Vet discovers his cancer after VA delays care

ATLANTA -- When will it end?

There's another heartbreaking story of a U.S. military veteran who could not get appointments for medical care at the V.A. hospital in Atlanta.

And, for him, the consequences could be a matter of life-and-death.

His loved ones "raised their voices" to our sister station, WXIA, posting his story on WXIA's Facebook, and sending emails to WXIA for help.

As of Thursday evening it appeared the veteran will, at least, get the care he needs from now on.

And the family is relieved that the V.A. finally responded -- Thursday afternoon -- to their pleas, right after they contacted WXIA and then after WXIA told the V.A. about the family's concerns that the veteran needs immediate cancer treatment.

But what if the V.A. had seen him when he first sought help -- more than a year ago?

For more than a year, Norman Spivey has been trying unsuccessfully to get the V.A. hospital in Atlanta to schedule him for a colonoscopy, a cancer check-up, that his V.A. doctor told him he needed.

"I got a letter from the [V.A.] hospital, saying they was backed up and couldn't schedule right now, you know. And so then we just never heard anymore from 'em," Norman said, adding that no one would respond to his calls for appointments.

Then, in the midnight hour of July 4 - July 5, Norman -- who is a U.S. Army veteran, who fought in Vietnam -- collapsed at home.

"And I couldn't get him up," his wife, Gayla, said, "his legs, there was no feeling."

He was rushed to the ER at a hospital near his home, and those doctors checked him out.

And what did they tell him?

"That I probably ain't got long to live," Norman said from his hospital bed Thursday.

Gayla, sitting in a chair next to his bed, began to describe the unexpected news they received.

"He has stage...."

Gayla paused, taking a breath, trying to say the words.

She continued, "stage four colon cancer that's spread to his liver. I have pictures of his liver. They can't do radiation because of the liver."

So, Gayla said she and the hospital have been trying, since that weekend, to ask the V.A. to approve immediate chemotherapy for Norman.

"There's been three different case workers here at this hospital working on this [and calling the V.A.] for almost two weeks, now," Gayla said.

"So really, this is my only chance," Norman said.

No response from the V.A.

But less than two hours after WXIA News called the V.A. on Thursday, someone from the V.A. in Atlanta called Gayla, and apologized, and promised to set up the chemotherapy immediately.

The family is grateful.

"I'm sure, now, that they will take care of it," Gayla said. "I mean, I was assured that they were sorry that the ball was dropped. They apologized for what he's going through. They were sorry that things were done wrong. They were very, very nice."

Gayla said she and Norman and the rest of the family are under no illusions that the chemo, at this point, will destroy all of the cancer. They can only hope.

"That's going to give us a little more time with him," Gayla said. "I don't know how good the time will be. But that's going to give us more time with him. More time to spend with his sisters, more time to spend with his kids, his family."

Gayla and Norman said they can only speculate that if Norman had received the colonoscopy a year ago, maybe his cancer would have been caught sooner.

"I have no way of knowing that if he had had a colonoscopy a year ago, that the outcome would be any different," Gayla said. "But there's always that possibility. A year? A year to work with it. You know? I mean, it may not have spread to the liver. It may not have spread to the lymph nodes. It may be okay. But right now, it's not. Right now, it's not okay. It's just not okay." She took another breath to compose herself.

Their worry is also for all the vets who still can't get the VA to respond to them.

"I'm hoping that [the V.A.] realizes that there's other people out there like him," Gayla said. "These people need help. It's sad. I mean, it's sad that so many had to lose their lives while serving. But the ones that came home should not have to deal with what they have."

"A man serves his country, he oughta, at least, get some respect," Norman said about what so many vets are going through; he summed it up in his own, succinct way -- "Personally, I think it kinda sucks."

And yet, "I have nothing against the V.A. I love the people I've met through the V.A. Seems like real nice people."

And after all the calls the family and their hospital made to the VA in the past two weeks seeking chemotherapy for Norman, Gayla said the person from the VA who called her Thursday said that no one at the VA had ever received one of their requests for chemo -- until Thursday.


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