The VA - More Good Care and Bumbling Bureaucracy
Harlingen, Texas, October 31, 2009: The ink had not even dried on our latest commentary about VA care and operations before another flood of email from across the country hit our computer. Veterans had a lot more to say.
Marc Martinez a Navy veteran from McAllen, TX is still expressing his anger over the slow movement of the VA in the Rio Grande Valley. “We have more than 100,000 veterans here in deep South Texas”, he writes. “They have been fighting for more than 30 years to have a VA hospital built in this area. During all of that time they have been forced to spend countless hours on the highway driving more than 270 miles one way to a VA hospital in San Antonio. Even by Texas standards that is a long trip. It usually adds up to about 5 hours of fast driving, followed by an overnight hotel stay, followed by a day long wait at the hospital to receive service and than a repeat of that long 270 mile trek back home. For many of us this is a trip that has been required weekly or monthly for years.”
Sidney A. Schwartz of San Benito, TX wrote of the government’s attempt to improve the administrative situation for veterans. He writes, “I am a surviving combat veteran of WWII. I was informed the VA had a new program to provide picture ID cards so war veterans could be quickly identified in the event medical help was needed. The regional VA office in Harlingen administers the program. All of my records and documents were copied but no ID picture was taken. I was told the documents had to be confirmed before a photo would be taken. I was given a note that said I would be notified within 10 days to return and complete my application. Since no notification came after eight weeks, I returned to the VA and was told that my documents could not be verified because they had no picture of me. They said their computer was down and they could not take my picture. I was told to return in two weeks when the camera would be fixed and online. Just after two weeks I returned again and was told the camera was still not working. In the future I should call first because they did not know when the camera would be working.” Sidney went on to explain that when you call the Harlingen VA you get a computer answering machine and not a person, so that didn’t work for him either. It is not known if he ever received that ID card.
William Carr says, “I like a lot of vets, have had terrible administrative service from the VA. I do not use them medically or otherwise. Here in Carteret County, NC we do have one of the best VSOs (Veteran Service Officer) however, Colonel Hank Gotard, USMC (Ret) in the VA pantheon. He really looks after the troops and is highly respected.”
Jim Bathurst is a retired Marine who served 36 years in both the enlisted and officer ranks. He now resides south of Springfield, IL. He tells about the wonderful care he received from the VA clinic in Billings, MO. After numerous CT scans and MRIs they flew him to the Salt Lake City Regional VA Medical Center for back surgery. He says, “I could not have been more pleased with the outcome. In fact, upon returning home, I sent a personal letter to the Director of that hospital telling him how pleased I was with the experience. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, down to the guy who swept the hallway floors at night could not have been more professional, courteous and caring.”
Bathurst also praised the Billing clinic saying, “It was run by a retired US Army Colonel, Urologist. It ran like a finely tuned clock.”
He concludes, “I have been to many VA clinics and medical centers since retiring and the lonely one where I found problems was with the Mountain Home facility in Johnson City, TN. They are severely over burdened, almost to the point where they have become inefficient. The problem as I saw it was when the government changed whom the VA clinics would see. They basically started seeing and accepting everyone who ever served a day in the military. I saw men and women in Johnson City that had spent two years in the military and had no service connected problems at all. They simply went to the VA because they could…and it was free. It’s no secret that when something is free it WILL be taken advantage of by not just a few of our fellow Americans, but many of them.”
Gale Gabriel is a veteran who has visited a VA clinic and hospital in Wisconsin with mixed emotions. He says, “You can, on occasion, get a dedicated caregiver but for the most part they will give a cursory exam, prescribe some pills and send you on your way. Some, like Minneapolis are so large it reminds me of herding cattle. I also was disappointed with my first visit to the new clinic in Harlingen, TX. I went to the new clinic and could not make an appointment because they say I don’t belong there. I arrived at 8, waited all morning, left briefly for lunch and returned to find they had called my name in my absence. I then waited another hour to see the doctor who only gave me a ten day supply of the pills I needed because, as they said, I belong in Wisconsin.”
Mike Bailey is a former Army Staff Sergeant and an Operation Desert Storm veteran. He holds the administrative side of the VA in complete contempt. His words, “The whole system sucks, plain and simple.” He continues saying, “On the healthcare side I have to do an about face and tell you the truth. I get better care at the Charlie Norwood VA medical Center in Augusta, GA, that I received from doctors I choose from the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Plan 1, I had from the Postal Service when I worked there. On the other hand, I wouldn’t give you a nickel for the Dom VA in Columbia, SC. I will only go there on the day I am ready to die. They might hasten it.”
