Over the past 8 years I have spoken with hundreds of veterans and their family members. There have been a few who felt like the VA did a good job. There were even a few who said they believed there were “good” doctors at the VA. So what I am sharing here is not a “hit piece” on ALL VA doctors. There are some good ones.
But the overwhelming number of veterans I have spoken with have not had good experiences with VA doctors. This has resulted in some suicides for vets who felt their situation was hopeless. In fact, they feel betrayed by various Federal administrations; betrayed by their Congress people and Senators; betrayed by VA doctors; betrayed by the citizens they fought to protect.
Problems with the Veterans Health Care system are nothing new. See the Associated Press article from June 21, 2014, “Pa. Veterans say VA problems are nothing new”; commentary by David W. Walker–Thursday, November 10. 2016, “Why the Veterans Administration doesn’t work”; the February 20, 2018 article in Healthcare by Steve Cochran, “The real VA scandal: No will to help veterans”; Human Events article by David Lambro, “Scandalous conditions at VA hospitals are nothing new.” There have been government studies but few positive results.
My article is not going to go over the same old issues about management or budget. This
veteran is going to tell it like it is, first at the treatment level, and then the disability system. One of the most important factors in getting quality healthcare is trust. It takes time and effort to build trust. This starts and ends with the kind of doctor-patient relationship that exists within the VA system. When doctors don’t actually look at the patient, but instead spend most, if not all, of the appointment looking at their computer monitor, it does not build trust or a sense that the doctor really cares about their patient. When an appointment is only 15 minutes long, it’s not enough for a veteran to get all of their issues worked on.
The typical appointment goes like this: a nurse takes your vitals, asks why you are here and sends you back to the waiting area. When you actually get to see a doctor they seem to be in a hurry. You feel rushed and don’t have enough time to cover everything you need to.
You might have a specific request, the doctor says they will look into it, but somehow nothing gets done about it or it takes months. You may have questions about your medications, but you get quick answers, and sometimes the answers don’t address your concerns.
Something that really irritates veterans is having an appointment they waited months to get,
cancelled without prior notice. This has happened to me on several occasions. If this was a Tampa appointment it means driving all the way to Tampa. For me and some others this is more than an inconvenience, its painful. I have numerous bulging disks and bone spurs in my spine. I also have arthritis in both hands. Driving more than a few miles is painful. And other vets I have talked to have the same issue.
Now to the issue of Disability Compensation. In spite of claims that things are much better,
that has not been the experience of many vets I talk with. Sometimes the wait can be as much as 2 years!! One way of delaying a final decision is to say it needs “further development.” This means the vet has to spend more time and effort researching just what kind of development is needed. For older vets who not very computer literate this is a real problem. What about vets who do not have use of their hands or fingers? And what about vets that are visually impaired?
For many Veteran Service Officers their help consists of just helping with paperwork issues, i.e. the right form to submit. They do not get involved in VA Case Law, or the Adjudication Manual. They don’t help the vet develop a theory of entitlement. This all means the vet has to do it themselves unless they find someone who can help them.
I have had several vets who applied for Agent Orange told they were not eligible because they
were never in Viet Nam. The problem is their DD 214 says they were!!! I’ve seen cases where the vets Claim was misstated or “misplaced.” One hearing I went to for my Claim took place even though the VA had “misplaced” my records and never notified me so that I could resubmit my evidence.
Another thing the VA refuses to acknowledge is the fact that vets do not file at the first sign
of a problem because we were taught not be a “complainer,” to “suck it up,” to “embrace the suck.”
And from a medical perspective, some conditions are not diagnosed at an early stage, such as
Diabetes or Traumatic Brain Injury. How are you supposed to file a Claim when you still don’t have a diagnosis? Test results can be confusing to a veteran who may not have had any medical training.
That is why it’s important for the VA doctor to explain in layman’s terms what they mean. Most vets never get a detailed understanding of how their medications are supposed to work; the time of Onset when they actually begin to work; the time of Peak Effectiveness. Some drugs are more effective if taken at night instead of the day.
The worst atrocity in my opinion is the failure of some doctors to report problems involving
other VA doctors. This amounts to a “coverup.” Many VA doctors refuse to complete a Disability
Benefits Questionnaire for their patients. Sometimes the VA requires a Medical Opinion that is
almost impossible to get from a VA doctor. It’s very difficult to find a Private doctor who will do it
and the ones who do, are very expensive. Most vets can’t afford this.
Now this is where my motto “To Make a Difference, Be the Difference” comes in. Get to know
disabled veterans. Build a relationship with them where they know they can trust you. This takes time. Help a disabled vet use their computer so they can fill out the VA forms. Help them do the research by using the VA Case Law and Adjudication Manual. Be the difference between them not getting their benefits and getting their benefits. Get educated on the VA disability system. Go to their doctors appointments and Compensation and Pension examinations.
You can be the difference between despair and hope. Failure and success.
Grace and Peace from the Teddy Bear Marine.