WJ Exclusive: US Veterans Share the Tragic Truth of VA Hospital Conditions

Gene Simes, a Marine veteran who served in Vietnam, spoke to a nearly empty room when the organization he leads, Operation Firing For Effect, held its meeting in the halls of Congress.

In fact, The Western Journal staffers, along with an employee from New York Republican Rep. John Katko’s office, were the only spectators present that day.

Operation Firing For Effect is a national veterans advocacy group, and the meeting they held was meant to highlight specific instances of abuse and neglect taking place within the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“This was about having our representatives, their staff members, be present so we can explain the situation that we have, what the Department of Veterans Affairs is not doing,” explained Simes, who serves as the national chairman of OFFE.

Simes contacted every member in the House and Senate in the hopes that at least some would attend, but the effort proved fruitless.

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“You see what showed up. Only one congressman’s staff member showed up. Nobody else showed up. We had an empty room of chairs — no-shows that we voted into office,” he said.

“We have missing representatives. Broken promises. They can tell you that they’re going to do something, but they’re just as clear today with the empty chairs — that’s what they’re going to give you.”

OFFE doesn’t focus on any one specific issue, but rather exists to help any veteran with any array of issues. This was made evident during their Dec. 15 meeting when several veterans approached the podium to speak on a miscellaneous amount of alleged abuses taking place by VA officials — topics ranging from neglect and abuse at VA hospitals to misappropriation of tax dollars, and even misuse of VA property.

Despite the multitude of grievances, all of these whistleblowers appeared to have one thing in common — no one appeared to be listening. Not the media, not Congress and, according to them, not even the VA.

“The Department of Veterans Affairs is just like the representatives. It’s like ‘let’s see how many can die, then we don’t have to give them their disability compensation or their benefits,'” exclaimed Simes. “That’s what we’re here for. That’s why I asked for someone to come down and take a story.”

“Nobody is listening and nobody cares.”

One veteran stood out among the several whistleblowers that day, prepared with a PowerPoint presentation to help explain his story about dealing with the VA.

David Anthony Woody, a 22-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, lives in New Hampshire and receives care at the Manchester VA Medical Center. Woody led a storied career during his time in the military, having logged over 10,000 flight hours and also served as an instructor.

According to Woody, not only has he suffered from poor quality health care due to lackluster management, but the retired chief petty officer has also been the target of personal and malicious abuse.

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During his service in the Navy, Woody volunteered as a live human test subject for new suits, offering himself to evaluate new suits designed to protect soldiers from biological or chemical attacks. The chronic pain he now suffers as a result from these missions, along with enduring strenuous G-force pressure on his body, prompted the military to award Woody the 100 percent “Permanent and Total” disability rating in 2004.

As a recourse for his pain, Woody has long opted for chiropractic and acupuncture therapy — in lieu of narcotic drugs that can be addictive for victims of pain. The retired officer is claiming that one doctor in at the Manchester facility has specifically targeted him for abuse by creating barriers to his medical care, lying to other VA employees and seeking to punish him for being a whistleblower, among other claims in a shocking list of allegations.

Woody provided The Journal with documents, many of them obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, that corroborate his story.

“This started in April of 2016 when myself and two other veterans were needing the same kind of chiropractic care,” Woody began, explaining how Dr. James Schlosser booted him from a medical program he was enjoying for six years into another, more convoluted program — the Veterans Choice Program — as a means to save money.

The decision by Schlosser raises questions given Woody was already awarded the 100 percent Permanent and Total disability rating, meaning he was supposed to receive top care from the VA. This prompted him to appeal and protest the decision.

Through the numerous appeals to get back on his program, he claims to have experienced a host of issues stemming from Schlosser, eventually leading him to report the doctor to the New Hampshire State Licensing Board. Woody now argues that because of these actions, Schlosser has subjected him to even worse medical care and neglect.

“I don’t know if that’s his main focus, but I know that’s part of it. They all know me there. I’m well known in that hospital. They don’t like me because I hold them accountable and I don’t let them get away with it. I’ve gotten to the point where I know the VA system better than they do,” he said, explaining that he’s used FOIA to obtain documents proving his case.

“I documented everything meticulously over the past year. I can clearly prove what (Schlosser) did was intentional. He didn’t care. He did it on purpose. He flat out knew he was going to hurt me.”

Internal emails made public through FOIA requests and shown to The Journal do indicate unethical practices by Manchester VA employees. Such instances include Schlosser misleading another doctor into submitting falsified information that resulted in Woody being deprived of pain management care.

Another such internal email indicates the Manchester Medical Center gave step-by-step instruction to three administrators on how to read Woody’s emails without detection and prevent him from receiving read receipts.

His story to The Journal is new, but rampant complaints about the Manchester VA Medical Center are not.

Following a Boston Globe report on the Manchester facility, Schlosser was removed from his post earlier this year. Along with Schlosser, the head nurse, chief of staff and the hospital director were all removed from their positions as well.

The damning report cited instances such as an operating room abandoned due to a fly infestation, surgeries being canceled because supposedly sterile surgical instruments appearing to have rust or blood on them, and patients with life-threatening illnesses receiving no care because of gross mismanagement.

“I have never seen a hospital run this poorly — every day it gets worse and worse,” said chief of medicine Dr. Stewart Levenson, a near-20-year veteran of the Manchester facility. “I never thought I would be exposing the system like this. But I went through the system and got nowhere.”

The public affairs office of the Manchester VA Medical Center did not specifically address Woody’s allegations when contacted by The Journal, but did acknowledge issues within their management. They said they are working to make things better.

“We are aware of these concerns and are looking into them, but we cannot comment on the treatment of a specific Veteran,” spokeswoman Kristin Pressly said in a written statement.

“Internal investigations along with media accounts over the last several months revealed issues to address at the Manchester VA Medical Center. Since that time, a number of significant changes have been made or announced — from a system-wide review, recruitment of a new leadership team — to multiple town hall meetings and the creation of a task force,” she added.

“The goal is to make necessary changes to ensure that the Manchester VAMC provides the best care to the New Hampshire Veterans it serves.”

Jason Hopkins is The Western Journal’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.

This post was last modified on January 5, 2018 6:32 am