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Retired Marine wants other vets to learn from his story

Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier - 1/7/2019

Jan. 06--WATERLOO -- Getting a Veterans Administration health care claim filed is difficult. It's even more difficult to do 20 years after retirement.

Tony French retired from the U.S. Marine Corps in 1998 as a gunnery sergeant and lives in Janesville. Almost 20 years after his retirement he discovered during an appointment at the Iowa City VA hospital he had a tumor in his brain that could make him go blind.

"They were doing an MRI of my neck because my vertebrae were down to bone on bone on my upper neck," French said. "The radiologist (saw) the tumor and said, 'Hey, guys, you better look at this first,' and the next thing I know I'm talking to a neurosurgeon."

He went in for surgery July 18, 2017, in Iowa City to have the tumor removed, but the surgeon didn't remove it. But French was not told he still had the tumor.

French was one of many veterans who saw John Henry Schneider, a neurosurgeon now serving a federal prison term. He was sued for medical malpractice, and his history of malpractice was revealed in a USA Today investigation. Schneider resigned from the Iowa City VA hospital after being questioned.

French was not made aware of Schneider's history or resignation, but was called back in February to see a different neurosurgeon.

In March French found out his tumor hadn't been removed.

"Nothing had been done," he said.

He was told the neurosurgeons in Iowa City didn't feel comfortable removing the tumor.

"With the unknown bone overgrowth and scar tissue that was left behind because of him, they didn't want to do it," French said.

French was sent to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for further treatment.. The VA has since accepted fault, and French is filing an administrative tort claim.

Filing his VA claim has been difficult for French, who still suffers symptoms from the tumor.

French keeps the lights dim in his house to ease his headaches.

After working with Kevin Dill, Black Hawk County Veterans Affairs executive director, French was able to get his claim processed.

"We started down that road of getting him service connected (claims) for some of his conditions from when he was in the Marine Corps," Dill said.

Dill has also helped him file his tort claim.

French wants to make sure younger veterans get in to the VA to process their claims earlier than he did and learn from his story.

"These young kids need to get in there and they need to fight when their claims are denied," French said. "Younger veterans need to know to get out and get signed up immediately for the VA."

French was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in 1998 and didn't visit the VA for a disability rating until 2011. His current VA disability rating is 80 percent.

A VA claim gives veterans a percentage of their monthly active duty pay after being discharged for a disability or injury received while on active duty. A vet's disability rating determines how much pay the vet receives, which can be anywhere from 100 percent to 1 percent of their monthly active duty pay.

"I was out for a long time before I signed up because I was led to believe if I signed up and got disability rating I wouldn't be able to work," he said.

He's had to take a lot of time off as his tumor was treated.

Many pain medications aren't an option for French, a recovering alcoholic.

"I don't want to take addictive stuff," he said.

Money troubles have compounded his problems. He recently had his water service disconnected because he's struggling to pay his bills.

"I've been selling cows and construction equipment," he said. "I'm getting real close to filing for bankruptcy."

A fundraiser and Gofundme page have helped French take care of some of his bills, but he intends to pay it all forward.

Tammy Green helped put on a fundraiser for French on Dec. 4.

"We're trying to help him to keep him staying in his home," Green said. "Somebody should be coming forward and helping him."


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