At the beginning of February I wrote about my visit to the V.A. clinic.
The Waiting Room
Today, I was attending my regular, every 3 month psychiatric appointment. In the waiting room at the Veteran's Administration Clinic was a young man, age 25 - 30. He had an ashen, pale look on his face and was sitting with both his parents. I couldn't help but make eye contact with this young, troubled Veteran. Somehow, his soul seemed fragile, fractured if you will, by the horrors he'd seen. He glanced at me, I looked at him... I could see fear, mistrust, doubt, apprehension, and the dread in his eyes. He looked away and down, as if mortified. Tears were welling up in his eyes. By this time, I was starting to get a big lump in my throat. Remembering the confusion I first felt when I was going through the "VA mental healthcare system". Finally, he glanced back up... I nodded to him... gave him a clenched fist... a subtle, positive sign, as if to say... please, stay strong, hang in there... your not alone. By this time I had tears welling in my eyes. He leaned back and looked up toward the ceiling wiping a tear away.
Introspectively, I was yearning to reach out to him. I wanted to tell him he's in the right place... doing the right thing... well on his way to some sort of recovery. I wish I could have communicated that seeking help is the first, huge, step in getting better. Let him know that his mind will never be 100% or be the person he once was, but it's his heart that matters. Explain to him, he's lucky he has two wonderful parents who love and care for him... something I never appreciated.
My wish was to give him a big bear hug. God, the stories I could tell this young man of my personal battles with the VA. Of course, he certainly didn't need some 50 year old disabled Veteran confessing his plight of chronic back and shoulder pain. In addition to his own light case of PTSD. Actually, I was thinking more of providing my experience to help guide him through the red tape of the VA. And be there for him if he ever needed someone to talk to.
Unfortunately, I was summoned suddenly for my appointment... I bounced up with intensity and a slight smile on my face for being called.
When I left my appointment... driving home... I started to reflect on my start with the "VA mental health system"... my anger grew. I had shed tears exactly like this young man. I remembered the shame I felt... of feeling ashamed. Why the fuck should I be embarrassed about anything... I didn't ask for these emotions! The Army tried its best to desensitized my feelings, dehumanize me. A pure and simple mind fuck. The Army wanted me to feel disgraced... let me carry around the stigma of not being able to handle the sights and sounds of war. I found out, most people can't. I'm not their little automaton, emotionally or physically. I'm on the road to recovering my passion for life... my life. No doubt, it's still a struggle. But I will cherish it with all the gusto I can muster. That's a good thing.
Damn, can I go back and talk to this young, mentally ill Veteran and tell him everything? Perhaps... he saw it in my eyes.
Yesterday, I went back for another appointment. Later in the day, I went to the downtown Carl T. Hayden V.A. Hospital for more follow up appointments. At both the clinic and the hospital it was crowded... like I've never seen it before. And I've been going to the V.A. for over 16 years.
Things were different, the best I can explain it was an overwhelming sense of urgency among the elderly disabled Veterans. Were they feeling like there might not be space available in the future? I know there will be a huge influx of new disabled Veterans coming in but I have never personally considered that I might not get seen. Are their fears warranted?
I had a 2 hour wait for X-rays yesterday. A young female Veteran got up and left, she had her 2 kids in tow. An elderly man limped out, cursing under his breath, not wanting to wait.
A wild eyed woman, came in all upset, ranting how they had lost her medical records and that they had no trace of her being seen at this hospital. She was looking around as if anyone could empathize with her, while continuing to berate the V.A. staff. I intruded and asked her to sit down... I asked if she didn't mind, could she please explain to me what happened. She was more than willing to vent.
She proceeded to explain that she was a former Marine officer, and went into detail about the lack of follow up care, frustration and insult she's been going through after her knee surgeries. Her displeasure with the V.A. was evident after 15 minutes... at the conclusion, I told her how I think things could go better next time. She listened intently... I told her to first go to record keeping, ask if they have her medical records. If they do, sign for a release of those medical records and immediately make copies, in triplicate. I mentioned they had done the same to me at the Denver V.A. Hospital but that I was always able to produce copies. In fact I told her they had lost my medical records 3 times, (or at least the office staff said they had).
I then told her if she wasn't satisfied to see the Patient Advocate. I mentioned they are designed to take complaints from disabled Veterans.
She took my words to heart and headed to the records office. She reappeared about 20 minutes later saying they had found everything and that she was getting copies right then. She was really grateful and had a huge smile on her face. When she left, the hospital staff thanked me as well for calming her down.
Damn it... it shouldn't have to be so difficult for disabled Veterans. You're already baffled dealing with a new governmental bureaucracy. You're hurting and in pain... there should be some simple answers. Instead the V.A. would rather put their heads in the sand and deny a problem exists. Will the problem go away? I think a million returning disabled Veterans will change their minds. If not... I know the million's of disabled Veterans, currently waiting impatiently for care, won't let them!
(Cross-posted at The Liberal Coalition)