Investigation by WBZ-TV Chief Correspondent Joe Shortsleeve
ACTON (CBS) – “He was steadfast. He took care of us, all of these years.”
Suzanne Chase of Acton was talking about her husband, Doug, a Vietnam veteran who was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2011.
In 2012, she tried to move his medical care to the Veterans Affairs hospital in Bedford.
“It was so difficult for him to take the ambulance ride into Boston, we wanted to be closer.”
They waited about four months and never heard anything. Then Douglas Chase died in August 2012.
But two weeks ago, he got a letter, from the VA in Bedford, saying he could now call to make an appointment to see a primary care doctor.
“It was addressed to my husband and I opened it,” said Suzanne Chase. “I was in complete disbelief.”
Chase says she will never forget that walk from the mailbox. “It was 22 months too late, I kind of thought I was in the twilight zone when I opened this letter and read it.”
At the bottom of the letter, dated June 12, it reads: “We are committed to providing primary care in a timely manner and would greatly appreciate a prompt response.”
“I was like you have to be kidding, right,” Chase recalled.
She says the VA had to know her husband was dead because she applied for funeral benefits two years ago and was denied.
The reason for the denial: Her husband was never treated at a VA hospital.
“It is absurd,” said Chase. “It made me angry because I just don’t think our veterans should be treated this way.”
She wrote a letter to the Bedford VA two weeks ago, but once again, no response.
“I am hoping if other people speak out, they can improve the system, so no one else dies waiting for an appointment.”
When WBZ contacted the VA and told them about this I-Team story, the media person’s initial response was simply: “Oh, dear.”
In response to an inquiry from the I-Team about Douglas Chase, the Department of Veterans Affairs issued the following statement:
“We regret any distress our actions caused to the Veteran’s widow and family.
“At the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Health Administration, our most important mission is to provide the high quality health care and benefits Veterans have earned and deserve – where and when they need it.
“Thank you for bringing this regrettable issue to our attention. We apologize for our error and any difficulties this has caused you. We will examine our process, do what we can to fix it, and institute measures to prevent this from happening again.
“We are reviewing this Veteran’s case; however, we require a Release of Information to allow us to comment on the specifics of his case.
“As part of the corrective actions taken to address scheduling issues, VA launched the Accelerating Access to Care Initiative, a nationwide program to ensure timely access to care. VA has identified Veterans across the system experiencing waits that do not meet Veterans’ expectations for timeliness. VA has been contacting and scheduling Veterans who are waiting for care. We regret causing any pain in this effort.
“The Acting Director called the Veteran’s widow to apologize. We were able to leave a voicemail with the Director’s phone number. The Acting Director will call the Veteran’s widow again tomorrow. We want to be sure that she is, as well as other Veterans and their family members are, treated with dignity and respect.”
Source: CBS Boston