Veteran: No Solid Foods For 3 Years Following Botched VA Surgery

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Veteran: No Solid Foods For 3 Years Following Botched VA Surgery

CREATED Jun 25, 2014
by Todd Walker

NASHVILLE, Tenn - A Bowling Green man said he's been trying to get help for three years after independent doctors said he got the wrong surgery from the VA to try to fix his blood pressure.

Frank Coursey now said he's out of options. He said he's been tossed around the VA bureaucracy for years all while unable to eat solid foods and his body slow deteriorates.

Coursey said the bills from multiple surgeries, civilian doctor visits and trips to the ER are racking up and the VA is refusing to pay. He said the bills have gotten so bad there is a lien against his home.

He worries if he dies before the money issue is sorted out, his family will be stuck with the bill.

Coursey served in the Army from 1982 to 1986. A fall from the top of a truck would eventually mean he'd get VA disability care.

In 2011, he said a health scare determined he had extremely high blood pressure. At 286 pounds, he was overweight but not an extreme case.

Even so, he said it was decided that the VA hospital in Huntington, West Virginia would perform what many would later agree was an extreme stomach surgery, known as a gastric sleeve, to bring his blood pressure under control.

A gastric sleeve is a non-reversible surgery, typically reserved for the severely obese to quickly lose weight. The surgery removes a large portion of the stomach, and a remaining stomach "tube" is held closed with staples.

From the moment he left the operating table, Coursey said he had complications.

"Every time I try to eat or drink I'm throwing up, throwing up, and throwing up," he said.

He said the VA doctors told him at the time that was a normal reaction. According to Coursey, it continued for days, weeks and into months.

Trips to civilian emergency rooms became routine.

"The ER doctors are coming up to me and asking 'why they did this surgery on you? It should have never been done,'" he said. "I didn't have the answer. The ER doctors said it should have been a band where it would be adjustable up, down or even removed with complications."

Coursey said the complications only continued, but since his blood pressure had dropped, the VA felt he was fine. He said after months of complaining, the doctor who was supposed to have originally done the surgery agreed to see him again.

"The first words out of his mouth were 'my God, they didn't tell me it was this bad.'"

Coursey has dropped from 286 pounds at the time of the surgery to 133 today.

The VA finally sent him to a civilian doctor in Nashville and the VA said it would pay. After an exam, that doctor told Coursey the surgery had been botched.

"He said 'the man that done your surgery made a rookie mistake,'" Coursey described. "He made the opening too small. That's why you can't hold solid food."

Coursey and this new doctor created a plan to hopefully fix the problem. It would require surgery again, but Coursey said the VA had not paid up like it said it would.

After months of trying, the doctor agreed to do the surgery without payment because Coursey's health continued to spiral. He said because of that wait his stomach had herniated and the doctor couldn't do the surgery.

"Had they paid the bill on time, this (hernia) problem would not exist," Coursey said.

Coursey's teeth are falling out on a weekly basis because of malnutrition.

Earlier this year he had emergency surgery on his neck because doctors said his vertebrae are crushing under the weight of his head. He's been told it's all because he can't eat.

Coursey said the VA reviewed his case and told him to file a tort claim. He was told to retain a lawyer to fill out the paperwork.

"The VA only accepts VA approved lawyers, and they won't give me a list of those," Coursey said.

Coursey said he's requested his medical records from the Huntington VA, but was told it would take five to six months.

Now, Coursey is at the point where he wonders if he'll ever get the help he needs.

"I've been dying of starvation for the last three years all over (the VA's) time constraints."

Coursey said what he really needs is someone with the VA to be assigned to his case personally to sort out this mess.

He's contacted members of Congress in his home state of Kentucky and in Tennessee but he's been told it will take at least a month for them to get back to him.

NewsChannel 5's attempts to reach someone at VA hospital in Huntington, West Virginia for comment were unsuccessful.

Email: twalker@newschannel5.com