VA Rant


VA hospitals are under attack right now. The whole country is suddenly aware of what every vet in the country knows and deals with every single time they want medical care. Half a dozen people this week have asked me, “What do you think of what’s going on at the Pheonix VA?”
Here’s what I tell them:
This is not news. Inadequate care is prevalent and built into the VA system. Every veteran knows that if they want good health care they are going to have to work hard to find it within the system and fight tooth and nail to receive it.
Is the system better than no health care at all? Of course. Is it what they were promised when they joined the military and risked, and in many cases lost, life and limb? Oh, hell no. Not even close.
We live in Fayetteville, Arkansas and the VA hospital here is one of the best in the nation. Some of the best nurses and psychologist and social workers I know work at the Fayetteville VA. Some of the worst are there too, but one quickly learns who to avoid when making an appointment. Telegraph, telephone, tell a vet. These guys look out for one another.
Veterans here fought hard to get alternative treatment for their post-traumatic stress. The VA now offers bio-feedback and acupuncture and rapid eye movement therapy and tapping. All excellent alternatives to opiates to control both physical and mental pain. But, this is the VA and when something is working, the solution is often to mess with it. It’s a bureaucracy. A beast not known for efficiency. A beast that eats tax dollars and poops poor results.
My husband, Jack, and four of his buddies are currently caught in this vise of VA bureaucracy and lack of funding. These are not peace-time soldiers and marines and airmen, all of these guys fought incountry. The moment the VA approved fee basis acupuncture as a treatment for pain, these guys signed up. They were already doing biofeedback and meditation and every damn thing they could come up with to stop the physical pain and relieve the anxiety and the rest of the PTSD symptoms. It wasn’t enough.
Jack came home from his first acupuncture appointment and, for the first time in years, lay down and slept without medication. Over the last year, I’ve watched all four of these guys get better. Their pain became manageable, their outlook on life improved, chronic problems like fibromyalgia and asthma and panic attacks all but disappeared.
Now the VA has stopped paying for acupuncture. The stated reason is that it’s costing far too much and that they are concerned with the quality of care. The VA claims to be hiring a chiropractor and says they will require he have 100 hours of acupuncture training. This will replace the miracle worker these guys have been seeing who’s been working full-time in the field for seven years. Hard to believe that will improve the care.
But the real issue, and the reason I’m angry enough to be writing this post, is that this acupuncture-trained chiropractor has not yet been hired, while approval of fee basis acupuncture has been terminated. These guys do not want to go back to opiates. They hate taking the pills, but with the pain returned and no relief in sight, they’re desperate for relief. Here’s where the story gets just plain ridiculous.
The VA is currently under scrutiny for its widespread practice of throwing narcotics by the suitcase full at veterans, and their solution is to deny any new prescription for narcotics. So decorated combat veterans wounded in the line of duty are caught in a vise. They can’t get the acupuncture that relieved the pain and now, because they worked hard to get off the pain meds and thus are technically asking for new prescriptions, they can’t receive the opiates either.
What a system.