Disabled veteran takes on the VA over misdiagnosis, medical bills


Lancaster, N.Y. (WIVB) – Lynn Magistrale’s battle with a government bureaucracy has been almost as traumatic as her battles overseas: her cancer was missed and then misdiagnosed, her medical bills got mixed up, and now debt collectors won’t leave her alone.

“It has been awful. It is a rollercoaster, a rollercoaster of emotions.”

After serving her country faithfully, first in the U.S. Navy, a tour of duty in Iraq, and then as an Air Force reservist, Magistrale found herself facing a host of serious medical challenges, which were exacerbated by government mistakes.

It started five years ago when Lynn got a clean bill of health from an exam at the VA Medical Center in Buffalo, operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, but a year later, the Lancaster mom learned she had cancer.

“They had missed that I had cancer cells,” which was diagnosed as endometrial cancer. Lynn was referred to Roswell Park Cancer Institute, where a doctor informed her the diagnosis was wrong.

“He said you absolutely do not have endometrium cancer, and it says right here on your paperwork, ‘endometrium cancer not found’, and he pointed right on the paperwork those words exactly.”

The correct diagnosis was uterine cancer, which led to a hysterectomy, which Magistrale said would not have been necessary if the cancer was discovered in the original exam.

In the meantime Lynn also retired from active duty, which led to a billing foul-up, “Then the bills started coming in, very expensive bills.”

As active duty military, Lynn’s medical bills were covered by Tricare–a medical insurance carrier–but once she retired, or was no longer active duty, the VA picks up the coverage through the Civilians Health and Medical Program, or CHAMP-VA.

Lynn said, Tricare continued to pay some of her bills, although she was no longer eligible, bills that should have gone to CHAMP-VA. As a result some bills have not been made and have been turned over to collection agencies.

Chris Kreiger, president of Western New York Heroes, an advocacy group for veterans, said these kinds of bureaucratic foul ups happen much too often, and veterans like Lynn end up becoming victims.

“With the collection agencies constantly coming after her now because these bills are in collections, because of the screw up of the Veterans Administration, this is doing way more harm to her than anybody can imagine, and it is all wrong, on every level it is wrong.”

Lynn Magistrale has also learned she has multiple sclerosis, and is going to Jacobs Neurological Center for that.

Going forward, Lynn said new medical bills are going to the right place, it is the unpaid bills that have to get straightened out, and there is good news on that front.

A VA spokesperson said, by law they cannot discuss Lynn’s medical issues, but Magistrale confirmed the VA has reached out to her to ascertain and offer whatever services it will take to straighten out her billing problems once and for all.

UPDATE| The day after this story aired Lynn received calls from the Washington, D.C. offices of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, who have learned about Magistrale’s case. 

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