Statistically, combat veterans use VA facilities over twice as much as qualified non-combat veterans. Combat veterans with post-traumatic stress have anxiety about their health, all the physical challenges associated with their wounds, and they very often have agent orange related symptoms. In Jack’s case, besides the physical after effects of stepping on the landmine, and the debilitating post-traumatic stress, he has a constant body rash and Parkinsons – a disease for which even the VA automatically awards an agent orange connection.
We live in a part of the country where an actual VA hospital is over three hundred miles away. Jack is now physically unable to make that trip. Again, even the VA recognizes his restrictions and calls him homebound – meaning he cannot leave the house without a care provider and he cannot live alone. It also means he qualifies for the new and oh so wonderful Veterans Choice program so he can see physicians outside the VA system. However, he cannot see these outside doctors without a request from the local clinic.
The local clinic has chronic staffing problems. The people who do work at the clinic are good folks who do their best to meet the needs of local veterans, but the demand simply outruns the supply. That means that every single time Jack needs medical attention I must cajole, sweet talk, and eventually piss off a VA employee in order to get his needs met.
I do not like hearing anger and frustration in the voices of people the minute they hear who I am. I do not like being caught in the middle between people doing their best in a bad situation and my husband who needs care. But, here’s the thing, it is not my job to be well-liked by the VA. It is my job to make sure my husband’s medical needs are met now that his health precludes him from continuing that responsibility himself.
I think of it as God’s way of helping me overcome my aversion to conflict.
But it’s stressful.
In an inefficient, overtaxed system where it is assumed that the veteran is entitled to poor to moderate health care, it is easy to lose the conviction that our government sent him into war, they promised to care for him and they can damn well do an excellent job of what they promised. No, I’m not going to contact the Wounded Warrior Project to get health benefits that the VA is legally mandated to provide. When three doctors now have said they believe he has developed atrial fibrillation and when we know the heart can be affected by Parkinsons, no I’m not going to wait months and months for the VA to put in the order for him to see a cardiologist or a neurologist. When he has a cyst the size of a grapefruit on his kidney and the urologist wants a scan to check blood flow, no, I’m not okay with waiting six months for the test to be ordered. And, no, in fact, I do not care whose fault it is that these delays happen. I am not consoled by the insisted-upon excuse that the problem is systemic.
FIX THE FUCKING SYSTEM.
That takes money. It’s real damn simple. Yes, there are inefficiencies and they need to be addressed, but the bottom line is that we continue to pay lip service to how much we honor our veterans. I mean, we have to say this really. Or else where are the next generation of wounded warriors going to come from? Who’s going to march off to war knowing that when they come home with grievous wounds, the VA is going to apologize and insist they’re doing all they can do, afterall, the problem is systemic?
And, just so you know, this, THIS FUCKING RIGHT HERE, is why the caregivers of wounded warriors die before the veterans for whom they care. It’s not the stress of caring for a loved one. It’s the stress of dealing with a society that pays lip service to honoring veterans while refusing to allocate the funds to actually make their medical system better.
Yeah, yeah, I’m having a bad day. Tomorrow will be better.
Still. Help me out here. Write to your congress person, call your senator. Tell them if we send people into war, we need to be honest about the cost of caring for the wounded who return to us and we need to fund the VA. Cause, here’s the thing, the veterans themselves may give up and go away. These guys know how to get by. But a whole lot of them married tough women who I gauran-damn-tee, you do NOT want to piss off.