(CBS) — When 66-year-old Vietnam veteran Allen Sloma went to Hines VA Hospital in December 2012, the symptoms were worrying.
“I was having real bad night sweats. I was losing weight real fast,” he tells CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley.
But after a series of tests at Hines, a doctor told him, “There’s nothing in there. It’s all clear. You don’t have no cancer.'”
The former Marine was overjoyed. But the symptoms got worse. Not until August 2013, nine months later, did Hines doctors find a large tumor in his left lung, telling him it was potentially terminal.
“Before you told me I didn’t have cancer. Now, you’re telling me I have it and I’m going to die,” he Sloma says.
In his confusion, Sloma wanted consolation. What he heard was disregard.
“One of them goes, ‘Well, it doesn’t matter. We get paid no matter what happens,’” he says. “It was my last straw.”
Sloma drove to Cadence Health Center and within two weeks underwent surgery. He still needs oxygen, but after months of radiation and chemotherapy he says he’s cancer-free.
His distrust of the VA remains.
“There’s millions of vets out there that are afraid to go. And if they’re afraid to go, they’re not getting the care they need,” he says.
Sloma says he received excellent care at Hines for post-traumatic stress disorder. And he praised a Florida VA hospital for services it has provided him.
He says, though, performance is erratic. Vets not only deserve prompt treatment, they deserve higher quality, too, Sloma says.