NORTH TEXAS (CBS11) – Anthony Williams left the North Texas VA in August with a pamphlet titled Chemotherapy and You. More than a month after he was told he had brain cancer though, the Army veteran has repeated tests, but has not started treatment.
“The worst part about it, or one of the worst parts about it is, I don’t know, you get the impression no one really cares,” said the 31-year-old.
Williams spent a year in Iraq in 2005, as a scout during the fighting near Tal Afar. He said it was when the war was still a war. He suffered a traumatic brain injury when equipment exploded.
Back home in Texas he was working on an oil rig when he woke up one morning last month tired, groggy and not feeling himself. He chalked it up to 100-hour work weeks.
The same day however, he badly twisted his ankle on the job site. His friends noticed he was slurring his words. He headed home to Crowley to rest.
With the symptoms no better, and his vision getting blurry, Williams visited the Huguley Memorial Medical Center. An MRI he said, found a lesion on his brain, and he was transferred to Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth. The doctor was blunt he said. He had central nervous system lymphoma. Otherwise healthy, the plan was to start aggressively fighting it with chemotherapy within days. With no insurance though, he would have to transfer again to the VA.
“It was really frustrating,” he said. “Because I’d gone from finding out what it was, finding out I had cancer, had a doctor who wanted to start treatment immediately, to being lost in the system that is the VA.”
Three years ago Merial Bachhoffer told CBS11 how he waited for a VA appointment while his tumor doubled in size. Justin Trivett was sent home from the VA so overcome with back pain he couldn’t move. The VA said they were isolated cases. Trivett is William’s friend and next door neighbor.
At the North Texas VA Medical Center Williams went through the same tests, and received the same diagnosis. After 6 days in a hospital room though, with no treatment happening, he asked to leave. It was more than two weeks, before anyone from the VA spoke to him about his case again.
“For all I know the cancer could have spread already. I don’t know,” he said.
The VA told CBS11 in writing that despite a diagnosis of lymphoma on William’s discharge documents, it still doesn’t have “conclusive evidence of brain cancer.” Because of that, it didn’t want to start an “extremely invasive and irreversible treatment.” The decision not to start anything was for “continued investigation for a true diagnosis.”
Monday, Dr. Jeff Hastings, the hospital’s Chief of Staff, told us William’s case was a difficult one.
“Right now we’re not even working on treatment,” Hastings said. “We’re still working to figure out the diagnosis. And again I think it’s happening very timely in the way that it should. It’s a risk benefit problem. What’s the risk of unnecessary treatment, which in this case is very high.”
Williams underwent more tests Monday, this time in the multiple sclerosis clinic. He said Monday that at this point he’s glad at least something is happening in the case.
The VA says it has improved its wait times for veterans in North Texas. It measures success on the veterans who receive appointments within 30 days of when they want one, a number the VA now says is at 97%.
Nationally the House Committee on Veterans Affairs is preparing for a hearing in October on an independent report showing wait times are increasing nationwide.
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