ATLANTA - Local families who blame bad government care for loved ones' deaths are reacting to a blockbuster plan from Congress to reform veterans’ health care.
While Monday's reform plan could close a lot of big gaps, some still wonder, even if Congress passes it, can the VA pull it off.
"He was an excellent man, spiritual person. We talked on the phone every day," said Tyrone Matthews.
But there won't be any more phone calls between Tyrone Matthews and his older brother, pastor and Vietnam veteran Otis Hughey.
Matthews said his brother finally got in to see a doctor at the Atlanta VA Medical Center last year, a month after an X-ray from a local urgent care showed the early stages of lung cancer.
"He didn't even look at the X-ray, he said I want my own,” Matthews said.
But that X-ray appointment never got scheduled and Hughey ended up in the VA's emergency room five months later. The cancer by then was at stage 4.
"I think he would still be here today. He would have had more of a chance, a fighting chance of being healed,” Matthews said.
And amid the outrage over hundreds of veterans' deaths blamed on bad VA care nationwide, exposed by Channel 2 Action News and others congressional leaders announced sweeping bipartisan reforms Monday. Billions were pledged to improve everything from better access to care to higher standards of accountability within the agency itself.
"You can say all kind of great things, but if it's not carried out correctly, it's not going to make a difference,” said attorney Jonathan Johnson, who represents victims of suspected bad VA care.
Matthews said the announcement is too little, too late.
"It's too late for our family, but I'm praying it will help other families not to have to go through this tragedy that we had to go through," Matthews said.
The reform package calls for $17 billion to help cut down wait times, hire more doctors and make it easier for the VA to fire ineffective executives.
House and Senate leaders said they expect the bill to pass by the end of the week.