DANDRIDGE (WATE) – A disabled veteran has wondered for weeks why he can’t get an appointment with a local doctor to treat a cancerous tumor. The veteran is eligible for the Veterans Choice program, enacted by Congress to shorten the long wait times to see a doctor.
Keith Cook is from Dandridge and wants to see a doctor in Knoxville. Since last fall, Cook has been going back and forth to the Mountain Home VA Medical Center in Johnson City, but doctors there can’t treat his cancerous eye tumor. So, he’s chosen to see a physician in Knoxville, which he is eligible to do under the Veterans Choice program. Under the regulation, qualified veterans waiting more than 30 days for VA medical care and live more than 40 miles from a VA hospital facility may receive care within their community instead of waiting for a VA appointment or traveling to a VA facility.
Cook, a disabled Vietnam veteran, was diagnosed with cancer last fall. Since then, he’s been waiting for word from administrators at the Mountain Home Veterans Center in Johnson City on the timing of his treatment. He has a tumor in his left eye.
“I’ve been told right behind the eyeball, right directly behind my eyeball there is a tumor growing right behind the muscle that controls my left eye movement,” said Cook. “Everything is double. I haven’t driven in over four months. I see double all the time.”
With the VA in Johnson City unable to offer the treatment his needs, Cook opted for Veterans Choice for a doctor to treat him locally. But there’s been a delay since the cancer diagnosis in November.
“If I can’t get an appointment, can’t get in within 30 days to the VA, they’re supposed to refer me to an outside facility,” he said.
“They just keep going back and forth with the approval. They’ll only approve a little bit of it at a time then you can’t get it to go forward,” said Cook’s wife Bernadine.
Cook says he knows where he wants to go to get the tumor treated.
“I would like to have proton therapy. I’m not a doctor, but they way he explained it he thought he could be more precise where the tumor is around my eye,” said Cook.
Cook has talked with the doctors at Povision Center for Proton Therapy in Knoxville, but correspondence and conversations with the VA have been contradictory.
“They called and said, ‘Oh, it’s approved you can go outside the VA.’ Then they’d say, ‘It’s not approved,'” he said.
Cook wants answers so his treatment can begin. WATE 6 On Your Side had him sign a privacy release form and we sent our questions to the VA in Johnson City. One was about the reason for the delay.
A call came from Provision Therapy on January 28.
“They said, ‘Mr. Cook it’s been approved can you be here Monday at 2 o’clock to start your treatment.’ I said, I sure can be,” he said.
His daily treatments have already started.
“I’m very happy. It’s like the world is lifted off my shoulders, knowing that I’m finally going to get something after months,” Cook said.
Cook’s daily radiation treatments are expected to take about four weeks. Provision offers leading edge technology and that may have been the holdup. Correspondence from the VA said, “Proton beam therapy is not approved.”
Directors at Provision said there have been some insurance challenges, but in time their non-invasive advanced cancer treatment is becoming more and more accepted by providers.