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VA Offers Doctor's Appointment To Man Who Died In 2012

Nearly two years after her husband died, a Massachusetts woman received a letter saying that a Veterans Affairs hospital was ready to see him. Suzanne Chase's husband, Doug, was a Vietnam veteran who died of a brain tumor; the agency is apologizing over the mistake.

The story comes to us from Boston's WBZ TV, which spoke to Suzanne Chase about the odd incident that she says added new frustration to her dealings with the agency. She says the VA ought to have known her husband was dead: It denied a request for funeral benefits for him on the grounds that he hadn't been treated in one of its facilities.

"I was in complete disbelief," Chase tells WBZ. "It was 22 months too late. I kind of thought I was in the twilight zone when I opened this letter and read it."

The agency's letter to Chase, who lives in Acton, Mass., was dated June 12; it was evidently a belated response to her attempt to establish medical care for her husband at a VA hospital in nearby Bedford in 2012, to avoid traveling to see doctors in Boston. Suzanne Chase says they didn't get a response from the agency, and her husband died about four months later.

The VA's letter closed with this passage:

"We are committed to providing primary care in a timely manner and would greatly appreciate a prompt response."

According to WBZ's Joe Shortsleeve, when the news station contacted a VA official to inform them of the error, the agency issued an apology and said its acting director is trying to reach Chase to apologize personally.

"We regret any distress our actions caused to the veteran's widow and family," the agency said.

Its statement suggested that the June 2014 letter to Doug Chase, who died in August 2012, was part of its new effort to eliminate long delays in its scheduling processes.

Those long delays were among the far-ranging problems that culminated in the resignation of the VA's former leader, Eric Shinseki, in May.

The VA could soon have a new leader, as President Obama nominated former Procter & Gamble leader Robert McDonald to head the large agency Monday.

McDonald has pledged that he would make the agency one that is "effective, efficient and truly serves veterans."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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