San Diego

Navy Veteran Describes Struggle with Long VA Wait Times

Anna Cox developed a sense of pride in the Navy.

She served on USS Roosevelt during the longest deployment since World War II, right after September 11th. Despite some challenges, she said loved being in the Navy.

“The whole experience, everything about it,” she said when describing her experiences.

She spent nearly five years in the Navy before making the tough decision to leave to take care of her children.

In November 2015, the Navy veteran says her right hand began to give her trouble.

“I was having issues holding things." she said. "All of a sudden, I might be gripping something and something (would) just fall.”

Cox said she struggled to do basic things like work in the kitchen, or hold a pencil. 

Several months later, in January 2016, she went to the VA Medical Center San Diego's emergency room and spoke to an ER doctor about her condition. 

“I was telling him how it sometimes kind of goes to sleep, the color changes, it gets colder than the other one," she said.

The doctor did some testing and pushed to get her an MRI quickly.

“They diagnosed me with a tumor,” she said, adding that “it was scary.”

The tumor sat on top of an artery, where there was a valve. 

“You hear the word tumor and you think cancer, you think, 'Oh my gosh, what's wrong? What's going to happen now? Am I going to lose my hand?'” she said. 

Her doctors at the VA approved Cox for the New Choice Program, a program that allows veterans to go to outside providers to avoid long wait times. 

At the time, Cox was told she would have to wait nine months for surgery. 

But as soon as she began to try to set up an appointment, the problems began.

She called and said she never heard back from the Choice Program. When she did finally make contact, there was always something wrong, she said: “the wrong address, the wrong phone number.” They said her voicemail was full.

“I mean, every time, I've called them back,” she told NBC 7 San Diego. 

Cox said she was tired of running around as her pain grew.

“I'm hurting by this time, the burning sensation is ridiculous…it's getting almost intolerable,” she recalled.

The mother of four decided to put her Navy pride aside and began looking into Medi-Cal, California’s healthcare program for low income residents.

“Next thing I know, everything started to happen really quick,” she said.

In less than eight weeks, she was signed up and had surgery on her arm. The surgery was performed by one of the same surgeons who works with the VA.

Cox said she could not be more pleased with the results. 

“If I would've went to the VA itself, it would've taken almost 10 months, or actually went through Choice...I still haven't heard back from them,” she said.

After surgery, she learned the tumor was benign and she did not have cancer. 

Now, Cox says, she can do all the things she loves to do. 

“I was ecstatic," she said. "I was like, wow, that was seriously like having a new hand.”

But after her months-long experience with the VA system, she has some advice for fellow veterans who may be experiencing some of the same problems. 

She says if other veterans experiencing long wait times qualify for Medi-Cal, they should put their health first  and sign up - and be proud that they did. 

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