Valley family says veteran left behind journal of VA troubles before his death

PHOENIX - A Valley veteran left behind a journal noting all of the times he tried to call the VA hospital for help before he died of cancer.

That's according to his wife, Sonja Nicastro.

Now that the Phoenix VA Health Care System is under scrutiny for alleged mismanagement and neglect, she came forward to tell her story.

She believes her husband may have been one of the 40 veterans who allegedly died waiting for care from the VA hospital.

Nicastro said her husband Ralph, a Vietnam veteran recognized with a Purple Heart, fought to get care at the VA hospital in Phoenix.

A year ago this March, Ralph died of cancer.

His wife said long wait times may have played a part in his death.

"I promised him I would not give up on his case, I would not give up until he got justice," she said with tears in her eyes.

At just under 70 years old, Ralph felt something was wrong when he went to the VA for a doctor checkup in 2011.

Doctors noticed a lump on his neck, and ordered further appointments and testing.

Nicastro said Ralph called and called, but could not get a follow up appointment.

"It never came," Nicastro said.

She knew he couldn't wait. So in his last months alive, Ralph went through chemo and several surgeries at the Mayo Clinic.

Nicastro said he worked during all of this to pay for his healthcare.

"Why the hell can't the federal government and the VA do this for our fighting soldiers that give their arms, their sight, their legs and their life for this country?" Nicastro said.

Ralph continued calling the VA for help. Nicastro said he was keeping notes of his continued attempts to get help from the VA.

She showed ABC15 a stack of papers, chronicling his battle with cancer and dating the times he called the VA hospital for help.

"We'd be transferred from this number to that number. Then you'd be on hold for a half an hour," she said.

Nicastro wishes Ralph's last days could've been spent in peace instead of on the phone.

"It shouldn't have happened. It should stop happening. They deserve better than this," she said.

Nicastro said she got a card from the VA hospital last month with an appointment for Ralph to see a primary care doctor.

This came more than a year after he died.

She said she is working with Senator John McCain's office right now for help. She is also considering hiring an attorney.

 

 

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