Some Veterans' Hospitals in Shocking Shape
April 8 -- Fourteen years ago, an ABCNEWS hidden-camera investigation ignited a firestorm about conditions and competence inside Veterans Administration hospitals.
Recently, there have been new stories of misdiagnosis, disastrous management and deficient care at some of the nation's 162 facilities.
At a hospital near Cleveland, an ABCNEWS hidden-camera investigation found bathrooms filthy with what appeared to be human excrement. Supply cabinets were in disarray, with dirty linens from some patients mixed in with clean supplies, or left in hallways on gurneys.
At a neighboring facility, examining tables had dried blood and medications still on them. In several areas, open bio-hazardous waste cans were spilling over. Primetime obtained internal memos documenting that the equipment used to sterilize surgical instruments had broken down — causing surgical delays and possible infection risks.
With 130,000 young American men and women putting their lives at risk in Iraq today, these conditions are particularly relevant. While current soldiers are treated in military hospitals, when they leave the service and need treatment, many will seek care at Veterans Affairs (as the Veterans Administration is now known) hospitals.
"Once you come back to be a veteran, it's like a black hole, you know — nothing," former Army Sgt. Vannessa Turner told ABCNEWS.
Turner was stricken with a mysterious illness while on duty in Iraq this past year. She retired from the military on medical grounds, and when she reported to a VA hospital for treatment, doctors scheduled her for an appointment six months later.
Not a Point of Pride
Veterans who responded to a survey by the American Legion in 2003 said it took an average of seven months to get a first appointment at a VA hospital. In some hospitals, patients have waited as long as two years.
In 1999, Jack Christensen, a former army sergeant who served in the Korean War, was admitted to the VA hospital in Temple, Texas, with pneumonia, and ended up staying three years.