The VA is still Very Awful

The VA is still Very Awful

Alexis ChapmanWednesday,1 June 2016

A few days ago our country observed Memorial Day, a day of remembrance for military personnel who gave their lives in service of our country, and in November we’ll have Veterans Day in honor of all who have served in our armed forces. These days are important, our veterans deserve recognition, and every day they also deserve a health care system that functions the way it should. Right now they still don’t have that. In 2015, chronic, severe problems in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system prompted public outcry when it was revealed that thousands of veterans died while waiting for care. In response to these issues the Secretary of the VA was forced to resign, new programs were introduced and billions of dollars have been spent trying to reduce wait times and fix the system so veterans could get the care they need.

Unfortunately things have not gotten better for the over 2.5 million veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the more than 10 million veterans of the wars in Vietnam, Korea, and WWII. Wait times for care are still many months long and the new secretary recently compared it to waiting in line for rides at Disneyland (I’m not a doctor but I’m almost positive that riding Splash Mountain and getting cancer treatments are not at all alike).

If and when veterans eventually do get to see doctors, many are still not having anything resembling a positive or healthy experience. A recent Senate investigation into one VA Medical Center in Wisconsin found that the Inspector General (IG), the supposed watchdog of the VA, had failed to force the VA to address issues. Among other problems the IG never released a report showing that providers at the facility had been prescribing unusually high levels of narcotics. Without any sort of functioning watchdog organization it’s impossible to even know specifically what issues the VA is still having and how they need to be addressed in order to serve veterans.

At another VA facility, on Fort Hood in Texas, at least one doctor has been telling patients that their spouses can’t be present during their Compensation and Pension Examinations because “the exam room is too small.” When pressed, this physician changed the rationale for barring spouses and instead cited the fact that spouses sometimes fight in the exam room. This was contradicted by a VA advocate in the area, who said that doctors are allowed to bar spouses due to sensitive questions being asked during examinations. This advocate, however, was unable to clarify why spouses are sometimes allowed and sometimes not. Whatever the real reason is, it’s not because exams rooms are too small. That’s just a ruse.

Lying to veterans about this in order to avoid providing a real explanation is at best incredibly condescending and at worst it’s a very shady way to separate veterans from witnesses/advocates/support people during an important examination — the results of which will impact the rest of their lives. And this practice conflicts with an important VA patient right, which says “You, and any person(s) you choose, will be involved in all decisions about your care.” Of course many veterans are probably not aware that they have this or any rights since the Rights and Responsibilities of VA Patients and Residents of Community Living Centers (that’s the official name of the VA patients rights) is much like the entire VA system; unwieldy, hard to access, and seems not to have been created in order to really benefit anyone, least of all Veterans.

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Image Credit: Ed Schipul on Flickr



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