Obstacles to Life After Combat: Part 1 – The Attitude of VA Employees

Obstacles to Life After Combat: Part 1 – The Attitude of VA Employees

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?  Or in this case, was it the troubled veteran with the bad attitude, or was it the lack of concern and attention given the veteran when he arrived at the VA Medical Center for medical care?  Are the members of the health care community providing care for our veterans and truly welcoming those who step forward to admit they may have Post Traumatic Stress?

I’m not a gambler, but if I had to place all my eggs in one basket, I would place my bet that it is the system that is at fault.  There can’t be any other reason for VA employees to have such bad attitudes and treat our veterans with such negative behavior. I’ve heard far too many veterans share their stories of heartache, humiliation, frustration, and rejection that they experienced during an appointment at the VA. I’ll admit that I have heard some positive stories, but I believe they make up less than 10% of what has been told to me.

Because of my role within Military Missions Inc., I have been working with our local VA here in Lexington, Kentucky, for a few years.  We give financial support on a regular basis to some of the programs offered to the veterans learning to live with PTSD, but one of the main goals I had when we started supporting our veterans through the VA was to establish a way to create a relationship between the veterans and our organization’s members.  I want our veterans to know that they are appreciated and we are here to support them.

As an advocate for veterans and military families, I have made it a point to meet many of the people who work within the VA system.  I have become educated on programs offered and the “go to” people for each.  I have gone to many seminars and conferences  to learn as much as I can about traumatic brain injury and PTSD, how these issues affect our veteran population and their families, and what type of support is out offered as I am often approached by people looking for resources, not to mention I am the parent of a disabled veteran who lives with these issues.

I’ve found that the VA seems to have the monopoly on care in this town.  In fact, they seem to work hard to make sure that every resource leads right back to them because their funding is based on numbers and these numbers drive the train.  Sadly, the numbers are obviously about the almighty dollar and not about the veteran and his family receiving quality care.

When I first became involved with the VA, I had heard plenty of horror stories, but my interaction, as an advocate in the community, was positive. Everyone I spoke to seemed to be very dedicated to helping our veterans and I had a pretty good feeling about what was going on.  It wasn’t until my own son became one of the numbers at our local VA did I begin to see another side to the story.

Our son, and our entire family, had a pretty rough time dealing with the poor care within the Wounded Warrior Battalion at Camp Lejeune, NC, but I was optimistic that once our Marine began his care at our local VA, things would take a much more positive direction.  I promised him that things would get better because I knew these people and they really cared. My son seemed optimistic.  I even made the effort to go in and speak to an employee and give him some background on our past situation and the reality that my son simply didn’t trust in the system after all we had been through with WWBN-East, and though it might be difficult, I knew they cared and would take him under their wing. I had a good feeling about a fresh start now that my son was home.

It wasn’t long before we ran into problems, and I’ll have to admit that in the beginning, I really thought my son simply had a bad attitude.  I really couldn’t believe that professional care givers could honestly be so uncaring. While I completely understood my son’s lack of trust in the system, I thought the people here were going to be different.

I did my best to stay out the situation as my son was not really asking for my help anyway. He was doing his best to be independent. After all, no adult wants their mommy coming to their defense.  The caregiving community at the VA gives us parents little, if any respect, and in most cases, it just makes everything worse if we try to get involved. Employees hide behind HIPAA laws and build a wall between the veteran and his family members.

About 15 months into it, I was asked for my input and advice.  Out of shear frustration, my son had to ask me for help. The more I discovered through researching my son’s records and speaking to others, the more I began to realize that the biggest problem was likely the total disrespect with which he was treated and the gross misunderstanding that employees must have about the symptoms and treatment for PTSD and TBI, conditions in which my son, and countless others, have been diagnosed.  I find this part of the problem ironic since the VA has the supposed experts working on their staff and countless pamphlets with information to educate on PTSD and TBI.  You would think it would be the one place where there would be a true understanding of how these invisible wounds affect our veterans, and care and attitudes would be grounded in this knowledge.

Frankly, I could fill a few good books with all the situations we have gone through in our family alone, but I have kept my mouth shut for the most part for the past two years.  This town is too small for me to speak out without further repercussions and my son is already a marked man at the Lexington VA Medical Center. He has left the VA for most of his health care getting treatment in the community, some of which my husband and I have paid for out of pocket just because we knew our son needed real help. Now my son only goes to the VA when it is absolutely necessary.  He is actually doing much better now that he sees professionals that seem to care about his existence on this planet, but unfortunately, since he is a disabled veteran, he has to show up at the VA from time to time or he will lose his benefits and end up living under a bridge with the other homeless veterans in our community.

Just the other day, once again, he shows up to a mandated appointment only to leave having been told that he is going nowhere in life.  He just successfully finished his first semester of college, but apparently, he was told that he is doomed for failure and needs to change his course of action. Apparently, he is a risk to the way the “numbers” are going to look on somebody’s job performance report. Rather than encourage the progress he is finally making, he is told he is more likely to fail and apparently, his life is not worth as much as the employee’s job performance report.  I’d say that person is in the wrong line of work as they have no clue what it really takes to help a disabled veteran achieve success. My blood is boiling once again and I think I have just about reached the end of my patience.

