Covering those who serve and live in our city

Veteran Tells of Long VA Waits, Substandard Care

Veteran James Root says he has to wait two months for a desperately needed dermatology appointment

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    NEWSLETTERS

    NBC 7's Omari Fleming speaks with San Diego-based military veteran James Root, who says he's getting "substandard" care from the local VA hospital. (Published Saturday, May 24, 2014)

    Service medals and pictures on his wall make Retired Petty Officer James Root look like a real life G.I. Joe.

    From his Combat Action Ribbon showing courage under fire, to the numerous medals he earned during his 20 years in the U.S. Navy, Root proved himself to be an American hero.

    “This shows you’ve been in a combat zone and engaged with the enemy,” explained James Root as he pointed at the honor above his fireplace.

    But now, he is setting his sights on another battle -- this time with the Veteran’s Administration San Diego Health Care System. He claims he is not getting the timely medical attention he so desperately needs.

    His allegations come amid a growing scandal within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs over delayed and substandard care at its facilities.

    Fighting in four tours of duty – including Desert Storm and Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom – has cost the 47-year-old Root.

    He suffers from PTSD, severe back problems, a possible cancerous growth on his lip and what he and his wife call the VA’s misdiagnosis of warts on his knuckles.

    “They hurt,” Root said, looking down at the warts. “You want to just cut them off.”

    He said he’s tried to do just that with a razor blade.

    In early May, Root tried to get an immediate appointment with a dermatologist for the problem. The closest appointment he could get was on July 15.

    When asked if he’s getting a hero’s treatment these days, Root said, “No, it’s substandard.”

    He and his wife Diana are now in a constant battle with the VA over timely treatment.

    “My worst fear is he’s not going to get the help,” said Diana.

    The San Diego VA Medical director said they’ve been recognized by their accrediting body as a top performing institution.

    “We try to see most patients within a 14-day period, but that’s not always possible. Specialty services like dermatology aren’t always able to get immediate appointments,” the director said in a phone interview with NBC 7.

    According to officials, the San Diego VA sees about 75,000 patients a year.

    As for Root and his wife, Diana said she only had time to take her husband to appointments on Fridays because she’s become the family’s breadwinner, since his PTSD won’t allow him to work.

    “Veterans, they go to serve their country, but when they come back, their country don’t serve them,” said Root.

    The scandal embroiling VA facilities across the country was prompted when a whistleblower alleged that as many as 40 veterans died while waiting for appointments in a VA hospital in Phoenix, NBC News reported.

    The fallout has led to the resignation the department’s Undersecretary Robert Petzel on May 16.

    Some lawmakers have also called for the ouster of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.