by Ed Mattson
“The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.” – George Washington
My recent articles regarding the treatment some veterans receive at the hands of the VA Hospital have stirred up a hornet’s nest of dialogue. As a man once said, “hang around here for a while and you’ll see pretty much everything you ever wanted to see”. Seems pretty appropriate when writing articles about veteran’s issues.
The discussion back and forth prompted Lav, a VA worker who responded to a recent article, what life was like on the VA side of the equation, not on the “executive level”, but on the “worker bee” level. It allowed us to put a face on what many veterans consider an adversary, but in fact backed up the issue I was trying to make when I made the suggestion that we often get in the same manner we give.
Look, we all have experiences in everyday interaction with not only the VA and their employees, but in nearly every occurrence of significance once we leave the safe confines of our home. By the sheer number, all cannot be in perfect harmony. As my dear friend who is Honorary Consul for Romania told me, “how you react to a confrontation, whether a favorable confrontation or not, will set the stage for how you handle affairs for the entire day, and generally affects the entire day”. It is like developing road rage when someone cuts you off, and in the heat of your anger you run a stop light, spill your coffee in an effort to pull over for the cop in your rear view mirror, and end-up with a flat tire (besides the ticket you just got), because you ran over a piece of glass on the side of the road…it happened to me!
In my discussions with those who have put ideas into my ahead about issues that need to be aired, some have become my “mentors” so to speak, about those same issues, and I have been able to carry some of the discussions to a better understanding by all concerned. Like many writers my focus is generally limited to the hour or two of research I had to do on the subject.
Experience is a far better teacher than simply reading about the issue. I have become acutely aware that the VA encounter with one veteran can be vastly different than what is was for another. The same is true for those seeking coverage for a disease caused by Agent Orange where one vet gets approved and another see his/her claim denied. The lack of uniformity in the different decisions that are handled down baffles me and often doesn’t make sense. I have written about many such case over the months.
The discussion about treatment continues with a second reply from our VA employee, Lav. Perhaps I triggered this reaction when I made the suggestion that the veteran would be better served if the VA System were privatized with Congressional oversight where those running the program would have to provide quality and uniform care. Whatever someone’s thoughts are, PROFIT is not a bad word and is the motivation that built America. If quality care wasn’t provided, usual judicial remedies would be available.
I was thinking along the lines of a Medicare System for Veterans provided by outside hospitals. Despite the many problems the government now faces with Medicare, that system in theory, is well intended. It’s just not efficiently run. If we could straighten the system out, it makes more sense to me that the over-bloated VA system and the hapless appeal tribunals veterans have to navigate in order to make their case. The privatization would open up the system to judicial review by our court systems…something sorely lacking with the VA. But Lav pointed out a few points worth mentioning as well…
“I am not asking anyone to OWN the VA, I am asking the veteran to manage their own health care. Take the time and listen how to navigate within the VA for your better health. Were the VA to privatize, many would then be in the same place as my husband (a veteran not qualified for VA benefits due to length of service). There is no system that is without flaws or employees that are slackers”. She goes on the say, “It is my task to inform all I can. Some VA’s have an orientation program for all new patients, but as most know, VA’s operate differently because of different directorship. Some are fiscally responsible, some are not. I have seen both kinds and it does make a difference”. Most veterans can certainly agree with her on that.
“As far as the ‘roach infested buildings’, it isn’t just VBA Hospitals; I see those creatures everywhere I go. I also have been creeped out by the conditions of the ‘clinics’ in the public (civilian) sector”. I will go a step further and say I am glad she hasn’t visited hospitals in other countries, particularly Eastern Europe, but we’ll save that discussion for another day. She goes on the state what many us already believe to be true… “I think were all the data be presented, the VA itself is on the forefront of the computerized medical records systems and as a whole, for its size (third largest entity within our federal government) it takes on a tremendous task, given the amount of patients it cares for. Unfortunately, not all VA employees care, but this too is becoming universal in our society (something I believe privatization would solve, or termination of those lacking would be automatic)”.
In closing she states, “We live in the ‘me generation’ times and loyalty is a thing of the past for most. When most are exiting the military, little focus is put on how to be cared for at a VA facility, my VA and our supervisors actively visit our surrounding military bases to communicate our services and how to access them. As to complaints, I have been hauled into the office for holding vendors fiscally responsible for the monies we spend, yet I will still choose to do the right thing, no matter”. Can we have an AMEN for Lav?
Following receipt of Lav’s reply, I received a letter that goes right back to my original assumption that in many cases, “there is a failure to communicate”, and there will always a certain number of veterans that no matter the outcome of their request for help, will always find something that doesn’t quite sit right with them.
“Thank you for a well thought out column and an acknowledgement that it is the decision maker and the Vet who screws the Vet in most cases. There is an outpatient Vet clinic next to the building where I work. The same 15-20 guys show every day and complain about how they got screwed all the while seeing the doctor in the clinic. For the most part, they are all Vietnam related and our age. All are 100%, and card carrying. I love the fact that they served, hate the fact that they have the same ID that I carry”. He goes on to say, “The lady is right (Lav) and glad that Ed Mattson pointed a lot of the facts out. If the Vet does not take care of his/her health, then the VA will not care for the Vet. One has to be proactive in all phases of life”.
I have withheld his name at this time because I would not want to make the attribution without his consent. I believe that a lot of the anger and rage can be traced to an ever lingering post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) condition. We all know there are those “in denial” and simply won’t seek health because of the stigma mental health places on the person seeking help. Our medical records are sealed, but on Monday we’ll discuss why that always may not be the case.
Following his service in the Marine Corps Ed Mattson built a diverse career in business in both sales/marketing and management. He is a medical research specialist and published author. His latest book is Down on Main Street: Searching for American Exceptionalism
Ed is currently Development Director of the National Guard Bureau of International Affairs-State Partnership Program, Fundraising Coordinator for the Warrior2Citizen Project, and Managing Partner of Center-Point Consultants in North Carolina.
Mr. Mattson is a noted speaker and has addressed more than 3000 audiences in 42 states and 5 foreign countries. He has been awarded the Order of the Sword by American Cancer Society, is a Rotarian Paul Harris Fellow and appeared on more than 15 radio and television talk-shows.