Barry Coates got right to the point.
“Because I didn’t get adequate treatment and there were no follow-up examinations, I’m standing in front of you today and am incurably ill,” he said at the beginning of his testimony two years ago in front of U.S. Congress.
The then 44-year-old veteran described in detail how he had to wait almost a year for a colonoscopy because the Veterans Administration (VA), which handles healthcare for former soldiers, was hopelessly overloaded. By the time his test was finally conducted, it was too late: He had a tumor the size of a baseball in his intestine, and the cancer had already spread throughout his body. Mr. Coates, the father of a family from South Carolina, brought several Congressmen to tears with his testimony. He became the public face of a veterans scandal that has still not been resolved.
An investigation by news broadcaster CNN exposed the VA’s miserable state and described Mr. Coates’ situation. It cited internal agency documents showing that 82 veterans died while waiting for medical appointments. Hundreds of thousands of former soldiers had to wait more than 30 days to see a doctor; in many cases, the delay was more than three months. A clinic in Phoenix falsified the official waiting lists and only recorded the actual times on secret lists. In the meantime, similar accusations have been brought against hospitals in Houston and Denver.
Barry Coates died in January. But his fate led to a far-reaching reform of stiffened structures that will hold the new president’s attention for a long time. Barack Obama initiated $15 billion in spending in reaction to the scandal, but there has been scant improvement.
Quite the opposite, actually – there have been new scandals. Since 2014, waiting times have increased. And in August, a mentally ill veteran shot himself in the parking lot of a veterans’ hospital in the state of New York because he had been denied assistance.