DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – He was a proud young soldier in the U.S. Army.
When he got out, he married his high school sweetheart. They raised three children. He worked as a guard for an armored car company.
And for the past 20 years, he’s worked to save lives and heal souls at a North Texas church.
Now Pastor Darryl Alford is fighting to save his own life at the Dallas VA Medical Center.
Alford’s story is one of many that have been told to CBS 11 News since we began looking into concerns – all voiced by veterans, their families, or former VA medical experts – about the quality of health care provided by the Veterans Affairs Administration in North Texas.
Most say they have had delays, or outright cancellations, in the services they need to cope with getting older. Some say they have been shocked by the insensitive way some VA medical personnel deliver bad news to a veteran with a terminal sickness. Others say the VA is doing the best it can, given its incredible patient load.
For Pastor Alford, his struggle is still playing out.
His frail, 51-year-old body is hooked to tubes and breathing machines in the intensive care unit of the Dallas VA hospital.
“He’s unresponsive …he can’t move his hands and feet anymore …he’s weak,” said his wife, Mary Alford.
She blames the hospital for her husband’s fast decline.
“He’s never been through what he’s been through here,” Mary Alford said.
Darryl Alford was diagnosed in 1997 with Pulmonary Fibrosis, a breathing disorder. At the time, he was an armored car guard, had insurance and received regular treatment – treatment the Alford family was happy with – at a Fort Worth hospital.
But in 2010, when his illness prevented him from wearing his heavy bulletproof vest, or continue to breathe the exhaust from the armored car, he retired. That cost him his insurance.
He turned to the VA for help. “My husband had a good 15 years,” said Mary Alford, referring to the years in which he received health care through his company’s insurance.
“But then we got over here and it’s been turmoil,” she said of the VA hospital in Dallas.
They thought an appointment in May for a new breathing machine would require a stay of a few days.
But those days turned into weeks, and then months, as the ailing veteran waited to have a tracheotomy tube inserted into his throat.
His wife says the procedure has been canceled eight times, with the hospital saying doctors were either too busy with other patients, or they were on vacation, or the tube hadn’t been shipped yet. “So they keep putting him off because they say they have to special-order this tube,” Mary Alford said.
When it finally did come in, she says her husband was wheeled into surgery, only to be wheeled back out after it was discovered the tube had been contaminated when someone broke the seal of its container.
And on another occasion, Mary Alford says a nurse tried to give her husband a pain killer when he didn’t need it …and was in fact enjoying TV.
“They wanted to give him morphine …I said my husband doesn’t need morphine …he’s up watching Tiger Woods play in a tournament,” Mary Alford said.
Then her husband had a stroke, which his wife says was caused by the hospital’s failure to control his blood sugar. “If they’d come and taken his blood sugar when I requested it, I believe all of it could have been prevented,” she said, adding, “The only thing the nurse needed to do was come in, prick his finger.”
A spokesperson for the Dallas VA hospital said they could not comment because of laws protecting the privacy of patients.
Meanwhile, Darryl Alford’s family continues to pray for his recovery …and for the respect deserving of a veteran.
“This is what really hurt me and my family … these are soldiers that have fought for their country …but their country is not fighting for them,” Mary Alford said. “It’s heartbreaking.”
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