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Updated Aug 13, 2014 - 5:15 pm

Suicidal veteran: Phoenix VA denied me care because I had no appointment

PHOENIX -- A suicidal veteran claimed he was denied care at a Phoenix Veterans Affairs facility Wednesday because he did not have an appointment.

The veteran, an acquaintance of Rob & Karie co-host Rob Hunter who wishes to remain anonymous, said he told a nurse at the VA he "was not feeling well" and "did not trust himself" when asking for care. The nurse allegedly informed him that appointments were required and a mental health professional would contact him.

Dr. Sam Foote, one of the whistle blowers who gave life to the VA scandal investigation, said the veteran's status with the VA could have played a small part.

"If you have an established provider, they can usually grease the wheels for you," he told News/Talk 92.3 KTAR's Rob & Karie.

However, his status aside, Foote said the administration is prepared to handle suicidal veterans at all times.

"I don't know who turned him away or said we'd call him back later," he said. "That's not normally we like to handle something like that. Normally you want them to have them triaged by somebody who's a professional in mental health and those people are certainly available at the downtown medical center."

The veteran also claimed he contacted the VA earlier this week to request an appointment. He informed them he had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after serving in Iraq, but was told he must be diagnosed at a Phoenix VA facility. Given no other option, he walked into the VA where he was turned away, a potentially dangerous scenario.

"Where the intersection of suicide occurs is in a sense of being trapped, there are no other options," said Annette Hill, a psychologist whose son took his own life while suffering with PTSD. "When this young man walks into a VA and he exercises an option and they close the door, that's not OK."

After the story aired on KTAR, the VA contacted Hunter and asked to be put in touch with the veteran. The VA then cleared its schedule and brought the veteran in for treatment.

"We can get this individual seen [Wednesday]," said Phil Walls with the VA. "We can arrange transportation if we need to, whatever it takes."

The Phoenix VA is undergoing a revitalization after being at the forefront of a national scandal that revealed extensive corruption and forged numbers within the administration. Some veterans waited months for care and some may have died waiting.

"We are adding capacity to treat veterans when they need to be treated, where they need to be treated," said Walls.

Prior to the scandal, Foote said the VA lacked at least 16 mental health professionals, primarily because the administration couldn't offer a competitive salary.

"Our ability to handle mental health services is not where we want it to be," he told Rob & Karie.

Hill said the lack of mental health care is an issue, as the number of young men and women returning from combat are displaying a high rate of PTSD. All of them will likely need treatment at some point because of their training and war-like mindset.

"Suicide is sometimes on a shorter list (for veterans) than it is for the regular population," she said. "They have to deal with that every single day when they leave the wire. 'If I'm trapped, I have to know how to [take my own life].'"

Since the scandal, the VA has announced it would build a new facility in Phoenix and would increase hiring. Foote said more than 10 people in mental health alone have been hired, though he's unsure how many have started.

"We have emergency mental health care at the Phoenix VA Medical Center," Walls said, adding that veterans in need of help can always call the Veterans' Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and press 1 or call the local number at 602-277-5551.

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