This is exactly where Barry Coates is now. Barry Coates is fully aware that he will soon die and his death could have been prevented if he had received proper care from a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital. Nearly four years ago, Coates went to the VA hospital in Hartsville, S.C. complaining of severe abdominal pain and rectal bleeding. The doctor at the VA hospital appropriately recommended a colonoscopy in order to determine if the symptoms Coates was experiencing were due to the early stages of colorectal cancer. Coates agreed, but for over a year, various delays were experienced at the hospital and finally Coates underwent the colonoscopy in December of 2011.
By that time, the “early stages” of colorectal cancer that the original doctor had suspected had now become advanced colorectal cancer. Needless to say, the cancer could have been much more effectively treated had Coates been able to receive a colonoscopy within a week of first reporting his symptoms to the hospital. Now that the cancer has advanced to this point, it is highly unlikely that the doctors will be able to help Coates beat it. Coates is currently only 44 years old, and a veteran of the Army. He now must use a colostomy bag and a catheter, which prevents him from enjoying any semblance of his old quality of life like playing with his grandchildren or doing physical activities. Coates has done his best to spread the word about the negligence he has received at the hand of the VA medical system.
Coates appeared at a House Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing on the delays in care at veterans’ medical centers. Coates said: “The gross negligence of my ongoing problems and crippling backlog epidemic of the VA medical system
has not only handed me a death sentence, but ruined the quality of life I have for the meantime.” The old adage of “justice delayed is justice denied” seems almost larger than life when applied to Coates’ situation. The delay of the care he was promised truly will equate into his eventual death. But Coates made it clear that he wasn’t there to speak for himself, but for the thousand and millions of other veterans that might someday find themselves in his shoes. “I am here to speak for those to come so that they might be spared the pain I have already endured and know that I have yet to face.”
The VA recently released a report that showed a total of 23 patients died just of gastrointestinal cancers, with their deaths being directly linked to delays the patients received in getting the care they needed, which often included very routine procedures like the colonoscopy that Coates waited so long for, and other procedures that could have detected the disease at a very early stage. In addition, the VA report disclosed that 53 more cancer patients’ current condition was likely contributed to by problems in the care they’ve received at VA hospitals. The VA did not include information on other preventable deaths from different conditions, whether because the data was simply to difficult to obtain or because the VA is reluctant to release the information remains to be seen.
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla. stated that the figures the VA provided in their report were a low estimate of the number of veterans who have died because of delayed or inadequate care. The little information the committee was able to get on the patient deaths at VA hospitals was not encouraging; there is significant evidence that there has been as many as 40 deaths of patients directly linked to delayed care just at the VA hospital in Phoenix. More details on patient deaths was not released because the committee is still conducting their investigation and they do not want it compromised.
The situation with the VA was rightly called an “American disaster” by committee member Jackie Walorski, R-Ind. and many Republicans are calling for the termination of any VA leadership that could be at fault for the absurd and completely unacceptable negligence at VA hospitals. Access to the VA healthcare system is supposed to be a benefit as a reward and special thank you to our nation’s veterans for their sacrifices on our behalf, but these preventable deaths are a tragic slap in the face to veterans everywhere. The fact that veterans have lost their lives, not in service to our country but in their attempt at living a normal life afterwards, to the very system that they defended and which professed to care deeply for them is a horrifying and disturbing condition that, in the opinion of this author, calls for proverbial torches and pitchforks.