AVON PARK — After an Avon Park resident served from 1984 to 1988 at the U.S. Air Force at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, she said, she began to feel a lot of pain.
Sydney A. James attributes it to exposure to chemicals and asbestos in a building once used to manufacture air craft during World War II, and said she sought help from the Veterans’ Affairs’ medical system.
Years later, she said, she still suffers from problems she attributes to bad medical care, and worries that she’s faced with more than $130,000 in hospital bills Veterans’ Affairs has yet to pay.
Many of the problems, she said, stem from treatment at Bay Pines Veterans’ Affairs Hospital in St. Petersburg.
She’s been told, she said, the VA will pay the bills, but that has yet to happen.
“I don’t believe anything until I see it in writing,” said James, who said she continues to need additional treatment.
She said last month a VA employee told her that the bills will be paid. But that was only after U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s office contacted the VA. One month later the bills remain unpaid, she said.
Attempts to get comment from Rubio’s office were unsuccessful. Jason W. Dangle, public affairs officer for Bay Pines VA Healthcare System, said that he can’t comment regarding specific patients, but added that there’s an advocacy system for patients.
“We try our very best to make sure the proper care is offered,” he said.
But James said she feels she did not get the proper care. She said she believes the exposure to the chemicals resulted in her getting rheumatoid arthritis throughout her body.
She said she received treatment at Bay Pines, but that a doctor prescribed drugs that were too strong for her system. After she complained that the drugs were too strong for her, she could not get any additional appointments to receive treatment for the arthritis, she said.
“They put my name on a black list,” she said, adding no one has ever told her that. But when another doctor tried to get an appointment for her, no response was ever received, she said.
As a result of what she believes was inadequate treatment for the arthritis, she said, she needed knee replacement surgery.
She sought authorization to get the treatment at Carolinas Medical Center in North Carolina. Her parents live in North Carolina and her father wanted to be with her after she got the surgery, but he couldn’t travel to Florida, she said.
She received an authorization document for initial work that could lead up to the surgery. She said the VA sent an authorization form for the surgery to the hospital — she did not get a copy —, which she had earlier this year.
Months later, she said, her knees are swollen and she needs more treatment.
James said she hopes veterans in Highlands County can come together to seek better treatment.
“There’s a lot of them who have problems,” she said.