improve veterans’ access to care.
Harber’s experience tells a different story.
For years, Harber kept hundreds of pages of medical records and recorded phone conversations he had, attempting to obtain consistent care for his allergies.
During a phone conversation in April 2011, Harber talks with an OKC VA employee about the attempts he has made to schedule an appointment with an allergist.
Harber tells the woman he has been waiting, he thinks, three years for an appointment because the OKC VA didn’t have a contracted facility to provide allergy care, he said.
“Three years? My goodness, I was thinking a year was about the longest that we had right now,” the woman says.
The woman checks the system for Harber’s records, trying to understand why he has waited so long. She is patient and listens to his concerns, often agreeing with him during the conversation.
Harber tells the woman that he was told he was on the waiting list.
“I hate to say this, but they told a lot of people that, and there was no such waiting list,” she tells him.
“I understand your anger. I would be angry, and I would suggest that you contact somebody about it, because the only thing I can do is tell you you need to go to your primary care physician and have them turn in a consult.”
Harber tells her that his VA primary care doctor turned in a consult request for him to see a specialist for his allergies.
She tells Harber that, actually, they haven’t. She looks in the system and finds that his consult was scheduled for Sept. 14, 2006. It had been almost five years.