VA to Iraq war vet: 'We're not accepting any new patients'USA Today
July 2, 2015
Iraq war veteran Chris Dorsey figured that no one would believe he had been turned away from a US Department of Veteran's Affairs clinic when he sought an appointment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
So when he went on Tuesday to another facility, the VA Oakwood, Georgia, Community Based Outpatient Clinic, he flipped on his smartphone camera.
On the video, Dorsey is heard waiting patiently in line for more than 5 minutes. When he reaches the check-in counter, he informs the desk he needs a transfer from the Athens, Georgia, VA system and an appointment.
"We're not accepting any new patients - not this clinic," the VA employee behind the desk says, without providing any extra information, assistance or guidance for treatment.
According to Dorsey, his previous experience-- getting turned away at the VA clinic in Lawrenceville, Ga.,--prompted him to bring his camera to the Oakwood facility.
"I told my family about this stuff happening and they've said, 'You are crazy, no one would do that.' Well, the video explains it," Dorsey said after posting the video on Facebook and Youtube.
Dorsey, a former Army specialist, served as a cavalry scout from 2001 to 2005 and deployed to Iraq for most of 2003.
A few years ago, the VA paid for him to see a civilian psychologist for his service-related post-traumatic stress - therapy he described as "extremely helpful."
He is seeking treatment again for what he says are worsening symptoms.
But it seems unlikely he'll get that care close to home. His only remaining VA option is the medical center in Atlanta, Ga., more than 50 miles from his home.
The VA last year introduced a program - VA Choice - that would allow Dorsey to see a civilian therapist, but until he spoke with a fellow veteran at a nearby veterans' outreach group about his recent experiences at the two clinics, he'd never heard of VA Choice.
And none of the employees at either clinic mentioned it either.
"It's devastating for me to go in to two places and say I'm here to get help and they are essentially saying 'I'm not going to help you,'" Dorsey said.
Jerry Edwards, a fellow Army veteran who founded the non-profit North Georgia Veterans Outreach Center, knows Dorsey and said he's familiar with the staff at the Oakwood clinic. He said the facility is state-of-the-art and largely has caring employees but some individuals are not helpful and the clinic often is overwhelmed by the number of patients it serves.
North Georgia, Edwards said, has an inadequate number of doctors - VA or civilian.
"We have some very serious geographical issues. Now we have the VA Choice card but we have doctors who won't accept it or don't understand it," Edwards said.
By its own admission, VA has had problems implementing VA Choice, which began last November. As of May, it had authorized appointments for roughly 50,000 veterans but had received more than a half million inquiries about the program.
VA officials released a statement Wednesday responding to the report, saying the desk assistant's response to Dorsey is "inconsistent with our ICARE values," referring to its core tenets of integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect and excellence.
"VA staff should have established a full understanding of Mr. Dorsey's medical situation and determined if an appointment was available for him at another location or if he was eligible for the Choice Program and could be seen outside of VA," said VA spokesman James Hutton. "The message Mr. Dorsey was given, as seen on the video, is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated."
Hutton said leaders at the Atlanta VA Medical Center will follow up with Dorsey to ensure that he receives services and care and officials are developing a plan to retrain front-line staff.
"At VA, we know that we must improve our service to veterans and that is precisely why Secretary [Bob] McDonald began MyVA, a reorganization of the department with the singular goal of placing the veteran at the center of everything we do," Hutton said.
Dorsey is heard leaving the clinic in frustration, slamming the door on his way out and commenting about the number of veterans' suicides - 22 - estimated by VA to occur each day.
He said he made the video to show what veterans often encounter when they try to get help at VA.
"If it's happening to me, I can't just be be the only one," he said.