Lynchburg veteran wants answers from VA after he said he was turned away during crisis

Hank Burns served two tours in Iraq before he decided to spend more time with his family (Photo provided by family)

LYNCHBURG, Va. (WSET)-- A Lynchburg veteran said he was shown the door at the Lynchburg Veteran Affairs clinic in the middle of a mental health crisis. According to the VA, their policy is to help a veteran who in a mental crisis and work them through the situation.

The VA says they worked with the veteran but he didn't want their assistance.

"I always said I want to go into the military," veteran Hank Burns said.

Hank Burns joined at 17 and became active duty at 18.

Burns served two tours in Iraq before he decided to spend more time with his family.

"They can tell you how to be deployed, but they can never tell you how to come home," Burns said.

The battles ended, but the war never did as Burns suffers from nightmares, fears of crowds and loud noises.

"Some things you know what you see you can't erase and it doesn't go anywhere," he said.

Burns turned to drinking and even thought of just running away until he decided he needed help, that's when doctors diagnosed him with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

"You relive a lot of it, once you finally get some sleep. It kind of comes back," he said.

He started going to the VA clinics in Salem and Lynchburg for treatments.

It started off well, but Burns said medicine didn't get delivered on time, he endured long waits for appointments, and then two weeks ago he hit a breaking point.

According to Burns, the VA did not offer treatment during what he calls a mental health crisis, but said to set up an appointment with a doctor.

The VA said they worked with Burns during that situation, but he didn't like what he heard and left.

"I felt antagonized and he just wanted to keep going. It was almost like he wanted to argue," Burns said.

VA policy is to not turn anyone away who is having a mental health crisis and after Burns left, the VA said it called police to go do a welfare check

Burns said he doesn't trust the VA and will not go back, but the VA said they want to work with him and get him treatment.

"It's about the next man. As long as the next young veteran doesn't walk in there and go what I went then I've done what I've set out to do," he said.

The VA issued a statement after declining multiple requests for an interview.

“Our standard of care is to take every sign of distress seriously, and that’s exactly what we did in this case. Our staff met with Mr. Burns the same-day he arrived to the Lynchburg VA Clinic and arranged a follow-up appointment. The current wait time for mental health appointments is 2 to 4 days for non-urgent concerns and urgent concerns receive same-day care. We will continue reviewing our processes to ensure we are providing the care our Veterans have earned and deserve.”

Congressman Goodlatte also issued a statement about what he is doing in Congress with the Department of Veteran Affairs.

“I am committed to seeing that the Department of Veterans Affairs provides high quality care to veterans in Lynchburg. That’s why I am requesting a meeting with leadership at the Salem VA Medical Center in order to determine what must be done to improve service. If veterans are having difficulty dealing with the VA, I encourage them to contact my office at 434-845-8306.
“I have voted in favor of several bills this year, some of which have been signed into law, to help modernize the VA and ensure that America’s veterans receive the best care we can provide. I have also signed on in support of the REHIRE Act, which would empower VA medical facilities to recruit, hire, and retain doctors and nurses to meet the growing shortage. I will continue working in Congress to hold the VA accountable to our nation’s veterans.”

Burns said he knows and speaks with other veterans who have had issues with the VA here as well.

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