Lakeshore Report

Veteran Sees Long Wait Times at Crown Point VA Center

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By: Hilary Powell

It was an unexpected call but not an unwelcome one.

“Right before you contacted me, you know I had got a, I received a call,” says veteran Devon Edwards. “Normally I would never receive a call. You know, never receive a call to tell me that hey, we are overbooked. Is it possible for us to reschedule your appointment to a later date?”

A May 19th call from a scheduler at the Veteran Affairs Adam Benjamin Jr. Outpatient Center in Crown Point, Ind. shook up the regular routine 40-year-old Edwards says he expects when booking appointments.

“We’re overbooked is the number one response I get,” Edwards says. “And they know this is a frustration with many veterans. Many veterans are frustrated with the overbooking.”

“Oh that’s a surprise to me,” says clinic director Jill Carley. “Veterans from this clinic? I would have to, I would have to see the circumstances. That’s, that’s unusual. I’m surprised to hear that, actually.”

Carley says she is unaware of extended wait times at Adam Benjamin for the 13,500 veterans who are served annually at the primary care facility — an outpatient center for Chicago’s Jesse brown VA medical center.

Carley says each new patient is seen within 14 days.

“At the Adam Benjamin Jr. Outpatient clinic, we have no patients who are waiting longer than14 days. All new patients are seen within 14 days. We do not have any wait lists here at this clinic. And we don’t anticipate any problems with that because we have enough staff and um, uh, it’s not a problem at this clinic.”

But one fact seems unanimous from the VA: Delays in care for veterans are universal, system-wide. This from a may 28th report from the VA office of inspector general that found “inappropriate scheduling practices are systemic throughout the VHA.”

“It would be inappropriate to comment on that but at this clinic, it is not an issue and it is not a problem,” Carley says.

Edwards says long wait times for even routine services are a given.

He says he waited more than a year starting in 2013 to book a dentist appointment at Adam Benjamin.

Edwards: “I was like, yo, I’m trying to get this appointment and it’s like, man it’s like I’m waiting 30, 60, 90 days for an appointment. And I was like, are we that busy? And I was like, well why do I have to go through so much through the VA system.

The Schererville, Ind. — based veteran, spent seventeen years serving across three branches of the military.

“I loved serving my country,” he says.

His daily health battles with lupus and kidney disease are reminders of the only reason Edwards’ quit: a medical retirement.

After his conditions were declared as one hundred percent service-related, he started attending Adam Benjamin in 2008.

After his scheduled appointment for the dentist was delayed, he sought help from the clinic’s patient advocate — a position Carley says is a check and balance for VA policy violations like long wait times.

“I told this to the patient, the rep, and she went, she called on the phone and the person I had an issue with, which really wasn’t with her, it was with the, the scheduling system,” Edwards says.

A new appointment was set and met, but Edwards says the latest call he received was the result of VA audits nationwide, which have found inappropriate scheduling practices are used to hide long wait times for thousands of veterans — including at one facility in southern Indiana.

In a statement, VA public affairs officer Kevin Harris says there were “no major findings” from recent face-to-face audits at Adam Benjamin.

These days, Edwards uses his military memories to fuel inspiration for his new career.

“When I left the military, uh, the purpose that I felt was gone. It was no longer existent,” he says. “ I felt like I needed a new purpose. And, I came back here to go to school for film because I knew I wanted to tell my story.”

As the owner of Inspire Films production company, Edwards says he’s willing to speak up about his clinic experiences so other veterans will benefit.

“There are a lot of service men and women who love serving their country. If people who worked for these federal institutions that provide services for veterans who love to serve their country just took enough pride and sensitivity and passion behind their work, you know, i don’t think we would have many of these problems.”

We’d also like to hear about your experiences with the VA on Twitter at @LakeshoreReport or via email at news@lakeshorepublicmedia.org.

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