Phila. VA hospital fares better than many

Posted: June 07, 2014

The 61-year-old Philadelphia VA - the region's largest - offers a wide range of care, from sleep medicine to rehabilitation, neurology, and geriatrics. Its 57,500 enrolled veterans made more than 463,000 visits last year. The pharmacy fills more than 1,000 prescriptions a day.

The center has nearly 2,500 employees and 280 inpatient beds, a spokeswoman said. About 86,000 veterans visited outpatient clinics in Horsham and in Fort Dix, Camden, and Sewell, N.J., in 2012.

Its annual budget of $474 million is similar to that of the Phoenix VA, epicenter of the national investigation over wait times and cover-ups. In Philadelphia, however, few veterans interviewed said they'd had trouble getting appointments.

Of eight who talked Friday outside the West Philadelphia facility, only one had a complaint about a long wait for an appointment - and it happened only once in eight years.

Nathaniel Kelly, 66, a Vietnam-era veteran, said he called for an appointment because he was worried about his heart. "I was told I'd have to wait three months," he said. "So I went to Jefferson." Thomas Jefferson University Hospital found no serious problem, he said, and his routine VA care has been fine.

Charles Wilson, 55, who served in Panama, said he was at the VA center Friday getting a work-up for knee-replacement surgery.

"I'm happy with it," Wilson said. "I have an appointment on Monday for an MRI. It's not perfect. It's the Army. It's hurry up and wait."

Robert Richardson, 41, who said he was in Korea in 1990 and has post-traumatic stress disorder, complained about how long his appointments took, not about difficulty getting them.

"I've been here since 6:30 this morning," Richardson said around 2 p.m. "I also have sciatica, which is stress-induced. I feel like I keep getting the runaround."

Several veterans declined to give their names, but said they had not had faced long waits. So did vets interviewed on Memorial Day around ceremonies at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Front and Spruce Streets.

But Langhorne resident Charles Benkert called The Inquirer to voice his concerns. Benkert, 65, who said he was a Vietnam veteran disabled by PTSD, said he was going to private doctors because of frustration with the Philadelphia VA.

He said he was supposed to be seen every six months for symptoms of an enlarged prostate. Instead, he said, he was told to call at six months and then had to wait two more months for a Feb. 10 appointment, when his nurse practitioner ordered tests.

Over the next month, he made two ER visits, first at the VA and then at a private hospital, for what he said was a severe infection. He was admitted to the private hospital and had laser surgery. The Philadelphia VA, he said, "did everything wrong."

Still, Benkert likes his mental-health care there and will continue using it.

Forty miles west, the Coatesville VA hospital has 452 beds, mostly for psychiatry, nursing-home, and rehabilitation patients. Its 1,335 employees served more than 21,000 veterans last year. It has outpatient clinics in Spring City and Springfield.

The Wilmington VA includes only general information online and did not respond to requests for information. Nor did the national VA media relations office in Washington.




Inquirer staff writer Michael Vitez contributed to this article.

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