by Nicholas J. Vocca
The April 30 Associated Press article reporting how senior officials overseeing veterans disability claims had their bonuses suspended due to a failure to process disability claims which created a somewhat substantial backlog in processing these claims strongly appears to be one of the many problems and challenges this agency is facing.
In the aftermath of this report, there have surfaced numerous grievances from some nations veterans who contend that there is also a considerable amount of mistreatment leveled at veterans not only in the quality of care they receive at VA facilities, but also in how some staff members treat and regard them as individuals who served our great nation and its people.
According to one veteran, whom we must keep anonymous in order to protect his medical confidentiality, his dealing with the Highland Drive extension of the Pittsburgh VA was anything but helpful, and respectful towards veterans.
Admitting that he was a patient there four times after calling the VA Crisis Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 when he was having suicidal thoughts, this veteran recounted some incidents which have him left him "bewildered" at the lack of substandard care and mistreatment other veterans were subjected to during his stays there.
"One female aid, Brandy, was forever snapping or pointing her fingers in the face of veterans, and the tone of her voice was that of being totally annoyed, or superior, than one there to help us." One example he gave was in how she encountered a man sitting on the floor, and in no ones way. Calling him a "born loser" who would never be anything but that, she "demanded" he get up and go to his room if he wanted to behave "so pathetically."
Digressing here to say he appreciated this hospital's policy to have incoming patients surrender their belts, shoelaces, and other items which could be used as potential weapons against staff members and other patients, this veteran spoke on another occasion with Brandy where she happened to uncover two inactive cells during a search of one veteran's nightstand, and came "like a gang-buster" into the dining hall. Instead of politely asking the veteran to come with her, she commanded him to "get over here," and then walked him to the nursing station with an air about her more like "a cop or drill sergeant," than a lady. "I knew this (vet) had those phones, and the only reason he did was so he could listen to recordings of his son, or watch a couple videos of the kid as a way to keep his hopes up that he would see him again."
Waking up earlier than usual one morning, he made his way towards the nurses station when he heard a third shift staff male member draw laughter from other staff members after stating how he was glad he was getting off duty before "these walking dead banana heads wake heads wake up and troll the halls all day." According to the veteran, the staff member simply turned, then walked off when he noticed that this veteran was present.
On another occasion, this veteran, along with some others, were near another vet who smiled, and told a female who worked for a temporary nursing agency how he was "proud" to be a veteran. "This guy was really out there...he was (out of touch with reality) for the most, but very proud to have served in the Air Force," the vet began. "Rather than say something like, 'that's nice," or just nod her head, the (woman) looked right at him and said, '"That doesn't impress me one bit.'" I was like, what? You are here, working in a VA hospital, and getting paid because of us veterans, and you can't say anything nice?"
Within seconds of hearing that response, two other veterans immediately left to report that statement to a staff member, only to return with "astonished faces" as they reported being told by a nurse that the woman was from a temporary agency, and that they needed to "grow up and develop thick skin," in spite of themselves.
These often scathing and sarcastic remarks aside, the veteran claims that there are only three options available for those veterans on these wards. "You either sleep the time away in between medication times, pace the hallway, or sit on these smelly rubber chairs all day and watch TV." Other than a few discussion groups or rap sessions, there is little else to help a vet stimulate his or mind in a positive way, or cope with what is bothering them.
"That's all," he exclaimed. In response to whether or not he would ever go back to this facility, he laughs, and says "Nope!" "No way, ever! Then he tells of troubles encountered when asking for even basic items, like a towel and washcloth to shower, or pair of "clean socks" from his personal belongings.
"I asked one (staff member} who was standing around talking with other staff about a ball game the night before for a towel to shower with. He said he'd get it 'in a bit,' and returned to talking about the game. I went into the TV room. This was around 2 p.m. Come 4 o'clock, the guy I asked had left for the day...I finally got a towel after supper from a female staff member shortly after second shift came on duty."
New medications. This veteran recounts how he was once directly behind a female veteran who informed the nurse dispensing medicines that her doctor had not informed her she was on a "new" medication, and wanted to know what it was, and why she had been prescribed it? "This woman may have been told, and she may have forgotten being told, but she was asking a legitimate question, which is in the VA's Patients Rights policy." However, he continued, "the nurse simply (chastised) the woman, and told her it was not his "job" to answer for doctors, but to simply dole out whatever medications a doctor ordered.
"No way in Hell!" was this veteran's reply when asked if he would recommend this facility to another veteran, or return to it when he has any further thoughts of suicide. "I would not send a hot dog to that (place) if my life depended on it!"
Quoting a line from the movie 'Awakenings,' he referred to it as "the garden," where most staff are only there to "feed and water" those veterans who have in some way(s) collapsed from behavioral or mental problems, and essentially have no qualms in demonstrating a lack of disregard for the concerns of our nation's veterans, this veteran stated he has since sought help from outside agencies "who listen to my troubles, and earn their paychecks."
Coming up in Part II of this series, we will explore the before and after plight of a veteran who underwent surgery at the Pittsburgh VA, his views on what changes may or may not be needed to improve the quality of care this facility affords the men and women who served our nation.
Until, thank you for reading the Ashtabula Times, as it is jy pleasure to remain;