The VA Scandal is Not News to Veterans

I have written many positive things about the care I have received at  VA hospitals.  There are some amazing people who work there, and listen to patients.  I have received medication that would not have been available to me because of cost,  like Viagra and Remicade.  I would be missing fingers and toes had it not been for the VA.

I have experienced and witnessed backlogs in the VA Health Care System since 1994.  What I find so shocking, is that in 2014, people are just now learning this, or at least willing to acknowledge it.   I was at the he Loma Linda, California VA, 2001-2013.  During the ramp up to Iraq, veterans were waiting more than three hours to see a doctor, two hours to get a prescription filled, and stand in line over an hour for travel pay, while we were waiting, Fox News would be on TV, making a case for war in Iraq.  Veterans with their respective war or command ball caps, would gladly talk about how we needed to go to Iraq.  How easy the war would be, and how Iraqi oil would pay for the cost, yet they sat there as casualties of prior wars, waiting ridiculous amounts of time to have their continuing war wounds treated and were so willing to put men and women in harm’s way,  with a back-logged Veteran’s System.  To say I was puzzled, is an understaement.

I was receiving my health care at the VA Facility in Loma Linda, and locally in Murrieta, California, thanks to “golden insurance” provided by our small business.  Both health care systems were crowded.  Murrieta had a population of about 39,000 when we first moved there in 2001.  By 2004, the population had jumped to nearly 90,000.  I remember being in the ER at my local hospital in 2003 during one of my visits, when my blood pressure was high, and there were four of us in one room.  There were pregnant women in the hallways.  I was waiting to see them stack us in bunk beds.  The local healthcare system had been flooded with new families moving to Temecula Valley,  attracted by affordable homes.

I bring the overcrowding of private hospitals into the conversation because I saw both systems become overcrowded because of poor planning.  The community of Temecula Valley, built thousands of houses, but forgot to have infrastructure in place.  just as the United States started two wars, without preparing for service members when they became veterans.  There was a whole lotta of cheering, flag waving and saber rattling, but no plan.  We didn’t learn from Vietnam.  We didn’t learn from Desert Storm.  We were a country cheering about how great we were, and “getting” bad guys.  I even quit listening to Howard Stern,  because he said, “Gas prices will pay for the war.”  I was making my bed I heard that.  I remember what color sheets I was putting on the bed.  I was placing the flat sheet, folding it down, heard what he said, stopped what I was doing, walked over and turned off the stereo.  I don’t know if he was kidding.  Maybe I was just hypersensitive.  Maybe I was just the hysterical female I was used to being called when I was in the Navy, and at nursing stations in VA hospitals.

And Howard Stern wasn’t saying anything that wasn’t being said all over  radio, television and at kitchen tables.  Eventually, I discovered progressive radio and it gave me hope, but over the years,  statements that could fit on a bumper stickers seemed to prevail over facts.

We have a long way to go in order to solve veteran’s healthcare.  This is not news to patients like me, but it amazes me how upset people are getting now, the people who knew the problems of overcrowding existed, and experienced it first hand.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled people are finally upset about this.  Over the years, I have learned to live within the system by speaking up and crashing clinics like college classes.  Veterans are finally speaking up about backlogs.  I’m not sure if I am angry because it’s taken so long, or because it seems to fit the narrative.  I just hope now that people are talking about it, it will actually receive the change needed, or just be part of political campaigns and fade away after elections.

 

Everyone Deserves The Health Care Dick Cheney & I Have.

..”Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

Emma Lazarus

Based on the cheers I heard about letting the uninsured die during the Tea Party Debate, I wonder if they would have led a protest against Emma Lazarus’ poem.

I mention Dick Cheney, because I saw that he was wearing his heart in his blazer due to the failure of his own heart. I have never liked the man. Yes, we have met. He wouldn’t remember. It was briefly while I was in the Navy. It’s no secret I’m not fond of him, but I would never wish his or anyone’s death.

I also mention him because many die of heart failure every year. How many are given an opportunity to have a portable, external pump 24/7? We’ll get back to that.

Let’s talk about my health care. In 1996, I had to fight for Veteran’s health benefits and won. I started in 1994 and I am one of the lucky ones. I wrote to my Representative in Washington and magically, I was 100% service connection disabled. (Thank you Representative of La Crosse, WI in 1996. I apologize for not remembering your name) When awarded my Veteran’s benefits, I called the VA and asked if the TV show, 20/20 would be knocking at my door to do an expose or something. After the government shut down of 1995, it was crazy times. To explain my benefits, here’s my latest post on Google Plus and Facebook.

