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Veteran shares story of prolonged wait at Alaska VA

By KTVA Alaska 8:51 AM June 13, 2014

“I was unable to do anything for myself,” said U.S. Air Force veteran James Rhodes. “Even opening the door to go outside, I had someone to do everything.”

It’s been 20 years of steady decline that Rhodes, who served in Operation Desert Storm, said was brought on by his will to serve his country and his duties maintaining military jets.

“While we’re repairing them, fuel is just coming out pouring all over us,” Rhodes said.

Endless hours soaked in Jet Propellant Four — or JP4 — which has been proven to cause nervous system disorders, would  begin to take hold within a couple of years.

Rhodes served from Nov. 26, 1990 to Dec. 7, 1992 and said he began to notice a tremor near the end of his service. That, according to him, was just the beginning.

“Memory loss. I was tested in the Air Force with 197 IQ and eidetic memory. It’s not there anymore,” Rhodes said. “It’s not there anymore.”

The loss of memory, the growing pain and overall loss of Rhodes’ ability to function sent him to the Department of Veterans Affairs month after month, year after year. According to Rhodes, his cries fell on deaf ears at the VA in the Lower 48 for more than a decade.

Then, in 2012, he and his wife Debra moved to Anchorage, where they were hoping things would be different.

“I had heard really good things,” Debra said. “That’s not what we experienced.”

An audit conducted by the VA in May 2014 states that the average waiting time for a new patient to see a primary care doctor in Anchorage was around 29 days. It also stated that no patient waited more than 120 days for an appointment.

“Not by my math,” Rhodes said in response to those findings.

Rhodes said he had been given the run-around at the Alaska VA from September of 2012 until October of 2013.

Then, when Rhodes  finally made it in to see a doctor, he said doctors blamed his illnesses  on stress — and nothing more.

“If anyone thinks our wait times to see a doctor are the only problem with the VA, they’re fools,” Rhodes said.

The Alaska VA did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

Meanwhile, Rhodes said the only reason his 13-month wait ended in October 2013 was due to the efforts of Sen. Mark Begich and his staffers who contacted the VA directly on Rhodes’ behalf.

Rhodes is now waiting to find out from the VA if he can receive treatment for JP4 exposure in Washington State.

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