TEMPLE — They may be small in number, but their message is big enough to draw attention.
Many of those driving past the protesters in front of the Temple VA on Monday signaled their approval by honking their horns.
Five people, carrying flags and signs reading “Save Our Vets” and “Terrorists Get Better Care at GITMO Than Our Vets,” want to keep the heat on Veterans Affairs until policies change and providing health care to veterans becomes the focus of the people at the top.
The signs refer to the scandal that began earlier this year with complaints from a retired doctor who worked at a VA hospital in Phoenix and revealed that hundreds of veterans were not being seen quickly by doctors, that perhaps 40 people had died as a result and that hospital leaders were covering up their mistakes.
An investigation by the agency’s inspector general along with an internal VA audit found that problems with delaying care and falsifying records was systemic throughout the VA.
The local group has adopted the name Citizens for Defending American Vets.
Chris Coleman, 30 and a veteran of the war in Iraq, stood on the sidewalk in front of the Olin E. Teague Veterans’ Medical Center in Temple on Saturday, Sunday and Monday and plans to return as often as he can, he said.
“I’m going to keep coming back until the VA changes something,” Coleman said. “I’m not going away.”
Many veterans feel the VA has turned its back on them, Coleman said.
The secret waiting lists of veterans seeking care at VA clinics and hospitals are egregious, he said.
Coleman, who has post-traumatic stress disorder, wants improvements in the VA’s PTSD clinic. Trying to get one-on-one care with a doctor because of trust issues in group settings is next to impossible, he said.
“Twenty-three veterans a day are committing suicide, and I understand we can’t stop it 100 percent, but we can curb it,” Coleman said. “I want to do the best we can to fix the problem.”
Shane Womack, 40, held a sign that read “Stop the Death Lists.”
This was the second day Don Psencik, 67, who served in Vietnam, joined the protesters.
Bill Rowton, an Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam, held a flag. His wife, Laura, was farther down the sidewalk holding a sign.
“I’m here to support our vets,” Rowton said. “They deserve everything we can get them.”
Many gave their lives, many gave their limbs, and many gave their minds in support of the United States and its citizens, he said.
“I’m not here to protest the doctors and nurses who are trying to help these men, but it’s the men in the ivory tower,” Rowton said.
The chances of there now being meaningful change within the Department of Veterans Affairs are pretty good, he said.
“I think there’s been too much publicity and too many people out here like us saying ‘Something’s wrong, let’s get it fixed,’” Rowton said.