Weekly newspaper of Three Rivers, California, and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks

The entrance to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Fresno.

Local veteran’s plight solved with call to the White House

By: 
John Elliott

 

Joe Austin of Three Rivers has learned first-hand the frustrations of dealing with the local Veterans Administration.  
 
Joe served in the U.S. Navy on the USS Kittyhawk during the Vietnam War from 1965 to 1968 and was honorably discharged. 
 
“I was having trouble breathing for the last two years so I had an MRI to see what was going on there,” Joe said. “That’s when I was diagnosed with lung cancer.”  
 
Joe was diagnosed with lung cancer in January. One doctor told him it’s a slow-growing cancer; another doctor said it’s the fast-growing type. 
 
Joe has been on supplemental oxygen since his diagnosis. It limits what he can do and is costing him $140 a month out of pocket in rental fees.
 
“I couldn’t go anywhere or do my normal errands and business that I need just to survive,” Joe said. “I started calling the VA three or four times a day but it was like I was speaking a foreign language.”
 
Joe doesn’t blame anyone for his predicament.
 
“I know what caused my cancer,” he admitted. “I smoked 840,000 cigarettes. That’s two packs a day for 59 years. And smoked lots of dope too.” 
 
Joe realized he needed a portable oxygen system so he could return to some semblance of his normal routine. But he wasn’t getting anywhere with the Fresno VA office.
 
“I was running low on patience just trying to get help to see if I could get one of those portable oxygen rigs,” Joe said. 
 
A couple of weeks ago, Joe was having a conversation with someone who advised him to go straight to the top and put a call into Washington, D.C. He made the call on a Friday to the White House switchboard; by Tuesday, medical suppliers had delivered the portable oxygen machine and plenty of small and medium oxygen tanks, all at no out-of-pocket cost.
 
Joe said that the oxygen machine costs $2,800 and that doesn’t include the rental tanks and service. He is relieved, grateful for the assistance, has quit smoking, and can now spend his time focusing on his health rather than wrangling with red tape at the Veterans Center in Fresno.
 
“And to all you vets out there, if you’re having a problem like mine, go right to the White House switchboard” Joe said. “What happened to me is a miracle.”            
 
The White House can be reached by calling (202) 456-1414 or (202) 456-1111.
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