The Veterans Administration Health Care System Really Sucks
We Support Out Troops, Yeah Right

by James Glaser
January 20, 2012
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You know, you see all the bumper stickers that read, "Support the Troops," and you read all the articles and hear candidates talk about honoring our veterans, but in truth, that is pretty much crap.

I have been dealing with the VA ever since I left Vietnam, and honestly I can tell you that the VA is by far the most stressful thing in my life.

Yes, the doctors and nurses and the cleaning people at the different VA facilities are very dedicated, and as far as I am concerned, they are wonderful. However, administration and record keeping is enough to kill you, and I have no doubt those two areas have killed thousands of our veterans. Yes, that's what I said. Read on.

Just a quick example. I called to VA to find out when an extended treatment would start after an operation I had this past December 13. Well, after a while you learn that they will never answer any questions, but if you are lucky, they will call you back. So, a little while ago a nurse called me and informed me that the head of the Urology Department at the Gainesville, Florida VA told her that I needed that operation before they could start those treatments. I told her I had the operation on December 13. She said she could not see that in my records, but would have somebody else call me back.

So, I call down to Urology at Gainesville, and the lady who answers looks in my records and she sees right there that I had the operation, and then tells me that the doctor who will be setting me up with this extended treatment will give me a call. She said she will personally give that doctor my name and phone number as she understands how stressful it is to wait to find anything out (remember, I said the nurses and staff are really great). That was nice, but she can't make a doctor call me.

Now, I am waiting for TWO phone calls from the VA. Normally, you would think that I would be totally upset with this kind of foul up, but for me, it is to be expected from the Veterans Administration. Good care without some sort of strange goof-up is the exception.

Case in point: I have gone to the VA hospital in the past for tests, only to be told after hours of waiting that my appointment was canceled. The person telling me would say, "We must have missed informing you, sorry."

When I was Commander of VFW Post 3869 in Northome, Minnesota, it was not uncommon to hear a vet tell about how his appointment was cancelled two weeks before it was scheduled, and he had been waiting a year for it. Many vets drove the 250 plus miles to the Minneapolis VA Hospital only to be told that their appointment date had been changed. They got a "sorry" too.

Here is a great example of how the VA treats veterans. I was going through a PTSD program at the Minneapolis VA back in the early 1990s. A bunch of us vets were sitting outside the building in which they held the PTSD Clinic. It was segregated from the hospital because so many Vietnam vets did not trust the hospital. So, we are all sitting outside waiting for our appointments, talking, and most smoking.

Right across the parking lot in front of us was a little walking bridge that took you to the main hospital. Trucks could drive under that walkway to the hospital basement loading dock. We were all sitting there, and this guy (a vet) was coming across the bridge toward us. All of a sudden he decided to take a header off the bridge and kill himself. Right there, in front of us, that is exactly what he did.

So, what did the VA do? They canceled all the appointments for that day so the staff could talk to counselors. The vets, who are already stressed out from their time in combat, are just sent home. The guys sitting in their offices who didn't see a thing are given help. Yes sir, we do support our troops, don't we.

Today, there is a wire mesh barrier on that walkway/bridge so you couldn't dive off if you wanted to. I thought it would be a nice touch if they named that barrier after the vet who killed himself there.

We have the money for the largest most powerful military in the history of the world. We have the money to keep hundreds of thousands of troops in foreign lands. We have the money to fight multiple wars at the same time, but we don't have the money to treat the returning troops with respect and dignity.

Do you know what happens if you are a veteran desperate for help with your thoughts of suicide, and you call the VA? Not much. If you are that vet, you better have a pen and paper, because the recorded message is going to tell you to hang up and call a number the recording gives you. It takes a good while to talk to a real person when you call any VA facility, and most times that person really can't help you.

We can have over a million troops, but we can not hire live people to answer the phone at VA hospitals, clinics, and the Veteran Suicide Hotline. If they spent the money on that, they might not be able to buy that tank or part of some billion dollar plane.

Why? Why are things the way they are? Think it through—live operators and adequate staff at VA facilities do not increase the profits of the Military Industrial Complex.

Post Script:

I just got a call from the nurse who I talked to this morning. She told me that I would need a new and different operation before I can start the original treatment they were going to give me. I asked why didn't the VA Doctors inform me of this, when were they going to discuss this with me, or were they even going to discuss it with me? She said she didn't know, but if I hadn't heard from them in a reasonable time, I should call her back. I asked what was a reasonable time, and she said Oh, like tomorrow or maybe Monday. So if they don't call, then I have to start this game of phone tag all over again. In the mean time, I am handcuffed to the phone, because if I miss the call, I will have to start this all over again.

Yes, the VA really sucks, but it is the only game in town, because insurance companies don't really want to take on severely disabled veterans unless they have a lot of cash, and I don't think a lot of vets are that wealthy.

Be sure, yellow ribbons on your car notwithstanding, supporting our troops is not a primary concern in this nation. Supporting the troops is just a political slogan that politicians hope will garner some votes.

Yes, it is disgusting.

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