Pearce seeks transparency in VA discussions

Updated: 06/13/2014 5:14 PM | Created: 06/13/2014 12:47 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

The VA says "no" to a New Mexico congressman's request for an open public meeting at the Albuquerque VA Hospital – where 21 veterans died while on a waiting list for a first appointment.

Local news reporters and photographers were denied access to the meeting Friday morning, even though Rep. Steve Pearce invited them to join him and about a dozen veterans to share concerns about health care problems at the VA.

"These things are far easier to solve when we are having open discussions rather than skittish discussions and trying to act like nothing is going on," said the Republican, who represents the state's Second Congressional District.

Pearce talked with reporters outside the hospital gates after the meeting with VA administrators. Veterans who attended the meeting with Pearce also talked with the media. Navy veteran Joe Price of Alamogordo drives other vets up to Albuquerque for hospital appointments.

"We're talking 12 hour days just about every time we come up here and a lot of these people are just not physically able to stand the trip," Pearce said. "The VA clinic in Alamogordo is insufficient, to say the least. They have one doctor."

Orville Smith of Ruidoso is a Navy Seabees veteran.

"I got no treatment from the VA," Smith said, in between breaths from an oxygen tank. "I had pneumonia, doctor gave me oxygen, sent me home. Two hospitals, about to die and I called my brother. They put me in Artesia under Social Security. Almost died but made it!"

Some veterans had huge complaints about the VA – others had nothing but praise. Rep. Pearce said the VA and the public needs to hear both sides, good and bad. He called the meeting a good first step in finding out what went wrong and how to fix it.

"There are many people who are going to say well, we just need to send more money to the system," Pearce said. "I will tell you that the system receives twice as much money as when I first went to Congress – twice as much! Are any of you getting twice as much on your salaries? And yet you can't see an improvement in care."

Pearce said he wants future meetings with the VA to be open.

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