[“I need the Secretary of the Veterans Administration and the President of the United States to authorize my full medical care to TriWest immediately so that I can access Scripps Health care system and other systems to treat my stage four breast cancer and it has to happen in 24 hours, not 3 months.” – Christine Russell]
Edited Letter from Christine Russell to U.S. Senator, Honorable Chuck Grassley
Dear Senator Grassley,
A while back I was a military whistle-blower and Charles Murphy aided me. I graduated from the US Naval Academy in May 2000, at Annapolis, Maryland.
I am reporting medical negligence, incompetence and discrimination due to my Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) diagnosis. Ultimately, proper treatment could have prevented the cancer I have from spreading to stage four. If they were doing their jobs back in 2016, I believe that Veterans Administration (VA) physicians could have caught the cancer in stage one.
For a while now I’ve been talking to Gary Bianchi, Assistant Director, with the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
Back in November 2015, I started having some physical medical issues and started going in circles with the VA in La Jolla, California. I complained about chest pain and problems breathing a couple of different times during emergency room visits and follow up visits with a primary care doctor in 2016.
These visits and complaints are documented in the Emergency Room (ER) records and logs with primary care physicians. I also made requests for more testing via secure messaging. Instead of more testing, my primary care doctor recommended I take psychotropic drugs because, “It’s in [my] head.”
The VA ER treated is me as if my symptoms were all in my head. The primary care doctor also treated all the symptoms and problems I was having as imaginary symptoms, since I was diagnosed with PTS.
I ended up going out on Social Security disability in 2016, and I am 100 percent service connected with the VA. I have continued to get sicker, with symptoms that the VA could not figure out as I continued to go in circles with them and medical providers that I paid cash to outside the VA.
I went through my savings accounts paying for caregivers to try and figure out what was wrong with me.
But only biopsies, a PET scan, a breast exam, mammogram, and ultrasound would really show what was going on with my chest. I wasn’t a doctor and didn’t know. I just complained about symptoms in my body since 2016. And instead, I kept being told to check into the psych ward or work with a psychiatrist due to my PTS.
I lost my brain due to going in circles with the VA. And then I recovered my brain just to give it up again trying to figure out what was wrong with my physical body.
In 2017/2018 after being able to function with my brain again, I continued every once in a while to complain in the emergency room or to my new primary care doctor, that the symptoms and pain in different parts of my body were just being managed but were not improving and in fact I started having more pain problems without knowing the cause. I continued to visit the ER and primary care physician due to my recurrent symptoms.
At the end of March 2018, I was released from the ER after having once again gone in circles with the ER and primary care. On one ER visit a friend drove me there and I had to be admitted in a wheel chair because the pain was so bad in my chest. They gave me Toradol through an IV and told me it was for costochondritis and to follow up with primary care who had originally also provided a misdiagnosis of costochondritis (inflammation of the cartilage in the chest).
At no point in my entire medical care at the VA did anyone stop and ask me about doing a chest exam, mammogram, or ultrasound to screen for breast cancer. I kept telling my primary care doctor and emergency room doctors that they needed to do an MRI of my chest, but they never ordered the test.
I sent letters off to Senator Feinstein (Emily Condon caseworker) and Congressman Darryl Issa (Amy Walker caseworker) after some results of a CT scan came back of my chest in July 2018. An MRI was finally done on my chest the end of August 2018.
They had to redo the MRI due to medical incompetence. One of the radiologists coded the doctors information incorrectly. They had me meet with a cardiothoracic surgeon because they didn’t know what it was, and that doctor sent my images over to an orthopedic surgeon for the same reason. I told them they should have done the chest MRI back in March 2018, and in fact years earlier.
I told them I wanted my care through TriWest moving forward due to medical incompetence, negligence and discrimination.
The La Jolla VA performed a bone biopsy of my sternum on September 18, 2018, to figure out what it was. On September 24, 2018, I was informed I had cancer.
