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SUIT: YOUNG VA TO BLAME IN DEATH

A Clearwater resident died of colon cancer after his doctor at the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center failed for three years to investigate a test showing the veteran had blood in his stool, a federal lawsuit claims.

The wife of William B. Halverson filed suit in Tampa federal court Thursday seeking unspecified damages. Halverson died on Feb. 6, 2013, at age 64.

The suit comes several months after the Department of Veterans Affairs released a report showing 76 veterans nationally were seriously harmed by long delays in getting gastrointestinal consultations. Of those, 24 died, the VA reported.

The VA told media and some Florida lawmakers that none of those deaths occurred in the Tampa Bay area. Jason Dangel, a Young VA spokesman, declined to comment Saturday.

The suit says Halverson went to his primary care doctor at the Young VA (formerly named Bay Pines) for his annual physical on July 28, 2008. A test to detect blood in the stool was performed.

Test results, the suit says, showed one positive result indicating blood and two negative results.

The doctor did not tell Halverson about the test results and did not order a colonoscopy to investigate the positive test result, the suit says.

Halverson also was not told of the results in visits to the doctor in 2009 and in April 2011, the suit says.

In August 2011, the suit says, Halverson visited a new doctor at the VA facility who saw the positive finding for blood in the stool from 2008 and ordered a colonoscopy.

The test and biopsies confirmed cancer, and Halverson underwent surgery and chemotherapy. But the suit says the disease ultimately spread to the veteran's liver and was terminal.

Halverson "lost at least 3 1/2 critical years of early detection," says the suit, filed by Tampa attorney Alan Wagner. "That failure eliminated his ability to timely and effectively treat his cancer condition and ultimately caused his death."

The suit says the VA acknowledged to the veteran that his care had been "negligent."

The VA report released this year of consultation delays that harmed veterans included two veterans from the Young VA. But a VA spokesman had told the Tampa Bay Times the two cases did not involve deaths.

Contact William R. Levesque at (813) 226-3432 or levesque@tampabay.com.

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