IOWA CITY, Ia (KWWL) — Marine Corps veteran, Tony French, underwent surgery in late 2017 to remove a benign brain tumor before learning about the troubling history of the doctor that operated on him. He thought he was one of the lucky ones.
Last year, it was discovered that the Veteran Affairs hospital in Iowa City employed a doctor that was illegally hired, neurosurgeon John Schneider.
Schneider had his medical licenses revoked in another state due to malpractice.
Schneider no longer works at the VA but since then veterans and their families came forward questioning the care they had received under him. In one case, a man died after his operation by Schneider.
French, a Black Hawk county resident, thought his painful symptoms after his brain operation were normal. He said that’s what his neurosurgeon, John Schneider, told him.
“This headache is just killing me and he just kept saying ‘you just had major brain surgery you know what do you expect?” French recalls of his conversation with his doctor.
In 2017, French had an operation to remove a tumor between his eyes. After the operation, French said he was in the ICU for four days to recover.
“He told me everything went fine. I got 100% of it. He said I didn’t even leave a speck in it,” French said.
After the operation, he started to experience crippling headaches.
“At times it’s to the point where I get literally, physically sick to my stomach,” French said.
He thought it wasn’t right but he said he had no reason to not trust what his doctor told him.
“I had no reason to doubt him, distrust him. Like I said, he was such a personable guy. I didn’t know any of his back history,” he said.
For every night for two weeks, French said Schneider would call him at a home and check in on him. French remembers being impressed by that.
Despite months of complaints, French said Schneider never agreed to do a new scan. It wasn’t until after he was outed that a temporary neurosurgeon agreed to do a new scan.
In the new scan, the tumor was there and appeared to be slightly larger.
“He looked up to me and said, “I don’t know how to tell you this.” I said, “don’t tell me it’s grown back.” He said, “no, no.” He said, “he never took it out,” French recalls the conversation.
French had an answer for the headaches but no answer as to why.
“A neurosurgeon could go in and then come back out and lie like he did and continue that lie,” he said.
Black Hawk County Veteran Affairs Director Kevin Dill is now helping French.
“He presented me with a letter from the VA Medical Center in Iowa City admitting fault that they made a medical error and that he should make a tort claim against the VA,” Dill said.
With the tumor still intact, French, a contractor, can’t work. Without the claims, he’s in a financial hole. On the side, French also farms. He said he recently had to sell his last cow to try and make means meet.
“The VA made a mistake, hired a bad doctor, left a tumor in his head and now because of bureaucracy and the government and all that, he’s not getting the benefits that he should get in a timely manner and he may die before he gets them so we need to keep him in his home,” Dill said.
Both Dill and French said this experience shows flaws in the claims system as they continue to wait.
“You have to get this claim down now,” Dill recounts a conversation he had with an employee at the Des Moines VA office. “Otherwise, he’s going to be another homeless vet. Not because of anything he did but because the VA made a mistake. So, because the VA made a mistake let’s get the claim done now so he’s not another homeless vet.”
French said he wants the VA to start treating veterans like a person rather than a number.
“It might not straighten out for me or somebody like Kevin. I know he’s got some problems but these young kids coming up, they need help,” French said.
A sentiment Dill also shared. Dill said it’s on the community to help French because he said the VA isn’t going to.
A fundraiser and silent auction for Tony French will be held next month to help him through his expenses.
“You know it goes to a good cause for a guy who served his country honorably and gave all that he had and was willing to lay down his life,” Dill said.
The event will be held Tuesday, Dec. 4th from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at Cherry Creek Grill in Waterloo.
Click here for a GoFundMe that was set up for French.
On Wednesday, French had an appointment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. He said he’s still waiting on a doctor to help him with the tumor that still sits between his eyes.
A spokesperson with the Iowa City VA said, “due to privacy regulations, we are not able to discuss any patient’s case specifically.”