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VA initially denies wheelchair to dying veteran

Posted at 10:45 PM, Feb 22, 2016

He fought for our freedom. Now the Department of Veterans Affairs had denied his. 

Contact 13 has the story of a dying veteran whose simple wish for mobility was initially rejected by the embattled government agency that's supposed to help those who served.

VA doctors diagnosed Vietnam veteran David McKinney-Smith's cancer when he was already in the end stages and told him he only had six months to live.

The cancer is riddling his body. And he believes he knows what caused it.

"We were over in the Gulf of Tonkin and this huge tanker was flying from the coast of Vietnam over the water spraying orange substance. It turned out it was Agent Orange."

Despite everything he's been through, David says he wouldn't change a thing.

"I think we have the greatest country in the world. And I would do it again. I would do it again."

That makes it all the more difficult to understand why the VA would deny him his freedom in the form of an electric wheelchair.

"If I can't move around, I know that I will die earlier than the five months," David said through tears.

The VA approved him for home hospice, but told the dying vet he'd have to cancel that care to get an electric wheelchair. 

He did that, but then the VA denied his request, leaving him with no hospice, no wheelchair and no faith.

"The VA double-crossed me," David said.

We asked him to give us a message to deliver to the VA.

"Please stop lying to the vets!"

After talking with David about his situation, Darcy Spears immediately picked up the phone to ask the VA what the heck was going on.

Less than 48 hours later, David had his wheels.

"Our entire team out at the VA was kind of taken back by this case," said VA Public Affairs Chief Chuck Ramey.

He said it was "quite sad" that it did happen to the veteran who served two tours of duty in Vietnam.

Ramey calls it a misstep, saying the person at the VA who denied David's request misinterpreted policy and was unaware of resources like the VA wheelchair loan program.

"We're going to go back and look at this and see what we can do to make sure that if this comes up and happens again that we're taking care of our people and our patients accordingly," said Ramey.

He came out to David's home to help deliver the chair in person.

"And I would like to thank the hospital for thinking that I was worth getting the wheelchair," Smith told Ramey.

Smith remains an eternal optimist against all odds, believing his new wheels just might give him wings.

"And I'm pretty sure that next year this time, you might be doing another interview on me as to, well, how come you're still here?"

In the meantime, David surrounds himself with angels.

A fighter then who will fight to the end.

"This is like heaven now," he said. " I can go out, go up the street, come back and get my sunshine. This feels so good.  Wow."