As anger mounts over growing allegations of misconduct at VA hospitals around the country, President Barack Obama finally spoke out Wednesday, vowing to fix problems that are causing delays in America's veterans receiving health care.
But thus far, none of those issues have surfaced here in the Bay Area.
Though local veteran advocates acknowledge that delays for treatment happen occasionally, they say there is nothing like the troubling reports that have emerged from a Phoenix VA hospital, where 40 veterans allegedly died while being on kept on a secret waitlist that staff used to hide delays in care.
"Sometimes there can be a wait, but not like what they say is going on in Phoenix," said Richard Herrera Jr., director of the Santa Clara County Office of Veteran Services. "I feel sorry for those vets. But I just don't see those issues here, and I say that as a veteran who also is a patient at the Palo Alto VA."
The Obama administration is struggling to get a handle on mounting charges of delayed treatment and preventable deaths at VA centers. The Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General's Office said late Tuesday that 26 facilities are now being investigated nationwide over charges that they manipulated wait times and other issues.
"I will not stand for it -- not as commander in chief but also not as an American," Obama said Wednesday in his first comments about the scandal.
Bay Area veterans primarily receive care from the VA Palo Alto Heath Care System and the San Francisco VA Medical Center. Currently, neither is being investigated.
"Let me be clear: There are no secret waiting lists in our system," said Lisa Freeman, director of VA Palo Alto.
Both centers are widely considered among the brights spots in the national VA system. Palo Alto, which saw 67,000 vets last year at 10 facilities, is home to one of the VA's polytrauma centers -- treating some of the most grievously wounded from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Affiliated with the Stanford University School of Medicine, it ranks as the VA's second-largest research facility.
The largest is the San Francisco VA, which treats 60,000 veterans annually, stretching to the Oregon border.
"We are two state-of-the-art centers that are among the best in the VA," said Judi Cheary, director of public affairs. "We're trying to stay focused on the good work that we're doing here for our vets and not get caught up in the problems that other centers might be experiencing. We don't want our veterans to lose confidence in their health care."
Michael Blecker, executive director of San Francisco-based Swords to Plowshares, said complaints that Bay Area veterans often have about the VA are directed at the Oakland regional benefits office, which is separate from the medical facilities. The Oakland office, criticized for some of the longest delays in processing benefit claims in the entire VA system, recently named a new executive director.
"There is a big problem for wait times, but it's with benefits," said Blecker, who heads a nonprofit that provides services to 2,000 Bay Area vets each year. "When we do hear complaints about health care, it's that you can wait forever to see a specialist."
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, has been a strong critic of the VA benefit backlog in Oakland. But a spokesman for her office said Wednesday that they have not received complaints from veterans regarding Palo Alto or San Francisco since 2012.
Individual veterans, though, do have stories of delays. Kevin Miller, who served two tours in Iraq with the Marines and suffered injuries from a pair of roadside explosions, said he is pleased with the care he has received at the San Francisco VA. But he also tells of waiting three months to see a spine specialist, only to be told the appointment was canceled when he arrived.
Two days later, he received the cancellation notice in the mail.
"I'm not surprised by the stories we're hearing because the VA's IT infrastructure and scheduling process is just not up to 2014 standards," said Miller, 30, of San Francisco. "My outside dentist will send me an email with an appointment, and I can put that into my smartphone calendar. But the VA still can't do that. It's done with snail mail and phone calls. All this is just being exposed now."
Obama spoke Wednesday amid growing pressure on Capitol Hill and among veterans groups, calling the delay allegations "dishonorable." Since the furor arose over allegations of treatment delays and preventable deaths in Phoenix, claims of cooked books have been made at other facilities, leading to demands for the resignation of embattled VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, a retired four-star general who was wounded serving in Vietnam.
The president voiced support for Shinseki but said there would be accountability if the allegations are proven to be true.
Investigators probing the claims say they have so far not linked any patient deaths in Phoenix to delayed care.
This week, Freeman sent a letter to Palo Alto employees and veterans, noting that the system scores in the top 10 percent of all VA facilities in patient satisfaction surveys, and that they try to schedule appointments within two weeks of when they are requested.
"It's important that our veterans believe us when we say that we're doing everything possible to schedule their appointments as quickly as we can," Freeman said.
Associated Press contributed to this report.