Eric Muth is a former Army Staff Sergeant from Milford, CT and he has strong complaints about going to his VA clinic for a scan of his left leg, which had a blockage. He charges the doctors ordered a scan of the right leg and then noted in his records that ‘Does not contemplate having surgery at this time’. He only managed to get the situation corrected when he threatened a malpractice suit. They then did a scan on the correct leg.
From New Mexico, Lieutenant Colonel Charlie Revie, US Army (Ret) writes he has had few dealings with the VA. “The reasons are varied, but among them is the fact that Las Cruces has a community clinic much like a forward aid station and has little treatment capability.” He says the clinic must refer to the El Paso VA Clinic that is 50 miles away. If things can’t be handled there “The next nearest VA facility is the Albuquerque VA Hospital, which is 250 miles distant. One difficulty with the El Paso Clinic”, he says, is that they must refer outsource patients only to providers in the El Paso area and not to providers who live in the vicinity of the veteran’s home.”
Writing from Orlando, FL retired US Coast Guardsman William Miller says,” I dread going to the VA even for my routine annual check-up. I had shingles last year and the year before that. When I called the VA clinic to get an appointment for a shingles shot, I was told I couldn’t get an appointment until July.” He continued seeking help for another month and was finally told by a nurse, “the doctor would not authorize a shingles shot since I already had shingles twice and there was no medical evidence the shot was effective.”
Michael Beggs is a retired Marine Captain from Fredericksburg, VA. He says, I stepped on a landmine in 1971 in Vietnam and was ultimately medically retired from the Marine Corps.” Seeking VA help, “I quickly learned that I would have to report back to the VA hospital annually for an examination to determine if I was ‘still wounded’. When I pointed out to the VA physicians that only chameleons can regenerate tissue, they were not amused.
The Captain went though all the required examinations and was awarded his disability rating. Time passed and “Somehow I did not receive one of the annual ‘you are directed to report to the nearest VA hospital for reevaluation’ notices…and one half of my disability pay provided by the VA was stopped.”. The VA stopped his disability pay because he had “refused reevaluation”. He has now waived his VA rights and the Marine Corps has resumed paying his disability stipend. “It will be a cold day in hell before I deal with the VA again,” he concludes.
Retired Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant Art Cohan says, “I hate it that these great guys and gals get shabby treatment from the VA, and our Commander in Chief calls them ‘selfish’ for not giving more.”
Army veteran Mike Press says, “The VA is an organization out of control and Congress refuses to do anything about it. There are 25 million veterans in this country. Let’s get together and make some changes.”
Disabled Navy veteran Ron Whaley comments, “I know I had to fight them for years and then tried to be seen by an over worked doctor in an over worked clinic. It is like a nightmare to most people. We need mandatory funding for the VA and we need it NOW!”
Finally, to show rank has no special privilege in the VA, Brigadier General Bob Clements, USAF (Ret) writes, So far my experiences with the VA trying to file a claim, stink.”
Long time friend, retired Marine and Minister, Pastor Ed Evens writes from Nashville, TN. “We are fortunate that the VA hospital is backed up to and only 25 yards from the world class Vanderbilt Hospital. Many of the doctors who work at Vanderbilt also see patients at the VA and many of the procedures are conducted at Vanderbilt since they are connected by two second floor walkways.”
“I am aware through talking with other veterans, that there are bureaucratic problems with the VA and sometimes you run into someone who should know more about the system than they do, but there is usually help available. From what I have seen the new VA Head, retired Army General Shinseki is making a difference from the top down.
“But here is the key: Ask questions! If you don’t understand what is going on, or it doesn’t make sense to you, ask questions until you are satisfied. VA hospitals have a Patient Representative, an ombudsman, whose job it is to represent your complaint to the staff and solve the situation. It’s just like when we were in the military. We can sit around and complain to everybody about something, or we can solve it by going to that person who has the power to make the right decision.”
Unfortunately, there are uncountable veterans who do not understand or are unable to fight the bureaucratic system to the point where they can resolve unsatisfactory situations. Nor should they be placed in positions where they are required to fight for promised care. We have seen from reports made by veterans that this vast government operated Department of Veterans Affairs can be outstanding. We have also seen it a nightmare for the common man in need of help. There are many veterans around the country who see the VA medical system as only a preview of how things will be once the federal government takes over all medical care for the nation.
Thomas D. Segel
Saturday, October 31, 2009
The VA - More Good Care and Bumbling Bureaucracy