Preview: 7 Investigates: Veterans’ Emergency Care

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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) -- A year and a half after 7 Investigates first exposed a flaw in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs payment system, which left veterans on the line for their own emergency medical bills, our investigative unit has uncovered lingering loopholes veterans say are costing lives.

After a seven year fight, last summer the VA Secretary agreed to repay billions of dollars in unpaid medical bills, including thousands of Wisconsin veterans’ claims. But seven months after that promise, 7 Investigates discovered many of those refunds have still not been paid, and for some veterans, those refunds may never come.

As of January, a House Veterans Affairs Committee spokesperson said more than one million of those claims had yet to be processed. Right now, only claims that were submitted after April of 2016 are eligible to be repaid. In order to pay them all, lawmakers from both parties tell 7 Investigates it could likely take a law change.

7 Investigates traveled to Minnesota where 85-year-old Air Force veteran Richard Staab first sued to right the wrong that thousands of Wisconsin veterans’ struggle with.

“I’m a little troubled by the fact they’re now going to review all of these claims in light of what should’ve been the right criteria the first time around,” Staab’s attorney Jacqueline Schuh said. “They should’ve reviewed them properly then issued proper determinations.”

But refunds are only part of the story. The VA’s promised fix did not come with clarification about who will cover the bill the next time an emergency comes. That means they can still be liable for their bill if they go to the closest ER, instead of a VA hospital.

“Every day this legislation is delayed is another day another veteran has to ask themselves should I go to the ER or should I wait and some of these decisions, you're not going to convince me, aren't costing veterans their lives," disabled Gulf War veteran Jerry Zehrung of Pittsville said.

What particularly perplexes Zehrung is in the more than a year and a half since he asked staff for Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-WI., Sen. Ron Johnson, R-WI., and Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wausau, to help change the law's loophole no legislation has passed.

From lawmakers to the VA, 7 Investigates holds the powerful accountable as our investigative unit uncovers the government red tape holding up reimbursements in a system some veterans say is built on broken promises.

7 Investigates: Veterans’ Emergency Care airs Wed. Feb. 14 and Thurs. Feb. 15 only on WZAW News at 9 p.m. and NewsChannel 7 at 10 p.m.