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By Aaron Kunkler
Aaron Kunkler The Lewis County Chronicle 

Herrera Beutler calls for VA query

 

Contributed

DEATH BY DELAY: A veteran in southcentral Washington, John Weston (pictured here during his military service), died last month after waiting months for treatment at a VA hospital.

Vet's cancer turns terminal while waiting for treatment

Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, has sent a letter to U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald asking him to launch an investigation into the department's handling of former Chehalis area veteran John Weston.

Weston, who died in December, and his son Maxx Weston told The Chronicle just before his death that delayed cancer treatment led to a decline in his health that he could not overcome.

John Weston was a Vietnam veteran who lived in the Chehalis area, and both he and his son said he was diagnosed last summer with liver cancer. After transferring from the Seattle Veterans Affairs office to the Portland branch, they said it took three months before an appointment was finally scheduled.

By that time, the Westons said, the tumor had grown from a treatable condition into a terminal one.

John Weston spoke with The Chronicle before his death, and the subsequent story prompted Herrera Beutler's office to look into the case, according to a press release from the congresswoman.

Both John and Maxx Weston felt the long wait time had led to John Weston's condition rapidly deteriorating, a phenomena which he felt many other veterans were subjected to as well.

"There's far too many of us, that's for sure. It's kind of an embarrassment I think," John Weston told The Chronicle in November. "We deal with the hand we've been dealt I suppose ... I just don't want to see this happen to anyone else."

In the letter, Herrera Beutler questioned why it took three months for John Weston to schedule an appointment.

"I am requesting an internal investigation into Mr. Weston's case to determine how this happened-particularly in light of a years-long effort by the U.S. Congress to force the VA to eliminate wait times, fraud, neglect and data manipulation that have resulted in poor care that has cost veterans like Mr. Weston their lives," her letter read.

Weston's son said on Monday that he had been in contact with Herrera Beutler's office.

Maxx Weston approached The Chronicle with his father's story last fall and it was ultimately printed one week after his father's death in an article titled "'I Paid My Price:' Chehalis Veteran Who Died This Week Slips Through Cracks in the VA System."

Following is Herrera Beutler's letter to McDonald:

"Dear Secretary McDonald:

 "I write you today out of deep concern and outrage at reports that a Southwest Washington military veteran, Mr. John Weston, was forced to wait three months to receive cancer care at the VA Portland Health Care System, and died last month after a delay in treatment may have cost him his life. The cancer appeared to have been a treatable diagnosis had he received timely care. I am requesting an internal investigation into Mr. Weston's case to determine how this happened – particularly in light of a years-long effort by the U.S. Congress to force the VA to eliminate wait times, fraud, neglect and data manipulation that have resulted in poor care that has cost veterans like Mr. Weston their lives.

"Mr. Weston was diagnosed with a cancerous walnut-sized tumor in his liver in July. He switched from the VA Seattle Health Care System to the VA Portland Health Care System to be near his family while undergoing treatment. When he was finally able to schedule an appointment in October, it was too late; seven days before his scheduled appointment, the tumor had grown significantly and burst, spreading cancer through his body.

"Additionally, after the tumor ruptured, Mr. Weston was taken to a civilian hospital after allegedly being told the VA did not have room for him. It was not until a congressional inquiry was made that he was transferred to a VA facility. This investigation should also uncover, and address why it took congressional action for a veteran to receive care for a life-threatening issue at a VA facility.

Contributed

ALLEN, THROUGH THE CRACKS: Maxx Weston holds pictures of his father, John, who died waiting for cancer treatment at a VA hospital.

"As Mr. Weston said in an interview with The Chronicle newspaper before his passing: 'It just didn't have to happen like this, and that's the worst part of it for me, that we knew about this early enough... Somebody dropped the ball somewhere, and I'm paying the price for it.'

"Mr. Weston served his country and battled health complications as a direct result. Like other military veterans, he had earned health care coverage through the VA. However, his care slipped through the cracks. This inexcusable delay in care and Mr. Weston's untimely passing was tragic. If only his case was an isolated one.

"I request you conduct a comprehensive internal investigation as soon as possible to determine how this happened, and report the results of this investigation to Congress.

"Sincerely,

"Jaime Herrera Beutler

"Member of Congress"

 

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