Georgia veteran says it’s taken months for VA to process paperwork for pain medication

ATLANTA — A Georgia veteran has been trying for months to get the Veterans Administration to process paperwork that’s necessary for him to see doctors.

He reached out to Channel 2 Action News after hitting a brick wall with the Atlanta VA.

Because of the very unique morphine pump the VA surgically placed in James Yarbrough’s body, he can’t get that pain treatment at the Atlanta VA Medical Center but must go to an outside specialist.

But he’s been waiting since the summer on VA paperwork for his doctors. If that pump wasn’t filled this week, Yarbrough would have been sent into serious withdrawals.

“I’m scared. I’m past the point of frustration, its fear,” Yarbrough told Channel 2 investigative reporter Justin Gray.

The Air Force veteran relies on a morphine pump to ease the pain in his back from a service-related injury.

The pump, installed by the VA, does it without passing the blood brain barrier, giving pain relief without a high.

“Without this I couldn’t function. I couldn’t have any life whatsoever,” Yarbrough said.

But the pump must be refilled every 3 months. And Yarborough’s VA Community Care approval to see his pain doctor expires every 6 months.


That deadline was in August, but this week his paperwork was still stuck somewhere in VA bureaucracy.

Now his pump is out of medicine.

“What does that empty pump mean?” Gray asked Yarbrough.

“Pain. That’s the scariest thing, it’s the pain,” Yarbrough said.

A letter sent to members of Congress by the VA Secretary earlier this month explains that the department plans to eliminate its community care office.

“This is required by law. It’s not the VA’s choice whether to offer veterans this option or not?” Gray asked from Dan Caldwell from Concerned Veterans for America.

“Absolutely. This was passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority,” Caldwell said.

The VA said the office reorganization will provide more efficient care and still provide access to private doctors.

But Caldwell worries Yarbrough’s case is not an isolated incident.

“This is the law and unfortunately, we’ve seen the VA in many cases undermining the spirit of that law, if not the actual letter of the law,” Caldwell said.

In a statement the Atlanta VA told Gray that it can’t discuss the case because of patient privacy but that, “The Atlanta VA Health Care System always works to make decisions that are in the best medical interests of our Veterans. Any time a Veteran or family member expresses concern, we reach out to them directly, just as we have done in this particular case.”

“I don’t want to think a human being would do this man. I don’t. I hope they don’t know how to do their job,” Yarbrough said.

The home health company that refills Yarborough’s pump paid to refill it for him themselves this week to prevent him from going into morphine withdrawal, taking care of the $800 bill.

As for the VA, just hours after Gray reached out to them about this case, Yarbrough’s paperwork approving his care finally went through more than 2 months after it was supposed to.