A decorated Army combat veteran says that the Department of Veterans Affairs abandoned him in his fight against terminal cancer following his service in Iraq.
Pvt. John Marshall told Fox News that the VA has denied his claims that his service in Iraq, particularly his close proximity to burn pits, precipitated his cancer.
"It’s all just a big slap in the face. I tried to be the perfect soldier," Marshall said. "I did everything I was told, and now they just forced my claim through and denied coverage and my benefits."
Marshall, who now lives in a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona, was diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma a little over a year ago. He attributes his illness to his time spent working over open burn pits, which a 2013 report from the Government Accountability Office designated as a likely cause of chronic health problems for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Marshall missed mandatory meetings with the VA last year during which he would have had the opportunity to offer evidence connecting his cancer to his service in Iraq because he was hospitalized with pneumonia. While Marshall said he could still present such evidence, the VA will not listen to him.
"They said I was denied because I didn’t have enough evidence. They forced my claims through. They denied everything. They even told me that there was no service-connected reason for my illness," the veteran said.
Marshall, his wife Ashley, and his supporters have created a GoFundMe page to raise money to cover his medical expenses. The page has raised over $24,000 for Marshall’s private health care costs from nearly 300 supporters in 15 months.
Marshall’s story comes at a time when the VA endures scrutiny for poor care offered to veterans at its hospitals across the country as well as allegations of misconduct at the hands of officials. Lawmakers and others have advocated for reform at the government agency to ensure accountability and boost care.
A VA spokesperson told Fox News that the agency could revisit Marshall’s case and that officials "would want to look into what happened to understand the details in this particular case and see how we can help."