When you are parents of a newborn, there can be a lot of sleepless nights. But for Ben and Gretchen Krause, one night last February stands out.
“The idea of losing him, Ben, with a little baby here. It was really scary,” said Gretchen, fighting back tears.
“I remember he said, ’Something’s wrong, something’s wrong,’” recalled Gretchen.
Fearing he was having a heart attack, she rushed her husband to an emergency room just minutes from their Woodbury, Minnesota home.
“I felt like my chest was about to pop,” Ben said.
Doctors at HealthEast’s Woodwinds Hospital determined Ben was having an extreme form of stress likely exacerbated by a recent death in the family.
“Technical term for it is malignant hypertension with neurological and cardiovascular complications,” Ben explained. “I couldn’t dial back the stress from what was going on in the grief process.”
As a service-connected disabled veteran, Ben rightly expected the Minneapolis VA would automatically pick up the $6,066 hospital bill.
Ben’s story sounds all too familiar to Bob Ramsey of Ramsey, Minnesota.
He has a blood disorder that can lead to potentially deadly clots.
“I was always warned if I had any issues with my leg, pain, things like that that I should be seen immediately because I could have a blood clot,” Bob said.
About a week after having knee surgery at Maple Grove Hospital – a surgery the VA paid for under its Veterans Choice program – Bob says he experienced growing pain in his calf.
“I thought, well, I better call the VA and see what they want me to do,” said Bob. “And so, I called the VA and the help line.”
He says he spoke with the triage nurse on duty.
“She said, ‘Well, you should go in and be seen right away, but you should go back to where you had the surgery.’ And so, that’s what I did,” Bob recalled.
Bob said since he’d called the VA to ask what he should do, and then followed the instructions he was given to seek private emergency care, he expected the VA would pay his bill.
Bob said he tried reasoning with the VA for nearly a year. Meanwhile, his unpaid bill from Maple Grove Hospital was turned over to a collection agency.
“Those people are hounds!” he said. “They’ll continue to call and harass you.”
“This is your bill, you should pay for it. You’re a bad person because you didn’t pay your bills,” Bob recalls being told.
But shortly after KARE 11 began investigating, the Minneapolis VA did a sudden about-face. The VA admitted the denials were mistakes and agreed to pay both men’s ER bills.
Bob received a voicemail from an official who identified himself as Minneapolis VA Patient Advocate Michael Rosecrans.
“Hey, I just want you to know that the claims – the ER emergent care claims – will be processed today for payment,” the caller said.
Ben Krause said he received a similar phone call.
“The second that they realized that somebody was looking into it, and somebody with the ability to make it into a national story, once they realized that, then they called and said, ‘Oh sorry, we made a mistake, we’re going to take care of it.’”
After KARE 11 reported their stories, dozens of other veterans from across the country contacted our investigators saying their claims also had been wrongly denied.