- (Photo: CNN video screencap)
A medical doctor working at Phoenix Veteran Affairs' post-deployment clinic has revealed that even seriously injured Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans are being forced to wait for months to receive the care that they need despite a national mandate giving them priority access.
"People that are 100% service-connected that are polytrauma were waiting anywhere from six to 10 months to get into a new appointment when I found out about 'em," Dr. Katherine Mitchell said on CNN's "AC 360°" on Wednesday night.
"We're talking about people that were injured by being blown up by IEDs. We're talking about people who had a mental breakdown and have severe PTSD and ... are having trouble functioning."
Mitchell said that the Phoenix VA facility had not been following the mandate, forcing the veterans to wait for months, at least up until three weeks ago.
President Barack Obama announced at a Wednesday press conference that he has commissioned an investigation into allegations that veterans across the country have been receiving inadequate medical care. The probe will be led by VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
"I want to know what's working, I want to know what's not working, and I want specific recommendations," the president said.
He added that the problem is a decades-long one, and insisted that no American should stand for such a treatment of the nation's servicemen and women.
"We know that it often takes too long for veterans to get the care that they need. That's not a new development. It's been a problem for decades," Obama said.
"Folks who have been fighting on the battlefield should not have to fight a bureaucracy at home to get the care that they have earned."
News broke in April that at least 40 U.S. veterans died after they were allegedly stuck for months on a secret waiting list to see doctors in the Phoenix VA Healthcare system, a case Obama said will be investigated along with others.
Mitchell said that she reported the long wait times to the VA's Office of the inspector general. The office in turn pointed to a Shinseki statement made before a Senate committee looking into the allegations: "It is important to allow OIG's independent and objective review to proceed until completion, and OIG has advised VA against providing information that could potentially compromise their ongoing review."
The medical doctor offered that VA does not have enough medical providers to care for veterans, stemming from low pay, lack of qualified professionals applying to work at the VA and a slow hiring process.
"As a result, you've got a lot of patients and not enough providers. It's not just Phoenix VA. It's across the country, which is why everyone is hiding a backlog," Mitchell said.
CNN's Anderson Cooper shared his thoughts on Mitchell's account by stating: "It's really incredible, we all hear about delays and stuff, but someone who has recently returned with a war injury, with an IED injury, lost a limb, severe PTSD is told to wait 10 months? That's insane."
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough revealed on Sunday that Obama is "madder than hell" over the issue.
"The president is madder than hell, and I've got the scars to prove it, given the briefings I've given the president. Nobody is more outraged about this problem, right now," McDonough said.