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DALLAS — A former high-ranking doctor at the VA Hospital in Dallas is joining the parade of critics claiming area veterans are getting substandard care.
The hospital's former Chief of Medicine recently testified about financial mismanagement, staffing problems and unacceptable emergency room wait times.
Jim Johansen of Arlington — a Vietnam veteran, helicopter door-gunner, Army MP for more than 30 years — has lived through a lot. And at the age of 60 he doesn't think he should still be fighting battles — especially with administrators at the VA hospital in Dallas.
"My complaint was not only for me, but for every veteran who walks through that door and is subjected to the kind of treatment that they are subjected to," Johansen said.
In a series of complaints to hospital administrators dating back to 2011, Johansen documents long wait times, "unanswered communications," and a constant "turnover of doctors" making him and other veterans feel like "guinea pigs."
"The veterans at that facility deserve better," Johansen said. "Veterans throughout the VA Health Care System overall deserve better."
Johansen is not the only one upset at the way some veterans are being treated. Former Dallas VA emergency room nurse Ramona Spencer is also familiar with complaints against her old employer.
"What bothers me the most is that they are [treated like] second-class citizens," she said.
Spencer filed a complaint alleging discrimination and retaliation against her for speaking out about working conditions at the hospital. She blames hospital administrators for creating an unhealthy environment for patients and staff.
"I saw management ignoring all of these things, and the more they ignored, the more I and a couple of other nurses spoke out... at which time we became part of their little hit list," Spencer said.
Two months ago, as a part of her legal complaint, Spencer's attorney deposed the former Chief of Medicine at the Dallas VA. Daniel Goodenberger testified to the "understaffing of nursing units" and "inadequate funding for physician and nursing staffing as a result of financial mismanagement in the past."
But Goodenberger also blames the "most toxic union environment he's ever seen." He added that a recently-resolved $25 million deficit at the hospital was also to blame.
VA officials responded to the allegations in writing, dismissing most of the allegations.
"We have reviewed the statements attributed to Dr. Goodenberger and found them without merit," said VA Hospital spokesman Froylan Garza. "The VA North Texas leadership teams... have made great improvements in timeliness/access, staffing and customer service over the past year. ER wait times have decreased over the past year and customer service scores for December indicate 94 percent of veterans surveyed rated their overall experience in the Emergency Department either Excellent, Very Good or Good."
Yet over the weekend, one flu-sick veteran showed us where he spent seven hours waiting in a packed emergency room. He said the doctor who finally saw him told him there were no available beds, gave him a prescription, and sent him home.
"Four months ago, the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Florida), paid a visit to the Dallas VA hoping to send a message to hospital administrators: The allegations of mistreatment and mismanagement need to stop.