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Obama 'will not tolerate' scandal at VA hospitals

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DURHAM, N.C. -

More veterans are coming forward with horror stories about trying to get care at Veteran Affairs hospitals across the country.

The allegations of employees cooking books and covering up wait times have fueled an outrage from veterans and advocate groups.

"A lot of people are just fed up and don't know where else to turn,” explained Peter Bimonte, a 20-year veteran of the Marine Corps. He says patients waiting months for care is battle no veteran should have to face.

"We’re not asking for red carpet treatment, were just asking for appointments,“ Bimonte added.

He has thecare he's tried to receive from the Durham VA Medical Center and the time it's taken for him to get it all documented.

It took more than 9 months for Bimonte to get a simple exam.

Most recently, he was trying to get care for excruciating pain in his foot, from an injury he got while serving.

He says after more than a month of unanswered phone calls and getting the run around, he had finally had enough.

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

He told the patient advocate that he was taking his story to WNCN Investigates, and writing letters to his congressmen. He says after that, representatives from the VA found him in the E.R. and immediately got him to a doctor.

Stories like Bimonte’s are popping up across the country, putting the entire VA system under intense scrutiny. Audits being done now may shed light on whether the hospitals are getting veterans the timely care they've earned.

“Do you believe veterans are losing their lives because of improper scheduling?” WNCN asked Bimonte. “I do,” He replied.

President Barack Obama declared Wednesday that allegations of misconduct at VA hospitals will not be tolerated, after meeting with Secretary Eric Shinseki.

"If these allegations prove to be true, it's dishonorable, it’s disgraceful, and I will not tolerate it. Period,” Obama said during his address.

Congress moved to keep up the pressure on the administration, with the House easily approving a measure Wednesday evening that would give the VA secretary more authority to fire or demote the 450 senior career employees who serve as hospital directors or executives in the agency's 21 regions.

The vote was 390 to 33.

"I will not stand for it - not as commander in chief but also not as an American," Obama added.

The Durham VA will not say if the two employees put on leave are at fault, pending their investigation.

A spokesperson with the hospital says they are working to address scheduling issues, and are committed to providing the best service possible.

WNCN Investigates has filed public records requests for documentation backing that up, and are waiting to receive them.

But for thousands of veterans like Peter, the proof is in the paperwork.

“Hopefully it just raises awareness and the future vets of this country aren't subject to the way things are today,” he said.

Copyright 2014 WNCN. All rights reserved.

Jonathan Rodriguez

Jonathan Rodriguez is an investigative reporter and member of the WNCN Investigates team. His storytelling specialty is connecting the dots to get to the truth, with a goal of delivering results for our community. If you have something you’d like WNCN to investigate, contact Jonathan.

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