I just returned home from a 3 hour drive for an appointment at the VA hospital. 1.5 hour drive there and 1.5 hour drive back. And I missed my appointment by 20 minutes because I missed an exit. Now, I have to wait 4 months to be seen again.
This is the life of a veteran trying to get health care from a VA (Veterans Administration Hospital). We are forced to go to hospitals hours away from us. We are forced to sit on the phone waiting to talk to a human being for hours. We are forced to wait months for appointments. We are forced to die.
Did you know that many veterans from Alaska have to fly to Seattle, WA to be seen by a doctor? It’s so bad, even an Alaska senator had to write about it, and the VA office of inspector general has to publish reports about it. Veterans in rural areas of Alaska suffer far more than the veterans who live in Anchorage, the most populated city in Alaska. Even in rural areas across the rest of the country known as the “lower 48”, veterans are suffering from complete neglect.
For the past year or so, I’ve had a bump on the back of my head grow bigger and bigger. Who knows what it is? I was in Iraq 10 years ago and in Afghanistan 8 years ago. I was a mechanic, so I was exposed to all kinds of toxic chemicals. And its been 7 years since I separated from the military. Who knows?
I now live near Savannah, Georgia. A new VA hospital was just built, but it is not a full-service hospital. With my head bump requiring a dermatologist, I was required to drive 1.5 hours north to Beaufort, SC at the Beaufort Navy Hospital, which is actually on a military base. I initially contacted the Savannah VA in November 2016. I was then scheduled for an appointment at the Beaufort Navy Hospital in February. Today (May 5) a biopsy was scheduled, but I missed the appointment because I missed an exit off an interstate highway. Missing an exit in a rural area can cost you 20-40 minutes of driving because by the time you reach the next exit, you could be in another state! Now, I have to wait another 4 months to be seen in August. When I am seen in August, it will be a total of 9 months since my first request to be seen by a doctor through the VA system here in South Georgia (and South Carolina!). Oh and another thing, the VA usually pays reimbursement for the driving distance. Since I missed my appointment, I didn’t get any reimbursement.
I can’t imagine being a veteran who has a far worse case than myself with a far worse situation. Oh wait, I can. One of my best friends from my time in the military actually died going through the VA “health care” system. Back in 2006-07, my friend Sean Whatley was diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer. Before getting out of the military in 2008, the cancer was cut out and he was sent off into the civilian world back home to Mobile, AL. For the next 3.5 years of his civilian life, pains throughout his body kept getting worse and worse. It got so bad he told the VA doctor he’d rather die than feel this pain. Even after 3.5 years of appointments, the VA never found anything wrong. Finally, he decided to go to an out of state VA from Alabama to Florida just to be seen by another VA doctor. Within hours of his first visit, they found tumors all over this body. He died 3 months later. Sean’s parents passed away when he was a child and he had no wife or kin, so the VA will be seeing no blowback from this case.
The VA system is very sketchy. I’ve been to a few from Anchorage to San Diego to Savannah. All of them suck. San Diego is known to have a good VA, but they still suck. I remember going to renew my VA identification card. I stood in line, spoke with a desk clerk, and he told me to go to a different VA the next day (San Diego has two VA hospitals). I got up and started walking out, but then I thought to try an experiment. I went right back in line to be seen by a different desk clerk. The second desk clerk didn’t know I was just seen by someone else. I spoke with the second desk clerk for maybe 2 minutes. And 10 minutes later, my VA id card was printed. Why I was told by the first desk clerk to go to a different hospital the next day is beyond me. Laziness? Crappy computer system? Who knows?
My point is that this idea we have that America, the richest country the world has ever seen who deeply loves their veterans, is the biggest hoax of my life. The VA has been exposed in cooking the books, covering up suicides, and punishing whistleblowers who speak out. The following videos prove my point:
This video shows Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) exposing “that the VA downplayed vastly the number of suicides and suicide attempts by veterans in the past several years”:
This video shows a whistleblower physician who makes over $250,000 per year being punished for speaking out:
This video shows a VA hospital scheduler speaking out about how they suppress callers:
Now, the government is trying to privatize the VA health care system. In fact, the past 3 years prove it hasn’t helped the problem at all. An investigative report by NPR has shown that the Veterans Choice and Accountability Act has literally done nothing. Long wait lines still exist, VA staffers are still needed, and suicides persist. Just to pile more evidence on the Veterans Choice act, here’s an article by Reveal that goes more into depth with special focus on Alaska veterans.
In the end, I’m stuck with this system. I can’t afford to go anywhere else. But the real issue is that the VA could be the shining example for health care in this nation. The VA is severely under-budgeted, under-resourced, and in need for personnel. If properly resourced, the VA could be a life saver for veterans rather than this painfully distressful experience that leads to many unnecessary deaths (and suicides). When will we realize the true potential of the most wealthiest nation on Earth? Well, not right now.