Veteran’s widow questions ’cause of death’ in husband’s VA medical file

Jo-Ann and Jerry Ward were married almost 50 years.

PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) — The widow of an Army Veteran who died last October is questioning the difference between the stated cause of “lung cancer” on the death certificate, and what doctors at the Providence Veterans Affairs Medical Center told her and her husband.

Jerry Ward and his wife Jo-Ann, who now lives in Bristol, were approaching 50 years of marriage in 2013 when he was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer and given a 20 percent chance of survival.

According to a letter to Target 12 from three VAMC doctors who treated Ward, there was “a recurrence of lung cancer in October of 2015.” The letter states Ward responded well to treatment, but in June “testing revealed fibrosis.”

Jo-Ann Ward said she believes there were mistakes along the way, citing her husband’s medical file and death certificate.

“They could’ve done more to help Jerry.”

She said throughout 2016, she and her husband asked his doctors if the pain he was feeling could be a return of the lung cancer.

She kept notes of every appointment on a pad and in a calendar, to document what the couple was told several times.

“We were asking, are you sure the cancer is not back? [And they said] nope. No sign of cancer. It’s fibrosis,” Ward recalled.

In October, the Wards heard what she said was an unexpected change in his condition.

“He had a CT scan on the 7th [of October] and that’s when they told us he had two weeks to live,” Ward said. “He died the next day.”

An additional shock came when she received the death certificate which was filled out at a local hospice facility.

“It said lung cancer,” Ward said. “We couldn’t believe it.”

The letter to Target 12 from her husband’s doctors followed a signed release to the VA from Jo-Ann Ward.

“Testing prior to his transfer [to hospice] did not indicate active lung cancer at the time,” the letter states.

According to the letter, a death certificate may list a disease as the cause of death when the effects from the disease or its treatment resulted in the death.

The letter goes on to state the cancer “treatment was the cause of fibrosis, which in turn led to the patient’s passing.”

Ward remains skeptical, supporting her case with a document from her husband’s medical file that she obtained after he died.

It’s titled “Progress Notes,” and under “Active Problems”, it reads Carcinoma of Lung, with the date May 25, 2016 next to it, followed by the name of one of the doctors who wrote the letter to Target 12.

Her husband died five months later.

“I just don’t think what they did to us was right,” Ward said. “They could’ve done more to help Jerry. I turn around and I expect to see him. I never thought I’d live without him.”

The letter offers gratitude to Mr. Ward and his family for his service, and emphasizes the doctors “believe that he received appropriate care for his conditions.”

Jo-Anne Ward has forwarded her husband’s medical records to an attorney and is planning a lawsuit.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau