TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - It's been nearly one month since Southern Arizona VA Health Care System officials announced a "disruption in service for some veterans with transportation needs" which caused an unknown amount to miss their doctor's appointments.
VA officials said its contracted non-emergency medical transport company, LMC Medical Transport, had an unexpected staffing challenge.
Local LMC leaders said there's a contract dispute that's keeping the government from paying its drivers.
Tucson News Now asked Tucson VA officials on Thursday, June 15, for updated numbers on how many veterans have missed their appointments.
Those statistics weren't provided. A spokesman e-mailed this statement instead:
However, veterans keep reaching out to Tucson News Now to tell a different story.
Michael Lawson is a 36-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran with a 60 percent disability rating from service-related injuries and qualifies for a free ride to his VA doctor's appointments. He lives in Sierra Vista which is about a 75-mile and an hour and a half drive away from the Tucson VA.
While stationed in Yuma in 2002, Lawson was in a helicopter crash and continues to deal with a traumatic brain injury.
"I can't drive. I get seizures and blackouts and so forth, so I can't drive because of that," he said.
Lawson explained he had a primary care doctor's appointment at the VA on May 30. He said he called the SAVAHC Beneficiary Travel Office on May 26 to schedule a pick-up.
"Normally it's pretty easy," he said.
However, no driver picked him up and he missed his appointment.
"Once I found out my appointment was rescheduled for September 7, I contacted you. And it wasn't until after I contacted you on Facebook that the VA all of sudden wants to come back and, 'Oh, Mr. Lawson, we'll reschedule your appointment for an earlier date,'" he said.
He's frustrated with the VA's transportation issues and wanted to share his story to inspire other veterans to do the same.
"The first time I received any headway was contacting a reporter and if that's what we need to do as a veteran community, maybe that's what we need to do," he said.
"It's important for me to tell my story. That way it motivates other veterans to do the same thing and to realize we can make a difference. We can change things if we do it. We're that strong, that resilient, and that tough," he said.