Veteran: 'Cancer didn't kill me, but the VA almost did' - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

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Veteran: 'Cancer didn't kill me, but the VA almost did'

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PHOENIX (CBS5) -

A veteran, who retired after 18 years in the Army, told CBS 5 News, "Cancer didn't kill me, but the VA nearly did."

Steve Cooper said he could've easily died waiting for medical care at the Phoenix VA.

The former Chandler resident, who now lives in Las Vegas, said nearly two years went by before he was seen by a doctor at the end of 2012.

By then, he had stage-four prostate cancer at the age of 41.

Cooper first went to the Phoenix VA in January of 2011.

"I knew I wasn't feeling well," Cooper said about his stomach pain. "I felt that I was literally dying. "

Despite this, he said it took a year for him to get an appointment with a nurse practitioner in January of 2012.

"The nurse practitioner does a digital examination and tells me my prostate is large and asymmetrical," Cooper said.

But, she didn't order any tests and Cooper said it took another 11 months before he was finally seen by a VA doctor in December of 2012.

"I had never even heard of a PSA before," said Cooper. "So, he (doctor) ordered that immediately. My PSA was 50, which is extremely high."

A biopsy of his prostate showed he had stage-four metastatic prostate cancer.

Cooper said the doctor told him there wasn't much he could do for him, and that he would likely die.

Cooper said he was told it would take three to four months to get an appointment for CT and bone scans, and an additional two to three months to meet with a doctor to go over the results.

"I would be dead if I had stayed with the VA system," he said about the additional seven month wait.

Instead, the very day Cooper met with that VA doctor, he used his own insurance and met with a private doctor in Chandler.

Cooper told CBS 5 News, in that one day, he had both scans done, got the results of those scans and had a treatment plan.

Three weeks later Cooper had surgery to remove his prostate and pelvic lymph nodes.

He also underwent radiation therapy and will undergo chemotherapy this summer, as a preventative measure to kill any microscopic cancer cells.

Cooper is now suing the VA.

"I will never set foot in a Veterans Administration building again as long as I live, with one exception, unless they're closing those doors and we're demolishing those buildings," he said.

Cooper said he would like to see the VA change from being a provider of medical services to a payer of services provided by private doctors.

Copyright 2014 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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