After National Guardsman waits 4 years for back surgery at VA, NewsChannel 3 gets results

Posted at 6:43 PM, Jun 03, 2014
and last updated 2014-06-03 18:43:37-04

He deployed with the Virginia National Guard to Iraq in 2011, but a back injury forced Specialist Mark Gottlieb to come home early.

“They said, ‘Go home, be with your family, and we will set you up with the VA. Everything will be paid for, and you’ll get help there.’ Four years later, I’m still waiting to get taken care of,” said Gottlieb.

Four years still waiting for back surgery that still has not happened.

Gottlieb says even getting into the Hampton VA hospital system was a struggle, after waiting 7 months for his first primary care appointment.

When that doctor finally admitted two years later he needed surgery...

“I was told, ‘We don't have a neurosurgeon to do what you need, so we are going to refer you out. Here is this paper, go find someone and make sure they bill the VA for it,’” said Gottlieb.

He had no help and no recommendations on who to go to.

Mark eventually found a doctor who would perform the surgery on the VA's terms, but...

“By that time my referral had expired, so I waited two months for an extension referral. No one would return my calls; no one would give me help,” said Gottlieb.

Mark faced punishment and possible discharge from the National Guard if he didn't get the VA to act quickly, so his family contacted NewsChannel 3, after seeing our coverage of the recent VA scandal.

“My sister saw a post on Facebook,” said Gottlieb. “WTKR NewsChannel 3, she said Laurie Simmons contacted her back. She asked me about my story, sent an email out, and was able to get results within an hour.”

The email NewsChannel 3 sent was addressed to Sheila Bailey, who works for Hampton VA Medical Center's Director, Michael Dunfee.

It read in part..."Where can I send him to make sure he gets help? We can talk another time about why your hospital refuses to call people back, but I just want the problem fixed for now."

She never responded to NewsChannel 3, but thankfully, someone called Mark.

“In one hour, it went from an email to an appointment that I’ve been waiting months on end to get,” said Gottlieb.

The VA not only gave him the extension for his referral, but even scheduled the appointment with his private doctor for him.

Now, Gottlieb will finally be meeting with his surgeon tomorrow.

All thanks to NewsChannel 3.

“They took action and got results really fast. One hour, that’s all it took, and literally my entire life turned around for the better; it really did,” said Gottlieb.

Congress is also trying to take action. Senators on both sides of the aisle Tuesday introduced legislation to change how the VA delivers care.

The two bills are titles “The Veterans Choice Act” and “The Restoring Veterans Trust Act.”

Both the Republican and Democrat options would give the Veterans Affairs Department the authority to fire poor performing hospital executives, while also giving any veteran the choice to go outside the VA for care.

The Republican version would give veterans a card giving them access to care outside the VA if they can't get an appointment within 30 days.

The Democratic version would allow the VA to contract with community health centers and military hospitals for care.

It also would streamline the process for a veteran to see a private doctor.