In an echo of stories told by veterans across the nation, Cint, of Powder Springs, said he was denied care from the VA after a two-year battle with the department.
The retired radioman, who served 24 years in the Navy, is still bitter about the mountain of paperwork and multiple physicals the medical centers required him to go through, only to deny him care.
After spending decades riding the jarring waves inside a ship, Cint has developed problems in both knees and his hip. In addition, Cint has trouble hearing from all the years he spent inside the radio room, with signals blaring, where he said he translated Morse code during the Vietnam War.
Cint thought he could count on his VA benefits when he began to get aches and pains later. But it wasn’t as easy as he had anticipated.
“They turned me down because they said I couldn’t prove (my injuries) were because of my work in the service,” Cint said.
Now, Cint goes to a private doctor, but he hasn’t been able to pay for the treatment he needs, so he uses a walker and shakes slightly as he stands.
Another veteran says he was completely forgotten by a VA medical center when he tried to make an appointment for a surgery. Vern John, the commander of a VFW post in Acworth, said he needed surgery on his eye that would take two rounds of operations.
John’s first surgery was successful, but afterward, the VA medical center never scheduled the second eye surgery he needed.
“They forgot about me once,” John said. “I had eye surgery and they forgot about me, but I didn’t pursue it because I didn’t want to go under the knife again.”
Marietta veteran Boykin Dunaway said he had such negative experiences with the Veterans Affairs Department that he wouldn’t even consider trusting them with his health care.
“I haven’t tried (a VA medical center), and I won’t try unless it’s absolutely necessary,” Dunaway said.
Dunaway, a 99-year-old veteran of World War II who served as a medic in combat, said he thinks that VA is a disgrace.
“I’ve had some personal dealings with them, and I would imagine that almost every other veteran has problems with them,” said Dunaway, who is the cousin of former Marietta mayor Bill Dunaway. “They’re a bunch of idiots, and I don’t think any of them know what they’re doing.”
David Pipes, the state adjutant for veterans at the Veterans of Foreign Wars State Headquarters, said the leadership of the national VA office should not be blamed.
Many veterans agreed the wrong people were being punished after an outcry from veterans who feel they were wronged by the department. A public uproar about the department led the head of the VA, Eric Shinseki, to resign May 30.
“The problem is not the leadership in Washington, it’s their appointment system at the hospital,” Pipes said.
Cint said he agrees.
“It’s not the big guys that’s messing with people and misusing the schedules,” Cint said. “It’s the little guys at the bottom trying to make their job easier and not get fired.”
The whole system needs reform, Cint said.
Despite the controversy, some veterans understand the setbacks.
One veterans said he thought the long wait times others experienced could have been avoided if they had signed up for VA benefits as soon as they left the service.
“My overall experience with the Atlanta clinic was that if someone waits to sign up for the VA benefits until the last minute — until there’s an emergency — then I don’t know how long it takes,” said David Russ, a retiree, of Smyrna, who was on active duty during the Vietnam War in the Navy.
Other local veterans are satisfied with how local VA centers are operating.
“(The VA) treats me all right,” said Alfred McAfee Jr., a retiree from Marietta who served in the Army in the Vietnam War and uses the Atlanta VA center in DeKalb on Clairmont Road. “They got me in on time, and I make all my appointments with them.”
Robert Beckner, a retired master sergeant in the Air Force who lives in Powder Springs, said he is happy with the care he gets from the medical center in Smyrna. The complaints and controversy, he said, could be coming from the types of people who aren’t patient with the system.
“Some of (the complaints are) veteran-induced,” Beckner said. “Some people don’t take limitations on a system very well.”