Vietnam vet had to go outside VA system for cancer treatment

LAS VEGAS -- The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Tuesday investigators found no proof that delays in care at the Phoenix hospital caused any deaths.

The VA's inspector general has been investigating delays for months, after news this spring that as many as 40 veterans died while waiting for care. The final report is expected Wednesday.

While the report may not have been able to conclusively link wait lists to deaths, some veterans right here in southern Nevada say they have been pushed aside.

One Purple Heart recipient says the VA basically gave up on him, prescribing drugs to make him comfortable and telling him he only had months to live.

The veteran said he was following the VA-system procedure but eventually had no other choice. He had to leave the system and seek private care in another state or die.

At 18 years old, Jeff Beck said he learned to fight before he even needed to shave.

"I served our country. I put a uniform on and did what they told me to do," Vietnam veteran Beck said.

Beck was injured twice in Vietnam and awarded a Purple Heart. Despite being hit by shrapnel and shot in a fire fight, he says those injuries were nothing compared to what came later.

"December of ‘12 was when I dropped like a rock," Beck said.

A few years ago Beck was diagnosed with leukemia connected to his exposure to Agent Orange. He said the VA system sent him to Seattle to be evaluated for a type of bone marrow transplant, but later ruled it out after his cancer progressed.

"Even though I had the donor right there, they said, ‘no, you are not a good candidate. In fact, you're going to die in two to six months and they sent me back home to Las Vegas," Beck said.

Beck says he could have appealed the decision, and gone through more tests, and then waited to be sent back to Seattle but he didn't have the time.

"Well by the VA's prognosis, I would've been dead by the time all that went by," Beck said.

He decided to leave the VA and found a private cancer clinic in Texas.

"The people down in Houston said, "no problem, Mr. Beck we'll fix you right up," Beck said.

Beck is now home after seven months, recovering in Texas, but his struggle is not over.

Medicare covered the bulk of his expenses but he still owes around $20,000. He said it beats the option the VA gave him.

"My one option was dying and I didn't like that," Beck said.

He never learned how to stop fighting.

A spokesperson for the southern Nevada VA system said the VA could not pay for an experimental treatment doctors feared would only show short-term benefits.

Beck said he is now cancer free.


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