Maryville veteran frustrated with wait times at Mountain Home VA

Maryville veteran frustrated with wait times at Mountain Home VA hospital

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It's a 140 mile drive for John Locantore from his home in Maryville to Mountain Home VA hospital just for a doctor's appointment. It's a 140 mile drive for John Locantore from his home in Maryville to Mountain Home VA hospital just for a doctor's appointment.
By LAURA HALM
6 News Reporter

MARYVILLE (WATE) - Local VA hospitals are facing serious questions after an audit revealed vets in need of care were waiting more than two months for treatment. Out of 732 hospitals with the worst wait times for new patients, Mountain Home in Johnson City ranks number nine with a wait time of 67 days.

Related story: Longest average wait time for VA new patients

Mountain Home VA Hospital held a news conference Tuesday during which hospital officials said they have an aging population, and audiologist and optometrists are in high demand. The hospital treats around 55,000 patients, and last year had around 600,000 appointments.

6 News caught up with a Maryville veteran who also had a long wait at the Johnson City hospital. Most veterans said they're not sure who else to go to with their frustrations.

It's a 140 mile drive for John Locantore from his home in Maryville to Mountain Home VA hospital just for a doctor's appointment.

"I'm tired of waiting. I'm tired of driving back and forth and waiting, back and forth and waiting. It's not around the corner," he said.

This Army veteran is also tired of pain and numbness in his wrist because of carpal tunnel syndrome. That's why in 2011 he went to Mountain Home for care.

"It was close to two years before I got in to get the operation done. Matter of fact the day I went up there the doctor said to me 'What are you doing here?' and I said 'You've got to be kidding me.' I've been waiting two years to get this hand fixed," said Locantore.

Frustration seems to be growing for Locantore, "Even for me to get glasses I've been waiting now for two months for an eye examination."

Though he believes Mountain Home is one of many VA clinics with the same problems.

"It's the system. It's not per se Johnson City or Arizona or Florida or Philadelphia," said Locantore.

His solution to this national problem hitting East Tennessee is a simple one.

"Everybody will be waiting until they get more staff people," added Locantore.

We spoke with the director of Mountain Home VA Medical Clinic, Charlene Ehret, who says there are short and long term plans to help cut down on wait times at the Knoxville out-patient clinic. One would be getting a lease for more space.

The audit also flagged VA facilities in Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga, and McMinnville for further review.

The VA hospital in Harlingen, Texas ranks number one with a wait time of 145 days. El Paso, Texas is number two with a 90 day wait, there's an 88 day wait at White City, Oregon, and rounding out the top four is Clarksburg, West Virginia with 86 days.
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