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Local vets skeptical of changes to VA care policies

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Some veterans say they have had to wait months to get care at local VA hospitals. Some veterans say they have had to wait months to get care at local VA hospitals.
DURHAM, N.C. -

In the face of mounting pressure, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is changing the way it allows treatment for vets.

In a statement issued Saturday, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said VA facilities are enhancing capacity of their clinics so veterans can get care sooner. In cases where officials cannot expand capacity at VA centers, the Department of Veterans Affairs is "increasing the care we acquire in the community through non-VA care," Shinseki said.

Lawmakers from both parties have pressed for this policy change as the VA confronts allegations about treatment delays and falsified records at VA centers nationwide.

But some local vets and their families are skeptical about the changes.

Gail Reed's husband is being treated at the Durham VA Medical Center, and she doesn't think vets should have to go outside clinics or hospitals to get timely treatment.

"Isn't that the purpose of this being here?" Reed asked. "So they can come to get the right treatment -- the proper treatment?"

VA hospital in eight states -- including in North Carolina -- are under investigation for supposedly hiding veterans' appointments on secret lists to cover up long delays in getting treatment.

Peter Bimonte, a 20-year veteran of the Marine Corps, said he tried to receive care from the Durham VA Medical Center, but it took 9 months for him to receive a simple exam. So he said he went to a private facility for medical care of a foot injury.

"I went to the emergency room," Bimonte said. "I had no choice but to stop waiting after over a month seeking care, and the pain became unbearable."

Shinseki says if a local VA facility is unable to handle the care, vets should seek care at a non-VA hospital or clinic.

Veteran Lorie As-Salaam that exactly what the Durham VA already does for her.

"That's always been the case with me. If they couldn't get me the service, they sent me somewhere else -- authorized me to go somewhere else," As-Salaam said.

Last year the VA says it spent almost $5 billion on medical care for vets at non-VA facilities. At this point, it does not know how much the new initiate ordered by Shinseki will cost.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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