YORKTOWN, Va. (WAVY) – A Vietnam veteran has a costly problem, but the solution is no mystery.
Bruce Mears wants the Veterans Administration to resume doing what it was doing for a while: covering his expensive medication.
He has a common medical problem, dry-eye syndrome, which he says came from exposure to Agent Orange. Health officials said that link has not been established. Regardless, he’s now trying to make his way through a jungle of bureaucracy.
Agent Orange is the chemical American forces used to defoliate the jungles of Southeast Asia.
“It’s an airborne carcinogen, and the wind blew. You can’t stop the wind from blowing and that’s how it got to us, and it got to a lot of veterans,” Mears said during an interview at his home.
It wasn’t until about six years ago that he started noticing dry eye problems.
“They got so bad that I couldn’t even drive,” he said.
The National Institutes of Health said there’s not enough evidence to directly link Agent Orange with eye conditions. But Mears found a cure when he visited his VA doctor in Richmond.
“He prescribed Restasis, and they gave it to me for a year and a half out of the pharmacy,” Mears said. “Then all of a sudden, they couldn’t do it. There was no Restasis.”
Mears said the VA gave no explanation for dropping his wonder drug, but he was offered substitutes. The side effects were worse than the eye problems.
“In 10 minutes, my eyes were burning, itchy, completely shut and I couldn’t drive or leave the house for two days,” Mears said. “The Restasis doesn’t blur, it doesn’t burn, it’s perfect.”
Now, he’s paying $465 out of pocket every time he needs to get a 30-day supply, an amount he calls “a lot of money” as Mears, 75, tries to enjoy his retirement.
He put his life on the line, and he wants the VA to once again cover the drug he so badly needs. He has paid about $1,700 out of pocket for the medication.
“I just want people to know that what (the VA is) giving us is not the best that they have to treat what’s wrong with us,” Mears said. “I’ve only got one set of eyes and I’m not gonna let the VA ruin them.”
10 On Your Side has contacted the VA on behalf of Mears and will update this story.