Getting Mentally Ready to Go to a VA Appointment
by James Glaser
June 7, 2016
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Going to the VA for an appointment is not at all like going to a civilian doctor's appointment. For one thing, my appointments are at a huge hospital that is surrounded by attached clinics, and for sure you are in a building with a thousand other veterans. So, that means a parking lot where you will probably be a few hundred yards from the entrance, that is, if you can even find a parking place.

Then you can walk a long, long way to the clinic where your appointment is. I have never had an appointment at the Gainesville, Florida VA that was near the parking lot. There are no clinics on that side where you walk in or on the floor above. My appointments are always on the far side of the hospital. The same is true at the Minneapolis VA, and come to think of it, every other VA I have ever been to. The VA really isn't into customer service.

But hey, many people will say, "But it's free!" Of course those people have no idea what you had to do to get that "free" medical care. After 40 years of using the VA for your healthcare, you are kind of stuck. They have your records, and they have, at least you are told they have, and you hope they have, the expertise to deal with the problems Agent Orange gave you or the help you need with PTSD or a Traumatic Brain Injury that a local hospital just doesn't have.

So, I am once again getting mentally ready for a VA appointment. I am getting ready to see and probably talk to guys who lost a leg or an arm or two legs or even two legs and an arm or a blind vet or one who is really wacked out on some psychotropic drugs the VA often passes out to those who suffer from PTSD.

You know walking into the VA you could experience a long wait time before they call your name. It seems the later in the morning your appointment is, the longer you will wait because things get backed up. And hey, if there is an emergency, they might just tell you to go home. Then they will mail you a new appointment date, and this has happened to me several times. It really doesn't matter if you drove a hundred or two hundred and fifty miles one way to get there. If they don't have a doctor available to see you, appointment or not, you are heading home. Sometimes you get a "Sorry," and sometimes you don't.

There you are sitting in the waiting room. In Minneapolis they have a volunteer pushing a coffee cart around and handing out cookies. That is the only VA where I have seen that. At the Saint Cloud VA, if you had to fast, in order to get a blood test, they gave you a ticket to get breakfast at their cafeteria, but I haven't seen that in 20 years. They must have cut that out.

So, there you are just sitting, and the guy or now woman sitting next to you might be sleeping or maybe they are the most talkative person you ever met. Sometimes you will get a Navy guy, or some other service guy who doesn't think much of you when you say, "I was a Marine." Sometimes you get a Marine who tells you his serial number and you tell him yours. So, you are either the Boot or the Old Salt depending on when you were in.

Some vets want to talk politics, some sports, and some want to talk about their time in the service. Some are very interesting, and with some, you just hope they call your name soon. It is hard sitting next to someone who has terrible wounds that are very obvious. You learn to talk to them like there is nothing there to see, and I believe they appreciate it if you can.

Some want to talk about their wounds or about how hard their lives are or how their wife left them or that their wife died or their dog died. You never know what it will be like at the VA. So, you have to get yourself in the right frame of mind so that you will be able to handle whomever you sit down next to or who sits down next to you. You can give them a few minutes of your time, and maybe you are the only person they get to talk to that day. Who knows, you might be a help to them just by listening, and sometimes they are so darn interesting you feel bad if your or their name is called.

I know this. An appointment at the VA takes a couple of days out of your life. You think about it more and more as the day gets closer, and it always takes a whole day for any appointment when you add in the travel time. Then there are the days after that. That appointment is still on your mind. Maybe it is what you found out from the doctor, or maybe it is what you talked about with one or more vets while waiting.

Sometimes I hate the VA, and sometimes I am happy it is there. Most often the doctors and nurses and the low level people are just great, but I know why they always hide the administration offices. In my way of thinking, it's as if the VA Administration does everything it can do to make the lives of veterans horrible.

So here I am getting mentally ready for another VA appointment. It isn't easy.

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