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Newhouse: Kennewick veteran mistreated at a Seattle VA hospital

The mistreatment of a Kennewick veteran at a Veterans Administration hospital in Seattle is one of several incidents around the country that have spurred members of Congress to call for changes to VA care.

Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, and 33 other representatives signed a bipartisan letter Thursday to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald about Donald Seifken’s “alarming and unacceptable treatment.”

Seifken, 64, an Army veteran, went to the VA Puget Sound Health Care System to get care for a broken foot, which had swelled to the size of a football, according to a news release from Newhouse’s office.

Unable to walk, 10 feet away from the emergency room entrance, Seifken called to ask for assistance, but was told to call 911 by a hospital employee, who hung up on him, the release said.

Seifken called 911 in tears, and seven minutes later, a Seattle fire captain and three firefighters arrived to help him.

The hospital initially said it was against policy to assist people in this situation. However, Chad Hutson, a representative for the Seattle VA, later released a statement admitting mistakes had been made.

“We have determined we did not do the right thing to ensure the veteran had assistance into the emergency room,” the statement said.

The organization would take action to ensure similar incidents will not occur, including better education of hospital staff, the statement said.

Newhouse and the other representatives said the incident is representative of systemic issues in the VA, which cannot be addressed at the individual hospital level and require the attention of the full organization.

The legislators also noted concern over the death of veteran Jim Garcia in a VA medical center in New Mexico.

Garcia collapsed in the center’s cafeteria. Instead of directly transporting him to the emergency room, which was 500 yards away, the fire department was called to transport him. Garcia died before transport.

“Put simply, these stories are horrifying, and no veteran seeking emergency medical care should ever experience such treatment,” the letter said.