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John McCain hosts town hall, hears VA concerns

Veterans raise their hands after Sen. John McCain asked if any had been waiting an extended period of time for care. (KTAR Photo/Mark Remillard)

PHOENIX -- They're angry and upset, and Arizona veterans let it show at a town hall meeting in downtown Phoenix on Friday.

More than 100 veterans and family members of veterans showed up at Burton Barr Central Library to voice their anger, dissatisfaction and pain to Arizona Sen. John McCain over allegations that the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Hospital was failing to meet wait time standards for care and as many as 40 veterans may have died as a result.

"I'm here to tell you that my dead, veteran husband cannot be much more patient than he is today, but me? I'm pissed," said Vickie Olsen, whose husband died waiting a year for care in Arizona.

Amongst some yelling and shouting, McCain heard the stories of veterans and family members affected by the lack of care and offered his sympathies and promised the support of his staff.

McCain heard from about a dozen individuals, while there were many more vying for their opportunity to grab the microphone and tell their story.

One of those that did not get a chance to speak during the meeting was Mark Howey, an Army veteran who said he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and sleep apnea but claims he has been routinely denied care by the VA.

"I can't wear my sleep apnea mask (at night) because of my face fractures it makes my PTSD - I wake up and I think I'm choking on my own blood again," he said. "But they're saying my PTSD isn't service connected, I mean, it's amazing."

Changes from top to bottom at Veterans Affairs are what will fix the problems inherent in the system, according to Howey. He said it will take more than leadership stepping down or congressional testimony and investigations.

"You need accountability from the bottom all the way up," he said. "Trust and believe that the people in the VA are so smart and they've been doing it for so long that they know how to navigate their own system and cover their tracks."

During the town hall meeting, McCain said that if the allegations against the VA are true it will no longer be a question of resignation but criminality, to which Howey said he agrees with McCain.

"I think he's hitting the nail on the head," he said. "I think that definitely some heads are going to roll."

Howey added that he is even concerned about speaking out against the VA for fear of retaliation, but "by sticking up for your cause, you might make it better for other vets, but you're killing your own case," he said. "I feel like I've been killing my own case, but you know what? A lot of people are dead. I've got a lot of people advocating for me so I'm blessed, but I've got to come here and try and do the right thing."

About the Author

A southern California native, Mark Remillard began working in radio in 2010 while in community college as a host of late night and weekend programming for publicly supported 88.5 FM KSBR. While working through college, Mark also interned for the Bill Handel Radio Program at Los Angeles' KFI AM640, where he began his work in journalism. Mark moved to Arizona in August 2012 to finish his bachelor's degree at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and graduated in August 2014. Mark began working as a reporter for KTAR in November 2012.


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