|By Wesley Brown, The Augusta Chronicle, Ga.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
From March to
After waiting six months to see a specialist, he finally saw a gastroenterologist
The 49-year-old believes he would have died had he taken the advice.
Nine veterans have died and 15 others have had conditions worsen at VA hospitals in
Sharp contacted the office of U.S. Rep.
Sharp filed a claim with the VA's Regional Counsel in
He said he's been told it will be six months before his case is concluded, but that he has a strong case.
"This procedure should have been done by the VA, and they should have paid for it," Sharp said. "They're transferring debt to someone who doesn't deserve it."
She said by addressing all consult requests in a week, and hiring two additional physicians and a full-time clinical nurse leader, the hospital has resolved all delays in gastrointestinal care.
Sharp said his case suggests the program has yet to eliminate its greatest flaw -- the "three bloody show" rule.
The practice of not giving colon scopes until the patient experiences three blood discharges is still being used by
"This archaic practice is a dollars-and-cents approach that risked my life, and it is an insult to the honor and integrity of service-connected veterans," Sharp said in his deposition. "It is a foul, unholy system the VA has let take reign in their hallways and to cruelly make these kinds of decisions demands investigation. It is monstrous."
Sharp is convinced he will win the benefits he was promised for conducting bomb-clearance missions in mine-protected vehicles in the
While he waits, the 2013 federal handbook for veteran benefits states that he's eligible for "enhanced enrollment" for five years and entitled to "receive VA care and medication at no cost for any condition that may be related to their combat service."
Sharp, however, was not seen in the VA's now-eliminated two-week wait period for new patients, nor was he scheduled within the 60-day goal for diagnostic colonoscopies. In fact, 380 consults for diagnostic procedures were identified in a department review as beyond 60 days.
Sharp had a colonoscopy scheduled in the private sector a week after he sought outside consultation in
Financial statements show Sharp's insurance paid 80 percent (
Sharp said Aiken Regional waived collection to allow him to negotiate an agreement with the VA, but he said the hospital's patient advocate told him to file a complaint against the gastroenterologist and that its director,
"I have to beg and plead to get the VA to do what they supposed to do. They would've killed me through inaction," he said.
Sharp said he hopes progress is made and that the status quo is a betrayal to him, his family and veterans.
"The fact is I was promised health care by
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