David Davis will probably die.
The 60-year old Vietnam veteran was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma in March after battling with the VA since 2003 over several sores, bumps and rashes.
“If I would have had a choice the first time of getting outside referrals that would be paid for, then I could have gone to Boston Cancer Center and we wouldn’t be sitting here now,” Davis said to reporters during a press conference with Congressman David Jolly. “It would have been stage 1 melanoma and I wouldn’t be having 14 tumors.”
Davis is worried about his five children who don’t want their dad to die. He’s worried about his wife. But most of all, he’s worried about all of the young soldiers now who could wind up in a situation like his if the system isn’t changed.
“What if it was your dad or your son? How would you feel?” Davis asked.
In 2003 while living in Maine, Davis asked his local VA center for a referral to see a doctor outside the government-run healthcare system. He was turned down. So he went to a private doctor on his own dime where he had a lump removed that turned out to be squamous cell carcinoma, one of three kinds of skin cancer and the second most aggressive.
In 2008 after moving to St. Petersburg he had more skin issues. Again, he asked to go outside the system, again he was turned down and again he paid to go to a private doctor. It was cancer, but the VA refused to speak with the doctor who made the diagnosis.
“As we go on, they’re still not recognizing and they’re still giving me antibiotics and still giving me creams,” Davis said.
It wasn’t until a new doctor started working with Davis at the VA that a cyst was removed from his ear and biopsied. That’s when he got the stabbing news that he had the most advanced stage of melanoma possible.
According to the American Cancer Society there is only a 15%-20% five-year survival rate for stage IV melanoma. But the VA isn’t giving Davis a chance.
“They tell me that they’ll take care of me for the last facts of life. That means I’ll get morphine, I’ll get doctors, but I have to die in bed watching a 60’’ screen T.V.,” Davis said.
Instead of essentially waiting to die, Davis turned to Moffitt Cancer Center where a clinical trial called Tumor-Infiltration Lymphocytes, or TIL, could give him a better shot at living.
Through TIL, surgeons remove part of a tumor and grow T-Cells from it. Effective cells are then targeted and grown into the billions before being injected back into the patient. The T-cells attack the cancer.
Davis doesn’t know if TIL will work, but he’s glad he gets a shot.
And he has Pinellas County Congressman David Jolly to thank.
Davis met with Jolly during an outreach event with Veterans who were experiencing problems with the VA. Jolly targeted the program after reports of people dying who shouldn’t have and excessive wait times for medical appointments.
Jolly immediately jumped to action. Last week, Davis finally got the call. The VA will pay for his treatments at Moffitt.
An emergency VA funding bill approved last month that pays for expanded care for vets experiencing long wait times or who live more than 40 miles from a VA center. It also pays for more facilities, more doctors and more nurses. Jolly voted for the bill, but doesn’t think it’s enough.
“The case of Mr. Davis is a perfect example of why we need to give veterans complete control over their healthcare decisions,” Jolly said.
Jolly is focusing on two issues: creating a culture that recognizes patient choice and breaking up some of the statutes that keep veterans from choosing their own healthcare.