An already tarnished VA system now admitting to another mistake that could put some 25,000 veterans at risk. The I-Team looked into how many local vets are affected by this latest misstep.
The VA has admitted tens of thousands of vets were tested for traumatic brain injury by unqualified medical staff. Now the I-Team has learned more than 300 former service members in our area are being sent letters with an offer to be retested.
Former Army Specialist, Matt Siedl didn't see it coming. "My body whiplashed back and then front, smashed onto my machine gun and broke my nose." That's what happened after he rolled over an IED in Iraq. It left Siedl with shrapnel in his body and a severe concussion. "sometimes it's hard for me to think or concentrate."
He was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, or TBI, while still in the service. "I have seizures nowadays, nasty migraines." Injured too many times, he left the army in 2008. Siedl was 21-years-old.
With so many service members coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan with head trauma the VA runs many tests for TBI, but this month the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs revealed many of those tests did not follow agency guidelines.
Back in 2007 the VA developed policy requiring one of four types of specialists complete TBI exams, but in a recent press release the VA admitted it used unqualified medical staff for those exams between 2007 and 2015.
Paul Gasser is an associate professor at Marquette. He told us, "the earlier you can identify it, obviously the better." A neuroscientist, Gasser studies how stress effects the brain and pointed out TBI can be difficult to diagnosis in some cases. the key is preventing re injury. "Even if it's a delayed diagnosis, so you can be aware of the problem and you can avoid situations that might cause a recurrence."
The VA is now sending out letters to almost 25,000 veterans eligible for retesting. 383 of them are in Milwaukee.
Citing confusion with its own policy, VA Secretary Robert McDonald said "providing support for veterans suffering from a TBI is a priority and a privilege, and we must make certain they receive a just and fair rating for their disabilities."
Siedl, a Purple Heart recipient, saw so many of his "brothers" die in combat. "It hurts losing your brothers years later still." Now he worries about all the possible missed cases of TBI. "You broke me, and you're not even willing to fix me on the other hand?" Siedl said. He hopes veterans affected can now get the care they need.
Siedl doesn't know if he will be retested. The VA is still in the process of contacting everyone. Veterans have one year from the date of letter to request a new TBI exam.
Affected veterans may contact the VA Special Issue Hotline at 1-800-749-8387
If you've received a letter about TBI retesting please contact me by clicking here.