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Vets irate over missing medications

Jesse Hill, a Vietnam vet with post-traumatic-stress disorder, waited more than five weeks for his mail-order prescriptions to arrive at his Levittown home.

"I need these meds or I go off the wall," said Hill, 61, who had worked for the Postal Service more than 28 years when he had a stroke and became disabled.

After a month without his meds, he said, "I'm screaming and cursing a lot."

In desperation, Hill turned to his doctor, who checked the Veterans Administration's computer, found the meds had been mailed Nov. 4, the same day they were prescribed, but they apparently had vanished. So Dr. Anders Stone wrote another prescription, Hill said.

Hill's mail-order drugs, like 1,400 other veterans' prescriptions, disappeared in the massive mail chaos at the chronically understaffed Postal Service processing plant in Southwest Philadelphia.

Hill's second prescription arrived Dec. 8, but the first never came.

In September, pharmacists became alarmed when Philadelphia-area vets failed to receive the prescriptions, said VA Medical Center spokesman Dale Warman.

The prescriptions had been sent on Aug. 29 by the VA's Central Mailout Pharmacy in Hines, Ill., but "there was no record of patients receiving them," Warman said.

Pharmacists at the medical center, at University and Woodland avenues in West Philadelphia, and in Illinois sought the help of a postmaster and other postal officials, he added.

Warman said the mail-order meds were finally found about Sept. 12 at the mail-processing plant in Southwest Philadelphia, where hundreds of overflowing containers of mail sat unprocessed for months.

Recently, one Philadelphia-bound mail prescription ended up in Puerto Rico, Warman said.

If vets don't receive their meds by mail, they show up at the medical center and get them through the VA's pharmacy, which fills 700 prescriptions a day and mails 100 more, he added.

Anywhere from 100 to 500 vets wait for hours at the VA, Hill said.

"Some people get really crazy," he said. "You're damned if you wait for them and you're damned if you wait at home.

This week, newly appointed regional USPS manager Jim Gallagher vowed to clean up the problems of delayed and missing mail.

Meantime, investigators from the Postal Service's Office of Inspector General are conducting a mail audit and joint civil and criminal investigation.

"We are taking this very seriously," said an OIG spokeswoman.

In a series of stories since Dec. 1, the Daily News has documented the mail fiasco and numerous customer complaints.

The American Postal Workers Union filed an Oct. 24 complaint with the OIG stating that senior managers were ordering clerks to undercount the daily mail volume by millions per week.

The union contended that the plant was understaffed because the lower mail counts allowed the managers to schedule fewer employees and cut jobs while enforcing a yearlong ban on overtime.

In turn, managers were rewarded with bonuses for the cost cutting.

Customers with mail problems can call 215-863-5049. *