“EVERYONE deserves the medical care I get. I will be at Rheumatolgy at the VA today to pick up my records for my Rheumatologist in LA. I remember every day how lucky I am. May everyone soon have socialized healthcare like me. I’m able to see the best specialists at UCLA because of Medicare. My specialists make recommendations to the VA, who actually sent me to UCLA because they didn’t know what to do with me. At the VA all my medications are covered. I am one of the lucky ones. Because of The VA and Medicare, my diseases are stabilized after 16 years, I have a good prognosis. EVERYONE should have access to such great care. EVERYONE. I served so I could go to college and get out of “Dodge”. The truth is, not everyone can serve, and their contributions are important. My uninsured friends are priceless. They deserve great care just as much as I do.”

So, why do Dick Cheney and I have health care, when so many others don’t? I feel as though we are the “storied pomp”, in Emma Lazarus’ poem, but we are not. Everyone deserves the health care we get. I am confident that if I have heart failure, I would fight my ass off to get a portable unit. Not because I can afford that, but because VA Hospitals are teaching hospitals. You get fresh minds mixed with the brilliant experience and knowledge of the residents. I have seen many cases and experienced first hand care where money is not a factor. I would be careless to not mention they do have a medication formulary, but I have found ways around that to get what I need- and I’m happy to share how if anyone needs it.

So why does Dick Cheney get a heart pump and I get infusions without having to try two other medications and have them fail before I get my beloved Remicade?

I could speculate and make jokes, but I honestly have no idea. I have felt massive amounts of guilt watching friends and family try to make it without insurance. We are Americans- we’re supposed to be the good guys. I grew up believing we stand for and with others who can’t do it on their own. If I were Karen, the manicurist, I would’ve died in child birth because I wouldn’t have had my magic letter. That’s right, a magic letter.

When I was pregnant in 2003-04, the VA did and still does not deliver babies. I received a letter in the mail that stated something like, “The VA will pay for all medical care related to the health of this veteran regarding her current condition.” When my blood pressure had become so high that I began to see orange spots, my OB/GYN sent me to Mary Birch Hospital in San Diego. Seventy two hours later, after shots of steroids and my organs began to fail, my son was delivered by C-section.

There is too much to that story to include all the details in this entry, but two things stick out.

1. I shared a semi private room with a woman my age in the same condition. Both of us were given steroid injections. After my 1st painful injection, I asked the nurse to put it in my IV. The next round of shots came and it was done. No question asked. I told my roommate to ask for the same. She did. They told her her insurance wouldn’t allow it. (record scratch stop) Yes, a woman who needed to be kept calm because her blood pressure was dangerously high, had to be put through frequent painful injections. Imagine sitting in comfort while listening to someone cry because they are in so much pain- that could have been avoided. Did I deserve better treatment? No. I had the equivalent of a blank check. What Karen needed, Karen got. Meanwhile, my equal in the room next to me had to suffer because some asshole paper pusher decided she didn’t need to feel comfortable. She could endure that pain. Both of us had HELLP Syndrome.

2. Three years later, I was in an emergency room at a public hospital, not a VA hospital because my ex-husband and I had a business. I was in charge of picking insurance our family and employees. I heard more than one doctor call it “Golden Insurance”. It’s what got me in the door at UCLA and medicare makes it possible for me to keep going back to UCLA.

In the ER, the nurse assigned to me, shared her own experience with HELLP Syndrome. She had the exact symptoms I had, without the happy ending. Her insurance required her husband to drive her an extra hour after going completely blind because of her blood pressure while she was pregnant. The ER they were assigned was not equipped to handle her condition. She lost her baby. She continues to work as a nurse to keep her family insured. She has to, to stay alive. She needs heart medication and frequent treatment by a cardiologist. I couldn’t say it, but all I could think was how unfair it was. Life is not supposed to be fair, but no one should be denied the care they need because of money. NO ONE. She lost her baby at 32 weeks and was in the ground, while my son- also born at 32 weeks, was at home getting ready to go camping.

So, I ask again, are Dick Cheney and I of more value than those two women above? Are we worth more than my friend Chelle? Are we worth more than Steph and Jennifer, Chelle mentions in the video below? No. But if I were Karen; the manicurist and he Dick; the retired electrician we would be both be dead.

Make time to watch Chelle’s video.

Thank you.