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Augusta family blames Vietnam vet's death on Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center

Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014 7:03 PM
Last updated Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014 1:17 AM
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Karen Burough said her husband’s body finally gave out after eight years of postponed appointments, delayed treatment plans and misdiagnoses at the Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

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Karen Burough says the death of her husband, Henry, might have been prevented with proper care from the Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center.  SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
Karen Burough says the death of her husband, Henry, might have been prevented with proper care from the Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Henry Burough’s death certificate states the former Army staff sergeant died May 9 around 5:35 a.m. at age 62 of cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes and high blood pressure.

His wife of 12 years, along with the couple’s three children, say the lack of care Burough received at the Augusta VA contributed to the death of the man who trained military dogs to detect land mines for Vietnam War soldiers from 1969 to 1972.

Karen Burough has CT scans from private hospitals that show what the VA could not find: a gallbladder filled with stones; a liver that failed because of an untreated case of hepatitis C; and stomach, kidneys and spleen enlarged to the point that her husband had difficulty eating solid foods and needed a catheter.

“It has been hard for me – very hard,” Karen Burough said at her south Augusta home last week. “I have so much hate for that VA hospital. They totally ignored my husband and now he’s gone.”

Because his death was not caused by cancer, Burough is not considered to be one of the three fatalities that directly resulted from the Augusta VA’s botched gastrointestinal program between 2011 and November 2012. However, his death raises broader questions about how far back the hospital’s problems date.

Karen Burough is one of three people to share information with The Augusta Chronicle about inadequate care and improperly sterilized equipment that suggests the issue might date back at least eight years and is part of a culture of delayed consultations.

The House Committee on Vete­rans Affairs is investigating the administration of former director Rebecca Wiley for the missteps, but a timeline provided by the Augusta VA shows Wiley, now retired and living in North Augusta, did not become head of the hospital until 2007.

The chairman of the committee, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., will lead a congressional oversight visit to the Augusta VA on Monday. Officials will try to determine what caused the patient deaths, what actions have been taken to correct the problems and who is responsible for letting patients slip through the cracks.

Burough said she wants answers about why her husband didn’t get the care he deserved.

“We still do not know how Henry got hepatitis C,” she said. “My husband would not have died so quickly if they had started treatment sooner and monitored his liver more effectively.”

Burough’s wife said his troubles began in 2005, when he was admitted to the Augusta VA for an inflamed prostate, 14 years after the hospital diagnosed him as a borderline diabetic, with his blood-sugar levels in the 250 range. The American Diabetes Association has reported that blood glucose levels greater than 250 can lead to coma or death.

During this stay at the hospital, his primary care physician diagnosed him with hepatitis C and filed a work order for a gastroenterologist to schedule an appointment with the family to go over his condition and start a treatment plan. But Karen Burough said her husband didn’t get that appointment until seven years later, despite progress notes filed by the VA on April 6, 2011, stating that Burough had hepatitis C and a “fatty-cirrhotic liver.”

In March 2010, Karen Burough took Henry to the VA when he became nauseated and complained of sharp stomach pains every time he ate. Hospital staff told them it was a minor virus and sent him home.

When his condition worsened, Burough said, she took him to Trinity Hospital, where a CT scan revealed gallstones. The couple returned to the VA with the test results, and he was admitted for a week. Burough said her husband did not see a doctor, only interns.

“They did not do anything,” she said. “I finally ended up pulling him out and taking him to MCG to have his gallbladder removed. When the staff took it out, it was extremely enlarged with multiple stones inside.”

A visit to Doctors Hospital in early 2012 showed he had cirrhosis of the liver. At that point, Karen Burough said, she presented the test results to the VA and finally got an appointment with a gastroenterologist. The specialist at the VA prescribed antiviral medications and a weekly shot; however, the drugs did not agree with his system, his wife said.

On July 1, 2012, an EMS report states that Karen Burough awoke at 3 a.m. to find her husband on the floor in their bedroom, incoherent and not breathing. She and her children called 911, and an ambulance took him to the VA. Test results show the medications prescribed to him had formed a ball on top of his liver, causing the organ to rupture. He was admitted into intensive care and later fell into a coma.

