By WBZ-TV Chief Correspondent Joe Shortsleeve

BOSTON (CBS) – U.S. Marines veteran Wayne Lewis is no stranger to the VA medical system in Massachusetts. “I had transplant surgery. I had a cardiac pacemaker. I’ve had colon cancer,” he said.

But even he was surprised when he tried in March to make an appointment to see his primary care physician. “I made this phone call myself to the telephone line for patient care and I got an appointment for like five months in advance in August,” Lewis said.

How did he feel about waiting five months? “Ah, not too pleased,” he said.

New statistics obtained by the I-Team from an internal VA audit show Massachusetts veterans are indeed waiting for first-time appointments. At VA hospitals in Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury and Brockton, wait times average 36 days.

How does that 36 days compare to the rest of the country? The I-Team found that out of 140 VA regions nationally, only 17 had longer average wait times.

We asked Jake Comer, veteran and past national commander of the American Legion, if you found 10 veterans in need of regular treatment, how many would express frustration with long wait times? “All ten,” he said. Comer said unless they are addressed quickly, the VA system’s failures will have long-term ramifications, particularly when it comes to recruiting young men and women into the military.

“They’ll stop and wonder whether it’s worth it, because all you have to give to them is that when you return home you’re going to be taken care of,” Comer said. “And they see that, these young kids, so they’ll stop joining.”

So what needs to change?

“I think what should be happening here is for people to take responsibility for the jobs that they have,” said Lewis. “These men and these women deserve the best that’s available. And to have an attitude of either indifference or casual viewing of these people is not right.”

The numbers the I-Team obtained are from an internal VA audit covering five months — from last October through March of this year.

Today, the Veterans Administration released new numbers covering a shorter, more recent time frame and the news is not any better. Wait times here in Boston have not gotten any shorter.

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