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Veteran threatened to operate on himself when VA reportedly refused to pay his medical bill

National Guard veteran John Irish claims the Department of Veteran Affairs initially refused to pay for the removal of stitches after he injured his thumb with a power tool. (Image source: Boston 25 News screenshot)

A New Hampshire veteran is claiming he was nearly forced to operate on himself after he says the Department of Veteran Affairs declined to pay his medical bills.

John Irish, a former National Guard soldier and longtime EMT, was in the hospital after cutting his thumb on a table saw.

“I looked down and there was a piece of my finger missing,” he told Boston 25 News.

The injured veteran said he doesn’t blame the hospital for denying him service. Rather, he holds the VA responsible, claiming it is a broken federal system that tried to force him to pick up the tab for his medical care.

While Irish received initial care for the accident, he claimed he encountered problems when he returned to Lahey Medical Center in Burlington, Massachusetts, for an appointment to have the stitches removed.

“They handed me a slip of paper saying, ‘We are going to have to have you sign this, because the VA says they’re not going to pay the bill,’ ” he recalled.

Irish receives his medical benefits through the Veterans Choice Program, which allows veterans to access private care when a VA facility is either too far away or has a lengthy wait time for an appointment. He said the VA has refused to pay his bills before and this latest incident was the last he was willing to endure.

“I thought it was about time the VA of New England got exposed for what it's doing on this Choice program,” he told the local news outlet.

As a result of his alleged experience, Irish threatened to remove his sutures himself — a procedure he planned to broadcast live on social media from his home. But the VA agreed to pay for the procedure.

Irish asserted it is “totally disgusting” veterans are forced to “threaten, beg, or borrow to get medical treatment.”

“Realistically, we get the worst medical treatment in the world,” Irish said.

The Lahey Medical Center’s records indicate the hospital received a call from the Manchester VA Medical Center. During the call, according to Boston 25, Irish’s sutures procedure was discussed as well as setting up a follow-up appointment for later this year.

But late Tuesday, a VA spokesperson said: “A review of our records show there was no prior contact or authorization regarding Mr. Irish.” She said that “no care or payment had been denied.”

Irish, for his part, stands by his claims.

The Lahey Medical Center said they are committed to providing quality care to veterans.

“Lahey Health is committed to providing high quality health care to all of our patients, including veterans,” the hospital said in a statement. “We recognize that navigating federal health care programs can be complicated. Any veteran having difficulty accessing care from a Lahey Health physician should contact us directly.”

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