This veteran almost resorted to operating on himself after the Department of Veterans Affairs refused to pay his medical bills.
John Irish, a former Army National Guard soldier and a longtime emergency medical technician, had to go to a hospital in Burlington, Massachusetts, when he got a deep cut on his finger from a table saw.
“I looked down and there was a piece of my finger missing, my thumb,” Irish told Boston 25.
The small injury did not perturb Irish, who was accustomed to much worse because of his occupation. But when he later arrived at the Lahey Medical Center to have his stitches removed, he was told by the staff that he would have to pay for the procedure out of his own pocket.
“They handed me a slip of paper saying, ‘We are going to have to have you sign this, because the VA says they're not going to pay the bill,’” he said.
Irish receives benefits through the Veterans Affairs Choice program which enables people like him to get access to private medical care at VA medical facilities. Or he was supposed to.
The vet claims this was not the first time he was denied treatment and so took matters into his own hands. Irish threatened to remove the stitches in his own home and stream the entire incident on social media if the VA refused to pay up. Unsurprisingly, after the warning, the department contacted Irish within an hour and agreed to pay for the procedure.
“It's totally disgusting that they have to threaten, beg or borrow to get medical treatment,” the vet said.
He also said any vet who gets stuck with their own medical bills means the country is rejecting their years of service.
“The VA is required under the constitution to supply the veterans with the best medical care in the country, bar none. And realistically, we get the worst medical treatment in the world,” said Irish.
Lahey Medical Center showed local news channel, Boston 25, medical records that indicate they got a call from Manchester, VA, about the suture procedure and a follow-up physical for later in the year. However, later, a VA spokesperson said there was no prior contact or authorization regarding Irish and the department did not deny any payment to the vet.
She also said that any veterans who were having problems should contact the department directly.
“We continue to work very closely with veterans, community providers and importantly HealthNet to resolve any patient issues brought to our attention,” Kristin Pressly, Veterans Affairs spokesperson, said in a statement. “Caring for veterans is our primary mission; administrative issues should never stand in the way of veterans receiving high quality care.”
This isn’t the first time veterans have complained about their medical benefits.
The Durham VA Medical Center faced backlash when visitors took pictures of neglected veterans who were screaming and slumped on the ground in pain.