An elderly veteran lay on the floor in pain and resorted to using his bag of medication as a pillow while waiting at a Veterans Affairs medical center in Durham, North Carolina on Friday.
Stephen McMenamin, a former U.S. Marine who was seeking care, and his wife posted photos of the scene on Facebook and said a nurse at the VA center yelled at the veteran for laying on the floor, Atlanta's WSB-TV reported Monday night.
"My wife found it upsetting, so she took a couple pictures," McMenamin told the news station, describing how he witnessed another veteran on the ground using his bag of medication for a pillow after being denied a reclining chair.
The elderly patient told the nurse that he could not get off the floor, according to McMenamin.
"The nurse started yelling at him, telling him he can't do that. He's like, ‘I can't get up and I won't get up. I will be here until you can see me. Can I please have a blanket?'" he said.
McMenamin's wife Hannah described in her Facebook post that multiple other veterans in wheelchairs had to wait hours to get care.
The VA hospital's chief executive nurse said the incident is being investigated, WSB reported.
Rep. Robert Pittenger (R., N.C.) suggested this type of activity from the VA was not surprising.
"It's absolutely tragic," he said. "It's frankly reflective of what we've seen from the VA, and that's why I sponsored last year and this year, the VA Accountability Act."
The commander of North Carolina's Veterans of Foreign Wars branch said the situation has improved significantly in the state. But he added that if what is depicted in the photos turns out to be true, the staff responsible should be fired.
The director of the medical center, DeAnne Seekins, released a statement on the incident to WSB.
We take seriously any allegation of poor service. I was made aware of a regrettable incident that occurred in our Emergency Department over the weekend and am thankful someone cared enough to share the incident with us. Our mission is to provide the highest level of health care to Veterans, so upon learning of the incident, I took swift action. The employee was immediately removed from patient care pending the results of an internal review.
It is an honor to serve America's heroes and actions that do not align with our core values will not be tolerated. We pride ourselves on providing the highest quality care to the Veterans we serve and being responsive to our patient's needs. Veterans deserve nothing less.