Missteps and gaps in care that led to the suicides of three military veterans were at the center of a hearing Wednesday in Atlanta. Veterans told of indifferent caregivers and long waits for appointments at the Atlanta Veterans’ Administration Hospital in Decatur. Two officials have since retired and several others have been reassigned.
Vondell Brown didn’t shout and he didn’t accuse. But when he finished speaking, several generations of veterans erupted in applause in a packed room at Georgia State University.
That’s because he’s with the Wounded Warrior Project. And while he praised the VA for making strides in its mental health care services, he politely said there are still problems.
He told the story of one veteran who sought treatment.
“The warrior told me that the provider never introduced himself, didn’t try to build any kind of relationship and when he broke down during the meeting, he was not even offered a tissue or shown no empathy," he said. "So the veteran left feeling more depressed and broken than before.”
Another veteran interrupted the hearing because she refuted the claim that the VA is providing individualized treatment.
Lisa Daniels is a homeless vet who served Desert Storm and Desert Shield tours. In an interview outside the hearing room, she said no one will listen to her.
“When you keep going to the office to complain, people get tired and they’ll start saying, ‘We’ve helped her once. She’s complaining too much’,” she said.
The hearing followed two reports issued earlier this year by the Office of the Inspector General. They highlighted mismanagement at the VA hospital in Decatur. For example, 21 percent of veterans who sought care never received treatment.
U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson convened the hearing. He grilled Dr. Robert Petzel who’s with the VA in Washington.
“If you did a good roots cause analysis, you would have known something was wrong. And you should have called your own IG to come in to investigate it. Am I right?
“That's correct," Petzel replied.
Since the reports were issued, the Atlanta VA hospital has already added more than 60 new mental health professionals.