U.S. Army veteran Barry Coates, who brought awareness to the Veteran Affairs scandal over delays in care in 2014, has died at the age of 46 from cancer.
“I stand before you terminally ill,” Coates told the House Veterans Affairs Committee during an April 9, 2014, hearing, after his cancer went undetected by VA doctors for nearly a year, Military.com reports.
Coates’ testimony made him the face of the Veterans Affairs Department wait-time scandal, in which patients' appointments were being delayed because the system could not handle the volume of men and women in need of services.
"It is likely too late for me," Coates said at the hearing. "The gross negligence of my ongoing problems and crippling back log epidemic of the VA medical system has not only handed me a death sentence but ruined the quality of my life I have for the meantime."
Coates participated in a 2014 CNN investigation into Veterans healthcare. The investigation discovered that 19 veterans had died because of delays in medical screenings at various VA hospitals or clinics. They were part of 82 vets who had died, were dying, or were suffering from serious injuries because of delayed diagnosis or treatment for colonoscopies or endoscopies.
In 2011, Coates was suffering from rectal bleeding and excruciating pain. Over the course of a year he went to several VA clinics and hospitals in South Carolina, seeking treatment. He was diagnosed with hemorrhoids, given a simple pain medication, and told he might need a colonoscopy.
"The problem was getting worse and I was having more pain," Coates told CNN in 2014. "I told [the doctor] that something needed to be done. But nothing was ever set up...a consult was never set up."
"I had already been in pain and suffering from this problem for over six months and it wasn't getting better," Coates said. "I told [the doctor] that if you were in as much pain as I was and had been going through you wouldn't wait another two months to see what's going on. You would probably do it this week."
About a year after his initial appointment with doctors complaining about his pain, Coates received a colonoscopy.
Doctors found he had a cancerous tumor the size of a baseball. He underwent chemotherapy in an attempt to save his life.
On Jan. 23, Coates died from cancer.
"Through no fault of his own, Barry Coates was dealt a tragic hand in life," Republican Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida said, following Coates’ death, according to Military.com.
"Time and again he was let down by the very agency established to serve him," Miller said. "Yet after all he endured, he kept a positive attitude and remained focused on ensuring that other veterans would not have to suffer the same mistreatment he did."
Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who is chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said he mourns the death of any veteran, “... but especially for someone like Barry Coates, who suffered from the systemic and cultural failings of the [VA].”
"As a committee, we will continue working to right the wrongs at the VA that Barry Coates helped to uncover and restore the quality care at the VA that all veterans deserve and should receive,” Isakson added.