As the founder and president of Military Missions Inc., I have continued to feel that the best thing I can do is keep supporting the individual veteran through the various support programs we have in place and to continue the relationship we have with the VA however,  for the past several months, I have literally had to force myself to show up each month. A feeling of dread comes over me a day or two before, and when I drive into the VA parking lot, I literally get sick.  My mind is filled with the insensitive treatment which my son and myself have received.  I recall the poor medical decisions which I feel could have easily caused my son’s death.  It’s only by the grace of God and his determination that he is still here with us.  I keep trying to put one foot in front of the other and show up to support the veterans, but frankly, I just don’t know how much longer I can do it.  I have to decide if hosting monthly Bingo as well as other events during the year, and providing $500 in monthly support is more effective than speaking up for our veterans.  They really don’t have a voice because the system is designed to deliberately keep them from speaking out for fear of being marked and losing benefits.

If my son was the only veteran having a hard time dealing with the VA, I would be the first one to to admit that it must be him causing the problem, but I know for a fact that there are countless veterans going through the same issues.  I also know that if there was nothing wrong, I wouldn’t be met with angry glares, defensive answers, and downright avoidance by those who work for the VA. I also want to make it clear that I never speak out until I have completed my homework. I do know that this widespread problem is not the fault of one disabled veteran.

I am risking much to speak out, but I am risking more to stay quiet.  I think my son’s life, and the lives of the veteran population here in Lexington, Kentucky, are far more important than whether or not someone at the VA wants me to show up and host Bingo.

I started Military Missions Inc because I thought it was important for the people of our community to give back to those who serve on our behalf.  I try my best to keep this support positive, but I’m not helping anyone if I continue to keep my mouth shut and do nothing. There is a reason that God allowed our family to go through this nightmare and I don’t think it was so I would keep it all bottled up inside.  I think God has a purpose and I’m ready to take it on.

I honestly don’t know where this is going, but I do know that I’m compelled to start talking about it. I’ve got a list of topics and issues on which I will be writing, all with some sort of a personal experience just so you know that I am not writing fiction.  Let the chips fall where they may. Lives are more important than numbers.  My veteran is a living breathing human being, not a statistic on the job performance report for someone waiting on retirement.

Comments

  1. anon says:

    I’m curious, as i have also experianced many of the disheartening things you’re describing with the VA, but also with other organizations spouting out their vision and dedication in helping veterans, when A) they have to be “injured” per whatever their standards are, (im sorry like PTSD isnt good enough for u? Have u never helped care for or suffered from this urself? We’re not in the 1960s anymore pple wake up its real) B) more often than not in order to recieve any kind of aid they have to have been discharged or served after 9/11 or they don’t count and finally and what is most disturbing C) disrespecting and trying to discredit a service men or womans military record…finally have you ever heard any of these experiences stemming from the wound warriors regiment (which was confusing and phishy to me in the first place because when i was first contacted by them, i was mistakenly made to believe they were calling from the “wound warriors project” which of course is different, but dont know what to think about ANY organization “claiming” to help vets any more, but esp the VA!!!

    • Beth says:

      In response to your comments:
      A) With regard to other organizations, I believe that most organizations have established guidelines for the population they are going to assist. Some are focusing on the invisible wounds (PTSD,TBI), some focus on assisting those with physical wounds, some assist homeless vets, some assist families, etc. It seems like more and more organizations are beginning to recognize PTSD as a real injury and stepping up to assist veterans with this issue, but there needs to be more support.

      B) I’ve seen reference to programs that are designed for veterans who served after 9/11. I imagine that these programs were established specifically for those vets. There are likely many programs out there for veterans of other conflicts who don’t serve veterans who have served after 9/11. There are so many organizations out there. I’m sure each one has a different reason for why they serve a specific population.

      C) I’m not sure to what you are referring when you say, “disrespecting and trying to discredit a service men or woman’s military record”. Do you mean that someone can’t receive services if they didn’t receive an honorable discharge? I know this is often the case. I have a problem with that because so many people are now being discharged with OTH discharges for reasons that are directly associated with their behavior because of a TBI or PTSD. The trend to kick people out of the military seems to be more about saving money than because these people have actually had dishonorable service.

      With regard to your comments about Wounded Warrior Regiment and Wounded Warriors Project – are you saying that you were contacted by Wounded Warrior Regiment? Why? Were they asking for a donation? Are you sure it was WWR? There are many entities which incorporate “Wounded Warrior” into their name? I was very confused at first myself. I would recommend checking out anyone who calls using the words “wounded warrior”.

      • Beej says:

        I’m not sure to what you are referring when you say, “disrespecting and trying to discredit a service men or woman’s military record”. Do you mean that someone can’t receive services if they didn’t receive an honorable discharge? I know this is often the case. I have a problem with that because so many people are now being discharged with OTH discharges for reasons that are directly associated with their behavior because of a TBI or PTSD.
        Beth, you wrote the above, and I would like to respond to it if I may. The disrespect at most of the VAs is deplorable, and as for trying to discredit our service men, YES they do. Right now, at our regional VA center our returning vets are being given MMPI tests to try and discredit the possibility of PTSD or TBI. Thesse vets are also receiving OTH discharges because they have conduct unbecoming a service man or woman. Some arre even doing time in prison for actions not of their own doing, but due to the fact that our military has built a killing machine, turned it on and sent it home without an OFF button. If you are a woman vet with PTSD or PTSD symptoms your wait for evaluation is currently two years, unless you try and commit suicide. Why? Are our women who fight for our freedom just as important as our men?
        I am a senior psychology major at our local university and I have PTSD as my main research project. I would like to share my last paper, but I can’t figure out a way to get it uploaded on to a blog, so guess I will just continue to search for a way.

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