Sunday, May 5, 2013

VA backlog of disability claims not only problem facing agency at this time

Part II of a Series
by Nicholas J. Vocca

In a May 3 ABC News report for Good Morning America, "Suicide Rate Spikes in Vietnam Veterans Who Won't Get Help," reporter Susan Donaldson James presented some alarming facts and statements from those who have dealt with suicide prevention and those who have attempted it.

Citing the Center for Disease Control's national suicide statistics released earlier last week for the time period between 1999-2010, James reports that out of the estimated 8-million Americans who have claimed to have had suicidal thoughts that 1.1-million will attempt to take their own lives, and 38,000 will succeed in doing so.  Single males, who lack a college education, account for the majority of suicide by a 4-1 margin.

Annual suicide rates for adults between the ages of 35-64 increased from 13.7 to 17.6 per 100,000 people during the decade reported, with the greatest noted increases being among people aged 50-54, at 48%, and 55-59, at 49%.

According to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline director John Draper, suicide rates among veterans who served the the Vietnam Conflict are the highest of any particular group, and he claims that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other associated mental health issues are the blame for this.

"The most important thing to remember is that we can do something stop this," said Draper, who added that "communication and support from others can help prevent suicide."

Rudi Gresham, a former combat soldier in Vietnam who served as senior adviser to the Department of Veterans Affairs under the George W. Bush administration recounted how veterans found "less support" in the 1960's - 1970's , and how "older veterans do not trust the government and they don't go for help."  In another statement, Gresham said that in the 1970's the VA was "not responsive" to the needs of those veterans.

While this agency has been reported over the years to have initiated programs and steps designed to better serve the needs of our nation's veterans, it appears not have come anywhere near close to making the grade according to the near-2,500 comments, many with 30 or more replies, which have been made on the Yahoo News site which published this article.

The general opinion of all posters, mainly veterans or family members of veterans ranging from World war II up to our current Operation Enduring Freedom, is that this agency is more one of "lip-service" that trails far behind its civilian peers as far as quality, timely care is concerned.  More than several have posted the details of their father or husbands death as being the result of inadequate care received when being treated by the VA, some claim they seek medical attention at a regular hospital and validate Gresham's statement by saying they still do not "trust" the government, and a fair majority report to have been waiting several months, even years, for word on a needed medical procedure or their disability claim.

Two local veterans nod in agreement with this article, and other more recent ones, which have surfaced regarding what appears to be a call for more detailed and extensive investigations into this agency molded to look after and provide for those men and women who served this nation.

Billy R., who served as an Airborne Ranger in Vietnam, states that he can never get a "straight," or acceptable answer why his service-connected pension is sometimes suddenly stopped or delayed.

"One time it's because they say I was previously over-paid, the next time they're saying I'm someone else," he vents, throwing his arms up.

"A few years back my check was (delayed) for several months...when it came it was for the full and exact amount, and then the next week I get a statement saying  they were going to start deducting a percentage of my monthly checks because they over-paid me on my last check, which was the one I received with my back pay.!"

Was he able to get help stopping this?  Through the help of a service officer from a local veterans organization, "yes!  But even those guys have it rough dealing with VA offices because one hand never knows what the other is doing, or because most of the time those (clerks) in the main offices (of the VA) all interpret policy differently."

"That has happened with," began Keith N., a former Marine who served a three-year, non-combat hitch, in 1968.  "I once called the Erie VAto speak with the pharmacy about getting a refill for my diabetic testing strips, and that was a real (fiasco)!

After what is usually a lengthy wait for a VA switchboard operator to answer, he informed the operator that he needed connected to the pharmacy.  Instead, he found himself speaking to the library where he was told he would have to call the central number back because the female there was unable to transfer him.  Though his seond wait time was brief, his initial encounter with the pharmacy technician was anything but pleasant.

"I gave her my last name last four of my social Security number, as required.  (She) said she had to put me on hold, and I waited about ten-minutes for her to get back on.  When she did, she was talking with someone else in the room, and laughing at what they were telling her about seeing something at the mall.  When I was finally able to get her attention she again asked for my last name and last four, then said she pulling up my records on the computer."

Not a diabetic?  "Yep! That's what she told me!"  According to him, the female informed him that there was "no doctor's report" about him being diagnosed as a diabetic, and no prescription for "testing strips".  When she began running down the list of medications he did have refills for, he knew than something was wrong.

"When I was finally able to stop her, and tell her I was not on any of those, she suddenly giggled, then told me she had 'accidentally' pulled up another guy's records!"  All said and done, between the two calls and mix up of the pharmacy tech, he accounts to have "wasted" almost one-hour that day just to refill a prescription for his testing strips.

Since then, Keith has returned to the Wade Park VA in Cleveland, where he originally began receiving care, and commends that facility as being "a few steps up the ladder" as opposed to the "clunk-heads" at Erie, and while Billy echoes the same intentions, his transfer will be initiated in about two months.

"That is when my primary care physician is retiring.  He is the best I have had in my time with the VA, and we've developed a good rapport with each other.  Aside from that, wouldn't give you two dog (bones) for the entire VA system in PA if my life depended on it."

Pending no more current national news articles on the VA, our next in this series will be that of a veteran who dealt with the Pittsburgh VA for over one-year in his attempts to get surgery, and a post-surgical event that took place hours he was discharged which could have sent him into a coma, or worse.

Thanks for reading the Ashtabula Times.



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