Amid Controversy, Mid-Missouri Veterans Praise Care

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COLUMBIA - Amid accusations of long wait times and sub-par treatment at VA Hospitals, veterans outside the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital in Columbia Friday offered praise to the kind of care they have received.

Clifford Kemp is a former U.S. Marine who has adult onset diabetes and high blood pressure. 

"They treat me like a king," Kemp said. "I've heard different stories, but I haven't witnessed any of them. I've seen people travel several hundred miles just to use this VA when they've got one 50 miles away."

Kemp said although he has had good experiences in Columbia, his interaction with the VA hasn't always been so positive. When he attempted to apply for benefits at the San Diego VA Hospital, he had a little more trouble. 

"I decided I didn't need it that bad because I was sick of sitting around getting the run-around. I figured I could overcome whatever ailments I had and that's what I did," Kemp said.

But with age, Kemp's health declined and he applied for benefits in mid-Missouri.

"Luckily for me, I tried it here. Within hours I was talking to someone about my concerns," he said.

Although Kemp himself hasn't experienced any mistreatment, the stories he hears on the news upset him. 

"What bothers me is the fact that there are people that have their own agendas. That affects the quality of service much more than anything else."

Verl Niemeier is another veteran receiving treatment at the VA Hospital in Columbia. He served in the Navy from 1955 to 1958. Niemeier spent time at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii before deploying to Japan for six months. 

Of the treatment, Niemeier said, "perfect as far as I'm concerned."

He, too, said he thinks the problem is "mostly politicians." 

Both men agree the Columbia VA Hospital has not been the problem.

Kemp said, "three, four weeks to wait to see them, I don't figure that's too out of line for the amount of people that they take care of." 

Stephen Gaither, the spokesperson for the Truman Memorial VA Hospital, said the problem with wait times is in staffing. 

"There are always problems with capacity," Gaither said. "If there are a panel of patients assigned to a provider, if that provider were to leave, you've got to arrange for that panel."

The praise comes amid mounting criticism against the Department of Vetrans Affairs, resulting in the resignation of Secretary Eric Shinseki on Friday.

Sloan Gibson, former CEO of the United Services Organization and West Point graduate, will assume the role of Secretary of Veterans Affairs. 

In response to Gibson's appointment, Kemp said, "his prior experience shows that he's a go-getter, he does his work well. West Point tells me that he probably leads a pretty structured life and a pretty disciplined life and that's apparently what this administration needs."