PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Shirleen Wilson, 45, has a collection of head scarves she never wanted.

“My hair was like my crown, and not having it is awkward,” said Shirleen.

She’s a former navy aircraft mechanic, who lost her hair to chemotherapy. She says her battle with breast cancer uncovered an unlikely enemy, the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

“It was just nerve wracking. It was horrible. I felt alone,” said Shirleen. She says after a suspicious area was discovered on a mammogram at the VA, there were a series of problems, like when she went for a specialized biopsy.

“I said, ‘Well, you know, how many of these have you done?’ He said ‘Well, you’re my first,” said Shirleen.

The VA routinely sends patients to outside doctors for specialized care, that can’t be provided inside the system. It was a civilian doctor who discovered the large breast tumor that Shirleen says was missed by the VA.

“Their response was sometimes we catch it, sometimes we don’t. It depends on who reads the film,” said Shirleen.

When she was back at the VA for chemotherapy, she wanted help finding a wig. Shirleen says the VA sent her to a barber shop.

“I said ‘Do you guys sell wigs here?’ They go ‘no’. ‘I said do you make the wigs?’ They go, ‘no we’re a barber shop,’” said Shirleen.

Dr. Laure Veet, a VA Physician and National Education Director, says the VA won’t comment on a specific case, like Shirleen’s, but she says Philadelphia’s Women’s Health Center has made tremendous strides.

“We have a breast clinic here. We have two breast surgeons who work in the clinic. We have complete hematology, oncology services in here as well,” said Dr. Veet.

The expanding services come as the number of female vets has grown nationwide by 600,000 since 2000.

“And VA has gone a long way to meeting all of their needs, and do we have a little way to go? Yes, we do,” said Dr. Veet.

Shirleen says she fought another battle over thousands of dollars in bills for her treatment at the outside hospital that the VA had agreed to pay.

“They say we never received the bills,” said Shirleen.

Shirleen said that she had copies of the bills and would actually drop them off.

Shirleen finally turned to 3 On Your Side for help on the outstanding billing issues.

Stahl asked Dr. Veet, “Does it take a TV station to get involved to do the right thing?”

Dr. Veet replied, “It shouldn’t, but again veterans shouldn’t be in the middle of billing issues. And I can’t speak to this particular case. It shouldn’t happen.”
Within days we received a letter from the VA saying the bills had been paid.

“I think you guys are awesome. Thank you so much, and now I can concentrate on just getting well,” said Shirleen.

She was looking forward to finishing up with chemotherapy, feeling better, and getting back to her life.

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For more information on the Philadelphia’s Women Veterans Health Center, CLICK HERE

For more information on the Philadelphia VA Medical Center, CLICK HERE

Reported by Stephanie Stahl, CBS 3

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