Lawmakers want investigation into VA’s botched treatment of Grand Junction veteran

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DENVER -- Rodger Holmes served his country in Vietnam.

After he came home to Grand Junction, his struggles with depression and alcoholism left him homeless but he entered treatment programs, worked his way back and spent the last years of his life serving his community, counseling other veterans facing demons he knew well.

He might still be doing so had the 64-year-old not gone to the VA Hospital in Grand Junction last summer to finally treat his Hepatitis C -- had the hospital and the system of care he and veterans are supposedly entitled to not failed so spectacularly to serve him.

On Monday, state lawmakers, after hearing Holmes' former case worker recount his story, joined U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in calling on the Inspector General to investigate the case and the level of care at smaller VA hospitals in less populated areas.

"I know that no one could accept the quality of care that Rodger got either for themselves or for a family member," Chris Blumenstein, the case worker who quit the VA in July out of frustration over Holmes' case, told a joint meeting of the House and Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committees at the Capitol.

When the drugs prescribed for Holmes' Hepatitis C led to liver failure, he languished in the VA hospital for more than two months and was denied his request to see a liver specialist.

"Halfway through it, as medical complications developed, his liver speciality care disappeared," Blumenstein recounted. "During the final two months of the hospitalization, there is not a single note in Roger's chart assessing or treating his liver disease.

"It was the treatment, the drugs that damaged his liver and brain, not the underlying Hepatitis C; and yet there was not a single doctor in the hospital who was willing to treat, to put their hands on this man who told his friends he felt like he was hidden in the corner, a mistake."

While he hospitalized, he developed other complications, including a urinary tract infection.

In November, what was billed as a simple surgery failed to correct his medical issues.

In early December, he was admitted to the ICU with sepsis and infection originating in his urinary tract. His body, weakened by the damaging Hepatitis C treatment, was overwhelmed and he died five days before Christmas.

Blumenstein, who fought tears as he recounted the story, informed lawmakers that he and Holmes started a whistle-blower effort in the fall demanding better care for veterans, dubbed "Saving Veteran Rodger Holmes."

"Obviously we did not save Roger, but Rodger always spoke about not just improved health care for himself but for all western slope veterans," Blumenstein said Monday.

"He spoke regulary about his own mistreatment and his misery as an opportunity given to him by a higher power to be of service to his fellow veterans -- and he meant it.

"He meant it."

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