American Legion Downplays Death of Vet Waiting For Care, Calling Him A Mooch

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Luke Rosiak Investigative Reporter
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In an attempt to downplay the toll of long wait times at the Department of Veterans Affairs, leadership of the American Legion denigrated a veteran who died of cancer after waiting more than a year to get treatment, emails show.

Barry Coates died this year after the VA wouldn’t schedule him for a colonoscopy for more than a year after he went to a VA hospital with rectal bleeding. By the time the VA finally gave him an appointment, the cancer had spread too far. Before he died, he testified before the House of Representatives about lengthy wait times at the VA.

VA employees covered up long wait times in order to get cash bonuses tied to performance. (RELATED: VA Exec Tasked With Cleaning Up Book-Cooking Scandal Manipulated Data In Old Job)

In April 2016, Louis Celli, the Legion’s director for veterans affairs, wrote, “Barry Coats washed out of basic training and rode the VA system until he, quite tragically, died of cancer. His story was somewhat sketchy, but inflammatory. The House loved having a dying witness to slam VA during the height of the scandal.”

The email was addressed to other American Legion employees, strategizing that “it would be distasteful for us to say anything” publicly.

Whether or not Coates had a distinguished service record, of course, VA staff did not know that and did not use it as a basis for providing slow treatment.

In May, Legion leadership told the U.S. government that it opposed giving some veterans the option of seeing a private doctor, the same week it took a survey of its members that found they overwhelmingly wanted that choice.

The Legion’s top brass told The Daily Caller News Foundation that it threw out the survey results because surveys aren’t comprehensive, and veterans weren’t savvy enough to know that private-sector doctors don’t always provide perfect care either. (RELATED: American Legion Defies Members, Discards Its Own Survey Showing Vets Want Private Care)

They wrote a letter stating that if vets could choose between private doctors and VA ones, they feared VA facilities would shut down for lack of use. Facilities would only be underused, of course, if the vast majority of veterans opt for private care — which, despite the survey, they are contending is not the case.

Currently, vets can see private docs only in some cases when the VA doesn’t have the capability to treat them. But the union opposed even that, and the VA has failed to reimburse private doctors, leading many to refuse to take new veteran patients.

Celli has also testified before Congress, supposedly giving input on what veterans want, as the spokesman for a large veterans organization.

The Legion’s positions have consistently mirrored those of the VA employees union. Union protections have even kept people like the nurse’s aide accused of beating a patient to death on payroll in order to await trial.

Celli told TheDCNF he was merely responding to an article lamenting Coates’ plight penned by Peter Gaytan, a former Legion staffer who has since gone to work for another veterans group, Concerned Veterans For America. The email obtained by TheDCNF had one other sentence in it: “It is a HUGE risk for him to invoke Barry Coats.” Celli claimed the rest of his email was “simply relating [Gaytan’s] direction” when he worked there to note “hypocrisy.”

In a statement opposing changes to the VA this month, the Legion praised the VA bureaucracy, saying “Over the past two years, VA has transformed customer service, community engagement, and lessened wait times.”

In October 2014, 2,780 appointments were listed as being on a waiting list more than four months, while as of last month, nearly 10,000 had been waiting that long, according to the latest data from VA.

The stats also break down average wait times into three different categories of appointments. All three have gotten longer.

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