Veterans on Memorial Day: heal the VA


BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – As the scandal surrounding hospitals operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs ramps up, a new report shows the backlog of disability claims at the VA’s Regional Benefit Office in Buffalo is one of the worst in the country.

A VA spokesman says the Buffalo office is improving, after an audit three years ago, showed one third of the disability claims here were processed incorrectly.

The report shows the average wait for a pending disability claim in the Buffalo office is 184 days, but Marie Schappacher of Friendship, N.Y. a retired Army disability claimant says it took her 8 years to get her claim approved.

“It’s a shame that we had to fight for our country, and now we have to fight for our medical care,” says Schappacher who has also had to tangle with VA brass over what she called misdiagnoses and botched surgery.

How did Schappacher get by while waiting 8 years for her disability decision? The retired Specialist 4 says she depended on the help of “friends, family, social services. Now I’m a burden on Allegany County or Cattaraugus County. I fought for my country, and now I have to go through social services to get help?”

But it’s the medical care that sparks Marie’s determination the most. Over the weekend, President Obama and VA officials offered to pay more for outside private medical care for veterans, because of the department’s heavy backlogs.

Congress is responding. Speaking on CBS News’ “Face the Nation”, Sen. John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, favored the President’s decision, “I’m glad he is engaging. The things that were said yesterday about giving veterans access to non-VA facilities, if they can’t get into VA facilities, I think is a welcome change.”

Sen. John McCain, of Arizona also supports the idea. It was the VA hospital in Phoenix, in the Republican senator’s home state, that touched off the VA scandal.

It was the Phoenix VA hopsital in McCain’s home state that touched off the VA scandal.

McCain told a town hall meeting, “I am advocating that we give our veterans a choice. Why not be able to go to the local doctor and get the treatment or the local hospital, whichever it is?”

But Marie says, after VA surgeons botched surgery to her back, and her condition worsened, she sought out a local neurosurgeon, who performed two surgeries.

Schappacher says the VA took nearly a year to pay for the first surgery. It has been a year since the second operation, and her doctor still has not been paid, leaving Marie to fend for herself against bill collectors, and a worsening credit rating.

“And what they are not going to tell these veterans is, before you go off-site for any care, you have to get approved for that care. That can take anywhere from two-to-three months,” protests the retired Army veteran.

While a spokesperson for the Buffalo VA could not comment on a specific patient, she did say, if a veteran is eligible for a procedure that is not provided at the VA facility here, the VA will pay for the procedure–depending on the urgency–if it is performed at another VA medical center, or private facility.

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