Veteran Douglas W. Chase served in Vietnam with the U.S. Army.
RUTLAND — The widow of a Rutland veteran who died from cancer two years ago said she was stunned last week to receive a letter from the Veterans Affairs hospital in Bedford, Massachusetts, approving a long-ago request for treatment.
“I opened the letter and was in utter and total disbelief,” Suzanne Chase said of the approval letter that came 22 months after her husband’s death.
Douglas W. Chase, who grew up in Rutland and served as an engineer in the Army in Vietnam, was diagnosed with cancer in 2011. By April of that year, the disease had spread through his body and he was rendered a paraplegic, his wife said.
His deteriorating health made the 45-minute drive from the couple’s home in Acton, Massachusetts, to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston excruciating, Suzanne Chase said, so with the help of a VA service officer she completed her application and took it to the veterans hospital.
“We knew at that point he wasn’t going to make it, but we wanted the last few months of his life to be not as miserable, and if we transferred to the VA, he would be much closer,” she said.
But the hospital’s administration never responded to the request, and four months later, Aug. 20, 2012, Douglas Chase died. He was 68 years old.
After his death, Suzanne Chase said she applied for about $1,000 worth of benefits from the VA to help pay funeral expenses and to offset the loss of her husband’s Social Security benefits. Her request was denied 10 months later on the grounds that Douglas Chase had never received treatment at the VA Hospital.
“I put it all behind me once I got the rejection notice. I moved on and didn’t even think about it anymore,” she said.
But on Monday, June 16, her frustrations with the Veterans Administration came rushing back when she received a letter addressed to her husband from the federal agency.
Inside was an acceptance form inviting her husband to make an appointment to meet with a primary care provider at the hospital.
“We are committed to providing primary care in a timely manner and would greatly appreciate a prompt response,” the unsigned letter concluded.
On the same day she received the letter, she penned an angry response. But she said she didn’t receive a reply until yesterday when, she said, acting hospital director Danielle Ocker called to offer an apology.
Ocker, who was not in charge of the hospital in 2012, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday and a hospital spokesperson couldn’t be reached either.
Suzanne Chase described the apology as “nice” but poor compensation for the pain her husband and other veterans have endured trying to wade through a cumbersome and bureaucratic system.
“What the hell? They send them off to stupid wars where they get all screwed up and then they bring them home and having nothing for them and no support,” she said.
Douglas Chase grew up in Rutland in homes on Baxter Street and Clinton and Lincoln avenues. After graduating from the University of Vermont in 1967 with a degree in civil engineering, he moved to Boston to be closer to Red Sox games but was soon drafted into the Army, his wife said.
He served as an engineer in the Army and was deployed to Vietnam with the 1st Cavalry Division from 1967 to 1968. When he returned home, he continued his work as an engineer and raised two sons.
Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders, who has championed veterans causes in the past, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
His staff issued a short response Tuesday emphasizing the senator’s work in passing legislation to make the VA more accountable and provide quality and timely health care.
“Our job is to make certain that every veteran in the country gets quality health care in a timely manner. At a time when 2 million more veterans have come into the VA in the past four years, we must ensure that there are enough doctors, nurses and other health care professionals to meet the needs of veterans in every facility in the country,” Sanders has said.
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