Today, a federal judge in Phoenix awarded Steven Cooper $2.5 million. It's unclear if he will live long enough to see it.
Cooper is one of hundreds of veterans who suffered as a result of the Phoenix VA's long wait times, which became a national scandal several years ago after an investigation found that veterans were dying while waiting to get medical care.
He served in the army from 1989 to 2007 before being honorably discharged. He began experiencing abdominal pains in 2011, at the age of 43. For the better part of a year, he attempted to make an appointment with the Veterans' Administration hospital in Phoenix.
As the complaint for his lawsuit against the VA notes:
Because of various and systemic problems with the VA system, the VAMC continuously denied MR. COOPER access to healthcare. For example, if MR. COOPER was able to obtain an appointment, the VAMC would schedule the appointment for months later, then, many times, cancel the appointment forcing him to attempt to reschedule. Between June 2011 and December 2011, MR. COOPER repeatedly called and visited the VAMC to schedule an appointment with a primary care physician, but was told there were no appointments available and that the VAMC would contact him when an appointment with a primary care physician became available.
When Cooper finally got an appointment, he was seen by a nurse practitioner, not a physician. The nurse practitioner found that his prostate was enlarged and uneven, but didn't order follow-up tests or give him a referral to a urologist. There was nothing he could or should do about it, she said.
After a year passed, Cooper's symptoms hadn't gotten any better. He returned to the VA Medical Center and saw a doctor, who performed a biopsy.
When the results came back, Cooper was informed that he had advanced Stage 4 prostate cancer. It was both incurable and terminal, he was told. His doctor advised him to seek hospice care. Instead, he found a private doctor, who performed a radical prostatectomy.
That and other aggressive surgical interventions have bought him time. But Cooper currently has less than five years to live, Fox 10 reports.
In court, his attorneys argued that his illness would have not have progressed to such an advanced stage if it had been diagnosed back when he first began experiencing symptoms.
The judge agreed, awarding Cooper $2.5 million in damages.
In a press conference outside the courtroom, Cooper told Fox 10 that the money didn't really matter.
"They could've made a $200 million verdict. I'm still going to die in a few years, so that's irrelevant," he said.
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