I think it was a year or so ago when President Obama said he was going to fix the backlog problem at the Veterans Administration. I am pretty sure he also promised to bring the killers of our Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, to justice. I think his strategy is to say the right thing at the right time and then hope the people forget about it. The Media is in his pocket, so they won’t remind anyone.
But unfortunately (for him) the present problems at VA have reminded the public that he hasn’t kept his promise. So now, on cue, it is announced that Obama is “madder than Hell” over the VA allegations. Well, that makes me feel a lot better. The Washington Post had a cartoon a week ago Saturday in which a veteran was entering a VA office. There was one of those take-a-number machines and sitting right next to the machine was a soldier in a Civil Was uniform! Loved it.
When I was a young officer, Mr. Kenty, a warrant officer whom I worked with, and had been in the military for over 30 years, told me that there was only one person really interested in my military career and that was me. He started in the Army as a Blacksmith Apprentice. He loved the day the Army got rid of their horses and he didn’t have to feed them at 0600 hours everyday. His message about my career was clear and I did my best to keep track of what was happening to me. I also strongly believe that the same holds true for medical care. Especially in the military.
Upon retiring, Carole and I continued to receive our medical care through the military, always mindful that we were the only ones interested in our health and wellbeing. A number of military families, upon retirement, got as far away from military medical care as possible. That was their way of addressing the issue. We learned how to get great care within the military. The thought of using the Veterans Administration never crossed my mind. If VA was the answer, I have no idea what the question was.
I’ve had only a few experiences with the VA. None has been good. At the time of my retirement from the Army, I was told to apply to the VA for a disability rating. I was also told to make a copy of my medical files before VA got them, because they would surely lose them. They did. Three times! But each time they lost them, they found them. So technically, they didn’t lose them, they were just misplaced.
This all happened 24 years ago, so I’m a little fuzzy on some of the facts. Other parts of the experience, I remember like it was yesterday. In applying for the VA disability, you have to list all the things that have fallen apart during your military career. Then the VA gives you an appointment where they can evaluate your problems. They set it up so I had five appointments in the same day. I could receive all of my evaluations that day and be done. Sounded too good to be true.
The first evaluation was with an orthopedic doctor. I was given a couple of forms to fill out while waiting for the doctor. The forms were so ambiguous and confusing that I left a lot blank. When the doctor arrived and saw that I hadn’t completely filled out the forms, he became furious with me. He was screaming at me with some Eastern European accent. I was so bewildered that I just took it. It was his play pen and I was thoroughly confused. Here I had just retired with 28 years of military service and I was being treated like a truant school child. I thought about getting him in a hammer lock and giving him options. But, I had come over to this strange hospital with a mission and this jerk wasn’t going to get me off track. He eventually examined me and sent me on to my next appointment.
I made it to my next appointment which was with an eye doctor. He was young and friendly. We chatted for a few minutes and then he asked to see my glasses (a reasonable request). My glasses had been made in Germany which made the bifocal portion different. In the US, you can feel the bifocal portion of the lens extending from the front of the lenses. My glasses had the built-up portion of the bifocal on the back of the lens. The doctor noticed this and got all excited. He asked about where I got the glasses and I explained to him that they came from Germany. He asked if he could borrow them for a few minutes and I said, “Sure.” He didn’t come back for an hour. I just sat there. I eventually went out to the receptionist and told him I was missing my next appointment. He told me not to worry. It would be OK. The doctor came back as if he had been gone for only ten minutes and sent me on my way.
The next doctor concluded I had high blood pressure. Duh! I was delighted I hadn’t blown a leak. The next doctor was a psychologist who asked me how my day was going. I smiled at him and said, “Fine.” Way back in 1962, I had a buddy going to ROTC Summer Camp at Fort Sill (I was also attending). His car broke down three times on his trip from Missouri to Oklahoma. He got there late and they rushed him through the physical. Finally he saw a psychologist who asked him how his day was going. He went into a rant about the trip down to Fort Sill. They kept him under observation for three days. So whenever a psychologist asks me how my day is going, I smile and say, “Fine.” I also tell them I love my parents.
A year later, after “misplacing” my file a few times, I was notified that I was being awarded a 20% disability. That came to a little over $100 a month. Sound great? Well, not so great. The $100 they award is subtracted from my retirement pay. The only benny is that I don’t have to pay taxes on the VA money. Whoopee!
My only other VA experience was a screw up on my part. The year I was assigned to Northwestern University to get a Masters Degree in Criminal Law, we lived in Evanston, Illinois. Every couple of weeks we would go up to the Great Lakes Naval Station Commissary. We would pass the hospital on the way to the commissary. I had messed up my knee in my previous assignment in Germany and called up to the Great Lakes Naval Hospital and got an appointment.
On the day of my appointment, I drove up to the hospital and went inside. I found the room number of the orthopedic section and headed there. I found the room and went in. There was a receptionist sitting at a desk. I told her who I was and that I had an appointment. She said, “Well the doctor isn’t coming in today, but if you would like to sit down and read some magazines, go right ahead. Whoa! I headed back down to the reception section and got in line behind a young kid. He was big as a house, but the
little woman behind the counter was very upset with him. He had lost his medical card (and not for the first time). When it was my turn, I told her I thought I was in the wrong place. She starred at me and said, “Are you sure?”
It turned out that rather than going to the Naval Hospital, I had gone to a VA mental hospital. I smiled at her, told her I was fine and that I loved my parents and got the hell out of there.