GARY T. KUBOTA / GKUBOTA@STARBULLETIN.COM
About 20 demonstrators held a protest on Maui yesterday, criticizing the lack of services provided by the veterans clinic in Kahului.
Maui demonstrators protest vet care
KAHULUI » Some 20 people demonstrated outside a veterans clinic yesterday to complain about what they see as deteriorating medical services on Maui.
Demonstrators said the services began a downward spiral when the Department of Veterans Affairs let go one of two physicians at the clinic in Kahului, decreasing the quality of medical care.
Roger Evangelista, president of the Maui County Veterans Council representing more than 20 veterans groups, said the veterans decided to protest after an incident Wednesday, when a veteran who felt ill and had gone to the clinic was not seen by a physician, but given a toll-free number to call a VA nurse on Oahu.
Evangelista said the treatment of veterans on Maui is unacceptable and causing stress for veterans, some of whom are being treated for post-traumatic stress disorders.
Evangelista said services for about 3,000 veterans on the Valley Isle have deteriorated since a physician at the clinic was let go in early May.
The system has its main clinic on Oahu and community-based outpatient clinics on Guam, Samoa, Kauai, Hilo and Kona on the Big Island, and Maui.
Ned Purdy Sr., the veteran who was given the toll-free number, said he was told he had to talk to the nurse who would decide whether he could see a physician.
"I told them, 'This cannot be. It sounds like you're refusing service to me,'" said Purdy, a former Marine who served two tours during the Vietnam War.
Purdy said he eventually went to Kula Hospital, where he was seen by a physician and was treated with ice packs and fed intravenous fluids for his fever.
Department of Veterans Affairs health care spokesman Fred Ballard said he will look into Purdy's complaint.
Mitch Skaggerberg, president of the Vietnam Veterans of Maui County, said veterans are calling for appointments and cannot get in to be treated.
Veteran Agapito Sarmiento said he has been told he has to fill in another round of forms about his health condition, even though the clinic is supposed to have his medical records from the former physician.
Ballard said officials are expected to begin interviewing seven to eight physician applicants in the next few days.
Ballard said meanwhile, in addition to the remaining physician at the clinic, a doctor is coming from Oahu to the clinic twice a week.
He said the Department of Veterans Affairs is also retaining the services of physicians on Maui for a fee.
He said the clinic has a nurse practitioner and will be getting a physician's assistant in July.