Nam vet gets caught in VA maze

Cataract surgery OK’d, but appointment elusive



JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Army veteran Hank Haegerich is another ex-G.I. lost in the Veterans Administration’s vast maze (or is it malaise). He keeps hitting the “reset button” but winding up just where he began.

Haegerich and his wife moved from Illinois a year ago to live closer to his son in Johns Creek. Eye problems showed he needed cataract surgery on both eyes. He could get it done at the VA Hospital in Atlanta, but his wife does not drive, so he applied and was accepted into the Veterans Choice program.

Veterans Choice is a program run by Health Net, a nationwide health care provider.

“All I had to do once the VA sent the paperwork through to Veterans Choice, I would get an appointment at the hospital to have my surgery,” the 73-year-old Haegerich said.

Haegerich was told to send off the paperwork right away because the surgery had to be scheduled within 15 days or the paperwork would have to be resubmitted.

“I never got a notice of an appointment,” he said.

Haegerich did two tours in Vietnam with First Battalion of the 7th Air Cavalry. He was awarded three Air Medals and the Purple Heart. He served in the Ia Drang Valley with Lt. Col. Harold Moore of “We Were Young and Soldiers Once” fame.

He spent a lot of time “in country.”

“I saw a lot action. A lot of guys did. The malaria and jungle were hell. But we did what we had to do,” he said.

Now Haegerich would like the VA to do what it has to do.

If there is one thing a soldier learns in the Army it is to keep a paper trail, and that is just what Haegerich has done. Every call he has made, every person he has talked to, Haegerich has it logged in.

“I just need Health Net to schedule my surgery. I call and I talk to a customer service person. They can verify that I have called, that my paperwork from the VA has been received. Then nothing,” Haegerich said.

The 15 days lapsed, and he had the paperwork resubmitted.

“I thought great, now I’ll get my surgery,” he said. “But every time I call customer service, I get someone in a different state.”

He talked to a Lori St. Germaine in Pennsylvania, an Adriana in Florida. Then he called the VA patient advocate and was told he would get a call-back.

“No call-backs,” he said.

Brian Corlette, regional manager of the VA Choice Program did not call back either. He called Annette Walker, VA hospital director, and still no appointment.

It has been more than 60 days and Haegerich has heard nothing.

In frustration, he called Congresswoman Karen Handel’s office to ask for help.

Apparently that got some wheels turning. Wesley Shaw, Handel’s communications director, said apparently his request had gotten lost in the bureaucratic shuffle, but this time he has been assured the paperwork did get to Health Net.

“We think it will be resolved soon,” Shaw said. “It seems like it was a matter of the paperwork going to the wrong place. But when a congressional office does the asking, wheels do start to turn.”

Shaw said his case should be expedited and Haegerich should be hearing back soon.

Stay tuned. We will see what happens when a little congressional elbow grease is applied.

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