PLAINS TOWNSHIP — Dishonorable and disgraceful, that’s how President Obama described the allegations of mismanagement at more than two dozen veterans hospitals around the country.
The report claims about 40 veterans died while waiting for more than two years to see a doctor.
Now an investigation is underway.
The Veterans Affairs Medical Center near Wilkes-Barre is part of the nationwide review.
Doctors at the VA Medical Center near Wilkes-Barre tell us their cancer care is expanding and improving.
But one veteran from Susquehanna County believes the medical center delayed his treatment for prostate cancer on purpose.
Every month, thousands of veterans from northeastern and central Pennsylvania travel to the VA Medical Center near Wilkes-Barre for their health care.
In the past year, more than 2,900 veterans went there for cancer treatment.
“If not better, it’s certainly at par. And I think in terms of the drug formulary and all that, getting drugs approved for veterans, it is way better than the private practice,” said oncologist Dr. Rajen Oza.
Dr. Oza joined the oncology staff at the VA near Wilkes-Barre last year.
Renderings show the plans to expand the oncology center with an expectation that more veterans will need cancer treatments in the years to come.
“We look at the numbers and we have had no problems with waiting for appointments, et cetera,” said chief of staff Dr. Mirza Eli.
But one veteran from Susquehanna County says he was diagnosed with prostate cancer by a doctor there five years ago and his treatments were then delayed for months.
“What can I do? They said we can operate. I said fine and dandy, let’s do it.”
From his front porch near Montrose Larry Overfield, 69, says tests done in 2009 at the VA led to a diagnosis of prostate cancer.
Overfield says plans to have surgery were then cancelled four times over four months, infuriating his family members.
“Continued to delay surgery, cancel surgery, push back surgery and once my dad hit age 65, we had had enough. They told us he had four months to live. And we began utilizing the Medicare and we went to Dunmore,” said Overfield’s daughter Kristie Baker.
“He said you need to get your affairs in order. You have four months to live. This is on the phone,” Overfield added.
Overfield believes his treatments were intentionally delayed at the VA near Wilkes-Barre because he was about to turn 65 and could then rely on Medicare to pay for care from a doctor outside the VA system.
Later in 2009, after he turned 65, Overfield did find a new doctor, Kristin Liptock at the Hematology and Oncology Associates of Northeastern PA.
Dr. Liptock was not available to speak on camera but told Newswatch 16 that by the time Overfield came to her office in Dunmore, surgery was out of the question. The prostate cancer had spread to his bones.
“There has not been any trend or anything like that, that you might be hearing. Our access numbers have been good.”
Dr. Mirza Eli, the chief of staff at the VA medical center near Wilkes-Barre insists that there is no reason to delay treatment for eligible veterans, no matter their age.
“We are a federal agency like Medicare, so it really doesn’t factor into our discussions.”
Overfield says he served with the U.S. Army in Germany on air defense during the 1960s. The veteran who calls Auburn Township home takes daily at-home chemotherapy to treat his stage 4 cancer.
Overfield says he’s not surprised that more veterans are now reporting allegations of delayed health care at Veterans Affairs medical centers across the country.
“I’m appalled that they had a list of people that they just let go, didn’t give them a thing and they let them pass away. That’s not right. I don’t care. We fought a war for stuff like that and now here we are, veterans going through the same thing.”
The chief of staff at the VA Medical Center near Wilkes-Barre says he cannot comment on specific cases in the past but insists that health care for veterans was not delayed there.
“If you’re an eligible veteran, if you’re eligible to get care here, we provide the care. Whether or not they have Medicare, whether they have other insurance, it really doesn’t matter to us,” said Dr. Eli.
Officials at the VA here near Wilkes-Barre say they have not received any formal complaints about delayed treatment.
Overfield says after hearing the president’s remarks, he will likely file a complaint with the VA.