May 23, 2014
As Memorial day draws near I can well imagine those souls it honors spinning in their graves in unified outrage; as the list of scandals at Veterans Administration hospitals grows ever deeper with the latest in a long list of disgraces.
In a recent post I made reference to the current ever-deepening VA scandal involved with VA personnel cooking the books so it would appear they were setting appointments in a timely and efficient manner; while veterans died waiting to be seen by their doctor. I didn’t want to write about it in any depth because of the great negativity and frustration it generates, what with me being a disabled Vietnam Vet.
I really tried to take the advice of Joseph Campbell when he said “We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.” It goes hand in hand with another nugget of wisdom I assimilated along the way: True wealth is measured by how many things you can just leave be. Far from ignoring the problem, one may elect to instead focus their energy & thoughts on more positive pursuits, and that felt fine to me.
Unfortunately, this current debacle just keeps mutating into a deliberate bureaucratic failure of monstrous proportions by the day. What began as “A few isolated incidents” is now at 28 states, 40 deaths … and growing. That’s right, I said deliberate, as intentional & willful. Unfortunately the government of this country has a disgraceful historical habit of turning on its veterans. So I am cornered between Memorial day and the Muse, and find I have something of a duty to write about this subject.
This is something I can write about from personal experience with the VA system; and it’s not a pretty picture. When I came home from Vietnam with an honorable discharge and all my parts intact; my dad picked me up at the airport. It was hard to spot him at first thru the buzzing crowd of protestors harassing any man departing the plane in uniform. Lucky for me I was dressed in street clothes so nobody bothered me directly as I stood there in disbelief, the anger welling up inside me…suddenly a vice like hand grabbed my elbow just as I heard my old man’s voice saying, “I’ve seen that look on your face before – time for us to go.” We claimed my bags and made it to the car in silence, and I needed that time to calm down after seeing people spitting on returning servicemen.
With the airport falling away behind us in the rear view mirror, my dad looks at me and said: “Listen to me…what you did, what you went thru over there for this country; just remember that nobody owes you anything for that – just put it behind you and get on with your life.” His words were quite surprising considering they came from a decorated WWII infantry captain. I guess maybe he’d seen for himself, some of the historic times when this nations government betrayed it’s veterans. Maybe he was trying to spare me some disillusionment & disappointment down the road…like when the VA suddenly stopped paying the vocational trade school I was attending 20 years ago, after promising to pay for my continuing education with the GI Bill. Broken promises, a sad habit indeed! I had to take on two part time jobs to keep the school paid, and graduate; and the sting of that betrayal has never been forgotten.
I decided back then to not pursue getting my benefits from the VA, despite seeing other vets I knew who did, and were getting very nice compensation. Had no reason to ask for benefits because I was young & strong, and determined to make it or not on my own merits rather than depend on handouts from the government which I already knew could be cut off without reason or notice. The Navy takes care of it’s own – Balderdash! It took a few years, but I eventually came to understand my father’s words at the airport that day.
Fast forward 40 years to 2009, I’m forced to reconsider my aversion to dealing with the VA by a surly mob of health issues which are impacting my life negatively. Having pretty much worked for myself the majority of my adult life; my retirement plan sucked, leaving the VA the only game in town. The one good thing I can say about the VA health care system is that you can still receive medical care before your benefits claim is finally determined. Good thing too, because it took them a full year to finally consider my claim; and then they summarily denied and dismissed it categorically. I filed an appeal with the VA, which ten months later was denied also, they said I took too long to file my appeal.
Another year goes by and a fellow veteran asked me if I had gone thru the DAV, (Disabled American Veterans) when I submitted my previous claims. I had not, for whatever reasons, and soon learned they can be a powerful motivating force upon the VA system, especially with getting benefits approved. So, I began the process again, with all the exact same data & information, letting the DAV advocate on my behalf. Almost a full year later my claim was approved. Nearly 4 years after I first requested the benefits guaranteed me by federal law. In that time I have seen firsthand the staggering incompetence and Orwellian bureaucracy that is the VA health care system.
To begin with, no VA computer is allowed to have any data transfer device attached to it, such as a flash drive with X-rays and medical history on it. The VA also prohibits doctors and veterans communicating thru email, or other electronic means except telephone. Has a way of really slowing the whole works down to a crawl, like I said, intentionally. My first VA doctor was from India, every time I saw him he was on crutches & looking sicker than me. He died. My next VA doctor was a young fellow from Pakistan with who I had what can only be described as infuriating language barrier issue; he didn’t speak English as far as I could discern, and consistently gave me the wrong medications. After six months of that insanity I went to the head of the clinic and insisted on being assigned to a new doctor, one who spoke English! They did exactly as I asked and assigned me a new primary care physician…five months later! That’s five months of being told I must wait to be assigned a new doctor each time I called for an appointment, or to renew medications. That’s just childish, and vindictive. Whatever happened to “first, do no harm?”
While I’m on the subject of my local VA clinic, it will perhaps help to gauge the sheer scope of the insanity there to see a couple of pictures of the place. It is a nice, newly built place with a couple acres of beautiful parking right in front of the main doors; which is vital for those with wheel chairs, walkers and crutches – which is most of the traffic on most days. The trouble is that all that unpaved ground was used to make the veterans peace garden or some shit, which is by the way, roped off and off limits to veterans!! Meanwhile those with mobility issues, and everyone else must first park in the undersized space allowed alongside the building and garden; then make their way thru the parking area, then down a long sidewalk that resembles the Bataan death march, just to reach the front door!
Thanks to: http://www.zengardner.com