Better late than never won’t be the same again


Jennifer Nassar

In 2011, Army veteran Douglas Chase was diagnosed with brain cancer. A few months later, the cancer had spread. Chase and his wife Suzanne, who lived in Acton, Mass., drove to Boston for his treatments. It eventually became too much, and Suzanne decided to apply for care at a nearby Veteran Affairs (VA) hospital to make him more comfortable. They didn't hear back from the VA hospital administration, and Chase, a Vietnam veteran, died in August 2012. Shortly afterward, Suzanne filed for benefits from the VA to assist with funeral expenses; however, it was denied because Chase wasn't treated at a VA hospital. No kidding.Suzanne wanted to "put it all behind" her. About a week ago, she received a letter from the VA addressed to her late husband. After two years, they offered her husband the opportunity to schedule an appointment. It was requested that he respond quickly. This story has most Americans shocked; I'm not one of them.Honestly, I wonder if her husband would've received the proper care and treatment had he'd been able to schedule an appointment right away.Why do I ask this? My family went through a very similar situation with my grandfather (whom we refer to as Papa), a Korean veteran. Sadly, I never had a chance to meet him.In 1985, Papa was experiencing back pain, and went to see a doctor at a VA facility. The doctor felt around his back and said it was a muscle sprain. He was given pain medications and a whirlpool jet bath. This went on for two years. In that time, not one X-ray or any additional tests were done.My grandparents didn't think about going elsewhere for treatment. They trusted that the doctor was telling them the truth. In January 1987, they found out the truth. Papa was having chest pain one night, and my grandmother took him to the emergency room. An X-ray and additional tests were done. After sitting in the waiting room for a couple of hours, my grandmother was allowed to see him. When she walked into his room, he started crying and said, "I'm sorry." Before she could even ask "for what?" the doctor walked in and broke the news to her. Papa had a large tumor on his kidney that had metastasized to his lungs. "There's nothing we can do," the doctor told them.Despite what had happened, my grandmother held no anger toward the VA. "I was too busy being scared," she says.My grandparents still wanted to do "anything and everything" they could to help him. For the next few months, he underwent chemotherapy at a VA hospital, the same system that told him for two years he only had muscle sprains. In July 1987, at age 55, Papa lost what little battle he was able to fight. I read Chase's story on Wednesday, July 2, 27 years to the day that Papa passed. Some of my family members, particularly my mom, wanted to sue the VA. However, at the time, suing the government wasn't realistic, my grandmother says. "You didn't sue the government."Currently, there are over 100,000 veterans who have been waiting to schedule an appointment. Some have been waiting for more than three months. What scares me is thinking that some of these people could have something seriously wrong with them requiring and deserving immediate attention.Thankfully, the Senate passed a bill in June to allow veterans to seek private care. Criminal investigations of the VA's actions are also ongoing. Another area that concerns me is how the men and women on active duty are receiving medical treatment. Or are they receiving treatment? Those on active duty have a harder time getting care off a military post, if that's what they prefer. If they wish to receive treatment elsewhere, they have to request an "off-post referral." However, these can be hard to obtain.A friend of mine in the military was denied an off-post referral to see a specialist for severe knee pain. He had to wait a month just to schedule an appointment. Then, he had to wait a month between a MRI and other appointments. With cancer, time is very fragile. It's very likely that someone with back, knee or stomach pain isn't going to automatically assume they have cancer, unless you work in the industry. It's important that people get in to see their physicians in a timely manner to receive the proper diagnosis. Something ironic about the letter sent to Suzanne Chase is that it stated that the VA is, "Committed to providing primary care in a timely manner and would greatly appreciate a prompt response. " This failed both my and the Chase family.OK, now here comes patriotic cliché me.In my opinion, the men and women in the military, retired or active duty, give and sacrifice more for this country than any of us ever will. It truly saddens me to know the number of veterans who have been on a waiting list for months. This situation can get more difficult for active duty military because there's not much they can do if they're not pleased with the wait or treatment. It's not like they can file a complaint to Uncle Sam. They have to do what they're told. Just like the military, I think it's only fair that the VA do what they're supposed to do; protect and serve those who protect and serve.Jennifer Nassar is a graduate student at the University of North Texas. She is a summer intern for CURE magazine.

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