FORT WORTH (CBS 11 NEWS) – They served their country. They were promised care in return.
Now a doctor who worked in the Veteran Affairs health care system for more than a decade told CBS 11 why dozens of military veterans are struggling to get the care they need in North Texas.
“It doesn’t take an 8th grader to figure out that the system is upside down. It doesn’t work. It’s broken,” said Dr. Steve Bishop, a Granbury physician, who was a primary care provider for the VA for 13 years.
And even though Bishop has not worked for the VA for two years, he is still listed on some websites as the go-to doctor for veterans in Granbury.
The physician told CBS 11 that, before he left, the VA health care system in North Texas had become encumbered by bureaucratic data-gathering requirements.
That, in turn, took away some of the valuable time doctors need to see and treat their patients. His average patient load dropped from 25 veterans to as few as 12 a day.
“It didn’t make any sense to me to diminish the number of patients I could see to get into the system by (instead) straddling me with a computer system that was not friendly,” Bishop said in an interview. “As a doctor, you’re not trained to do data entry. You’re trained to see patients.”
Jeffrey Milligan, director of the VA North Texas Health Care System, agreed that “we are a data-driven organization.” Milligan, however, said there is a reason for that – “It helps us determine where to apply resources.”
He said he oversees a system that treats 111,000 patients throughout North Texas, with a budget of $860 million. With such a large organization, there are “isolated cases” of veterans falling through the cracks.
“When I hear about it, when members of my staff hear about it, we work very hard to address those things,” Milligan said.
A CBS 11 investigation found a federal report, published only a month ago by the VA’s Office of Inspector General, that noted long wait times for veterans in need of health care in North Texas.
“A complainant alleged that a dialysis patient waited more than four months for permanent vascular access and that ambulatory monitoring for a cardiac patient was delayed three months,” the report said.
It added, “We substantiated that these and other patients experienced excessive wait times. For five referrals for vascular access, the time from referral to completion of a procedure was 89-138 days.
“For 213 patients scheduled for ambulatory cardiac monitoring, the average wait time was 68 days.”
Dr. Bishop had a story, as well, about a time when he said he desperately needed to talk to a doctor at the VA medical center in Dallas. He said he repeatedly called the hospital, and each time the same operator simply transferred him to a voicemail.
“Well, I didn’t need a voicemail. I needed to talk to the doctor,” Bishop said. “So I called again. This time I asked for housekeeping. I got housekeeping. They got the doctor for me,” he said.
CBS 11 News, in an ongoing investigation, has interviewed multiple veterans, their families and members of the medical community about concerns over care provided by the VA at its hospital in Dallas, and its clinics throughout North Texas.
One of those veterans is Merial Bachhoffer of Cleburne, a 70-year-old Army veteran who says his cancerous tumor doubled in size by the time he was able to be seen by the VA.
Now, Bachhoffer said, “It’s incurable.”
In the living room of his Cleburne home, sitting in a reclining chair that helps ease the pain from the cancer, Bachhoffer told CBS 11 News, “It’s one of those things that I just felt like it might have made a difference if we’d gotten the ball rolling in July, instead of September or October.”
Bachhoffer searched for words, as he sat with Sandra, his wife of 50 years.
“I don’t know, I guess when you hit 70, I kind of get the feeling that maybe even my health care is over with …getting close …getting short,” he said.
Despite his condition, Bachhoffer said he would wait even longer for care, if it helped younger soldiers just returning from harm’s way.
“I know there are soldiers returning from the war. They need immediate care too, you know. And if the VA is strapped for cash …I’d give up my bed for one of them, I would,” he said. “I’ve lived most of my life …and most of these young guys, they, if that would be the case, I would …give up my bed.”
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