SEMINOLE, Florida— After 25 years of marine rescues and drug busts in the U.S. Coast Guard, two months ago on March 11, retired Chief Petty Officer Edward Rubertas got the devastating news he was dying.
"It wiped me out," said Rubertas of learning the news he had stage 4 pancreatic cancer with just 6 to 12 months to live.
Rubertas decided early on he wanted to prolong his life and he could with treatment, but hit a roadblock when it came to scheduling an appointment at the VA's Bay Pines Hospital.
"I'm told I have stage 4 cancer I'm dying, and yet I have to wait over six weeks just to get chemotherapy? Why? There is no excuse," said a devastated Rubertas.
Rubertas' story and similar ones from across the country have lawmakers like Congressman David Jolly calling for immediate reforms within the VA to reduce patient wait times.
"We should allow immediately veterans who are on a wait list for 30 days or 60 days, whatever that time is, to immediately go out into the private sector. And if requires emergency appropriations for three months or six months, however long it takes to clear the backlog, lets do it," said Rep. Jolly.
Rubertas has already paid out of pocket to visit a private physician and has now finally started chemotherapy, unsure what his delay in care through the VA will ultimately mean.
"I think it's cost me precious time," said Rubertas. "I think it's actually cost me my life."
The VA says it's unable to discuss Rubertas' specific case until it gets permission from the patient to do so.
Congressman David Jolly who says he has a good relationship with the local VA claims the national VA has been uncooperative with his office's requests for information on patient wait times.
As a result, he plans a VA intake day June 16 to hear face-to-face from local veterans about the wait times they're experiencing and what can be done to improve care.
The event will take place at Jolly's Seminole district office.
When: June 17, 2014
9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Where: 9210 113th Street
Seminole, FL 33772
Phone: (727) 392-4100