VA resolves veteran’s bill after call from WBTV

Updated: May. 31, 2021 at 5:43 PM EDT
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HICKORY, N.C. (WBTV) - When Gary Smith’s finger started to hurt in October 2019, he called the Hickory VA clinic to see if he could schedule an x-ray.

Instead of having him drive to the clinic from his home in Banner Elk, a staff member told him he could go to local urgent care, get an x-ray and the VA would pay for it.

That began a years-long saga that Smith now describes as “the hurt finger from hell.”

Smith went to urgent care, presented his VA card and got his x-ray.

He did everything right.

However, urgent care never got submitted to the proper place at the VA for payment.

Smith said he got a few calls from the urgent care regarding the outstanding bill but each time, he said, he told the person on the other end of the phone that the VA would cover the charge and he was told they’d sort it out with the VA.

That continued until August 2020.

Concerned the bill still hadn’t been paid by the VA, Smith wrote a letter to both the urgent care and the Hickory VA clinic explaining the situation in hopes the issue would finally be resolved.

He sent the letters via certified mail.

Link: Click here to read more of WBTV’s investigating reporting into the VA

He went months without hearing anything back, so Smith assumed the bill had finally been taken care of. Until he got a notice that his past-due bill had been sent to a collection agency in March of 2021, nearly a year and a half since his x-ray.

That’s when Smith called WBTV for help.

The VA started investigating why Smith’s bill still hadn’t been paid after a call from WBTV.

In a statement, VA spokesman Vance Janes said the VA was unaware of Smith’s billing error until our call.

“According to our records, VA’s Community Care Department was not notified of Mr. Smith’s outstanding bill until this media query,” Janes said. But he could not explain why the VA doesn’t have any record of Smith’s letter--which was sent via certified mail and shows it was delivered--from August 2020.

After WBTV sent Janes, the spokesman, a copy of Smith’s letter, he said he’d get more information and follow up with WBTV with an explanation as to why the VA didn’t take action on Smith’s letter when it was received in August 2020. But he never provided any additional information.

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As a result of our call, Smith’s bill has been resolved with the urgent care and he’ll receive help clearing the incident from his credit report, Janes said.

Smith said he’s received great care from the VA but is still baffled at why he had to call a TV station to get a bill resolved.

“I’ve got enough on my plate to have to do that,” Smith said. “I was getting really tired of having to deal with this, that shouldn’t have had to have been dealt with in the first place.”

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