Burough said the VA attempted to perform a CT scan to determine the cause of his coma, but before they could, her husband went into cardiac arrest and was jolted back to life, despite his living will containing a do-not-resuscitate clause.

“When he finally awoke from his coma, it seemed like his mind was fading in and out of consciousness,” Burough said.

She said she and her children would often find him lying in soaking wet clothes and old diapers at the Augusta VA’s downtown branch.

Burough said the family called the hospital’s patient advocate, who assigned her husband to rehabilitation at the medical center’s uptown campus.

A discharge summary shows he was released in Septem­ber 2012 and states that he was to have “out-patient followup in three to four weeks.” The summary said the VA would schedule the appointment, but Burough said it didn’t.

A month later, Burough said, her husband began passing extremely dark urine. She said the family tried to schedule an appointment at the VA but was told he could not be seen until January. A visit to Doctors Hospital found he had a urinary tract infection.

“When the doctor came in, he told the family – and Henry, too – that it was only a matter of time now and all we could do is keep Henry as comfortable as possible,” Bur­ough said.

On May 1, Henry Burough was put in hospice care after he reported spells of dizziness and difficulty breathing. On May 4, he celebrated his grandson’s second birthday. Karen Burough recalled walking in on him that night as he told his grandson that “papa’s going to be leaving in a few days and will not be back. Always remember papa loves you.”

Five days later, Burough died.

Karen Burough said she made the VA aware of her husband’s inadequate care during a conference in 2010 with administration, but officials told her his health situation wasn’t government related and not a high priority.

Hospital spokesman Pete Scovill said he could not discuss the details of Burough’s case because of confidentiality laws; however, he said the hospital takes all complaints seriously and invites all veterans to call his office at (706) 733-0188 if they feel they are owed compensation or their case is in need of further review.

Burough said after years of being ignored, she has lost faith in the hospital’s word.

“My husband gave his all for this country,” she said. “For him to totally be ignored, is just not right. He deserved better.”

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carcraft
25734
Points
carcraft 01/05/14 - 05:14 pm
0
0
Kburough, I am sorry for

Kburough, I am sorry for your loss and thank your family for their service. Having worked at the VA I know they don't have hush money at the VA. I really don't understand your statement "but before they ended up paying him so he wouldn't tell anyone ". Money at the VA is appropriated and I don't think people managing the finances at the VA would want to face federal criminal charges for misappropriation of funding. When I worked there we went through several sets of local salary analysis of local pay scales. We were way behind the average local pay scale.

corgimom
32125
Points
corgimom 01/05/14 - 06:06 pm
0
1
"Throw more money at the

"Throw more money at the problem"

Well, teaparty, unless you think a good fairy is going to come down and provide billions to fix the VA hospitals, I don't know how else it'll be fixed.

corgimom
32125
Points
corgimom 01/05/14 - 06:09 pm
0
1
Building more facilities,

Building more facilities, staffing them, and providing increasing amounts of care takes money.

Lots and lots of money.

I don't see any purpose in taking away money from sick and disabled people, and having children live in poverty and not have enough to eat.

Teaparty, perhaps you think that's a good solution, I don't.

teaparty
11313
Points
teaparty 01/05/14 - 06:49 pm
2
0
"I don't see any purpose in
Unpublished

"I don't see any purpose in taking away money from sick and disabled people, and having children live in poverty and not have enough to eat."
corgimom, I am talking about the millions of deadbeat moochers. Yeah, you were right most of them are democrats. CA is a great example of your kind of politics. They are broke but yet kept raising taxes on the money makers. More and more businesses are leaving, it seems to be something in the water that causes brain damage.

SJL1204
188
Points
SJL1204 01/05/14 - 06:52 pm
1
0
Riverman

I totally agree with Riverman. Who remembers the private Md's office that were cited for improper sterilization of endoscopes. This happened in the CSRA, around the time the VA was all over the paper about the same thing. Private hospitals etc know how to run damage control.

