Veterans Day: By the time I saw my VA doctor, he said it was too late

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As I sat in the Phoenix Veterans Affairs hospital on Dec. 21, 2012, I had no idea my life was about to change. I’d seen a nurse practitioner in 2011 and was finally consulting with a VA urologist almost a year later. I knew something was wrong, but I wasn’t prepared for the diagnosis I was about to receive.

“You’ve got one of the worst cases of prostate cancer I’ve ever seen in my life,” the urologist said to me. “Hospice will call you Monday morning.”

Those words hit me like a ton of bricks.

I was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer. Had I been seen by a doctor sooner, my cancer could have been detected before it had progressed so far. Now it was too late. My cancer was so advanced the VA wouldn’t even offer me a treatment option.

I had joined the U.S. Army in 1989 as a young, ambitious kid. I honorably served my country for 18 years in the infantry and military police. When I took off the uniform, I relied on the promise I would be cared for as one who “shall have borne the battle.” But that promise was broken.

I was let down by government, the country that I served and loved. That hurt worse than my diagnosis.

The road I’ve traveled has been long and grueling. Leaving the VA behind, I sought another opinion from a private-sector doctor. I immediately underwent surgery, followed by years of intense radiation, chemotherapy and anti-hormone therapy.

Today, my cancer is in remission, thanks to the willingness of my non-VA doctors to fight for me. I still struggle and endure regular physical pain, but I’ve overcome far more than I or the VA expected.

Now Concerned Veterans for America Foundation has given many of us an even larger platform to share our experiences, a documentary titled "The Care They’ve Earned."

Unfortunately, I am not the only veteran who has been denied the care they earned. Thousands of others wait months and even years for medical care and have to endure the bureaucratic red tape of the VA’s health care system every day. They do this because, until recently, it was the only option.

My experience motivated me to act – I wasn’t willing to sit by while veterans literally died waiting for care from the VA. I led the charge to expose the VA’s flaws by reaching out to the press, rallying friends and family, talking to lawmakers, partnering with advocates, and winning the landmark medical malpractice lawsuit against the Phoenix VA for $2.56 million last year. The voice of veterans has been heard loud and clear.

A few months ago, I got to stand beside the president as he signed the VA MISSION Act. This law will make it much easier for veterans to access medical care outside the VA. No more waiting months to see a doctor or driving hundreds of miles to a distant VA facility. We are finally going to get the care we earned.

When we tell our stories and call for change, people listen. Now Concerned Veterans for America Foundation has given many of us an even larger platform to share our experiences, a documentary titled "The Care They’ve Earned." The film sheds light on my life-or-death battle for medical care along with other veterans around the country. We talk about the care we’ve received from the VA and how we’ve often been disappointed by its flawed health care system.

This Veterans Day, I encourage you to watch "The Care They’ve Earned" on Amazon Prime. Hear the voices of those who served and were disappointed by their government.

Thank you to all my fellow veterans for your service to this nation and to those at home who support and care for us. Happy Veterans Day.