Dying veteran's medical malpractice case against VA starts Monday

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Steven Cooper (Source: 3TV/CBS 5 file photo) Steven Cooper (Source: 3TV/CBS 5 file photo)
Cooper and Rima Follman (Source: 3TV/CBS 5 file photo) Cooper and Rima Follman (Source: 3TV/CBS 5 file photo)
Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center (Source: 3TV/CBS 5 filed photo) Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center (Source: 3TV/CBS 5 filed photo)
After his diagnosis, Cooper went to a private physician for treatment. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) After his diagnosis, Cooper went to a private physician for treatment. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5 News) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5 News)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

Opening statements are slated for Monday morning in the case of a dying Arizona veteran who is suing the Veterans Health Administration and the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center for $50 million.

Steven Cooper, who is dying of cancer, says he tried for a year to get an appointment at the VAMC, and when he finally did, the practitioner he saw did not provide proper care. Now he is dying of prostate cancer.

Gregory Patton, Holly Mosier and a firm called Girard Gibbs LLP filed Cooper’s complaint for personal injuries due to medical negligence on Oct. 26, 2015.

According to court paperwork, Cooper, “a decorated veteran who served nearly 18 years in the United States Army, was repeatedly denied access to medical care at the VAMC, then provided with negligent medical care resulting in the delayed diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer.”

Cooper was honorably discharged from the Army in 2007.

“Following his honorable discharge from the United States Army, [Cooper] developed health problems,” according to the complaint filed in court. “He repeatedly contacted the VAMC seeking an appointment to be evaluated by a physician. Because of various and systemic problems with the VA system, the VAMC continuously denied [Cooper] access to healthcare [sic]. For example, if [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.”

Cooper said when he finally saw a nurse practitioner on Dec. 17, 2011, she discovered an abnormality in his prostate, but did not order any addition testing or follow-up and did not refer him to a specialist.

According to the complaint, that nurse practitioner, “specifically told [Cooper] that there was nothing he could or should do about his abnormal prostate exam results.”

"She tells him that he's fine and that there isn't any required testing and isn't anything to worry about," Patton said the day after filing Cooper’s suit. "He believes her - he trusts her - and unfortunately that cost him his life."

[ORIGINAL STORY: Valley veteran dying of cancer files $50 million lawsuit against Phoenix VA]

After a year of trying to get care for his ever-worsening symptoms, Cooper was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer on Dec. 21, 2012. The doctor told not only told him it was incurable and terminal but he also advised Cooper “to seek hospice care.”

"One day you're OK, and the next, somebody says to you, you have stage 4 prostate cancer, and you have six to 12 months to live, and there's really nothing you can do about it. Hospice will call you Monday,” Cooper’s girlfriend, Rima Follman told our Jason Barry right after the suit was filed.

Immediately after his devastating diagnosis, Cooper went to a private physician and underwent a “radical surgical procedure” that left him with a variety of permanent injuries and “debilitating problems”.

Cooper and his lawyers say that never would have happened had the VA done its job.

“Had the VAMC properly seen, evaluated, diagnosed, and treated [Cooper] when he initially sought appointments for his signs and symptoms, [Cooper’s] disease would have been curable,” the complaint states.

"It is unfair," Follman said in October 2015. "We live in a country with some of the best hospitals and doctors. Something like this shouldn't happen.”

The case expected to run all week.

The Phoenix VA was ground zero for a nationwide scandal involving hospital wait times for vets that exploded in 2014. It started woth the news that dozensof veterans died while waiting for the care they were promised.

A number of local veterans and VA insiders came to 3TV and CBS 5 News to share their stories. 

[SPECIAL SECTION: Veterans Health Administration scandal]

In April 2016, Deborah Amdur, who headed up the Phoenix VA for less than a year, sat down with 3TV and CBS 5 News to address the claims our team uncovered and shared with you.

Amdur was announced as the Phoenix VA's new medical director in November 2015. She retired for "personal health reasons" at the end of August 2016.

The current director, RimaAnn Nelson, was appointed to the position on Oct. 2.

The VAMC has 3,300 full-time employees and operated clinics in Central Phoenix, Gilbert, Scottsdale, Surprise, Payson, Show Low and Globe-Miami.

[PDF: Original medical malpractice complaint filed on Oct. 26, 2015]

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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