Military veteran helped to get care he needs at VA

It’s been two years since a U.S. Air Force veteran has seen a doctor for his lung cancer treatment. The vet said he stopped going to a Veterans Affairs clinic because it almost put him in bankruptcy. He owed the government more than $20,000 for procedures he thought were covered by the VA.

Sgt. Martin Hillman qualified for what’s called priority group 8-C in the VA system. It still required co-pays, but his initial check-ups were never more than $30. That was until his cancer diagnosis.

“They found a mass on my chest when I got an x-ray,” Hillman said. “They ran me right through with the fast track, the CAT scans, the PET scans, the biopsies, all of this.”

Hillman said the quality of care was exceptional at the Bay Pines VA hospital, but six months after his diagnosis and treatment, the sticker shock came.

“They were trying to schedule me for procedures; I said, ‘I can’t come back, I’m running myself into bankruptcy,” Hillman said.

Hillman showed WINK News his bills from the VA. The highest outstanding balance was $22,022. He paid some off and still owes $16,000.

He said the VA began to go over earlier clinic visits, subsequently marking care before his cancer diagnosis as ineligible.

“They’re going to retroactively crucify me,” Hillman said. “I didn’t even know I was doing something wrong.”

When WINK News contacted the VA to ask about Hillman’s bills, representatives said Hillman’s treatments were not pre-authorized. The appointments were considered non-VA medical; therefore, it left Hillman on the hook for the entire amount.

But, Hillman said he was not given this information prior to receiving treatment at the VA.

“They were coaching me along,” Hillman said. “Get this form, so it will go thru. But nobody told me if you don’t pass this, you’re going to be rejected.”

After WINK News got involved, a call came from the Cape Coral VA Clinic for an appointment after two years.

Hillman said his next appointment at the VA is scheduled for Tuesday where he will get blood work done. The week after, he will see his primary physician for a follow-up appointment. Hillman received a call from the VA and was stunned.

“Is the bill zero ? Are we starting from scratch? Hillman asked over the phone.

Hillman hopes the balance will be zero at his next appointment. WINK News asked the VA what the status of his account was, and there was no response yet. He said he will ask for a paper copy of the balance when he is at the VA in person.

Hillman continued his life of public service after the air force with Orange County Sheriff’s Office. He retired in 2013 and turned to the VA for health coverage.

“Eight years in the air force,” Sgt. Hillman said. “I reupped one time. I got out in 1975.”

Hillman’s advice for anyone seeking medical treatment is don’t be afraid to stand up and ask for a full explanation of medical costs.

Reporter:John-Carlos Estrada
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