- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 17, 2014

SEMINOLE, Fla. (AP) - Hundreds of military veterans from the Tampa Bay area met with U.S. Rep. David Jolly on Tuesday to express concerns, compliments and solutions regarding Veterans Affairs health care and wait times.

Veterans across the country have had to wait months for care. Average wait times for new patient primary care at the Bay Pines and Tampa VA facilities is 47 days and 42 days respectively.

After filling out an 11-question intake form, veterans were able to talk with case workers to help resolve issues with records and wait times. Legal help also was available, and Jolly met with veterans individually in his office. Jolly, who serves on the House Veteran’s Affairs Committee, said he will take what he hears from the day’s meetings back to Washington to offer further reforms.

“This is a historic crisis,” Jolly said. “The future (of VA care) should be what veterans want.”

Jolly said the wait list should be cleared immediately by sending veterans to outside care or other providers. He also suggested changes including using private management of the VA.

“I don’t think this will be solved for a long time,” Jolly said.

Some veterans at Jolly’s meeting have been fighting the VA for years.

Derek Peeples, 25, a Navy veteran who served from 2008 to 2010, dressed in military fatigues and carried with him a three-ring binder and stacks of medical paperwork.

Although Peeples’ right leg is intact, he walks with the help of a prosthetic that is attached to his knee with his leg bent back. He has complex regional pain syndrome, a chronic pain condition believed to be caused by trauma to the body’s nervous system.

Problems started with his knee while he was on duty working at a base in the Chicago area in 2008. A ligament got progressively worse. Peeples underwent numerous surgeries and procedures, almost losing his leg because of issues with care.

His claims were denied, and Peeples has paid thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses. Peeples said that not only did he receive inadequate care while he was in the service, he waited months for help at the Bay Pines VA after he was discharged.

“It’s unfortunate that this is what’s going on today,” Peeples said. “Being here hopefully will make a difference trying to get veterans some care with the outside sourcing aspect.”