WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - A retired Army Lieutenant Colonel is speaking out about the Wilmington VA Clinic. He says even for the VA, which is notorious for slow and sometimes inadequate medical care, the Wilmington VA Clinic is falling behind.
Dan Morgan served the United States for 29 years before retiring in 2011. He has been trying to get an appointment with a specialist at the VA for almost a year for recurring hip pain, but despite an attempted referral from his primary care doctor at the VA, he is still waiting for the recommended care.
Adding insult to injury, Morgan says his primary care doctor at the VA suggested the internet for other medical advice.
For his joint pain, Morgan says the doctor told him to search for physical therapy exercises on YouTube. To replace his out-of-date prescription eyeglasses, Morgan says the same physician recommended Googling "cheap Chinese glasses" to find a website that would let him enter in his own measurements for a new pair of glasses.
Morgan says that it took 4 months and repeated follow up calls and emails to get the lab results after his initial primary care evaluation at the Wilmington VA Clinic last June. He finally got his results as part of a letter from the doctor explaining why it took so long.
"At times the demands for response to all the requests put on me are overwhelming and get put aside to do later and then are lost among others…" the VA primary care physician wrote in that letter. "I think the VA in general is understaffed, underfunded, and I am now put in a position to do an amazing amount of keyboard data entry work for documenting visits, filing records and ordering labs and consult that no physician would have to do without secretarial help in the private sector."
While many of the reasons listed above are likely valid complaints from the doctor, Morgan said he had a much better experience at the VA clinic in Jacksonville, FL, where he lived after he first retired from the military. Morgan says the VA there would reach out to him to schedule routine appointments, and he would have his lab results in the mail within a week of having blood work drawn.
In August, Morgan says a Wilmington VA nurse recommended he request a new primary care physician. But to do that, he had to get approval from the original primary care doctor. Morgan said he filled out the required paperwork for a transfer to no avail.
"The paperwork request to change doctors has to be approved by my doctor. So he saw my complaints. And it never got signed. I tried to transfer to Fayetteville clinic. And they said you have to fill out the paperwork and change doctors, and I said I've already done that, and they said there's nothing we can do. It has to be approved by your doctor."
Morgan has since gotten word that his primary care physician was transferring to another field of medicine within the VA, so Morgan is getting a new primary care doctor by default. But he says he has heard similar complaints from other vets at the Wilmington clinic about their doctors, so he's concerned that the standard of care here is lacking.
"It's frustrating to me, but I don't have any extreme serious health problems like other people I see in the clinic, and I feel sorry for them," Morgan explained of his motivation to go public about his experience. "I don't want to have to end up going to the Wilmington VA when I have to have something serious done. It terrifies me."
WECT has received dozens of complaints from other veterans over the last year about their difficulty getting medical treatment from the Wilmington VA Clinic. Like Morgan, they continue to try to utilize the VA because it is the most economical means of medical care they have.
The vast majority of the complaints we hear stem from delays getting appointments, especially after the clinic was partially shut down in March 2015 due to water contamination.
While the internal plumbing issue causing that contamination remains unresolved, the VA was able to install a water filtration system at the Wilmington clinic recently which has allowed them to resume operations in all departments.
We have reached out to the VA's public affairs officer in Fayetteville for comment on Morgan's experience, and are waiting to hear back from them.