PHOENIX - The nation's largest veterans group has set up a crisis center in Phoenix to help veterans get medical care in a first-of-its-kind event in the American Legion's nearly 100-year history.
The move comes amid growing criticism of the Veterans Affairs Department's handling of patient care nationwide and allegations of misconduct.
A VA audit this week showed more than 57,000 new patients had to wait at least three months for initial appointments.
Gene Stoesser, a 71-year-old Vietnam veteran, says he has been waiting weeks for heart surgery and is worried he may die in the meantime. Stoesser showed up at the crisis center Tuesday hoping to find some help.
The American Legion says it will operate the crisis center in Phoenix through Friday and expects to assist hundreds of veterans.
On its first day, Tuesday, officials said they saw about 150 veterans seeking help.
They said a few of those veterans even had their claims approved.
For others, it was not that simple. But volunteers helped them with their paperwork and VA officials tried to schedule doctor appointments on the spot.
Veteran Jenny Jewell wasn't too hopeful when she showed up.
She said her claims have been denied three times, and she has waited for a call back for over a month to switch her primary care doctor.
"I was a good soldier, I tried my best," she said. "I still love my country, but I'm starting to think it doesn't love me anymore."
After she got some help with her claims, she sat down with VA officials. They were able to change her primary care doctor and get her an appointment in early July.
"I'm getting more attention now, they're doing their best to help. That's more than I got at the VA," Jewell said.