9 Investigates: Nurse says veterans buying illegal drugs

by: Peter Daut Updated:

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SALISBURY, N.C. —

An employee at the Salisbury Veterans Affairs hospital came to Eyewitness News, saying a growing number of veterans are using the hospital to feed their drug addictions.

She said tax dollars are paying for it.

“There are so many veterans that are taking advantage of the system, and it's just getting worse and worse every day,” she said.

The nurse at asked not be identified out of fear of retaliation.

She said on a daily basis she sees veterans who test positive for illegal drugs, and show no interest in getting treatment.

“I’m not a disgruntled employee. I’m a disgruntled taxpayer when I see that our taxpayer dollars are being used to subsidize drug habits,” she said.

Veterans who the VA classifies as disabled receive monthly financial aid from the government.

The nurse said there is no oversight for how that money is spent and she has treated hundreds of veterans who admit to using that money to buy drugs off the street.  

“So we are in fact enabling them to continue their lifestyle,” she said.

Adding to her frustration, she said many of the veterans she provides care to are homeless. 

She believes they go to the VA seeking free shelter, food and medical care.
 
“And they're automatically admitted. The VA doesn't turn anybody down,” she said.

The nurse also said she believes some veterans here have learned to scam the system by complaining of subjective symptoms like chronic pain, suicidal thoughts or post-traumatic stress disorder.

She said some drug addicts stay at the VA more than 20 times a year while still collecting government paychecks.

“There's just a revolving door. We're seeing the same patients come in over and over and over again for the same complaints,” she said.

The Salisbury VA said it takes the allegations very seriously. 

Channel 9 emailed its spokesman and asked if the hospital believes there's a problem, how much money is given to veterans who test positive for drugs, and whether the VA has the authority to withhold money from veterans.

Eyewitness News did not get answers, but received a statement, which reads, in part:  "If any Veteran or employee sees an issue we welcome them to call us or raise the issue ... So that we can investigate, validate and address the issue.”

“There’s plenty of blame to go around,” said Nick McCormick, spokesman for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
He said lawmakers need to do a better job of overseeing the VA.

“Sometimes it's a matter of ensuring the programs that are working are enhanced, and the programs that aren't working are reformed in a way that make them more cost effective,” McCormick said.

The Salisbury VA statement indicated the agency does plan "…to open a Center of Excellence for mental health treatment next month," focusing on "strong assessment and treatment of our Veterans' mental health issues."

The nurse believes all veterans deserve the best medical care.

She worries the VA is enabling drug addiction and homelessness on the taxpayer's dime.

“As long as the VA is finding them free housing and they're getting their monthly paycheck, they can continue their lifestyle,” she said.