Veteran claims appointment delay at Providence VA caused permanent facial scar

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Acquaintances who notice the prominent scar on Matthew Perry’s cheek have told him they thought it was a battle wound.

Then he lets them know the real details behind it.

“Most just shake their head,” Perry said. “It’s especially frustrating. It was absolutely avoidable.”

Perry, 42, of Newport, was a Marine Special Operations Medic in the first Gulf War, and in South America in the late 90’s.

“A couple,” he said when asked if there were close calls. “A couple, but I’d rather not talk about those.”

He came home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other physical injuries.

But the scar was caused by an abscess in his mouth, more than a decade after he left the battlefield for the last time.

“It was a constant throbbing pain. If I stood up or sat down, it would throb more,” Perry said.

Records show it took 19 days to get his first appointment in 2016 at the Providence Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s dental clinic.

The abscess ruptured and broke through his cheek five days later, and he ended up in the VAMC emergency room.

Medical paperwork Perry provided to Target 12 indicates he told the VA his pain was an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10.

And the clinician wrote that Perry, “immediately called dental for an appointment but was not placed on an emergency schedule.”

He filed a formal complaint last June, claiming $925,000 in personal injury damages, but he says the Department of Veterans Affairs did not respond to the complaint or several phone calls.

“The VA had every opportunity,” Perry said. “It’s not about money. I don’t want this to happen to anyone else. It is exceptionally frustrating It was absolutely avoidable on many levels. I had to come forward.”

Providence VA Public Affairs Officer Winfield Danielson said he could not comment on Perry’s case due to privacy issues.

The VAMC director is confident about hospital’s quality of care.

But speaking in general terms, he said veterans with dental emergencies should not wait for their next appointment

“They should make an emergency appointment with the dental clinic during clinic hours, or visit a VA emergency room,” Danielson said.

Perry, who praises other services offered by the Providence VA, also found out most diabetic veterans are entitled to free dental cleanings since that service can help them avoid heart conditions often tied to diabetes.

“That’s something I don’t think veterans know,” Perry said.

Perry emphasizes he tried to follow protocol by filing his compliant, but what he called inaction provoked him to come forward.

“I just have to make sure that I’ve done everything I can to make sure this doesn’t happen to another brother or sister veteran,” Perry said.

Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau can be reached at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau