CAMERON, MO (KCTV) -- Dave Ward lives in Cameron. That’s about 50 miles from the Kansas City VA Hospital.
So, when pain struck late at night, the 70-year-old drove to the local emergency room for help.
Ward thought he had appendicitis, but it turns out he had kidney stones.
He says the real pain is getting the VA to cover his emergency room visit.
“Who am I? I’m a nobody. How do you fight something like the VA,” Ward questioned.
He finally turned to KCTV5 News for help after battling the VA for six months.
Ward had Medicare Part A at the time of his emergency room visit. Part A only covers hospital care.
The VA kept declining his medical bills saying he had Part B which covers emergency room visits.
Ward kept trying to prove he didn’t have that coverage but the back and forth was never ending.
“I kind of get the feeling that they are waiting for the hospital to turn it over to collections,” Ward said. “You call down there. They transfer you from one extension to another extension. You leave a voicemail and never get called back.”
Ward had $14,000 in medical bills hanging over his head.
Ward is not alone in his struggles. The Mill Bill program that should cover emergency room bills for veterans has been the subject of congressional hearings because it’s been such a mess.
VA officials have admitted that 30 percent of all emergency medical bills are denied.
That’s about $2.6 billion in ER bills being forced back onto veterans who find navigating the VA system a complete nightmare.
KCTV5 contacted the VA with Ward’s concerns and sent in his medical bills to the national and local level. We also included a recent letter the VA sent Ward asking him to rate the quality of his healthcare.
On Thursday afternoon, the VA offered the following response to our report:
"A system in which VA approves every emergency room claim for every veteran regardless of service connection or insurance status would be fiscally unsustainable," they said. "No health coverage provider – be it private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid – approves every claim for emergency care without considering the nature of the service and the benefits of the plan. VA is no different."
They also said approved claims are up to 84 percent.
“You were an angel coming to my rescue. You know ... because I felt like I was going to have to file bankruptcy. I didn’t know any other option,” Ward said.