LAKEWOOD RANCH, Fla. (AP) - Concerns about long waits and backlogs at Veterans Affairs hospitals crept into Memorial Day tributes in the Tampa Bay area.
Gulf War veteran Dave Daily and other veterans at a parade Sunday in Lakewood Ranch blamed bureaucratic red tape for the problems recently revealed at VA hospitals nationwide.
"It's not the doctors and nurses," Daily told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. "It's the middle and upper management people. That's what's upsetting. ... If you don't say the right thing on these documents, it can kick back the claim."
Vietnam veteran Alan Merklein, who has relied on the VA for surgeries and ongoing cartilage injections, praised VA Secretary Eric Shinseki announcement Saturday that VA clinics are expanding capacity and patients are being transferred to private hospitals to expedite their care.
"That's exactly what they should be doing," Merklein said.
Nils Carlson, a Navy veteran of the Korean War, said the VA performed heart surgery on him last year.
"They took good care of me - until I got the bills," he said.
Carlson said he needed about a year to make thousands of dollars in payments the VA would not cover, some of which were deducted from his military pension. Since then, he's switched to civilian health care providers and a Medicare plan that completely covers his expenses.
Daily and other veterans said working with "service officers" associated with veterans' organizations sometimes can help sort out some of the problems with VA claims.
"I'm in great health but someday I won't be," Daily said. "I expect that care to be there when I need it."