Many veterans praise VA care, but all hate the wait

Marc Schenker, an Air Force veteran in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is having surgery this month to remove a golf-ball-size hernia — but not at a veterans hospital. Mr. Schenker, 67, said he had given up on the Veterans Affairs hospital in Miami after waiting months to get the procedure scheduled and had turned to a private surgeon instead, using Medicare.

“It’s frustrating and infuriating that there are so many dedicated doctors who work for the V.A. but it seems impossible to get to them,” said Mr. Schenker, who served with the Tactical Air Command during Vietnam. “They’re serving too many people.”

In interviews and in hundreds of responses to a questionnaire posted on The New York Times website, veterans around the country expressed frustration with delayed access to care and what many described as an impenetrable and unresponsive bureaucracy at department hospitals and clinics, even as many praised the quality of care they received once they saw doctors.

Their complaints — including repeated canceled appointments and unreturned calls, lengthy waits for appointments and rapid turnover in physicians — give voice to findings by the inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs last week that officials at the veterans medical center in Phoenix and elsewhere used a variety of schemes to hide increasingly long waits for medical care. The complaints were not independently verified.

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