• Veteran fighting to get care for jaw injury


    ATLANTA - A local veteran has been fighting a long battle for care after a violent injury.

    The disabled Air Force veteran says the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has not provided critical dental surgery fast enough. So he called channel 2 action news.

    If a veteran needs care that the V.A. isn't able to provide, there is a process for that vet to be seen by an outside specialist and the V.A. will cover the cost. That process can take time, but after three years, the vet who called Channel 2's Aaron Diamant this week said he's running out of time.

    Darrell O'Neal has scars from the gunshot wound he got during a training exercise decades ago that blew out most of his teeth and a good part of his jaw.

    "It's cost me a lot. My health has declined significantly," O'Neal said.

    O'Neal, who now suffers from ALS, a disease that leads to the loss of all muscle movement, showed Diamant all the paperwork from his three-year battle with the V.A. to either perform or pay for a series of procedures to rebuild his jaw and install implants.

    "It takes a battle worse than what I went through in serving my country, much worse," O'Neal said.

    It's a long and complicated ordeal: delay after delay and lots of red tape at the Atlanta V.A. Medical Center and elsewhere.

    "I'm extremely fed up and when you run out of hope, what's it matter?" O'Neal said. "It's a matter of life or death."

    While waiting for the V.A. to sort things out, years of chewing without teeth has nearly destroyed O'Neal's jawbone.

    "I either have to puree the food and that creates a problem with choking, virtually every meal now," O'Neal said.

    Now, barely able to take in the nutrients he needs to support his body's struggle with ALS -- a disease O'Neal said does not respond well to this level of stress.

    O'Neal said the director of the Atlanta V.A.'s dental services told him the form he needs to seek outside care is the mail, but he said that only happened after he told the V.A. about his plans to call Channel 2.

    Diamant's efforts to get V.A. leaders to comment on our story Thursday were not successful.

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