Atlanta VA Medical Center wait times among worst in US

When Chinaza Duson, a Navy veteran, began to feel pain, she called the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center. She said that she was told that she would have to wait 6 months to be seen.

ATLANTA — An 11Alive investigation found that veterans in Georgia are waiting months for critical medical care.

For the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center, the wait time for new patients to receive care is 72 days on average. The average wait time for VA hospitals nationally is 15 days, according to he goes.

Chinaza Duson said the waiting time almost cost her her life.

“I entered the Marine Corps in 1994,” recounted Duson, who said she was proud to serve her country.

“I have worked for the secretary of defense. I was a transportation security specialist,” she listed. “When 9/11 happened, I was the first on the scene.”

When he started experiencing strange pain and numbness in August, he called the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center, “the system he trusted,” he said. She also remembered what she was told: that February was the earliest they could see her.

“Delay, they told me,” he said. “At best, they could talk to me on the phone, but I couldn’t come in for them to see me.”

Two weeks later, he nearly lost his life.

“I had a heart attack,” he said. “I had to have a stent placed in the left circumflex artery.”

So, she said she contacted VA, again.

“[I said] I had a heart attack,” he recalled of the conversation. “’Oh, we’re so sorry.’ ‘Can I get a date?’ ‘Nope.'”

11Alive collected and analyzed wait time data for the Atlanta VA Medical Center. New patients, on average, wait 72 days to receive care. For some specialties, even longer. The waiting time for gastrointestinal procedures is 203 days. The wait for cardiology is 76 days.

Those times are among the worst in the United States.

“I’m scared I’m going to die because the system is failing me,” Duson said through tears.

Duson said her VA care team eventually scheduled a Zoom call, which her doctor canceled at the last minute because “they never got the link.”

“My cholesterol is 498, the normal range is less than 200,” Duson said. “If I had gone to the VA, I would have died. Period. I’m trying to stay alive.”

Records show that Atlanta VA then mailed him a drug to help lower his cholesterol: a statin.

Duson is allergic to statins. He is clearly established in the records of him.

“They put a damn statin in the mail and delivered it to my door,” Duson said, exasperated. “Are you telling me that a human being decides my destiny and does not pay attention to my allergies? I keep yelling at them that I want to live. And you all don’t take my health seriously enough.”

The Emory health care team that treated her heart attack prescribed a new medication, but Duson said the VA won’t cover the cost. So, she’s paying out of pocket for her, about $1,200 a month.

It has cost you your savings, your home and your peace.

“I’m homeless,” Duson said through tears. “It feels like a nightmare.”

In the meantime, the only response he claims to have received from the VA?

“Maybe we can see you in November and we’ll do cardiac rehab, via FaceTime,” he said. “If I could become a voice for veterans, then sign me up. I feel completely isolated and I am scared.”

Atlanta VA declined 11Alive’s interview request, but said it would work with Duson to get him the care he needs.

“Due to patient privacy, we cannot discuss veteran’s personal information without written consent,” a spokesperson said in a written statement. “However, we have spoken directly with the veteran to address her concerns and ensure she receives the high-quality care and customer experience she deserves. We will continue to work with her until each issue is properly resolved.”

The spokesperson added that the Atlanta VA Health Care System offers same day walk-in care for Mental Health and Primary Care treatment.

Average wait times for routine care can be found by visiting www.accesstocare.va.gov and clicking on the Facility Performance tab at the top of the page. Currently, it is eight days for a mental health care appointment for an established patient.

Meanwhile, Duson has started an online crowdfunding campaign to help pay for her medical and living expenses.

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