VA Left Veteran Hanging After Promising To Cover ER Bills

Jonah Bennett | Contributor

After profusely apologizing and promising to pay the private medical bills of a veteran who was locked out of a VA emergency room and had to struggle to get to a non-VA facility, the VA has broken its promise and completely ignored the vet for months.

Over Memorial Day weekend, Christopher Neiweem, a national veterans’ advocate, opened his mail to find a letter from the Cook County Health Care System warning him of a final notice to pay his $1,600 emergency room fee.

Neiweem incurred this fee on January 23 after waking up with a bad fever, cabbing to the Jesse Brown VA medical center and finding that the door to the 24/7 emergency room was shut. The lights in the building were off and the call box went unanswered. When Neiweem called the national veterans’ crisis line, a VA employee told him the ER was closed.

Standing out in the cold and weary from a night of nausea, Neiweem managed to limp in pain over to Cook County Hospital, where he was billed nearly $1,600 for ER care. Months have gone by, and the VA has still not paid the bill, despite its promise and profuse apology to Neiweem, he told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

After the original incident, Michael McAleer, public affairs officer in West Virginia, reached out to Neiweem and profusely apologized, assuring him the VA would completely cover all emergency room bills. Additionally, Annette Walker, who was acting director at Jesse Brown in January, also gave Neiweem a call and confirmed that since she started at her position, she too had seen barriers to physical entry points into the facility and that his case would be handled with care.

At that point, Chicago public affairs officer Lina Satele took over the case. Neiweem was sure his files were in good hands. Days passed, weeks passed, months passed and still the VA did nothing, even after the VA had acknowledged receipt of all of the medical bill paperwork and documentation.

The bill, in fact, was never paid, and now Neiweem has to face a final notice of payment, which he received over Memorial Day weekend. “If this were an UBER ride it would be zero stars,” Neiweem told TheDCNF, commenting on the VA’s customer service.

“I have no doubt that these individuals intentions are good, but they there comes a point where you have to say something,” he added.

To make matters worse, VA employee Eric Blakely called Neiweem on Wednesday and said he would take care of the bill. Even though Neiweem had called the VA almost 30 times about the issue, Blakely had never heard of Neiweem’s case before and had never been given any bill from internal staff. This ignorance continued after emails, faxes and discussions with five senior VA leaders for months.

Now, multiple VA employees are calling Neiweem in frantic, uncoordinated fashion to try and fix the problem in anticipation of media attention. Blakely now allegedly intends to file an insurance claim to take care of Neiweem’s private hospital costs by the end of the day. Neiweem has to send another copy of the bill over, even though the VA already has all the paperwork.

“I have received several calls and emails today from VA staff that seem to want to help and none of them are coordinating with each other or have any idea of how to accomplish this task,” Neiweem said.

Neiweem, a familiar face in the national scene for veterans’ advocacy, is now asking VA Secretary Robert McDonald to help expedite paying the bill and to launch an audit of the Jesse Brown facility.

“This is a trial and case study in Bob McDonald’s private sector leadership,” Neiweem told TheDCNF. “Frankly I think this is an opportunity to hold employees who failed in this case responsible. Leadership is needed, and needed now.”

Neiweem has testified numerous times in front of Congress and functioned as a chief legislative leader working for some of the nation’s premier advocacy groups, including Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

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Tags : chicago christopher neiweem department of veterans affairs jesse brown
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