SCRANTON, Pa. — A former Army National Guard soldier has filed a $4 million federal complaint against the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Plains Twp., alleging he was handed a "death sentence" by medical staff who botched the treatment of his prostate cancer.
In his lawsuit, Michael Keslosky III, 58, of Old Forge, claims the VA staff intentionally misled him to believe he suffered from prostatitis — an inflammation of his prostate gland — and ignored clear signs he was suffering from prostate cancer. The delay in detecting and treating the disease caused him to develop terminal, Stage IV cancer that spread to his bones, according to the complaint filed by attorney Scott Schermerhorn of Scranton.
Mr. Schermerhorn said the case exemplifies problems recently uncovered in the VA medical system, which has been accused of falsifying data to hide long wait lists for treatment that led to the deaths of some veterans.
Mr. Keslosky's care was so poorly managed by the VA that he was never advised he had cancer, Mr. Schermerhorn said. He first learned of the diagnosis when he was provided a letter a VA official wrote to U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-17, who wanted information on Mr. Keslosky's case after he sought help. The July 26, 2013, letter stated Mr. Keslosky was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer on Jan. 10, 2011.
The problem, Mr. Schermerhorn said, is the VA never told Mr. Keslosky that.
"We found out when he was sitting in my office with his records. I looked them over and said, 'Do you understand you're diagnosed with prostate cancer that metastasized to the bones?'" Mr. Schermerhorn said.
Mr. Keslosky, a suspended Old Forge police officer, served in the National Guard for about 12 years prior to his discharge in 2004. He said he was wary of seeking medical treatment at the VA starting in 2006, but had no choice since he lost his health care insurance when he was suspended without pay by Old Forge in 2005. He continues to fight to be reinstated.
The medical malpractice claim was filed with the VA through the Federal Torts Claims Act, an administrative action that is required before a lawsuit can be filed. The VA has six months to review the claim to determine if it will pay the requested damages. If it declines the claim Mr. Keslosky can file a federal lawsuit.
Jason Cave, acting public affairs officer for the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center, said he could not comment on the case because it is pending.
Mr. Schermerhorn said the VA is attempting to blame Mr. Keslosky for the delay in his treatment, falsely claiming in letters to Mr. Cartwright and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey that Mr. Keslosky repeatedly missed or canceled appointments.
" It was easy for them to say in these letters that the mistakes were his fault, that he didn't show up for appointments and did not follow through on treatment," he said. "I knew this wasn't true, but at that point, who would believe you?"
Now that news of the scandal at the VA has broken, Mr. Keslosky's claims have gained more credibility, he said.
"They would cancel appointments on him. He'd get to New York City and they'd say we don't have you in the system, or your doctor is not here," Mr. Schermerhorn said.
The complaint, filed May 15, says Mr. Keslosky repeatedly requested surgery to have his prostate removed, but was instead provided hormone therapy and radiation treatments. The failure of the VA to perform the surgery and/or provide otherwise proper care caused the cancer to progress to the point he is no longer a candidate for surgery.
Mr. Keslosky said he has not been given any estimate of how long he has to live. He said he is still undergoing hormone treatment and is taking four other cancer medications. Despite his condition, he said he feels "great."
"The doctors are amazed that with the cancer in the bones, I have no pain," he said. "It's only by the grace of God I'm able to function as normal as I do."
Regardless of the outcome of his treatment, Mr. Keslosky said he's hopeful his case against the VA will help improve care for veterans.
"I'm asking for all veterans who have been similarly abused and those who lost their lives or are terminal like me to get justice so this doesn't happen to anyone else," he said.