Massachusetts family says VA offer of help came two years late

BOSTON Tue Jul 1, 2014 6:44pm EDT

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BOSTON (Reuters) - Last month, Suzanne Chase opened a letter from a Veterans Affairs hospital offering her husband medical help - an offer that she said came nearly two years after his death.

Douglas Chase, a Vietnam veteran, died in August 2012 of complications from melanoma, several months after he applied for transfer to a Veterans Affairs hospital in Massachusetts. He never got a response.

"It’s such a disrespectful thing, not to be able to care for those putting their lives at risk," his widow said on Tuesday.

The VA is embroiled in a scandal over widespread evidence of delays. President Barack Obama has pledged to overhaul the agency, which he says has frayed under the strain of caring for more than 6 million patients a year.

In June, the VA said an internal audit found more than 100,000 veterans had been subjected to a wait of 90 days or more for appointments at medical facilities nationwide.

It also found that staff at 76 percent of the facilities surveyed said they had been instructed at least once to misrepresent appointment data. Doctors at VA clinics in Phoenix have alleged that some 40 veterans died while waiting for care.

Chase said she was "flabbergasted" when she opened a letter two weeks ago offering her husband care at the Bedford, Massachusetts, VA hospital that said the agency was "committed to providing primary care in a timely manner."

Her husband had made the request in April 2012, when he was suffering from melanoma and bladder cancer.

"That was the icing on the proverbial cake," she said.

She sent a letter to the hospital. When she did not hear back, she contacted WBZ, a CBS affiliate in Boston.

The VA did not immediately respond to a Reuters inquiry about the Douglas Chase case. In a statement to WBZ, the Veterans Affairs Department apologized “for any distress our actions caused to the Veteran’s widow and family” and said an official from the VA had left a message of apology with Suzanne Chase.

Chase said the official had called the wrong number but that she was expecting a second call.

(The story is corrected to remove reference to Sloan Gibson in last two paragraphs)

(Editing by Edith Honan and Peter Cooney)

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