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Vietnam veteran dies after VA fails to notify him of potential cancer

Michael Hansen, 67, died of late-stage lung cancer, but he once had a chance at a longer life.
Omaha Veterans Affairs Medical Center
Posted at 2:41 PM, Jan 09, 2024

A costly mistake by a Veterans Affairs hospital has left a Vietnam veteran dead and a widow worried her husband won’t be the only one.

Sixty-seven-year-old veteran Michael Hansen of Nebraska died of late-stage lung cancer, but he once had a chance at a longer life.

He and his wife Lisa Hansen are blaming the Omaha Veterans Affairs Medical Center for failing to follow up about his potential cancer, and allowing it to spread, according to Nebraska Public Media

This all began in July 2019, when a radiologist at the center flagged a growth for a possible malignancy — but they did not follow up. It is typical for the VA to do these post-surgery scans routinely for vets like Hansen, who helped to replace damaged equipment during the Vietnam War.

More than a year later, Hansen returned to the VA hospital struggling to breathe.

That’s when it was confirmed that the tumor, which had originally been the size of a postage stamp, nearly quadrupled in size — and another had sprouted.

Gary Gorby, the hospital’s chief of medicine, and Laura Whale, a risk manager, admitted their mistake, according to Nebraska Public Media.

As Hansen had gone about his life as normal since his first visit, he went from a stage IA2 diagnosis — which has a five-year survival rate of 83%, according to the American Joint Committee on Cancer— to stage IV, which leaves most people dead within a year. 

"It still feels like a gut punch every day," Lisa Hansen told Nebraska Public Media. "It's hard to live with. … They destroyed our life."

The couple later learned the Omaha VA had a system in place to organize concerning lung scans so none got lost in the shuffle. But it failed to do its job because no one was overseeing it, VA leaders confirmed in depositions reviewed by Nebraska Public Media.

Hansen died on Dec. 30, 2021, and the U.S. government settled with Lisa last month on Dec. 11, a day before the case was set for trial. 

Beyond the lawsuit, Lisa Hansen wants other answers. She wants to find out how many other cancers the Omaha VA may have missed. 

"From the day that (nurse) resigned until they hired somebody, they should be going through every day, reviewing (cases) and sending out letters," she said. "I think the right thing to do in any situation like that, out of human decency, is to call everybody."

Despite being one of the most preventable cancers in the world, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in veterans, according to the University of California Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.

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