SJL1204
188
Points
SJL1204 01/05/14 - 06:57 pm
1
1
IBedoggone

One of the biggest expenses of the VA and tricare is Viagra. Millions spent annually by both the VA and DOD . Sorry but it has little to do with service to our country.

IBeDogGone
3013
Points
IBeDogGone 01/05/14 - 07:05 pm
1
0
SJL1204

You are absolutely correct, Viagra is abused with Medicare widely also.

corgimom
32125
Points
corgimom 01/05/14 - 07:19 pm
0
2
teaparty, the millions of

teaparty, the millions of deadbeat moochers?

Who would that be?

I personally have lived in a low-income housing project where nearly everybody was on welfare, and I didn't know a single person that I would consider a deadbeat moocher.

I know it's popular to demonize welfare recipients. The vast majority of them aren't deadbeat moochers, they are physically sick, mentally ill, have serious personality problems, or have some other disability. They are unemployable. I lived with them. I know.

Before I'd cut welfare, I'd cut all the crap that the government hands out money for. Take a look at Augusta Ga. The Federal government gives grants out in Augusta like they were Tootsie Rolls.

Grants for [filtered word] studies for boondoggles like trolleys. Grants for stupid stuff like murals. Grants for rich people to fix up their buildings. Grants for improvements like sidewalks that should be paid for by municipalities.

Before I would make poor people suffer, I'd get rid of THAT crap. But because I don't want people to go without food or shelter, some of you think that I'm terrible- but then loudly proclaim about what good Christians you are.

Ok.

Clemsondoc
169
Points
Clemsondoc 01/05/14 - 07:20 pm
5
0
Sad Story

I feel bad for the family as our military heroes deserve only the best of care. I warn everyone that if our government doesn't change and we elect Hillary Clinton as our next President (who is a large proponent of government takeover of health care, aka Universal Healthcare) instead of our VA System improving, every hospital (GRU, Doctors, Trinity, University) will be forced to become VA Hospitals.

corgimom
32125
Points
corgimom 01/05/14 - 07:22 pm
0
1
Viagra is not covered under

Viagra is not covered under Medicare Part D, so I don't know how it's abused.

corgimom
32125
Points
corgimom 01/05/14 - 07:26 pm
0
3
Clemsondoc, Hillary doesn't

Clemsondoc, Hillary doesn't want anybody to know what her plans for health care are. Remember how she wouldn't show anybody her whole plan, just parts of it?

GuyGene
1250
Points
GuyGene 01/05/14 - 07:56 pm
3
0
Sorry for the death of this vet...

I'm also a Vietnam vet. Was back from Vietnam a few days and had to have surgery. That was at the old Forest Hills place. My care was good, I think, but what did I know? Just a whippersnapper who wanted to get on with my life after 'Nam. I can't speak for other Vietnam vets, but I reckon it is kind of in my system to be a silent sufferer. This was definitely enhanced by my Vietnam experience and political climate back then - whew, it was not until a while after 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. that I began to be able to openly say I was a Vietnam vet. I still feel strange even typing it. Oh well, I am service connected disabled vet and get care at VA. I just hope it's been good!

But mostly, my prayers are with the family of this man, and others who might have suffered due to incompetency at any VA. That needs to be addressed.

teaparty
11313
Points
teaparty 01/05/14 - 07:58 pm
1
0
corgimom, I know of many
Unpublished

corgimom, I know of many deadbeat moochers. Ride though the streets of Augusta and Aiken. Yeah I know it is not their fault it is the system that is wrong.

teaparty
11313
Points
teaparty 01/05/14 - 08:23 pm
2
1
"Remember how she wouldn't
Unpublished

"Remember how she wouldn't show anybody her whole plan, just parts of it?"
corgimom, yeah, we know all about 'You have to pass it to find out what is in it'. Hillary's biggest accomplishment is that she had sex with Bill. I can understand why Bill messed around, she is one ugly broad as she got older.

corgimom
32125
Points
corgimom 01/05/14 - 08:23 pm
0
2
teaparty, when you see these

teaparty, when you see these people around in Aiken and Augusta, how can you look at them and tell that they don't have mental and emotional problems, or physical illnesses?

