Veteran’s Futile Call to VA Prompts Congress Members to Act

Dennis Magnasco became frustrated when he could not connect with a VA staffer.

February 22, 2016, 4:15 PM

— -- The video shows Army veteran Dennis Magnasco trying to schedule a doctor’s appointment at his local VA hospital in Bedford, Massachusetts. But a nearly five-minute phone call became a maddening stream of automated audio messages.

And just when it sounds like Magnasco will be transferred to a representative to help him schedule an appointment, he is looped back to the beginning of the original recording, again and again.

The problem of trying to get in the door of VA hospitals is one Magnasco said he’s heard from veterans many times.

Magnasco, who served as an Army infantry medic, works as a district representative and veteran’s liaison for Congressman Seth Moulton (D-MA). Magnasco told ABC News he gets great care from the VA, but it’s difficult to gain access to the system.

The issue is one Moulton, a fellow veteran, has been working to solve. He introduced the Faster Care for Veterans Act last month with Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA). The bill is designed to improve the way veterans access health care by introducing self-scheduling technology that could be used on a smartphone or computer. The legislation is expected to receive a hearing in mid-March.

As for Magnasco, his congressional co-workers watched him try to get a VA hospital appointment for two days. That’s when they decided to pull out the video camera.

Posted by Congressman Seth Moulton on Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Since the video was posted on Moulton's Facebook page on Feb. 10, it has been shared over 24,000 times and viewed almost 969,000 times.

It’s also gotten the attention of Moulton’s fellow members of Congress.

Fifteen have signed up to co-sponsor the bill since the video was posted, bringing the total number of co-sponsors to 20 (12 Republicans and eight Democrats).

“For far too long, our nation’s veterans have been underserved by inefficient and outdated systems,” Moulton said in a press release last month. “I get my care from the VA and I’ve waited hours for appointments and months for referrals. It doesn’t have to be this way. We owe it to our nation’s veterans to utilize the technology available to the private sector. Improving access to healthcare through a platform like this would ensure that our veterans will get the best care when they need it.”

Magnasco told ABC News that his VA hospital has since fixed the issue with the automated recording.

“But it’s really a systemic problem throughout the VA,” he said.

James Hutton, director of media relations at the Department of Veterans Affairs, told ABC News in a statement that "the technical issue that was described in the video posted February 10 was corrected and the Congressman’s district office was advised of the correction. We appreciate the notification of the issue.”

Earlier this month, the Inspector General of the Department of Veterans Affairs found that a VA clinic in Colorado Springs was incorrectly reporting veteran appointments. The Inspector General reviewed 450 appointments over a one-year span and determined that there were 60 cases in which the VA said a veteran had scheduled an appointment within the government’s 30-day target, even though in actuality it took longer. Sixty-four percent of the appointments showed that veterans did not receive timely care.

ABC News has reached out to the Bedford VA for comment.

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