A couple posted photos on Facebook and said veterans waited for hours in pain inside the Durham VA Medical Center.
Stephen McMenamin, a former U.S. Marine, was there for treatment, and said his wife took the pictures because she "found it upsetting."
McMenamin said a veteran who was lying on the ground was using his bag of medication for a pillow after being denied an available reclining chair.
"The nurse started yelling at him, telling him he can't do that," McMenamin said. "He's, like, 'I can't get up and I won't get up. I will be here until you can see me. Can I please have a blanket?'"
The Facebook post from McMenamin's wife, Hanna McMenamin', was shared more than 80,000 times.
McMenamin said they started hearing from other veterans and their families.
"All these people, and it was, you know, it's been kind of heartbreaking," he said.
The hospital's chief executive nurse responded and told McMenamin that the matter is being investigated.
Rep. Robert Pittenger said this just reaffirms his push to hold Veterans Affairs employees more accountable.
"It’s absolutely tragic,” he said. "It’s frankly reflective of what we've seen from the VA, and that’s why I sponsored last year and this year, the VA Accountability Act."
The commander of the Veterans Foreign Wars North said things in the state have improved drastically, but if an investigation confirms what is depicted in these photos, then the staff responsible should be fired.
"There's no question about it. I mean, there's no acceptable reason why this should have happened," Cmdr. Doug Blevins said.
Hanna McMenamin said in an update to her original Facebook post that "the VA is very unhappy that we have posted this photo and it has been seen around the country. They have asked us again to remove this photo, claiming one of the participants does not want this posted. They claim to have told him his face is blocked out. I am not sure that they actually told him that, and I am sure they did not mention he is not identifiable."
Durham VA Medical Center Director DeAnne Seekins issued the following statement Monday:
We take seriously any allegation of poor service. I was made aware of a regrettable incident that occurred in our Emergency Department over the weekend and am thankful someone cared enough to share the incident with us. Our mission is to provide the highest level of health care to Veterans, so upon learning of the incident, I took swift action. The employee was immediately removed from patient care pending the results of an internal review.
It is an honor to serve America's heroes and actions that do not align with our core values will not be tolerated. We pride ourselves on providing the highest quality care to the Veterans we serve and being responsive to our patient's needs. Veterans deserve nothing less.
On Tuesday, it was reported that Seekins said he picture is not a reflection of the care her hospital provides.
"We really do everything that we can to ensure that our veterans are treated with dignity and respect," Seekins said.
She has worked for the VA for more than 30 years and said that when she heard about the post, she immediately took action, reaching out to two of the three veterans in the photo.
"One veteran specifically said to me, 'I don't want anything to harm the Durham VA because they care for me,'" Seekins said.
Seekins said the staff member involved will return to work but will be moved to administration, pending the outcome of the investigation.
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