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Secretary pledges $2M to ease DC VA backlog

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- The acting Veterans Affairs Secretary is promising millions of dollars to help ease the backlog at DC Veterans' Hospital.

Across the country 57,000 vets have waited months for their first appointments. An audit found VA schedulers have been ordered to falsify wait times.

"You've got to keep calling, and keep calling, and keep calling," says Army vet Christina Easter, who is among the many dissatisfied vets. "I was actually assaulted by a male inpatient," she says.

Douglas Eatmon was telling us how unhappy he is, until staffers told us we couldn't talk to him in the parking lot. "I think I'm getting terrible care," he said, as a staffer told us to shut off the camera.

An audit found average wait times for appointments at DC's Veterans' Hospital are much longer than they should be. The acting secretary promises that will change. "It starts with getting veterans off wait lists and into clinics," says Secretary Sloan Gibson. "That is our top priority."

He's also pledging to protect staffers who blow the whistle on problems. "The last thing in the world you want to do is create an environment where people are afraid to raise their hands," says Gibson.

The acting secretary says the hospital has already hired two new primary physicians and a physicians assistant. He's hired 3 new mental health staffers, and he wants to hire more.

The VA has added an extra 2,000 appointments to try and ease the backlog. It's pumping an extra two million dollars into the hospital to cover overtime and the cost of sending some vets to private doctors.

There are patients who think they're getting outstanding care. "I love the VA," says Maj. Elaine Gullotta, (US Army, Retired). "The system is awesome."

The VA will release new data Thursday on wait times by hospital.

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