Skip to main content

Daughter: Vietnam vet waited and waited, only to die before getting VA appointment

By Drew Griffin, Nelli Black, Scott Bronstein and Greg Botelho, CNN
updated 9:04 PM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Pedro Valdez repeatedly tried, failed to get appointments with Phoenix VA, his daughter says
  • He ended up being hospitalized before seeing a VA doctor; he died in January
  • The VA hasn't responded to this specific claim, but is looking into general allegations
  • Valdez's daughter: The VA "kicked him when he was down, when he needed them"

(CNN) -- Pedro Valdez, a Vietnam veteran, wanted help. And he knew where to get it -- through the Phoenix VA -- or so he thought.

Again and again, starting in December 2012, Valdez would try to schedule with -- and would even show up to see -- doctors at Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities in Arizona about his shortness of breath, according to his daughter. He thought he had gotten confirmed appointments; even toting cards with a specific date and time.

"He'd have the card in hand, go to check in, and they'd tell him, 'Mr. Valdez, you don't have an appointment in the computer. We have no idea what you're talking about," his daughter Priscella Valdez told CNN.

In October 2013, Pedro Valdez showed up at his daughter's house after going in for another appointment that never happened. His daughter set out then to make sure Valdez had a firm time in the VA computers, not just written down on a card. The next available slot he could get, after all that effort, was in three months, on January 6, 2014, according to his daughter.

VA's Shinseki writes letter to vets
Veterans group outraged over VA scandal
VA no-shows as answers sought in scandal
VA wait lists include returning troops

Pedro Valdez never made it.

On New Year's Eve 2013, he struggled for breath and was rushed to a private hospital. Valdez was diagnosed with acute respiratory failure; "he was only breathing at 50%," according to his daughter. The next day, he was in intensive care.

And six days later -- on January 7, a day after he was to finally see a doctor at the Phoenix VA -- he was dead. He was 66.

Priscella Valdez remembers her dad as a man who "made it out of a gruesome, gruesome, gruesome war," who dutifully worked in construction, who raised three children on his own and who never put himself first. More than anything, she remembers him as her "best friend."

She believes that the system that was supposed to care for him -- a man who'd risked his life for his country -- instead let him down.

"They took a man and broke him down and kicked him when he was down, when he needed them," Priscella Valdez said. "... These people who were supposed to take care of him are able to live freely."

The Valdez family is not the first to levy accusations against the federal agency charged with overseeing health care and benefits of veterans and their dependents.

CNN first reported six months ago about allegations of alarming shortcomings within the VA medical care system that, according to the VA, led to 23 deaths.

The VA's troubled history

The allegations include the possible destruction of a secret waiting list for care at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System. There have also been claims of delayed care and cooked books at VA facilities nationwide.

The VA did not respond to a CNN request for a response to the Valdez family's specific allegation. And because of privacy laws, it is hard to know if Pedro Valdez was on anyone's list at the Phoenix VA, secret or not.

Phoenix officials deny there's a secret wait list

The VA's Office of the Inspector General is now investigating these various allegations at 26 VA facilities, and there have been hearings on Capitol Hill. Priscella Valdez has been among those speaking up; CNN first learned of her family's story after she appeared at a forum in Phoenix featuring Sen. John McCain in the wake of the scandal.

Much of the focus has been on the VA's management back in Washington, including calls for Secretary Eric Shinseki to be fired. Yet Priscella Valdez says no one looking into this matter can fully comprehend the frustration and the torment experienced by families like hers, who just want their loved ones looked after in a fair, responsible, humane way.

"I don't think anybody clearly understands what's going on," she says, "unless you actually lived it and you're going through it."

VA investigating Florida hospital wait lists

Part of complete coverage on
Veterans Affairs
updated 6:43 PM EDT, Tue August 5, 2014
The chairman of the House VA Committee is accusing the VA of "what appears to be an attempt to mislead Congress and the public" by manipulating the number of veterans who died as a result of delays in care.
updated 11:28 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Roughly half the schedulers at multiple VA hospitals said they received instructions from supervisors to falsify data and hide the true time it took patients to be seen by a doctor.
updated 3:45 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
The Senate unanimously confirmed Robert McDonald, a former corporate CEO and an ex-Army officer, as the next Veterans Affairs secretary.
updated 8:13 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Sgt. Terry Mitchell withstood fire deep in the mountains of Vietnam and was exposed to Agent Orange. He survived that grisly war, but his life was cut short by delays in care.
updated 11:20 PM EDT, Wed June 11, 2014
The FBI says it has opened a criminal investigation of the Veterans Affairs Department.
updated 7:09 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
An internal VA audit said tens of thousands of veterans wait at least 90 days for medical care, while even more never got an immediate appointment they requested.
updated 6:04 PM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
It began with secret texts to untraceable phones. Meetings took place in seedy bars, dark alleys, gas stations.
updated 1:41 PM EDT, Sat May 31, 2014
In the end, even Eric Shinseki knew he had to go, President Obama said in announcing the resignation of his only VA secretary over a growing scandal.
A report was released on an audit of VA facilities in the wake of news that the VA medical system is in trouble.
updated 10:04 PM EDT, Tue May 27, 2014
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a comprehensive review of the military health care system.
updated 9:04 PM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
Pedro Valdez, a Vietnam veteran, wanted help. And he knew where to get it -- through the Phoenix VA -- or so he thought.
updated 12:40 PM EDT, Fri May 30, 2014
Scandal, controversy and veterans care in the United States have gone hand-in-hand for virtually as long as there's been a republic.
updated 6:21 AM EDT, Thu May 22, 2014
The House has passed a bill making it easier for the VA to fire managers. CNN's Michelle Kosinski reports.
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
When the American Legion calls for Secretary of Veterans Affairs Gen. Eric Shinseki to resign, you know something is profoundly wrong.
updated 8:42 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
"The Phoenix VA Health Care System is committed to delivering the highest quality care to Veterans."
updated 8:33 AM EST, Wed November 20, 2013
Military veterans are dying needlessly because of long waits and delayed care at U.S. veterans hospitals, a CNN investigation has found.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT