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Documentary subjects say health care for Phoenix veterans still lacking

The documentary "The Care They’ve Earned" screened at the AMC Esplanade in Phoenix on Wednesday, Sept. 5. (KTAR Photo/Mark Carlson)

PHOENIX — A new documentary called “The Care They’ve Earned” follows the lives of ill veterans since the Department of Veterans Affairs health care scandal erupted in Phoenix four years ago.

Phoenix resident and Army veteran Steve Cooper was featured in the documentary, which screened in Phoenix on Wednesday night. He said things got so bad with his prostate cancer, and his lack of care from the VA, that he considered taking drastic measures.

“I came home, put the gun in my mouth and thought of a lot of reasons to kill myself,” Cooper said.

He credits his family with helping him through his ordeal.

Cooper said things are still lacking for veterans seeking health care.

“The system is completely broken from its core,” he said.

The Phoenix VA refused to operate on his prostate cancer, Cooper said. He got help, but from a private doctor, paying out of his own pocket.

Scottsdale resident and Army veteran David Johnson has battled brain cancer. He said his treatment with the Phoenix VA was completely bungled.

“The neurologist just kept putting me off,” Johnson said. “And he actually told me, with my wife present, I only had three months to live. And this is like five months ago.”

The stories of Cooper and Johnson highlight what thousands of veterans have been forced to struggle with at the Phoenix VA.

When the scandal broke in 2014, it exposed secret wait lists and a lack of adequate care for veterans, leading to investigations in Phoenix and across the nation.

When reached for comment, the Phoenix VA issued a statement saying it was working to give veterans the best care possible and that there’s still more work to do.

“The Phoenix VA health care system is a world away from where it has been in the past, and we continue to make steady improvements in order to better serve veterans,” the statement said.

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