TAMPA, FL (WFLA) – Without uttering a sound, the message on a Fowler Avenue billboard in Tampa is loud and clear. “VA is LYING, VETERANS ARE DYING,” the sign reads. It sits not too far from the James A. Haley Veterans hospital. VA is Lying, a FaceBook group, paid for the space.
“Sadly the situation between veterans and the V.A. is adversarial, it shouldn’t be,” group founder Ron Nesler stated. “I want these billboards to bring public attention on what the V.A. is doing to veterans.” Nesler is upset with what he calls the V.A.’s opposition to a law providing comprehensive health care for children of veterans exposed to Agent Orange.
“After the law was passed they (the V.A.) told us, that they had found loopholes, where they didn’t have to do it and if we didn’t like it we could sue them,” Nesler said.
Christine Travis, who’s father was exposed to Agent Orange while stationed at Da Nang airbase in South Vietnam, is fighting the same battle. “My health issues are a drop in the bucket compared to some second generation sufferers. We’ve got second generation that have appendages missing, they were born without some fingers, legs,” Christine said.
Her father, Robert Yeske loaded the toxic defoliant onto planes during the war. She points out the V.A. did not recognize Robert’s Agent Orange related illnesses until just a few months before his death in 2011. As a result, her father lived a good portion of his life after Vietnam, unable to work and in poverty. Now Christine contends, she and her children suffer the from effects of Agent Orange. “We bleed orange, Agent Orange. It’s in our DNA, it’s in our blood, it’s not going away,” she added. She believes the government and the V.A. have an obligation to care for the generations affected by the chemical.
The V.A. recognizes only Spina Bifida as a birth defect caused in the children of veterans exposed to Agent Orange. It recognizes no health issues in their grandchildren. Christine points out that testing has shown Agent Orange can affect 7 generations. She urges more studies. “Me and my children will become casualties of the Vietnam war. I’m still alive, but I was killed in Vietnam. I just haven’t died yet,” she said.
There is a reason the billboard went up around the corner from Haley. The hospital, Ron Nesler says, is a hotbed of complaints. Nesler remembers trying to contact Haley’s medical director on behalf of a sick veteran. He said, he was put on hold for 20 minutes, before someone picked up. “They said that it is the policy of our medical center that the director’s office not take phone calls from veterans. That got James A. Haley a sign,” he said.
Haley responded with an email from communications chief Karen Collins. “We respect this and any other organization’s or individual’s right to express their opinion. It is what our nation’s heroes fight for. We regret any issues he may have had with the JAHVH and are reaching out to Mr. Nesler to discuss any concerns he has with our local facility. Our wait-times are published every two weeks, the same as other VA facilities, at <http://www.va.gov/health/access-audit.asp>.
Overall our access is good, but there remain certain high demand specialties services that we are continuing to focus on to improve access. JAHVH has been audited by both the OIG and the Joint Commission and no access data manipulation has been found,” the email stated.
“We work diligently to create a collaborative, problem solving environment that is conducive to the needs of our patients. We encourage anyone with a specific concern to contact the hospital’s team of Patient Advocacy Specialists that work as liaisons for the Director’s Office. Additionally, we have Service Liaisons, who field incoming calls from Veterans and either answer their questions or route the individuals to the appropriate office to handle their concerns,” it added.
Ron Nesler’s VA is Lying FaceBook group is nearly 10,000 members strong. He vows to put up more billboards around the country. He plans to make veterans’ care an issue in the 2016 presidential election.