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Sherman widow feels inadequate care at VA hospital contributed to husband's death

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BONHAM -- The secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs stepped down today.

Eric Shinseki resigned amid mounting pressure from the public and his peers.

We've been reporting on the nationwide fallout over a scandal that started at the Phoenix VA five weeks ago. Now, one Sherman family wants to share their experience with the Bonham VA Medical Center and the Dallas VA hospital.

Vicki Mitchell still keeps love letters from her late husband Terry in her nightstand.

The two met a month before he deployed to Vietnam. "All that year we wrote back and forth," Mitchell said.

The couple married when he returned home in 1970.

"He was a good guy. He really was. He was a great father," she said.

Terry suffered multiple medical conditions after he was discharged from PTSD, to heart disease to skin cancer.

In 2013, he was diagnosed again with cancer which the VA attributed to his exposure to agent orange.

While there's no way to know for sure, Mitchell believes if her husband would have received more timely, aggressive treatment, he may still be alive today.

"When they told us, he just looked at me and said, 'Well, this is it.' Then we lost him," she said.

In April 2012, medical records show Terry first visited the Bonham VA Medical Center for what doctors described as a suspicious lesion on the right side of his neck.

"What did they first say it was?" reporter Meredith Yeomans asked.
"A wart," Mitchell said.


Four months later, Terry was diagnosed with cancer. Surgery to remove the cancer came six months after he initially went to the VA.

Terry went through his first round of chemotherapy in April 2013, a year after he had the growth first looked at.

 "It just seems like an awful long time," Terry's daughter Jennifer Mitchell said.

By then, a biopsy revealed the cancer had spread to his lungs. It eventually spread to his brain and in August 2013, Terry died.

"I was right there when he took his last breath. So it's been tough," Vicki said.

We contacted the Dallas VA which oversees the Bonham VA Medical Center.

After having its clinical quality management office research Terry's medical records, a spokesperson said in an email, "It is the opinion of our dermatologist and ENT physicians the timeframe for diagnosis and subsequent treatment meets the standard of care."

Despite the appearance of the surgical site, the spokesperson said the area was covered by graft tissue taken from another donor to allow the bed of the wound to heal.

As for a year's wait time for chemotherapy, the VA wrote, "It was decided that the veteran needed to be closely followed clinically instead of having immediate radiation/chemotherapy treatment."

The spokesperson said, "The VA North Texas Cancer Multi-Disciplinary Treatment Team, develops and individual, personalized cancer treatment plan for each cancer patient."

This week, the Inspector General substantiated claims made by a whistleblower at the Phoenix VA. The Inspector found 1,700 veterans waiting for care were never scheduled for an appointment.

There have also been claims dozens of veterans died waiting for care which triggered audits of VA medical centers nationwide, including those in Dallas and Bonham.

The Mitchells say seeing other military families come forward gave them the courage to do the same.

"We distrust the VA and it's coming out why we distrusted them. I mean, these people, it's right, they're right," Jennifer said.

"This is the worst thing I've ever done," Vicki said. A slab of stone and pictures now provide little comfort for the grieving widow left clinging to memories of the love of her life instead of making new ones.

As for those one-on-one audits in the VA North Texas, they are now complete.

Coming up tonight on KTEN News at 10, we'll show you what the preliminary report revealed.