Veteran blames poor treatment at VA for missed cancer diagnosis

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A Goshen veteran is counting his lucky stars after doctors told him several months ago he only had three weeks to live.

Thursday, former Marine Sgt. Erik Olson and his wife Erin sat down with NewsCenter 16 to talk about Erik's remission and their experience fighting "poor" healthcare at a local VA clinic.

It started in July 2014. Olson, now 30, went to the clinic complaining about groin pain. According to Olson, the doctor didn't run any tests and sent him off with a recommendation to do stretches at home.

The pain persisted. Olson's leg swelled.

"I just kept thinking, there's go to be something else. There's no way this is all of it," Olson explained, "eventually it got to the point where I was going back every few days and the doctor refused to see me."

Olson said the doctor at the VA clinic would send out a nurse with instructions, on his final visit to the Goshen facility, he was outfitted with a compression sock for the swelling.

"I was really depressed that day after leaving because I didn't know what to do or where to go," said Olson.

Olson's wife Erin is also a veteran of the Marine Corp. As her husband endured trip after trip to clinics and urgent care facilities she felt limited by their options.

"You're at the hands of the VA, if they don't want to transfer you, they don't want to pay for your transfer or for your care somewhere else it's very difficult. Especially when they don't know what's wrong with you and you're in the hospital for so long," Erin Olson explained.

Pulling at straws, the Olsons contacted U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN 2), who reached out to the head of the VA and asked that Olson be transferred to a facility in Indianapolis for treatment.

It's at that facility that the growth in Olson's pelvis was finally biopsied and doctors and oncologists diagnosed the former Marine with ALK-positive Lymphoma. He spent 47 days in the hospital and eventually returned to Elkhart County to complete his chemotherapy.

Congresswoman Walorski said Olson's case isn't unique. Her office fields hundreds of calls from veterans battling through the red tape of the VA system.

"There's a lot of needs and we just encourage people to call our office. Some things are easier than others to win, but this just worked out that a bad diagnosis turned into the life saving treatment that he needed and that there's a happy ending," said Walorski.

In September, Walorski took Olson's story to the Veterans Affairs Committee where she said the response was "outrage."

"Change does happen but it's going to take a while to actually see that happen, that's why in the mean time we don't' want any of our folks falling through the cracks in the system," according to Walorski another, larger, Community Based Outpatient Clinic is coming to Michiana in the near future.

Legislation passed in the summer of 2014 called the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014, aimed to improve veterans' access to health care.

Under the new legislation, veterans that live more than 40 miles from a VA facility, including community-based outpatient clinics, can non-VA health entities for treatment.

Walorski said most veterans in Indiana fall within the 40 mile radius of the outpatient clinics, which exempts them from receiving more advanced medical treatment elsewhere.

At the end of the day, Erik Olson received the treatment he needed in Indianapolis. Now he wants other veterans know there are other avenues to get help, including contacting a local legislator, to get the progress needed.

Olson is in complete remission.