I'm curious, how do you know? I couldn't tell it until I got to know them, and then it was oh yeah, I can see why you don't work. It was glaringly obvious.

There is a tremendous mental health problem in this country. We think that it only affects a few people, here and there- no it doesn't, there's far more people than you think that are affected. And most of them are on welfare. We do a terrible job in this country of treating mental illness.

We are now going on to 35 years of crack babies and crack users, and those people will never, ever be right or employable. And now the tweakers are all over the place and they are churning out brain-injured children, too. Get ready for a huge wave of more of them, that meth permanently fries people's brains, and it doesn't take long to do it.

IBeDogGone
3013
Points
IBeDogGone 01/05/14 - 08:39 pm
1
0
corigmon

i STAND CORRECTED ON VIAGRA,it is not longer on Part D RX Formula.

teaparty
11313
Points
teaparty 01/05/14 - 08:45 pm
3
0
corgimom, the Great Society,
Unpublished

corgimom, the Great Society, liberals/progressives, democrats and black leaders have created generation after generation of moochers and thugs.

kburough
50
Points
kburough 01/05/14 - 10:28 pm
0
0
7 years

7 years is all I hear. Let me tell the one that has stuff to say concerning taken 7 years. I was at the VA all the time trying to get answers & the care that my husband needed, & on the phone with numerous people, to seeing the associate director. I had to finally take him to private ERs to find out & get answers. And to private docs. I have all his medical records & doctor reports. You just don't know how I fought for my husband. So, stop saying anything else about this unless you really know the truth.

He was a disabled Vietnam Vet, he served his country for all of us. This is about all the others that have served also.

He was one of the many that was ignored, his reports & orders slid between the paper work "per a patient advocate" at the VA.

I feel like it is time for the people to know how some of our Vets are treated.

anotherday
46
Points
anotherday 01/05/14 - 11:32 pm
2
0
VA Healthcare

I am sure what I am about to say will anger some, but I do receive care at the VA as a 100% Disabled Veteran. I have received some of the best care there and some not so good. The Cardiac Lab is top-notch with the staff they have. I have only waited ONCE for an appt. there and have had 2 procedures. I have been in the ER and had great care from the awesome nurses who have treated me with respect and prompt care. I have been an inpatient 2 times and the nurses for the most part were ok, but defiantly a problem area. True story, when we were transferred from Alaska, my MD requested I be seen in 10 days of returning to The CRSA. I did not know this and was flabbergasted when I received a phone call from the VA for an appt. before I even left AK.
Having said all of that, we ALL must be advocates for our healthcare. Never settle for a answer that is not correct or complacency.

corgimom
32125
Points
corgimom 01/06/14 - 06:17 pm
0
1
kburough, I'm the one that

kburough, I'm the one that you want to talk to.

No reasonable person, ever, would wait 7 years for a doctor appointment. And I don't care what records you have or who told you what.

It defies all reason and logic that anybody would call any facility for 7 years without getting an appointment.

People have to take personal responsibility for themselves. No reasonable person could expect to wait 7 years for an appointment and expect a positive outcome.

If I was trying to be seen in a facility and they were booked, I'd go to another facility. That is a no-brainer. I wouldn't insist upon a facility that didn't have the time to treat me.

maandpa
315
Points
maandpa 01/11/14 - 07:30 pm
0
0
Glad to see

Yes, I am glad to see this woman stand up and fight. My father-in-law complained of heart attack symptoms on a Friday in 2012. He was a veteran and asked the ambulance to take him to the VA. We visited him on Friday night and then again Saturday. He said the doctor would be seeing him on Monday to run tests. I guess on weekends the doctors don't work. Unfortunately, he died Saturday night and never made it to Monday. During the time, you really don't think about the right course of action, but we all have said that if he was taken to another hospital that he would be alive today.

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