For Brian Tally, every day is painful. It’s a struggle to get out of bed, walk and live a normal life with his wife and four children.
But he’s determined to live not just for himself, but for the more than 20 million veterans the Marine says he’s trying to protect.
“I’m just a normal guy from California,” Tally says, insisting he’s no hero and “just trying to do the right thing.”
But it’s not every day a veteran who survived near-fatal medical malpractice that left him physically, mentally and financially drained wakes up determined to walk the halls of Congress, visiting one office at a time, not just to encourage change, but to make it happen.
Two bills in Congress are named for Tally and are intended to hold the Department of Veterans Affairs accountable for the actions of all its doctors and health care professionals and to ensure that veterans who are mistreated have legal recourse.
‘If I waited, I would have died.’
Tally woke up one morning in 2016 with debilitating back pain that left him unable to stand or walk. Like many other veterans before him, he headed to the VA -- a decision he said changed his life forever.
A doctor Tally said he thought worked directly for VA, but was actually an independent contractor, botched his diagnoses, delaying or denying critical care for months. Leaving his family to pay out-of-pocket for private care that eventually prompted a battery of tests and surgeries to counteract a bone-eating staph infection that aggressively degraded his spine and threatened his life.
“If I waited, I would have died,” Tally says now, practiced in retelling his own brush with death and his family’s hardships.
VA officials admitted that Tally received second-rate care at the VA emergency room in Loma Linda, Calif., about 56 miles of Los Angeles, according to documents obtained by Connecting Vets.
But a 73-year-old legal loophole allows VA to deflect responsibility for the malpractice, leaving Tally with no legal recourse, no way to seek recompense for losing his family car, his small business and putting him out of work for years.
VA deferred Tally’s federal tort claim, saying the VA employee responsible for the malpractice was a contractor and he had to file a state claim. Information they failed to pass along to Tally until it was too late and the statute of limitations in his state had expired, he said.
“We nearly lost everything,” Tally told Connecting Vets while walking steadily from one Congressional office to the next. “My life changed in ways I never imagined or saw coming. I live and feel it every day.”
'Called to serve'
Tally has never given up. He knows what happened to him could happen to anyone -- with VA contractors nearly indistinguishable from normal VA employees, working “behind the VA veil,” he says. So he’s on a mission to protect his fellow veterans.
“I’m just one guy,” he harps, the Marine in him keeping him on his feet and focused but unable to accept praise. “I’ve rolled up my sleeves. I’m trying to do what I can.”
Tally is quick to dismiss his own story, though he acknowledges it’s dropped jaws on Capitol Hill. He’s ready to leave what happened behind him, as much as he’s able to with chronic pain and other health issues he’ll likely face the remainder of his life.
“It doesn’t cost a penny,” he says in his sales pitch of the bills to dozens of members of both chambers in his third trip to Washington on his own dime, complete with “Tally Bill” challenge coins he’s delivering to supporters. “This could make a world of difference for our veterans.”
Last year, the first Tally bill was filed in Congress, but its sponsor lost a re-election bid and the bill died. Now Tally is back with two bills, sponsored by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and Rep. Mike Levin, D-Calif.
His story is compelling. Some members signed on to cosponsor the bills after just a few minutes with him.
“I’ve been called to serve,” the former football and baseball coach said, grimacing slightly in pain but with a ready smile for the next Congressional staffer, Senator or anyone else walking the halls around him. “Hopefully this shows other people that one person can make a difference. If I can just help one person, it will be worth it.”