Cancer Care Delayed At VA Near Wilkes-Barre?

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.

20 comments

  • Pat

    My father was going to the VA and was suddenly told not to come back. He was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer a few months later.

  • ginger

    Im happy to see the VA is helping many people! I just want to know how or why SOME vets have fallen through the cracks of the system. I hope they figure this out so when our troops come home they have the proper care and not one of them fall through the cracks.

  • drarvindkumar.com

    Sad to know the fact that veterans suffering from cancer are asked to deliberated wait. The sufferings from them could not be evaluated in terms of the pain they go through and then social and family trauma. I hope the investigation points out the real cause of delay which is been for years.

  • ginger

    If they utilize medicare at the VA then why push surgery back? If they had a legit reason for it then why when he went to dunmore they gave him much more than 4 months to live? These people serve their country and this is the thanks they get? He could be living a life without having to take chemo everyday if they would have operated!! Its so sad. Its happening in our own backyard. Yes some people get GREAT care from the VA but what about the people who dont? The chief of staff is a joke too!! So irriatating.

  • Kimberly Martinelli

    This is the truth with the VA. Last August my friend lost her father due to lung cancer. About 8 years ago the VA found a spot on his lungs and said it was nothing and that they would keep an eye on it. He became sickly a few years before he passed and was even in the nursing home part of the VA. He signed himself out to come home and took ill (even more than he already was). He was rushed to a local hospital that is not so great and they seen the spot on his lung and did a biopsy of it and at that point it was stage 4 cancer and nothing they could do would help him at that point. He was so weak that even chemo was not an option. He passed a month after he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. Trying to get in touch with the VA doctors is next to impossible and when you try to get an appointment it is for months down the road instead of right away when needed when ill. I am even more outraged after reading this article!!! These men and women risk their lives to protect our country and the government is to cheap to properly provide medical attention that the veterans need. It is sad!!!

  • uncle stosh

    The VA was ok for me. They found my diabetes when I was in Florida 9 years ago. I seen the young guys from Iraq and afghanistan get the run around. My nephew being one. There r good eggs and bad everywhere but when u find a good one its a blessing. Former US Army 1974-1978.

  • Barry

    I was diagnosed with stage 1 colon cancer on 6 February, 2014. i met with the surgeon @ the Wilkes-Barre VAMC on 5 March, 2014, a Dr. D’oro. He scheduled surgery for March 25, 2014 @ 7am. on 17 March, 2014 i got a message from my primary care physician @ the VA letting me know my surgery had been canceled. i never heard from Dr. D’oro, or his office, or even the surgical department, again. no phone calls, no postal mails. the VAMC in Wilkes-Barre has offered me nothing but hoops to jump through, trying to get my cancer treated. as of this date 05/22/2014, Ive received no treatment for my stage 1 colon cancer. NONE.

    • JP

      If I were you, I would begin the process of filing a formal complaint. It may also be beneficial to go on the President’s website and leave a formal message regarding your situation. Unforetunately, the “PIA” gets the most attention and that is just the way it is. The more people that do this the more likely it will get attention. Good luck on your road to recovery and thank you.

      • Tari Hampe

        JP: What is a PIA? I filed an NOD with the VA, was rejected and received a letter (way later than their “deadline”) to appeal it. My only option (within their very short timeline) was to begin the process of the Federal Tort Claims Act. My father passed on December 26, 2012. My story is so horrific, I can’t even talk about it here. I live with the nightmares every day. Since the word is finally out in the press, I think it is time to write some letters in hopes that what happened to him won’t happen to any more Vets. Any suggestions as to who to write to would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

  • JP

    If the allegations are true, then anyone involved should be brought up on murder or attempted murder charges. After all our vets have done for us, we all owe them a debt of gratitude and they should receive any medical attention when it is needed without any hesitation. How about stop wasting money on deadbeats and foreign aid, and take care of our own who deserve it. My hat is off to all our vets for helping to provide a great country, even with its faults!

    Thank you all!!

  • Michael Calore

    I can tell you that Mental Health care has been delayed at the hospital… it’s the preface of my book!

    • Jen

      doubtful… Open access in the MH clinics, practically zero wait time…not sure when you were here last but you might want to research before you put your book to print….

      • Michael R. B. Calore

        Doubtful? This book is experiencial, not academic. I am a veteran who’s been through the Wilkes-Barre VA system since Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005. You might want to become a veteran and live it before you put your opinions in print.

    • Jen

      Ohhh Micheal, here in lies the problem. Your assuming, your book is probably full of assumptions as well… I am infact a Veteran. United States Marine Corps/ 3531 because of my honorable service I was able to put myself through college and now have the honor of serving my peers as an RN ironically in the same area you seem to know so little about. Good luck with your pulp fiction, Im sure its a great read

      • Michael R. B. Calore

        The assumptions abound then, Jen! I speak for only my experience with their Mental Health resources; no one else can speak for those, nor prescribe weight to them. Moreover, your experience or expertise in the medical field neither changes nor remedies mine.

        When I received MH care in Lyons, NJ, my therapist – who worked in the WB VA for over a year – had first-hand knowledge of these issues. When I returned from there, my only recourse was to seek means outside the VA system for aftercare.

        The fact remains that veterans, including myself, have received poor health care from the VA system, including the Wilkes-Barre location. In late October of 2011, the TL had a several part expose on a civil lawsuit against the VA in Wilkes-Barre for just such a case.

        Whether or not you’re a veteran or a health-care professional, I find it astounding that one such as yourself would attempt to somehow disqualify or dismiss the experiences of an customer or client who is or was suffering or in pain. The only response is “what’s the problem?”, and “how can we fix it?”

      • Jen

        Michael, I appreciate your lengthy post. This will be my last as I see you like to have the last “word.” I am very much entitled to my opinion which is infact what I gave. Clearly, you have not been here (your own admission) since 2011. How can you possibly know what is going on here at present? We have open access in MH this means to you or any veteran seeking MH services that you will be seen “same day” Furthermore Michael you have never been my customer, or client had you been I most certainly would have asked you “What is your problem, or how can I fix you” Sincerely Jen

      • Michael R. B. Calore

        Regardless of our opinions or experiences, this is about what people have endured at the hands of the VA’s bureaucracy. It is happening within the system as we speak. Whether I was one or you were not, I’m sure we can agree on the hope that every veteran receives the superlative care that they have earned, regardless of where or when they receive it. Thank you for your service, and best wishes.

  • tim

    I have been using the VA at Wilkes Barre for years. I have had fast and good treatment there. In 2009 my cancer treatment was taken care of in a very timely fashion.
    Tim Leiby USAF retired

  • Laura Y

    I have been using the VA for all of my medical care since I got out of the Army in 2011. And trust me, it’s a lot of care. From my fibro and migraines to all of my follow ups to make sure my cervical cancer doesn’t manifest elsewhere. I do not have a single complaint. Every one of my providers are amazing and all of my appointments are scheduled in a great timeframe. I know everyone’s experiences are different, but I am extremely grateful that the VA is there for my healthcare needs.

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