A little more than a month has passed but for the Brantley family, it still feels like yesterday.
"It's mind blowing to me. You know, just to learn that you go from one extreme to the other almost overnight seemingly," said Kim Brantley, a veteran.
In late June, Kim Brantley drove from his New Jersey home straight to Harford Memorial Hospital to be by his brother's side.
"We went from learning that he had pneumonia from what he was told by the VA, to Stage IV lung cancer, to death," Brantley said.
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His brother, 61-year-old Jeffrey Brantley served in the Vietnam War. His family says it was a battle right here at home that would ultimately take his life.
"All I know is that he was diagnosed with pneumonia, sent home with an antibiotic, and that wasn't what was going on with him. It just wasn't," said Brantley.
A fellow veteran who helped care for Jeffrey Brantley outlined a horrific series of events: being admitted to urgent care for chest pains and severe coughing, but leaving the facility because he was feeling "neglected" and "too weak to complain."
According to the first-person account, the VA diagnosed Brantley with pneumonia a day later. But his chest pains worsened. It would be at least two months before he could be seen by his primary care physician.
"I'm not a doctor, obviously, but the struggle just to breath was just unbelievable," Brantley said.
Days later, he was taken to Harford Memorial Hospital where tests revealed something more.
"We learned that he, in fact, had Stage IV lung cancer. After initially being diagnosed by the [Perry Point VA Medical Center ] that he had pneumonia," Brantley said. The medical center is part of the VA Maryland Health Care System.
Jeffrey Brantley died at that very hospital the morning after his brother's visit after suffering a stroke.
"There was misdiagnosis somewhere in this process," said Brantley.
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The VA Maryland Health Care System cannot talk to specific cases because of privacy laws. They requested Brantley's contact information and other veterans information who have reached out to us so they can take a closer look at these individual cases. They released a statement to In Focus Investigators saying:
"The VA Maryland Health Care System is committed to providing safe, quality and compassionate care to Veterans. Due to patient privacy laws, we are not able to discuss the health care of individual Veteran patients. While we are proud of the many services we offer to Maryland’s Veterans, we recognize that there are always opportunities to improve or to assist Veterans in receiving their VA health care services.
"One of the most important ways we are able to improve our services is from the direct feedback we receive from our Veteran patients. 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, employees, volunteers and visitors. Veteran patients who have a problem receiving their VA health care services, or have a concern, compliment or suggestion about the customer service provided by any of our staff members, are encouraged to contact one of our Patient Advocates at 800-463-6295, ext. 7099.
"To report a patient safety issue, Veteran patients or their family members are urged to contact our Patient Safety Hotline at 800-949-1003, ext. 7233 (SAFE). Additionally, Veteran patients and their family members can ask questions or make suggestions about the programs and services offered by the VA Maryland Health Care System by sending an e-mail to our Virtual Help Desk at firstname.lastname@example.org . We encourage all Veteran patients to actively participate in their health care by contacting us with their concerns, compliments, questions, suggestions and feedback so we can work with them to ensure they are receiving the safe, quality and compassionate health care they have earned and deserve through their service and sacrifice in the armed forces."
"I just hope that we'll get an opportunity to find out what went wrong, why it went wrong," said Brantley.
Days after Jeffrey Brantley's death, the family received a letter denying his claim because treatment at Harford Memorial Hospital was not authorized.
"It was almost like a slap in the face from the government," he said.
In a separate statement, the VA responded to denied claims.
"The VA Maryland Health Care System remains committed to providing safe,
quality and compassionate health care for Veterans. When appropriate, the VA Maryland Health Care System partners with community providers to deliver health care services for Veterans who cannot travel to a VA facility because of illness, debility or distance, or when a VA facility does not have the capability to provide the needed medical services. Veterans seeking non-emergent care at the VA’s expense must obtain authorization from the VA Maryland Health Care System prior to receiving treatment at a non-VA facility for each episode of care. Veterans seeking emergent care at the VA’s expense do not need to receive prior authorization, but must meet certain eligibility criteria for coverage of non-VA care. It is our duty and privilege to provide Veterans the care they have earned through their service and sacrifice. We take this duty seriously."
In Focus Investigators put Brantley in contact with the VA and hope to have an update on progress made soon.