HOUSTON -- Regina Brown is not only battling skin cancer, but she's also fighting for a way to pay for the treatment that's keeping her alive.
"Panic is the word because I cannot go without insurance," Brown said.
"Because if I go without insurance I go without treatment, (and) if I go without treatment my disease is going to progress," she said.
Brown's private-sector insurance, that was covering a specialized clinical trial at MD Anderson Cancer Center, was about to end. Fatigue and infections associated with her cancer forced her to medically resign from her financial consulting job.
So the army veteran, who served her country for ten years, tried to sign up with the VA, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
"I was worried because I was getting treatment and I didn't know how it was going to get paid for," Brown said.
She applied, and the VA confirmed, her application online.
That was in October 2013. But weeks, and then months, went by. Nine months of waiting, in fact, just to see a doctor.
"That is unacceptable and it's not our typical process," said Associate Director Christopher Sandles.
Sandles said for some unknown reason, Brown's application was received but subsequently never entered into the system.
I-Team: "If it happened to one, how many other cases is it happening?"
Sandles: "That's a very legitimate question and that's the reason we're taking a deeper look at this."
But even after Brown finally got in, her troubles still were far from over. Her lab work went missing in action, and Brown said her doctor told her the VA lab had dropped the ball.
So the I-Team sat down with the VA's Deputy Chief of Staff, Dr. James Scheurich.
I-Team: "This patient waits nine months, she finally gets an appointment and she's told your labs are lost?"
Dr. Scheurich: "That's certainly not the news you want to hear as a patient on her first visit."
But Dr. James Scheurich said he did not know of any widespread lab problems at the VA.
"We have 100,000 veterans and we find that there are cases where we're not perfect," Dr. Scheurich said.
And unlike the scheduling and records-rigging scandal recently exposed at other VA facilities in the country, the Houston VA said it has a five-star rating, and offered records showing the average wait time for patients to see a doctor is 33 days.
In the end. Regina Brown finally go the VA's go-ahead to pay for her specialized MD Anderson treatment plan.
"It just caused me a lot of stress and stress is something I don't need, stress causes me to get worse," Brown said.
She said it's something that no veteran should have to go through,
The Houston VA said it will launch an internal review of its laboratory practices. It also has changed the way it handles online applications. Now, one single point person will be in charge of overseeing them all--so that nobody falls through the cracks.
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