On the second day of landings at Normandy, Army Pfc. Benjamin Goo remembers the bullets flying and the sight of soldiers’ bodies as his unit penetrated the shoreline on Omaha Beach to join the invasion of Nazi-occupied France.
“I thought I was gonna be killed,” Goo, 91, said Tuesday, sitting on the couch at his sister’s Las Vegas home. “All I saw was guys dying. You just keep going. We were instructed (if) the guys dropped over, leave them alone.
“You get shot at. You worry about getting yourself going,” said Goo, who was wounded later in Czechoslovakia and recovered in a Paris hospital.
His military service records show he joined the Army on Sept. 15, 1941, a week before his 19th birthday in Honolulu, his home town. He was tasked with recovering bodies after the Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor attack.
Flash forward 70 years from D-Day to the emergency room at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in North Las Vegas and Goo, accompanied by caregivers, his sister Kehaulani and brother-in-law Michael Casler, found himself enduring a different, non-violent kind of hell. It was one of long waits followed by Internet searches of government sites and phone calls for helpful information that led to a dead end.
“Although the care was OK, the wait times in the emergency room were terribly long,” Michael Casler wrote in an email about his brother-in-laws’ experience.
The miscues that followed the long wait of Goo, a retired Air National Guard first sergeant, “goes a long way toward explaining why (former VA Secretary) Eric Shinseki and others at the VA should be fired,” he wrote in an email to the Review-Journal that he signed “an angry and sad American.”
Shinseki resigned last week following release of preliminary findings by the VA inspector general’s staff of systemic problems with VA health care including problems with appointment scheduling and wait times at some facilities in the massive VA bureaucracy.
“I don’t even have the words to express how disgusted this makes me,” Casler wrote about his brother-in-law’s VA experience.
Casler said he tried to call the VA three times Tuesday at 800-827-1000 and wound up at the same place as before: a dead end with no opportunity to leave a message. It’s a loop that leads to “Please try again.”
“You really and truly can’t leave a message. They don’t give you that option,” Michael Casler said. When he called back to the after-hours number, he got the recording, “Sorry. Business is closed.”
He spoke about Goo’s VA experience hours before Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., met privately with selected veterans who attended a “listening session” in Henderson.
Heck, an emergency room doctor, Army Reserve colonel and member of the House Armed Services Committee, said after the session that Goo’s case is similar to other concerns expressed by veterans Tuesday “that goes back to the whole idea of trying to increase customer service.”
“We’ve got to address each one of these areas with specific reform that’s targeted toward the individual problem,” Heck said. “It’s unacceptable that somebody has got to make three or four or five calls to the same number to try to get answer to a question they had.”
Heck said the feedback he heard from veterans is that most are satisfied with the quality of health care they receive.
“The issues are the bureaucracy and trying to get to that health care,” Heck said.
The Caslers encountered a Catch-22 with the VA system that requires an upgraded log-in so they can access Goo’s Tri Care medical plan to find out about Goo’s dental and eye care benefits.
But because Goo suffered a stroke in 2006 and can’t remember some of the information required to get a new log-in identification, the Pentagon website lists a number to call to get the ID over the phone.
“I call the number listed, go through the options and I am told that call volume is high so they cannot take my call. There is no way to leave a message and I am told to call back later. I do, but still cannot get through,” Casler wrote.
“This is how we treat our Veterans? This guy landed at Normandy on day 2 of D-Day and fought in Europe. Without him and others, we’d have lost WW II and life for us all would be very different, if we even existed at all,” Casler wrote.
A VA spokesman, Richard Beam, said he couldn’t speak to the Tri Care issues because Tri Care isn’t administered by the VA.
As for Goo’s emergency room wait, Beam said in an email Tuesday, “Access to care in the Emergency Department is based on the acuity of medical need. When a patient has to wait an extended period, it is because there are others patients in greater need of care.”
Heck said, “As far as I’ve been able to tell, we don’t see the same type of issue like we saw down in Phoenix where two sets of books were being kept,” one for actual appointment waits and the other for reporting to headquarters to justify bonuses for keeping appointments within time requirements.
At Southern Nevada VA facilities, “there are some delays with getting appointments primarily due to volume,” he said.
Meanwhile on Monday, two other veterans discussed their VA appointment scheduling hassles in interviews at the Review-Journal.
Bruce Brent, 66, who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, and Air Force veteran Robert Maccarillo, 72, said they often have scheduled health care appointments with VA doctors three months in advance, only to receive form letters on short notice, telling them their appointments have to be rescheduled.
Brent said he has shown up for a scheduled appointment only to learn that it wasn’t logged in the system.
“There are too many veterans and not enough doctors,” Brent said.
Beam said that as of September there were 48,588 veterans enrolled in the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System and 184 medical doctors, or one doctor for 264 patients. There are also 10 nurse practitioners, one doctor of osteopath, and 12 physician assistants, four emergency room doctors, two emergency physician assistants and 10 contract emergency room medical professionals.
Maccarillo said he’s dealt with three doctors in the past two years at local VA facilities, and has seen three other cardiologists.
About 10 appointments have been cancelled, usually by form letter, he said. Twice since March he’s taken tests for his condition, “and I haven’t heard a word from them since.”
Brent said, “The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.”
He suggests the VA appoint five veterans who use the VA facilities to field concerns and alert officials “so it ends up going to Washington to see what the little guy thinks.”
Contact Keith Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0308. Find him on Twitter: @KeithRogers2.