Kennewick woman’s VA criticism goes viral on Facebook

Geoff Folsom, Herald staff writerJuly 21, 2013 

— Kelsey France of Kennewick said she had no idea that a Facebook post about how her boyfriend was treated at the Richland Department of Veterans Affairs clinic would go viral.

But after more than 81,000 people have shared the item with their “friends,” she seeks to take the fight beyond one veteran’s problem.

“It’s not just about our story,” said France, 20. “It’s about other people who have been denied care.”

It started early last week when France’s boyfriend of three years, Richard Wyer, a former Airman who served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, was stung near his ankle by a bee outside the Kennewick home where they live. Wyer said the sting left an infection.

“The redness was up past my knee — my whole foot was red and swollen,” he said.

Wyer, 26, a registered disabled veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and narcolepsy, said he was referred to the Richland clinic by the VA Medical Center in Walla Walla. So he and France went there Thursday.

In the Facebook post, France said the staff at the clinic “rudely refused for this veteran to be seen or treated because he was not their patient,” and said “they didn’t have to treat him if they didn’t want to.”

She said a front desk employee mocked Wyer while he referred to the VA handbook, which allows for veterans to be seen in between other patients if they don’t have an appointment.

When she asked the desk worker and a nurse for their names, France said they told the couple they weren’t obligated to provide them, while they covered their nametags with their hands.

After being rejected at the VA, the couple headed to the emergency room at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland. There, Wyer was diagnosed and treated for cellulitis, a skin infection that can be deadly if it spreads.

“Immediately, we had a nurse look at his leg (at Kadlec),” France told the Herald. “The doctor was there within five minutes.”

It will be up to the VA to review Wyer’s bill from Kadlec and determine whether it will reimburse him, Wyer said.

Linda Wondra, spokeswoman for the VA in Walla Walla, said the agency is investigating Wyer and France’s claims.

“The most important thing to the VA is the care that we give our veterans,” she said.

Wyer said the VA should do more to help veterans.

“In my personal opinion, they can only help out so many people,” Wyer said. “But that doesn’t mean they can’t refer us to a clinic in town or an emergency room in town.”

While the medication he was prescribed at Kadlec has caused the infection to recede, the number of well-wishes the couple have received has grown.

France said she was taken aback by the support her Facebook post received. She said she comes from a military family and met Wyer after her brother, who was serving with him in the Air Force, called one day and told her, “I found who you are going to marry.”

France and Wyer have heard from people across the country about the incident.

France said her post had so much activity that Facebook shut off the ability to post comments on her own page.

That’s why she created a community page called “We Have Your Six,” which is designed to spread awareness for care of veterans and active-duty military members. That page had more than 1,200 “likes” Sunday evening.

“It’s a military term,” France said of the name. “It means, ‘We have your back.’ It means we’re going to spread the word for you and we’re not going to stop until it’s finished.”

France said she wants to keep what happened to Wyer from happening to other families.

“If more military families would speak up, there could be real change,” she said. “By keeping quiet, nothing is going to happen. ... We want people to realize how our vets are being treated.”

France said she tries to personally thank everyone who sends a message to her and Wyer, who joined the Air Force shortly after graduating from Kamiakin High School in 2005 and served until 2010.

“I think she checked like 3,000 messages last night,” Wyer said.

The couple say they’ve heard nothing from anyone at the VA, locally, regionally or nationally, since they went to the Richland clinic.

Wondra said the agency can’t comment on whether a veteran has been contacted because of privacy issues.

“However, all veterans are always encouraged to call the VA’s patient advocate at any time to register a complaint or seek clarification of situations, which is always thoroughly reviewed and addressed,” Wondra said.

France, who recently moved from her native Michigan to join Wyer in the Tri-Cities, said they are asking the VA to take a “step back.”

“We don’t necessarily want something from the VA,” she said. “We want the millions of men and women to get the health care they deserve.”

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