PHOENIX - Dozens of people packed a town hall organized by the American Legion on Tuesday to discuss lapses in medical care for veterans amid an investigation into whether administrators maintained an off-the-books list to conceal lengthy wait times in Arizona.
Dan Dellinger, the commander of the American Legion, told the crowd the problems with health care for veterans go far beyond what has happened in Phoenix.
He and other veterans who spoke out during the meeting cited a laundry list of examples that stretched from Texas and Wyoming to Pennsylvania, Missouri and Ohio.
"There are veterans in much worse shape than I'm in and they can't wait, they need help and they can't wait ten months," said Scott Reeves, a veteran who served time in Lebanon.
Others complained that treatment was unacceptable.
"There needs to be some house cleaning, and I don't just mean management, there's some bad people," said another veteran.
"Although we anxiously await the findings of the inspector general, what we already know is there is a pattern of unresponsiveness that seems to have infected the entire system," Dellinger said.
"The problems at VA go beyond one man or even his management team," he said.
Dellinger said he plans to share what he learns Tuesday with federal lawmakers when he testifies before the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs later this week in Washington, D.C.
Congressional staff, other American Legion officials and the acting director of the Phoenix VA Medical Center also attended the town hall.
The American Legion has been among the harshest critics of the VA since the allegations surfaced. The group last week called for the resignations of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and two of his top aides for what Dellinger called a "pattern of bureaucratic incompetence and failed leadership."
Shinseki is to appear at Thursday's Senate hearing.
A recently retired Phoenix VA doctor brought the allegations to light by complaining to Congress, the media and the agency's inspector general about what he called a "secret list."
Dr. Sam Foote says 40 administrators kept the list to hide wait times and make their performance look better so they could collect bonuses. He says 40 veterans died while waiting for care.
The VA has adamantly denied that any such list existed and called it preposterous to suggest they would put patients' lives at danger for financial gain. The Phoenix VA director received a bonus of about $9,300 last year. They also said no proof has emerged about the 40 deaths.
One at a time, the veterans stood up Tuesday night to share their stories as the American Legion officials listened. They talked about being given medication without any explanation, the inability to get appointments with specialists and the pleading it would take to get to the bottom of their health concerns.
Dellinger likened VA health care to Russian roulette.
"If you aren't seriously ill or you happen to be near a responsive VA center, you win. If not, you lose," he said. "When one patient dies, it's a tragedy. When it's a preventable death, it's intolerable. When it's concealed, it's unforgivable."