Local Politics

Veterans in Fayetteville bristle at VA failures

Posted October 8, 2014 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated October 8, 2014 6:20 p.m. EDT

— Veterans issues and national security create a lot of buzz in the Fayetteville area, and generations of men and women who have served in the military aren't afraid to speak up about their concerns as the Nov. 4 election approaches.

Philip Flynn, 79, who served as a Special Forces soldier in Vietnam, is snippy toward Congress and President Barack Obama.

"They've ruined the country," Flynn said. "Look at us – we're not doing anything right overseas."

He's also upset with the bureaucracy in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

"The leaders, so to speak," he said when asked who was to blame for VA woes nationwide. "The workers knew what they were doing but weren't allowed to be doing it."

The Fayetteville VA Medical Center had some of the longest wait times in the country for veterans seeking care. A new patient had to wait an average of 83 days for a primary care visit, while existing patients waited 29 days on average, according to a national audit last spring.

Master Sgt. Carl Wurzbach said hearing stories of veterans suffering while waiting for care is more painful to him than the wounds he received a year ago from an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. The 42-year-old's arms and legs were sprayed with shrapnel, putting him in a hospital for weeks.

"We were asked to do a job. We did the job," Wurzbach said. "The nation said, 'We will give you this (care) if you do this (service).' Keep your word. How hard is it?"

He and others said the VA – and the rest of the nation – wasn't ready for veterans streaming home as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wound down.

"We weren't really prepared the last time there was a huge influx of veterans coming out, needing support, and the VA hadn't prepped ahead," Wurzbach said.

"After 12, 13 years of war, I don't think the nation was really prepared. I don't think Congress back then was prepared," said Capt. Brendan Barclay, 33, who has served two tours of duty in Iraq.

In addition to disgust with the VA, the veterans said they're upset by political games involving the military, such as the government shutdown last fall and the cuts to defense spending.

"They shouldn't have to be privy to the partisan fight that's going on in politics," Barclay said.

"The good of the party should not outweigh the good of the state or nation," Wurzbach said.