Former marine exposed to Camp Lejune water fights for proper care at Hampton VA

Posted at 11:38 PM, Apr 23, 2013
and last updated 2013-04-24 06:04:06-04

Hampton, Va. - Phillip Askew fought in the jungles of Vietnam, serving two tours as a Marine after he was drafted in 1967.

“It was rough and horrendous,” said Askew, of his time at war.

In exchange for his service, he expected to be taken care of by the VA when he got home, but this vet says it’s hard to even get a doctor's appointment at the Hampton VA Medical Center.

The average wait time?

“90 days to six months,” said Askew.

The chaplain for American Legion Post 327 in Norfolk says potential cancer and shoulder problems have gone undiagnosed and untreated for months, because the VA won't move fast enough.

His problems started last fall.

“I was having problems with urine, going constantly, it’s just terrible,” said Askew.

He says he told his doctors about the problems last November, but the first time he got tested, according to his medical records, was on February 21st of this year.

When the labs came back, they showed a large spike in PSA counts; PSA is discovered through blood tests and shows doctors if a man's prostate is inflamed.

According to the VA medical records...”This is a screening test for prostate cancer."

With above normal levels...Askew has good reason to worry about possible cancer.

“I was stationed at Camp Lejune for two years,” said Askew.

In between his tours of duty in Vietnam, Askew spent time at the North Carolina Marine base now infamous for its contaminated water supply, known to cause several different types of cancer.

Even with his history, Askew still had to wait two months for an appointment with a VA urologist--it's finally scheduled for tomorrow.

“It’s right frustrating, and sometimes I tell my wife, ‘I feel like giving up,’ and she says, ‘I see you been crying a lot,’ and it hurts to talk about it. I did not ask for this,” said Askew.

The long wait times for appointments don't end there.

According to medical records provided to NewsChannel 3, Askew complained of shoulder pain to his VA case workers last October.

His first radiology appointment with the VA to take x-rays didn’t take place until the end of February--almost five months later.

His first appointment with the orthopedic department won't take place until the beginning of June.

For those counting...that’s 8 months between a complaint of pain, and actually seeing a specialist for treatment.

“It’s not right, and then they wonder why so many are going back and having problems with the VA?” said Askew.

That’s when this Marine veteran came to NewsChannel 3...asking us to take action.

“The VA is not doing their job,” said Askew. “No one wants to take the time to explain what VA care is really about.”

When we asked for an on-camera interview with Askew's doctors, the hospital refused, only agreeing to answer questions through email, which eliminated the possibility of NewsChannel 3 asking important follow ups.

When it came to his long wait times for appointments…”Mr. Askew's medical condition is being treated appropriately by both VA and community health care standards. "

When it came to his cancer risk...”Elderly men often have elevated PSA counts. This does not necessarily indicate that they have prostate cancer. In Mr. Askew's case, he has a history of urinary tract infections...”

So NewsChannel 3 did a little research, and according to Dr. Kevin Slawin, a professor of urology at Baylor School of Medicine in Houston… "When men start having urinary problems, it's hard to know the reason. They should see a doctor when anything changes, because there can be prostate cancer, stones, or bladder cancer.”

One of the VA's 15 recognized medical conditions caused by exposure to Camp Lejune's contaminated water is bladder cancer.

When we went back to the VA and brought this to their attention, they told us..."The veteran has not been tested for bladder cancer. According to medical professionals, there is no clinical indication that he has bladder cancer. The most common cause of a UTI in elderly men is an enlarged prostate."

Enlarged prostate? According to all of Askew's medical records, his prostate was inflamed, not enlarged.

We went back to the VA yet again with a third round of questions...and finally, we got this admission.

“After detailed review of Mr. Askew’s medical care, we feel that the quality of the care provided to Mr. Askew was good.  His medical care is appropriate per nationally approved clinical practice guidelines, and is specifically supported by research based best practices.  Moreover, the clinical quality of care provided to our patients meets or exceeds community standards. However, it also appears that in Mr. Askew’s case there were times when the health care experience in terms of customer service and communication did not meet our standards.  While there are numerous examples each day of the VA exceeding the expectations of our patients, it is not acceptable to miss the mark even once.  We will use this feedback to continue improving our processes in order to consistently provide the health care experience that the Hampton Roads Veterans have earned and deserve. “

A change Mr. Askew hopes will start with his appointment tomorrow.

“You served your country, did what was required of you, got an honorable discharge, so they need to take care of what they said they were going to do,” said Askew.