CHANDLER, Ariz. - The Chandler Fire, Health & Medical Department launched a pilot program back in January to help sick veterans get the care they need while the Phoenix VA health care system gets overhauled.
Jim Spengler, firefighter and paramedic, visits some of the more than 10,000 veterans in Chandler alone.
"The very first two times we went out, both of those [veteran patients] we identified were having a medical issue right then," said Spengler. "Through the partnership with the VA ... [we were able to] get them a hospital room because they needed [it]," without the long waits."
One of his regular patients is Army Veteran Tom Welch. Welch is happy the pilot program recently got an 18-month extension because of its success.
"They come in an out and we talk with the hospital [via video chat] together," said Welch, explaining how convenient it is for him not to have to travel to downtown Phoenix and back every couple of week.
He's in remission after a prostate cancer diagnosis.
He takes a array of medications with which a paramedic from Chandler fire and a nurse practitioner from the VA help monitor.
Welch's wife, Vicky, had to take up two jobs since the diagnosis six years ago.
She said the firefighters who do these modern house calls are "a peace of mind."
The embattled VA health care system is still working on improvement in staffing, training and scheduling.
There were 215 veterans who died in 2015 while waiting for a pending appointment at the Phoenix VA.
This week the VA announced Phoenix would get an additional $28 million to hire critical staff.
12 News reached out to VA officials -- they did not immediately respond to our phone calls for comment.
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