Alexander Nogales’ wife called 911 when the Vietnam War veteran started shaking and was having trouble breathing.
She quickly realized that the medications he had been prescribed at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center to quell his war-stress anxiety would be information that first responders and doctors would need to treat him for the complications he was having from Agent Orange toxins in his blood.
The logical next step, she figured, would be for an ambulance to take him to an emergency room, hopefully to the new North Las Vegas VA Medical Center, where his records are and the staff is more accustomed to caring for patients who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
But when the ambulance arrived on that Sunday, Feb. 9, he was taken to Mountain View Hospital because the law mandates that patients with life-threatening conditions be transported to the nearest emergency room.
When he arrived, the Mountain View staff immediately put him on a ventilator and sedated and restrained him because he was combative though Linda Nogales tried to explain that he was a disabled PTSD veteran on strong medications.
“Because it was the weekend, they couldn’t get his records from the VA for three days,” she wrote in an email to the Las Vegas Review-Journal last week. “Meantime, he was withdrawing from heavy daily doses of (morphine) … as well as sleeping pills with mood elevators.”
She said she considered having him transferred to the VA Medical Center “where all his doctors and records are, but incredibly, even if that was a good idea, the VA can’t get ambulances to bring them (patients) due to a ‘ramp’ dispute.”
She was referring to problems ambulance companies face when they take veterans to the medical center and must park curbside then move the patient roughly 50 yards to the emergency room door instead of stopping at a drop-off ramp near the door.
A spokesman for the VA Medical Center said a “ramp wouldn’t have any bearing on this whatsoever. In an emergency, an initial assessment is done and patients are taken to the closest facility that can provide the care a patient needs in order to save life or limb,” the spokesman, Richard Beam, said in an email to the office of Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev.
Titus, a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, had been alerted about Alex Nogales’ episode.
Beam said a patient such as Nogales would be transferred from an outside hospital to the VA facility as soon as the veteran becomes medically stable.
“The only limitation is if we have an appropriate bed available for the particular medical need.”
Nogales, a 100 percent disabled Marine veteran, never made it to the VA Medical Center. He had successful surgery Sunday at Mountain View to ease his breathing problem. He was billed $1,099 for the ambulance transport, and he has racked up “hundreds of thousands” of dollars in medical bills at Mountain View that his wife said she expects the VA will pay.
Meanwhile, despite “several desperate phone calls” she made to her husband’s VA doctor when his condition became a crisis, she didn’t hear from her until she called to apologize on Monday.
The doctor had been on vacation and told her that the VA’s computers had been down and she couldn’t read his test results before she left.
His problems might have been detected earlier if the lab results from blood tests taken on Feb. 5 had been reviewed, Linda Nogales said.