by: Walt Buteau
FROSTPROOF, Fla. (WFLA) — A nagging knee injury sent veteran Steve Cook to the doctor, but he had no idea how difficult it would be to fill a seemingly simple prescription.
Cook lived far enough from Bay Pines Veterans Affairs Medical Center to qualify for Community Care. The often-criticized VA program, set to cost more than $20 billion next fiscal year, is supposed to help veterans go outside the VA if they wait too long for appointments or live too far from a facility.
But getting the knee brace prescribed by a Community Care doctor led to a headache Cook never expected when he served for six years in the Air Force starting in the late 70s.
Suddenly he was stuck in a tedious VA runaround.
“I still never got a clear answer,” Cook said. “I’d have one person say, ‘well, you need to do this. You need to do that.’ Different fax numbers. Different people to contact.”
Months later, still no answers and no knee brace. Then, Cook watched an 8 On Your Side investigation about claims a lack of data transparency allowed the VA to manipulate wait times to skirt Community Care requirements.
Darin Selnick, an Air Force veteran who helped write the most recent set of Community Care regulations known as the Mission Act, said the VA was “cooking the books on wait times.”
“So, when I saw your news report,” Cook recalled, “I said, ‘they’re doing it to me.’”
After Cook called 8 On Your Side, we contacted the VA. Cook said within hours, he got a call from the agency. A couple of days later, he had his knee brace.
“Without you guys, I’d still be waiting. Maybe I’d get it by Christmas,” Cook said. “And I’m serious – I think they would’ve denied it or they would’ve come up with another excuse.”
Community Care was enacted after the VA scandal in 2014 when several veterans died while waiting for medical care. In 2018, the Mission Act reduced the window of time to 20 days for primary, mental and extended care, and 28 days for specialty care.
Selnick, a senior adviser for the advocacy group Concerned Veterans for America, has warned that another wait list scandal is brewing and fueled by a lack of released data by the VA.
A federal lawsuit filed in July by Americans for Prosperity Foundation, asked the court to order the VA to process records requests submitted in late May to facilities in four states, including Florida. James Haley and Bay Pines were among the VA facilities that received records requests from the plaintiff, according to the complaint.
Cook said even though his knee got worse while he waited for the brace, he fears other veterans face far more serious delayed care.
“People were dying because of it,” Cook said. “It’s starting to happen again.”
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Today is Sunday, Dec. 5, the 339th day of 2021. There are 26 days left in the year.
Today’s Highlight in History:
PASCO COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Pasco County deputies are investigating a stabbing that is said to have happened at an O’Reilly Auto Parts in Hudson.
A Saturday night press release said a person who claimed to be the stabber remained at the scene. The Pasco Sheriff’s Office said it is still searching for the individual that was possibly injured in the stabbing.
TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — “Helping Thru” the Hurt Mentor Program wanted to spread a little holiday cheer to families who’ve lost loved ones to gun violence.
“We blessed 65 children today with boxes of toys. They got backpacks full of school supplies,” said Markitia Robinson, found of the organization.