BALTIMORE - Jimmy Bates' family calls it a bitter goodbye. The 74-year-old dedicated his life to serving our country. He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army after serving 27 years, two Vietnam tours, and training military police at army bases around the world.
"I was upset because I was just like... he deserves better. He deserves better. And I felt helpless," said his daughter, Heather Bates.
Heather Bates reached out to In Focus Investigators in early July on behalf of her father. She cited his "decline in health" and what she called "less than human" treatment. Days later, 74-year-old Jimmy Bates passed away.
"It hurts me to my heart that you weren't able to talk to him," Bates said.
At the funeral, Bates, called the pain was unbearable. She watched from a distance.
"I felt that it was VA negligence. He didn't have to die. Not like that. Not like that," said Bates.
Bates said her father signed up for VA healthcare in the 1990s. Since then, she said he was diagnosed and successfully treated for prostate cancer from exposure to Agent Orange, a powerful chemical used in the Vietnam War to kill crops as a means of warfare.
In the past five years, she said, another health struggle worsened. She said in the past few months, his battle to breathe became apparent. He was admitted to the VA multiple times for his condition.
"Each day he called he was saying you know, they're not doing anything. He said he was being ignored. He said, 'I want to come home. I don't see a point in being here if they're not going to do anything," she said.
On his final visit, Bates said her father was not admitted.
"I knew for sure that he was going to be admitted. I talked to him that day, and I was like, 'Dad, if you're not you know, feeling well... let them admit you. I know you don't trust the VA, I know you are discouraged about them.'"
Jimmy Bates died soon after returning home from congestive heart failure.
"If they just admitted him, they would've caught it. They would've caught it and he'd still be with us. He'd still be with us," Bates said.
The VA Maryland Health Care System cannot talk about specific cases because of privacy laws. They requested Bates' information to take a closer look at the case. Bates said after In Focus Investigators passed along her information, a VA representative reached out to her.
The VA Maryland Health Care System released a statement:
The VA Maryland Health Care System is committed to providing safe, quality and compassionate health care to Veterans. Due to patient privacy laws, we are not able to discuss the health care of individual Veteran patients. When allegations of adverse patient events are reported, we take them very seriously.
Clinicians and leadership at the VA Maryland Health Care System consider patient safety a top priority and welcome accountability and transparency as an opportunity to improve the services we offer to Veterans. When an adverse patient event is reported, we immediately conduct a thorough investigation and analysis of the event, and we meet with VA clinicians, Veteran patients and their personal representatives for a forthright discussion of the clinical facts.
This clinical disclosure allows for the implementation of corrective actions to prevent any future recurrence if the adverse event is substantiated. The process also provides for remedies, treatment options and interventions. At the VA Maryland Health Care System, we believe that one adverse patient event is too many. While we are proud of the safe, quality and compassionate health care services we offer to Maryland’s Veterans, we recognize that there are always opportunities to improve. One of the most important ways we are able to improve our services is from the direct feedback we receive from our Veteran patients and their family members.
Many of the suggestions we have received from Maryland’s Veterans have resulted in changes in the way we provide patient care throughout the health care system. Additionally, some of the feedback provided by Veterans has led to internal reviews to ensure a safe environment for our patients and visitors. Veteran patients or their family members can report a patient safety issue throughout the VA Maryland Health Care System by calling our Patient Safety Hotline at 800-949-1003, ext. 7233 (SAFE). It is our duty and privilege to provide Veterans the safe, quality and compassionate health care they have earned through their service and sacrifice.
The VA Maryland Health Care System denied an on-camera interview, even to take a look at broad policies and procedures because they say they do not want it to appear that they are commenting on any specific case.
But the family said their loved one is gone too soon.
"That should be the tradeoff. You serve and you should get top notch healthcare. And he didn't get that," Bates said.
In Focus Investigators asked the VA Maryland Health Care System to do a separate story to simply discuss broad policies
and procedures. They are currently checking to see if this is possible. They hope to do an interview once their action plan is fully implemented; they specifically reference doing an interview once wait times for appointments come down. The VA Maryland Health Care System is checking on a timeline as to when that interview could happen.