Dozens of veterans and their loved ones packed American Legion Post 41 in Phoenix, Ariz., on Tuesday evening to offer testimony on the problems they've had within the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System.
One after another, attendees — many of them teary-eyed — recounted their wrenching medical struggles and issues with denied or delayed care, high health care costs, rude staff and seemingly endless bureaucratic red tape.
A retired nurse and widow of a former Marine said she lost her husband because his care was delayed.
"Treatment delayed is treatment denied," she said.
Steve Young, acting director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, has only been on the job for two days, but he attended the meeting to "listen and try to understand."
"It's my second day on the job. I don't have an answer. That's why I'm here tonight," Young told the standing-room-only crowd.
Two and a half hours into the town hall meeting, a long line of veterans was still waiting for its turn to testify.
About 40 patients have died at the Phoenix hospital, allegedly due to delays in care.
The VA has become notorious for its long delays for treatment and its backlog.
Several hospital whistleblowers claim that administrators ordered thousands of medical appointment requests be placed on a secret unofficial list — allegedly in an effort to improve their performance record. If the patients died, their names would disappear from the list.
Dr. Samuel Foote, who retired from the VA, was one of the whistleblowers.
"This was basically an elaborate scheme to cover up patient wait times," Foote told NBC News last week. "The main problem was we had a huge demand and we had a relatively limited supply of service."
Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki is set to testify Thursday in a hearing before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee regarding the state of the VA health care system.
American Legion National Cmdr. Daniel M. Dellinger is also scheduled to testify before Congress on Thursday.
The Legion, the largest veterans organization, has called for Shinseki’s resignation.
—Becky Bratu and Gene Choo
First published May 13 2014, 9:27 PM