By Meg Kinnard
South Carolina veterans shared their frustrations in getting Veterans Affairs health care with U.S. Sen. Tim Scott on Friday amid news that new VA facilities could ease the problem of getting care along the coast.
Scott listened to veterans in North Charleston and planned to move on to Greenville and Lexington.
A day earlier, a bipartisan Senate bill proposed that 26 new medical facilities in 18 states be leased by the VA, including a walk-in clinic in Myrtle Beach and a primary care and dental annex in Charleston.
Scott, speaking in North Charleston, said senators want to provide more access but did not want to discuss Myrtle Beach and Charleston.
"There's no doubt we're looking for more opportunities to expand care in South Carolina. I don't want to speak specifically to locations until we actually have a bill that is passed. I don't want to create false hope," he said.
He said it was hard to hear veterans' stories about health care and spoke to two wives who lost their husbands because of delayed cancer care. He said vets routinely wait a long time for appointments sometimes just to have those appointments rescheduled.
"The level of frustration feeds the toxic environment that the VA has not met the timeline or the quality they have promised veterans," Scott said.
Veterans met privately with staffers from his office and their stories will be forwarded to the VA or to a congressional committee investigating the VA.
"We are looking forward to hearing just one thing: the truth," Scott told The AP earlier this week. "Our goal is to uncover what our veterans face at VAs throughout our state ... and hopefully improve the quality of life for our veterans."
Earlier this year, after reports about veterans dying while awaiting appointments, Scott and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called for an independent investigation into "reported mismanagement, incompetence, and corruption" at the VA.
A report by the VA's inspector general found that 1,700 Phoenix-area veterans were "at risk of being lost or forgotten" after being kept off the official waiting list. Officials confirmed Friday 18 other veterans whose names were kept off the list have also died.
Iraq war veteran Jonathan Lubecky, who spoke with Scott in North Charleston, described for the AP years of frustration with the VA in trying to get appointments and medications that could help after he suffered back and other wounds.
"A lot of the problem in the VA is the people that we interact with either don't care, or they are given ridiculous rules and policies from upon high that even they disagree with," he said.
Lubecky noted doctors at the Charleston VA Medical Center have told him there are medications they would like to prescribe and felt would help him but they were unable to because of VA rules.
For Scott, the interest in veterans' issues is more than professional. His father retired from the U.S. Air Force and two brothers have served decades in the military.
"With veterans living in every corner of the country, is there a way to complement the current VA with greater access to specialists and care if you're not close to a VA?" Scott asked. "There is no Republican or Dem solution. We're looking for a veteran-specific solution."