(CNN) -- U.S. veterans are dying because of delays in diagnosis and treatment at VA hospitals.
At least 19 veterans have died because of delays in simple medical screenings like colonoscopies or endoscopies, at various VA hospitals or clinics, CNN has learned.
That's according to an internal document from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, obtained exclusively by CNN, that deals with patients diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and 2011.
The veterans were part of 82 vets who have died or are dying or have suffered serious injuries as a result of delayed diagnosis or treatment for colonoscopies or endoscopies.
Barry Coates is one of the veterans who has suffered from a delay in care. Coates was having excruciating pain and rectal bleeding in 2011. For a year the Army veteran went to several VA clinics and hospitals in South Carolina, trying to get help. But the VA's diagnosis was hemorrhoids, and aside from simple pain medication he was told he might need a colonoscopy.
"The problem was getting worse and I was having more pain," Coates said, talking about one specific VA doctor who he saw every few months. "She again examined me and gave me some prescriptions for other things as far as pain and stuff like that and I noticed again she made another comment -- 'may need colonoscopy.'
"I told her that something needed to be done," said Coates. "But nothing was ever set up ... a consult was never set up."
"I had already been in pain and suffering from this problem for over six months and it wasn't getting better," Coates said. "I told her that if you were in as much pain as I was and had been going through you wouldn't wait another two months to see what's going on. You would probably do it this week."
Coates waited months, even begging for an appointment to have his colonoscopy. But he only found himself on a growing list of veterans also waiting for appointments and procedures. He was finally told he could have a colonoscopy, many months later.
"I took it upon my own self to call the department that scheduled that and ask them about it. And they said this was the earliest appointment that I could get. And I explained to the lady what I had already been through and how much pain I had, and I said if I wait this long there might not be ... (anything) we can do about it then. I could be even dead by then. And the only thing she could tell me was 'I understand that, sir, but I don't have any control over that.' "
Finally about a year after first complaining to his doctors of the pain, Coates got a colonoscopy and doctors discovered a cancerous tumor the size of a baseball.
The now 44-year-old veteran is undergoing chemotherapy in an effort to save his life.
It is unclear whether anyone responsible at the VA has been fired, demoted or even admonished for the delays in care and treatment. Some of the people responsible may have even received bonuses in recent years for their work, despite the delays in care or treatment for the veterans.
According to the document obtained by CNN, 10 veterans are confirmed to have died in the South Carolina and Georgia region alone. And the document shows 29 vets or their families were sent the disclosures, notifying them they had serious "adverse events" because of delayed care. And according to the document the problems go far beyond Georgia or South Carolina. Read more via CNN...