THOUSAND PALMS, Calif. - Harvey Ames needs surgery on his neck, but dealing with Veterans Affairs hospitals in Loma Linda and Los Angeles for the past six months caused him more than a pain in the neck.
"I'm at the mercy of the VA because I can't go to Desert Regional," said Ames.
He's not alone. A VA audit showed more than 57,000 new patients wait at least three months for first-time appointments, which is why the U.S. House approved the Veterans Access to Care Act. Local Rep. Raul Ruiz urged the passage of the bipartisan bill. The legislation would allow veterans to get VA-paid treatment from local doctors outside the system if they've faced long wait times or live more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility.
The Senate is poised to vote on a similar bill within 48 hours.
The audit also showed that patients at Loma Linda, the closest VA hospital to the Coachella Valley, wait an average 44 days for their first appointment and it's 56 days in the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.
"Loma Linda ships them to Los Angeles and Los Angeles does this," said Ames.
It's a different story for Jude Walker's husband John, a Vietnam war veteran and patient at Loma Linda. She said the hospital helped install a wheelchair carry on her car and got her husband back on his feet.
"We're so thankful. I feel badly other people are having problems," said Walker. "We've had nothing but good from the VA in Loma Linda."
However, in case of emergency, she agrees the Veterans Access to Care Act could help veterans.
"Loma Linda is almost an hour away. It would be beneficial to have someone locally to see them," she said.
"My hope for my fellow vets is that they will get what they're entitled to in the first place. This isn't what we want, this is what is obligated to us. We served our country," said Ames.