I intend to use this space to relate to you my actual experience with the Veterans Administration medical system. When I was a resident of Minnesota, I was treated by the St. Cloud facility and also the St. Paul medical facility. I experienced the absolute best of care.
As many of you know, due to the illness and subsequent death of our son-in-law in Georgia, we decided to move here to help our daughter and our grandchildren. This move required I enroll with the Georgia VA health-care system.
The closest VA is about 25 miles from my home and it’s a community-based outreach clinic. For any treatment other than just the most basic, I have to travel to Dublin, Ga., which is about 160 miles away. I have a local assigned primary care doctor and he treats me as he is allowed by the VA, and sends me to Dublin for everything else.
Now we’ve all heard the VA has been dealing with a number of issues regarding waiting time for appointments and distance from a care facility. To try and encapsulate a long story, here goes:
I saw my primary doctor last year on Oct. 1 for extreme shoulder pain. He set me up for X-rays at the local hospital Oct. 2. I was then sent to Dublin for a consultation with the pain-management doctor Jan. 2. That doctor said I probably needed shoulder-replacement surgery. The surgery would be done locally here but the VA had to approve it, set everything up and essentially hire a surgeon and the hospital to take care of it. I learned two weeks ago all had been approved but still have not heard from anyone about when the surgeon would see me or anything about the surgery. In the meantime, on Feb. 3, I received a past-due notice for the X-rays because the VA had not yet paid the bill from Oct. 2. When I called the hospital they said the VA is always very late with their payments.
This process is now going on five months and there is still no end in sight. I have since learned the VA is trying to set me up with an orthopedic surgeon but has not as yet. I wonder if the reason they are having trouble is because they don’t pay their bills. In the meantime, my pain continues to worsen.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am very grateful for the VA benefits I have. If the system were properly managed, it would be great. The problem is it’s just too big. The bureaucracy is too stifling. There are too many layers of management to get through to get the care one needs. When you see these kinds of layers, you also see people working to cover their rear ends. It’s the patient who suffers while workers in the VA are trying to justify their jobs and protect themselves.
This column is not intended as a complaint. It’s instead a report on the actual experience of just one veteran – me. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to consider how many thousands of other vets are going through the same thing or much worse. I don’t think my condition is life-threatening, just very painful. I can’t even imagine how my family or I would feel if I had a terminal condition.
The VA can and must do better. The U.S. Congress must see America’s warriors are taken care of. We have all waited too long.