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Navy veteran loses his nose waiting for treatment

By Drew Griffin, CNN Investigations
updated 11:13 AM EDT, Fri September 5, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Edward Laird said he waited two and a half years for biopsy on a spot
  • In that time, cancer spread through his nose
  • Laird sought care at the Phoenix VA, where CNN uncovered many issues
  • Hospital chief wrote to Laird saying dermatologist found no signs of cancer

Phoenix (CNN) -- Edward Laird is one of the faces behind the VA scandal -- a face he says is disfigured because he had to wait so long for treatment.

The 76-year-old Navy veteran waited two and a half years to get a biopsy for a spot on his nose. And when the VA finally carried out the procedure that his doctor had ordered, the cancer had spread and most of his nose had to be removed.

Laird sought treatment at the Phoenix VA hospital, the facility at the heart of a scandal uncovered by CNN of secret waiting lists and altered records that left veterans untreated, even as some died.

The Inspector General of the VA released a scathing report last week on care of veterans at the Phoenix VA hospital, which could be just the beginning of a nationwide federal review of the Veterans Health System.

A physician at the Phoenix VA confirmed to CNN that he sent Laird to the VA's dermatology clinic repeatedly to get a biopsy of his nose, but the biopsy was repeatedly delayed.

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Laird said 70% of his nose was removed to fight the cancer that spread as he waited for care.

After complaining about the delay, Laird received a letter from the then-interim director of the Phoenix VA that said, "I regret that you are dissatisfied with the care. The dermatologist that you saw did not identify any of the signs of a reoccurrence," referring to the spread of cancer.

Today, Laird uses an ice cream stick to keep his right nostril open.

Despite long wait times at the VA, Laird said he remains proud of his military service and the military brothers and sisters he meets when he goes to the Phoenix VA.

"There's always lines at the VA but when you go, there you feel like you're walking along with a bunch of champions," Laird said. "It'll jerk a tear from you sometimes."

The report released last week by the VA's Office of Inspector General found that 28 veterans had "clinically significant delays" in care at the Phoenix VA, six of whom died.

But the Inspector General report stopped short of blaming the deaths on wait times, stating:

"While the case reviews in this report document poor quality of care, we are unable to conclusively assert that the absence of timely quality care caused the deaths of these veterans."

Laird's case is not directly described in the report.

Investigators did confirm in the report that schedulers at the Phoenix VA manipulated appointment data to hide how long patients were waiting for care.

The latest data released by the VA shows more than 630,000 patients throughout the nation continue to wait longer than 30 days for appointments. More than 9,000 veterans are waiting this long for appointments at the Phoenix VA.

President Barack Obama pledged last week at the American Legion conference in North Carolina to "get to the bottom of these problems," calling them, "outrageous and inexcusable."

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