CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WVEC) -- Veterans who say they're being given the runaround at local Veterans’ Affairs hospitals are expressing outrage across the country and right here in Hampton Roads.
Aerock and Renatta Parinas of Chesapeake say they've been struggling to get health information from the VA hospital. Their story is indicative of what veterans say is a much larger problem at the VA.
Vets believe the process they have to go through to get answers is tedious.
Renatta picks up the phone, dials yet another 800 number, and with her husband Aerock by her side, she waits for the familiar automated message.
This time it says, “You are currently number 22 in the call queue.”
Then comes the incessant hum of hold music. Some days the frustration and repetition of a seemingly endless fight weigh on Renatta's heart.
“You think that because you served your country for 13 years and went to two war zones,” her voice trails off as the emotion overwhelms her. “I'm concerned about the future of my daughter.”
Her husband Aerock is the love of her life, and right now he's in the fight of his life.
“I was less than 25 meters from the IED blast,” he recalls.
He came back from two tours in Iraq changed. A complicated series of medical issues leads the couple to believe he has a Traumatic Brain Injury, or TBI. It is the signature injury in the war on terror. Soldiers are coming back from war zones every day with TBIs.
“It's more than a slap in the face, like [the VA hospital is] stomping all over us,” Aerock tells us.
In order to get the benefits, and thus the medical therapy for a TBI through the VA, the vet has to go through a "Compensation and Pension" exam. Aerock was seen by a psychiatrist for what he believes was that exam back in August. Six months later, he still isn't sure if that doctor confirmed a TBI diagnosis.
“There's basically no hope,” Renatta sighs.
Renatta and Aerock agree to sit down with us to show the process they, and many other veterans, have to go through to get answers. It regularly lasts hours.
First, there's the call to the doctor's office they went to in August. Renatta begins her story.
“My name is Renatta Parinas and I am calling in reference to my husband Roderick Parinas,” she tells the person who answers the phone at the office.
What seems like a simple request, goes unanswered.
“I was just wondering how I could go about getting the results of that,” she asks.
The office refers her to a corporate hotline, so she starts over.
Again, she waits on hold for quite some time. All that time waiting, to hit another dead end. The corporate office tells her only the VA can give her the information they're seeking.
“It's very frustrating and I'm frustrated for her and we just want our records,” Aerock reacts.
Renatta is directed to the VA toll free number for benefits. A recorded message there says, “Due to heavy call volume during this period, our benefits counselors are currently assisting other customers and are unable to assist you at this time.”
Our research finds a "healthcare benefits" number for her to try. She tells her story again.
“My name is Renatta Parinas and I am calling on behalf of my husband,” she tells the person on the other end of the call.
For the first time, the couple is given different instructions. Now, she's told to send a request to someone in Georgia via snail mail or fax.
So, after more hours on the phone, they still have to wait to get answers.
“Every time we have somebody new come up and new information, it's just a dead end,” Aerock laments. “It's always been another dead end.”
A Hampton VA public affairs officer says he can't address the Parinases specific issues because of patient privacy regulations.
Spokesman Daniel Henry issued this statement:
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is committed to providing timely access to Veterans as determined by their clinical needs. Veterans with questions regarding access to routine and specialty appointments may contact their primary care teams via phone at 757.722.9961 where they will be transferred to the appropriate team. Veterans may also contact their primary care teams directly through MyHealtheVet, VA’s online secured messaging system, where they can provide information to their teams, request refills, and request consults or discuss medical related matters outside of their clinically indicated appointment times. Should Veterans feel they have met barriers in communicating with their care teams or have any lingering concerns, they may contact our customer service and patient advocate team via the facility’s primary phone number, 757.722.9961, where they will be transferred to an advocate who can provide them assistance.
Questions related to the results of compensation and pension examinations may be directed the Roanoke regional benefits administration office which handles all matters related to the determination and award of compensation and benefits for Veterans assigned to the Hampton VA Medical Center. The website for the Roanoke regional benefits office is http://www.benefits.va.gov/roanoke/ ; Veterans may also visit the eBenefits portal to determine the status of a pending claim at https://www.ebenefits.va.gov/ebenefits-portal/
13News Now also called and emailed the national VA public affairs office in Washington DC. Four voicemails and two emails have gone unreturned.