Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Witness Testimony of Ted H. Wolf, as presented by John Rowan, President, Pomona, NY (Veteran), Vietnam Veterans of America
My name is Ted H. Wolf. I’m a Vietnam veteran. I served in Vietnam from September 1966 through August 1967. I was in a transportation unit stationed at the Newport facility on the Saigon River. One of the operations of the facility was the handling of Agent Orange drums. As is well known and well documented, Agent Orange is the code name for a herbicide developed for the military. The purpose of the product was to defoliate trees and shrubbery where the enemy could hide. My exposure to broken drums containing Agent Orange caused me to become inflicted with prostate cancer.
My prostate cancer did not become “active” until August 2002. However, even before then my family and I experienced other effects of the Agent Orange. In the 1970s, my wife suffered seven miscarriages. Furthermore, my only living daughter was born with a hemangioma. We now believe that both of these events were related to my exposure to Agent Orange.
My prostate cancer was diagnosed by a urologist in August 2002. I immediately went to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center for further information, and eventually treatment. One way in which doctors rate the aggressiveness of prostate cancer is through a Gleason score. A patient is graded on a scale of 1-10. I was diagnosed with a 9. At Sloan-Kettering, I was treated with localized radiation as well as hormone therapy.
Sometime during the course of my treatment, I investigated and found out that Agent Orange was a cause of prostate cancer. I submitted an application to the Veterans Administration for disability compensation on account of my diagnosis of prostate cancer. In April 2003, after enduring a physical and sending my medical records from Memorial Sloan-Kettering, I was granted a disability rating of 100%.
In February 2004, my disability rating was lowered to 40%. I was informed that this reduction in benefits was on account of the fact that I was not utilizing the required number of pads for leakage each day and also because my PSA score (a number used to determine the presence of prostate cancer) had declined. On account of these two factors, the Veterans Administration deemed that I was in remission.
I did not feel that this was fair, but I did not have the strength to commence an action. In preparing for this hearing, however, I spoke with my oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, Dr. Michael Morris. Dr. Morris explained to me that the Veterans Administrations’ reasons for reducing my benefits were absurd. Firstly, he said there is absolutely no correlation between number of pads used for leakage and the severity of prostate cancer. Secondly, he explained that although my PSA number had decreased, I was not actually in remission. Rather, he explained that there is a residual effect from hormone therapy, which keeps the PSA down for approximately 2 - 3 years. What is disturbing is that the Veterans Administration handled my case without having any knowledge of my illness and it made decisions without any basis in fact. In May 2006, my PSA tripled indicating that the disease was still active. Bone scans taken in August 2006 indicated progression to eight different spots on my skeleton. At this point, I contacted the Veterans Administration. They asked me to send proof which I did, and they then responded by saying that it would be a minimum of 3-4 months before any action was taken on my case.
The county in which I live, Rockland County, New York, maintains an office of Veterans Affairs. I contacted them for assistance, and they recommended that I contact my Congressperson. The office of the Congressperson attempted to assist me, however, she was defeated in the November 2006 election and therefore no real action took place.
In January, I contacted the newly elected Congressperson, Representative John Hall, and his office rendered immediate assistance. The person in his office who assisted me was Lisa DeMartino. She worked miracles and within three weeks, the Veterans Administration increased my compensation and gave me back compensation from June 2006.
My concern is that without the assistance of wonderful people at the congressional level, the average veteran is forced to wait a long period of time to get any assistance. I pay for my own healthcare. Our family rate is $14,000 a year, and I am able to select where I want to be treated for my illness. Under no circumstances would I want to be treated by the Veterans Administration. I do not believe that their level of competency for treating my disease would have reached an acceptable level. I have no confidence in them, especially in light of the fact that they lowered my initial benefits, thereby showing that they had no idea of how prostate cancer functions.
My concern is for the young veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The backlog that they face in receiving care is unconscionable. Competent healthcare should be available to all veterans. We currently have in place the Medicare system which allows one to select his/her own doctor. This would allow a veteran to find medical care close to home without having to travel to a VA facility. The closest VA facility may be many miles away, perhaps requiring an overnight stay.
The Veterans Administration has for too long been allowed to defend its bricks and mortar policy of large facilities, which until the war were inadequately used. I feel that the American serviceman could best be served by being able to avail themselves of the best private care available.
I want to thank this committee for investigating the Veterans Administration and the healthcare being provided to our returning veterans. A service person who has volunteered to serve his country should receive the best possible care available regardless of cost. Their benefits, if unable to continue to work, should be such that they are being paid a living wage to take care of their families. Those that have given so much should not be forced to continue to pay for their willingness to serve their country. Our troops who served with pride and distinction should not have to beg for adequate health care. It is our continued responsibility to provide the best health care possible whether within the VA heath care system or the private sector.