Senator Warner responds to 13News Now veteran brain injury investigation

13News Now Laura Geller has the story.

NORFOLK, VA. - A U.S. Senator is getting involved after a 13News Now investigation uncovered veterans might not be getting the medical care and benefits they have earned.

Sen. Mark Warner said we need to know if Veterans Affairs hospitals are allowing vets to see the proper medical specialists to diagnose Traumatic Brain Injuries.

We brought our story to Sen. Warner when we couldn't seem to get uniform answers from the VAs in our area. We have been trying to find out whether or not the people vets are trusting to diagnose brain injuries are qualified to do so. Warner told us his office is now investigating.

Vets around the country and right here in Hampton Roads are suffering from Traumatic Brain Injury or TBI, an injury we've seen time and time again in the War on Terror. In most cases, it affects everything a vet does and has become the price paid for a veteran's service.

“We've seen too many folks come back from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan with these kind of injuries,” Sen. Warner said.

The case of Minnesota vet Anton Welke illustrates the problem we're trying to get to the bottom of: Anton suffered a head injury while serving on the USS John C. Stennis in 2002.

“This process almost made me take my own life,” he recalled.

 

The Navy vet is one of several hundred who were seen by unqualified medical staffers at the VA. We've been telling you the VA's own rules specify who is qualified to perform the exam, which can make that crucial initial TBI diagnosis. The list includes just four specialists, like psychiatrists and neurologists.

“I wrote a check for my life saying, 'Hey, I'm here to serve my country. Now it's your turn to take care of me,'” Anton pleaded. “Give me the medical attention I need.”

Reporters at our sister stations across the country have learned vets are often unknowingly forced to trust unqualified medical professionals to make the diagnosis. It is a diagnosis that affects the compensation and benefits vets receive. We've seen cases in Minnesota and Texas, places with large veteran populations, just like Hampton Roads.

“I find that unacceptable,” Sen. Warner reacted. “I mean, the VA is a public entity. It is funded by the taxpayers. It's got to follow its own rules and procedures.”

When we tried to get information from the Hampton and Richmond McGuire VAs, our requests were originally denied. Then, months later, the medical centers sent us lists that don't match. They interpreted the same requests differently, so we still aren't sure exactly what's going on here. We don’t know whether or not the right people are making the diagnoses.

“It shouldn't be left to some nurse practitioner or somebody that may not have the adequate skills to do it and so I want to see this data as well and if they're not following their own rules they need to be held accountable,” Warner explained.

Shortly after we interviewed Sen. Warner, the regional VA media affairs office contacted us to try to clarify the data. We're still working with them in the hopes of finding out if veterans here are receiving the care their sacrifice has earned.

“They have the right and it is our responsibility to make sure that they get that diagnosis by the appropriate medical personnel,” Warner added.


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