Veteran seeking civilian doctor believes VA is pushing him to end his life

Investigations

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A former Marine believes the VA is discriminating against him and pushing him to commit suicide.

He contends a VA doctor told him to go home to die in peace.

Like most of us, 63-year-old Helal Hatab wants another opinion. He believes a civilian specialist in Tampa can help.

Mr. Hatab claims the VA’s James Haley Hospital is giving him little cooperation.

Weeks ago, he captured video on his cell phone while he waited hours to see a doctor at Haley.

“Nobody cares, they’re waiting for me to expire,” Hatab said in the video.

Earlier that day, he had trouble breathing, so he called 911 and was taken to James Haley Hospital.

“I got there and then I heard a lot of comments, ‘oh this guy is pretending,’ what is pretending to be dying?” asked Mr. Hatab. 

Born in Egypt, Helal Hatab is an American citizen. He served in the Marines from 1978 to 1981.

“They told me when I get out I’m going to get treatment until you die,” Mr. Hatab stated.  “I’m dying right now.” 

In 2016, Mr. Hatab suffered a major heart attack and has depended on a tracheostomy tube to help him breathe ever since. 

In March, he underwent a procedure to close the tracheotomy.

“The following day, my airway collapsed,” he explained.

Hatab tells 8 On Your Side he’s asked the VA for a referral to see a civilian specialist who can help, but didn’t care for what the VA doctor told him.

“He says to me my recommendation, you go back to your family and die in peace there,” Hatab recalled.  “I don’t think so, he’s not God.”

Nine days ago, I contacted Haley about a referral for Mr. Hatab. The VA said it would forward the information to its Community Care chief for follow up. 

Mr. Hatab has not heard a word.

“When a patient has an issue he or she should contact their care team or our patient advocates’ office for resolution, who will normally reach out to the patient within 48 hours,” Haley spokesperson Karen Collins replied in an email. “Patients who have an active consult and qualify for care in the community can be referred to a VA community care network provider. If a patient doesn’t have a consultation, they should reach out to their provider to request one. We welcome the opportunity to discuss Mr. Hatab’s care further if he agrees to sign a release form.”

“I think at the VA they push me to commit suicide, sorry I’m not going to do that,” Hatab stated.  

Mr. Hatab is a Muslim and thinks he knows what’s going on.

“This is pure discrimination what I’m going through,” he said.

8 On Your Side reached out to Congressman Ross Spano (R-Fl) Wednesday afternoon.

Within an hour, the congressman personally responded and vowed his office would get involved.

Mr. Hatab confirmed a representative from Spano’s office will be meeting with him at his Hillsborough County home, which is currently on the market.

He plans to use money to go back to Egypt and get the care the VA hasn’t provided.

“I’m a veteran, I’m an American citizen, I served with honor and I should not be treated that way,” Hatab added.

If you know of something that you think should be investigated call our 8 On Your Side Helpline at 1 800 338-0808 or contact Steve Andrews at sandrews@wfla.com. 

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