Mr. Marrable was an Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam. Several years ago, he had been diagnosed with cancer. He made peace with his coming end. He made a bucket list with his daughter, and the two of them set out to check-off the items. Eventually, he was placed at the Eagle's Nest Community Living Center at the Atlanta VAMC. This was a place where he would be surrounded by fellow veterans and provided care, supposedly, 24 hours a day. He spent nearly 14 months there.
Recently, after a long trip, his daughter came to visit. When she went to hold his hand, she was shocked to discover it was severely swollen. She informed the staff, but she was even more shocked at the story she was told. One night, a few days prior, another care provider came in to Mr. Marrable's room, turned on the light, and discovered he was covered head to toe with swarming ants. In his daughter's words, "he was being eaten alive".
The staffer took action immediately to bring Mr. Marrable to the shower to rid him of the infestation, then returned him to the same room. He had suffered over 100 bites from the ants.
When his daughter heard the story, she immediately confronted hospital administrators who agreed to move him. However, within hours of the move, Mr. Marrable passed away.
His daughter believes that the staffers wanted to care for her father. It does seem that the staffer who witnessed the event took immediate and appropriate action, and the Atlanta VAMC has since instituted some serious changes and are implementing an investigation. The problem was that the facility was understaffed.
His daughter asks, "Do we understand the magnitude of how busy the VA is, the number of patient's they have?"
After vietnam, and again after 2001, the population of veterans grew, and more veterans had access to veterans benefits causing an increasing strain on VA resources. The largest group of veterans is now the "gulf war" era veterans, surpassing the most recently largest group, vietnam veterans like Mr. Marrable. The Veterans Health Administration is the largest healthcare network in the United States, with 171 medical centers and more than a thousand outpatient clinics. VA claims those medical centers and clinics serve more than 9 million enrolled veterans. However, from 2009 to 2013, the outpatient visits increased from 73 million to over 86 million.
Those limited clinics are also understaffed.
According to the VA Office of the Inspector General as many as 49,000 positions are unfilled system wide. That means the insufficient number of care facilities are not even operating at their woefully insufficient capacity. In our work at Rawls Law Group bringing medical malpractice claims against VA care providers, we see the staffing problem in growing wait times after we file our client's initial claims until the agency has reviewed them.
First-Hand Experience with VA Wait Times
I am a veteran myself, and my family is filled with veterans and a couple of us have actually worked for VA. I have received care at three different VA Medical Centers. I have a personal story regarding VA wait times. I had received treatment for a condition that occurred to me twice. The first time, I receive care at a private care provider and, the second time at a VA medical center. At the private facility, my issue was resolved in two weeks. At VA, it took nearly a year - almost all of that time waiting on appointments.
Of course VA is not likely to start a building and hiring spree. VA is currently projecting the number of veterans will decrease from approximately 20 million in 2017 to 13.6 million in 2037.
Unless these wait times become an issue for all of us and we let our legislators know, these wait times are not going to be resolved any time soon.
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