VA patient: Charleston staff not helpful, incompetent

By Stacy

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- A Lowcountry veteran is calling for more staff and an attitude change at Charleston's veterans medical center after she has fought for weeks to see a neurologist.

While Christine Childers' boys wrestled in their Summerville home, she watched from the sidelines.

"Boys! I have no hope I will never be able to get them to calm down," she said while sitting on the couch.

This mother of two has been out of step with her normal summer routine.

"Normally the summers are the beach, the water park, Virginia Beach to see family. We haven't been able to do anything," she said.

Childers served in the U.S. Navy from 1989 to 1993. Her back problems began at age 20 when she left basic training. Ever since, she had persistent back problems that resulted in three surgeries, she said.

On June 20, she said she felt a herniated disc in her back that caused pain down her leg. It hurts so much, she has trouble standing up and walking.

As soon as it happened, the Navy veteran went to the emergency room at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston.

"They came in and said, 'What do you want us to do?' I got the feeling of, 'Tell us what you want us to do so we can get you out of here,'" she said of her emergency room experience.

After that, she went through several providers and even got a patient advocate.

"I was getting tired hearing the same thing: 'Let me make some phone calls and see what I can do,'" she said.

Six weeks after she went in Childers finally secured an appointment with a neurologist so she can receive the necessary treatment. Her appoint was scheduled for Aug. 12, she said.

But the attitude she encountered at the Charleston hospital bothered her even more than the wait time, she said.

"If you're in the medical field, that's part of your job to be passionate or caring about your patients and I don't feel that," she said. "I'm just one little veteran that has a little back problem, compared to these men and women coming home nowadays fighting for our freedom. We should be bending over backwards for them."

Ralph H. Johnson VA representative Tonya Lobbestael could not comment on Childers' case specifically due to patient-protection laws.

However, she said the VA planned to add more weekend and evening clinic hours and has been hiring more staff in the last few months.

She also released a statement to ABC News 4:

"Charleston VAMC provides comprehensive medical and mental health care for Veterans who often have complex medical conditions. Our VA has a full complement of highly trained physicians and providers in multiple specialty areas to include pain management, neurosurgery and orthopedics, to name a few. Our interdisciplinary medical team works across medical specialty areas to determine the most efficacious treatment plan for Veteran patients, often utilizing e-consults to speed response and enhance care coordination for the Veteran. Patients living with chronic pain are often dealing with multiple issues including PTSD, substance abuse, orthopedic issues, obesity, etc. Charleston VAMC's practice is to take the most conservative approach to managing pain utilizing such treatment options as physical therapy, weight loss management and alternative therapies like acupuncture, yoga and mindfulness first. This practice serves to reduce the need for more invasive procedures and reduces long-term opioid regimens in a number of patients while alleviating pain and improving health outcomes. VA providers refer patients for specialty care based on the most appropriate clinic to address the patient's medical condition. While the average time for non-urgent/non-emergent specialty care appointments is currently 24 days at Charleston VAMC, we routinely work urgent or emergent patients into specialty clinics on the next clinic day. Charleston VAMC also has an Emergency Department that operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for Veterans who have emergency medical needs."

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