On September 26, 2018, I was told I had breast cancer after having a mammogram, ultrasound, and breast exam and then meeting with a breast surgeon. This was the first time in my life I ever had a chest exam, mammogram, and ultrasound. I was informed first that I had breast cancer.
Stage four breast cancer was confirmed by a PET scan on September 28, 2018. I’ve been telling all of them that they are not touching me anymore there at the VA Hospital in La Jolla, due to major medical negligence, incompetence and discrimination.
Every time I walk though the doors of the VA hospital in La Jolla, California, I get very sick to my stomach, and my whole body convulses because of the gross negligence, medical errors and discrimination made there. Ultimately they failed miserably, and have potentially shortened my life span with dealing with cancer.
All I have is Veterans Administration TriWest Insurance. Scripps says they need the authorization for my entire medical care. I am not able to move again due to the physically deteriorating condition of my body. I just recently was forced to move from San Diego to Carlsbad due to the marijuana madness from my neighbors that I shared walls with and got very sick because it came into my unit every day.
Being forced to move and trying to fight the legalization of marijuana battle as a neighbor that lived on a no smoking property cost me about $10,000; the rest of my savings. It’s just me.
Since I am on Social Security Disability, I don’t have the financial means to pay for my own health care as a cash patient and because I’m on disability. I am not able to relocate amongst a stage four breast cancer diagnosis. I’ve relocated over 35 times in my life’s journey and thought this relocation would bring me some time to finally heal and recover and move forward, but instead, I was informed that I have stage four breast cancer.
My younger sister, Stephanie Mae Radford, a Major in the US Army, is a graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point, NY, and is stationed at Fort Polk, Louisiana. My younger brother, Matthew Roy Russell, a Major in the US Marine Corps, is a graduate of the US Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, NY, and is stationed in Pensacola, Florida.
Today, as a cash patient, I met with Dr. Ma, who is a breast surgeon at Scripps. She recommended I go to the emergency room so she can admit me to the hospital so she can do a full work up on me and get the rest of the tests done that are needed due to my quickly deteriorating physical abilities, pain and weakness.
She is very sad about what happened to me and so is her nurse. They understood that if the VA hospital in La Jolla had done their job and listened to me back in 2016, 2017, and maybe even 2018, it could have prevented my cancer from advancing to stage four.
Roxanne Rivers, patient advocate at the VA Hospital at La Jolla, understood because she has seen me since 2016. She gave me the claim for damage, injury, or death form to fill out. She said she couldn’t help me fill out the form due to conflict of interest.
I’ll go to the emergency room, but I am scared about the bills not being covered by the VA. Scripps was concerned about the stress of not having finances to pay for medical care. However, I need to follow Dr. Ma’s orders.
Every VA clinic and every emergency room across the nation needs to add to the checklist screening questionnaire when you check in with the nurse or doctor at all your appointments….
Have you had a chest exam/breast exam recently?
Have you had a mammogram recently?
Have you had an ultrasound recently?
They always ask the questions, “Are you homicidal; suicidal; depressed?” etc.
But they never ask….
Have you had a chest exam/breast exam?
Have you had a mammogram?
Have you had an ultrasound?
Thanks for the help,
[“The gross medical negligence, incompetence, and discrimination that happened to me is inexcusable and can never ever happen to any active duty military service member, reservist, or veteran again. If they had done their jobs correctly and not discriminated against me due to having a preexisting Post Traumatic Stress diagnosis (do not call it PTSD because it’s not a disorder), I know they would have caught the breast cancer at stage one or sooner and it’s considered to be curable at that point. Their actions and lack of actions have cost me my life.” – Christine Russell.]
Editor’s note: Permission was given by Ms. Christine Russell to share this story, medical conditions and all, in the hopes that she would win the support of her governmental representatives, news media and others so that she may enjoy the urgent medical treatment she deserves considering her misdiagnosis and inaccurate treatment. PTS is a serious condition, but should never be used to preclude or preempt other physical symptoms, screenings and treatment.