INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A disabled Army veteran in Indianapolis spoke out Monday about his weekslong wait to see an orthopedic specialist at the Roudebush VA Medical Center on West 10th Street.
Ralph Patterson is not eligible for outsourced care under the Veterans Choice Program because the 29-day wait for his appointment falls one day short of the requirement, he told News 8.
The temporary “VCP” program allows eligible patients to receive care from a community provider, paid for by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Qualifying factors include conditions relating to travel, distance, treatment and delay.
“We shouldn’t have to wait 30 days [to qualify for outsourced treatment],” Patterson said Monday afternoon on his front porch, the only interview location he could easily access with his injured right knee and limited mobility. “Especially if somebody’s got severe trauma.”
The lifelong Hoosier said he had injured his other leg in a 1984 accident that led to his honorable discharge from the U.S. Army.
Patterson’s “bad leg” gave out March 29 when he was in his garage, he told News 8, causing him to fall on his formerly “good leg.”
The accident led to throbbing pain and persistent swelling in his right knee and calf.
Patterson first sought emergency care two days after his fall and was told to return the following day for an MRI.
“I went for the MRI,” he said. “If anybody knows anything about the VA, it’s that you never get a same-day call back from the same doctor unless it’s something bad. [My doctor] calls me and he tells me I have ‘severe trauma’ to my right knee, and they’re going to try to get me in to [see an] orthopedic [specialist].”
Patterson said the VA’s Orthopedic Services division called within two days and told him the earliest time they could schedule him for an appointment was April 30 — 29 days after his MRI appointment.
Medical forms show he returned to the VA emergency room April 11 for right knee pain and spent nearly seven hours there.
“The emergency doctor came in and said Orthopedic [Services] wanted me to go upstairs for another X-ray,” Patterson recalled. “So I go up and have the X-ray. They bring me back down to the emergency room. The emergency doctor comes down and says [an orthopedic specialist] will be down to take a look at you. Well, around 3:15 p.m. he says, ‘They’re not going to come down. They’re just going to discharge you.'”
Patterson checked in for emergency care around 8:50 a.m. and was discharged at 3:25 p.m. with a prescription for hydrocodone-acetaminophen painkillers and instructions to return for worsening symptoms.
Four days later, he told News 8 he had experienced no improvement.
“We know the doctors are busy,” Patterson said. “And I’m not the only one waiting. There are a lot of us.”
News 8 contacted the VA with questions about typical wait times for disabled veterans in Indianapolis requiring specialist care for severe trauma. VA representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The VA plans to replace the Veterans Choice Program in June with the Veterans Community Care Program.
Peter Scovill, a spokesperson for the Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis, contacted News 8 Tuesday afternoon with the statement below.
The VA reviewed Ralph Patterson’s medical records after News 8’s report and “recognized why he had reason to be discouraged,” Scovill said, adding they invited him back to the VA this week for a medical review conducted by orthopedic specialists.
“Veteran Health Indiana, Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center strives to give every veteran the best medical care they have earned and deserve.
We sincerely regret any situation which leads to a veteran’s less than full satisfaction with his or her service and we always appreciate the opportunity to make things right.
The Veteran indicated that he was unable to see an orthopedic provider outside the VA. His request fell short of the guidelines for community referral, and provides a good example of working through a difficult issue.
We thoroughly reviewed the patient’s record and recognized why he had reason to be discouraged.
After talking with the veteran today we invited him to return to the Medical Center this week. He was relieved by the call and welcomes the review.
Though the initial diagnosis did not indicate the need for urgent VA or non-VA orthopedic treatment, VA orthopedic specialists will review the overall situation with the veteran, the test results, the diagnosis and discuss a treatment plan.
Should any veteran need medical care to include a complete explanation of her or his medical situation, we urge them to engage with their primary care team to assure their concerns are met.
We appreciate Channel 8 for helping this veteran and the VA having the opportunity to regain mutual trust and understanding.”