Editor’s Note: A lot has been in the news lately about how our veterans are not having their claims taken care of under the Obama Department of Veterans Affairs. Joe has contributed to Freedom Outpost for some time and, as an Iraq veteran, who has had to be referred to the VA due to physical and mental trauma sustained during his service, I think his experience sheds light on how many of our veterans are treated.
This is a very short account of my experience with the VA (Veterans Administration). After being wounded in Iraq in May of 2004, I was medevaced to LRMC in Germany. After a couple of weeks of treatment I was sent stateside to Fort Lewis, Washington. I was then assigned to a Medical Hold Company. Wounded and hurt soldiers stay in these companies while they undergo surgeries, physical therapy, recovery, psychiatric care and heal up. Afterward they are given a medical rating and discharged or returned to duty. I went through eighteen months of surgeries and therapy. I was rated 20% disabled and discharged by the Army. My case worker said that the 20% rate is “Just how they rate, unless you’re missing arms, legs or half of your head...” I was advised to go home and make a claim with the VA Where I would surely be rated 100% disabled. So I went home and did just that. After a year, my separation pay and unemployment benefits faded away. I kept getting letters from the VA stating they were considering my case. Then I was forced to sell everything I had worth any money. I had a wife and kids to support. My wife and I went through a lot. I was on my second deployment when I was wounded, then I spent another year and a half in a medical unit some five hundred miles from home. After another year, my wife and I divorced. I took our camp trailer, my clothes and a few photos and left. I lived on a piece of private ground in the wilderness. During these months with no funds or support, nothing, I went through some difficult and dark times. I am fortunate that I took my dogs and they alone, kept me going.
When I was wounded they started me on Morphine (time release), Morphine sulphate (acute pain) Naproxin (Inflamed joints), Remeron (PTSD) and about ten other medications. I never had any issues receiving my medicine in the mail every four weeks. Then the new administration took office and decided the VA needed a bunch more money and a slew of these case workers to micromanage the returning Veterans. This creates two issues right off the bat; a case worker is a person with a degree in social work. At my VA there is three case workers with a supervisor who directs his three underlings, which in turn every returning veteran is assigned, one of these, case workers. Second there is now a government appointed case worker between the patient and their doctors. The Supervisor “caseworker” has a bachelor’s degree in some social work related area. I was assigned to the supervisor as my case worker.
We started butting heads almost immediately. I sat in his office listening to him tell me that he was taking away the morphine for pain management and replacing it with some horse-back riding program. I was raised around horses and it hurts my back to ride, so I don't do it. I noticed him eye-balling my NRA shirt and he noticed me eye balling his degree from Berkeley University, displayed on his wall. Another thing that happened is doctors started leaving the VA as quick as they could hire them. I still don't know why the VA is unable to keep a doctor for any amount of time.
My new case worker then started making my VA care a living hell! I would get calls to come to the VA for a pill count and random drug testing. I lived an hour out of town so it was a lot and a pain, literally. He decided I should go ride some horses to manage my pain. The VA Clinic has No pain management program. I never failed any drug tests because I only take what they give me. But medical doctors come as fast as they go at the VA. I went through seven doctors, two nurse practitioners that I was able to see and two more that I never saw before. For two years I never had a doctor, the head pharmacist would just approve my prescriptions and send them in the mail. The only consistent thing I had was This Case worker from hell trying to justify his job! These people are now the main part of your healthcare. They make notes in your medical files, they attend meeting after meeting with the other supervisors and directors at the VA These people were meant to help veterans so they wouldn't fall through the cracks of the giant VA Bureaucracy. Once one decides what's best for you and decides the direction of your care it gets difficult to say the least.
I was becoming very frustrated with his tone, no appointments, just games and his constant threats to take this drug away from me after seven years. I was clearly dependent on the narcotic because that's what I had been given for many years to manage chronic pain. The case worker used this fact to make me do his mean spirited tasks. Pissing in bottles, counting my medications and these degrading appointments with him until I'd had enough. Finally, one day he and his pharmacy lady friend call me into his office before the pharmacy will release my medicine. He looks me straight in the eye and says, “Come on now, Joe, we think you're selling your morphine, so we're taking it. Level with me, you selling it for some extra cash?”
I replied, “No! I am not selling any drugs!”
His reply, “Well, in any event we'll be taking you off morphine over eight weeks.”
I told him, “I have jumped through all of your hoops and I have never showed you any disrespect or disdain, which is more than I can say for you! In fact, you are lucky I don't come across this desk right now and throttle you with my one good arm! You just completely disrespected me in front of this lady with this crap (the accusation embarrassed me)!”
I then told him I was tired of being disrespected and treated like some crack head found down some back alley. I told them to keep their Morphine and all the rest of their pills. I would go get my own doctor in the private sector and I would not be back to the VA.
When I left the White City Oregon Veterans Administration that day, I was hurting, embarrassed, discouraged, angry and feeling betrayed. I was also a little apprehensive as I had been a couple days without morphine before when the VA would forget to mail the prescription out on time. When you are on a narcotic for years, the withdrawals are brutal and the physical pain from war injuries, which the morphine dulls start to scream! I thought I had some idea what I was in for. In retrospect, I had no clue.
The withdrawals started that night as I was up there that day to pick up my monthly prescription. If I had a hundred years to describe what a person goes through during these withdrawals, I couldn't do it. My injuries were throwing sharp, shooting, stabbing knife like pains. My mind was reeling my body was experiencing a wet, sweaty, skin-crawling, stomach turning, Hell. Pain, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydrating, wanting, hurting vomiting, tossing and turning, leg cramps and more pain. At least when I was alone, hurting and living in a trailer in the woods, I could take a couple pills and go to sleep. There was no way out of this ordeal. I decided I'd make it right there or they'd find me dead right there. I scribbled out a note about my dogs and what ones needed medicine for their seizures. I knew this would last quite a while as I had researched it before and during the withdrawals as best I could. I was only on my second night and wanting to be dead. It lasted about ten days and the pain was intense and there to stay. The main withdrawals were over. I am one of the lucky ones! I have a trailer and friends with property I can stay on. Twenty-five a day do not have these options and give up (suicide).
In addition, most veterans are avid outdoors men, hunters and target shooters. This administration has made it clear that they are targeting returning Veterans with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). The VA now asks if you have guns in the home and if so, how many? They also hand out gun locks at your appointments. Now that the NICS (National Instant Background Check System) system bypasses the privacy (HIPAA Laws) between the doctor and the patient, a veteran that would like to keep his Second Amendment right will not say a word or ask for any help! A felon even has his day in court before they take his rights, a veteran don't even deserve this before they take their rights?
So for volunteering to serve our country and knowing going into an active war, these men and women are targeted and betrayed by their country. They no longer qualify for their second amendment, HIPAA Laws or common decency. Statistically, these veterans are no more a threat to society than any other group. In fact, there are known to do things such as protect unarmed people. They are a very low risk and a court of law should decide who loses their rights in this country. These veterans need help. They do not need to be discarded and treated like some criminal.
I am completely disabled. I was hoping to save enough money to get a house where I can have my dogs. My dogs kept me going when there was nothing else. However, I spend any money I have these days on paying for my care myself. I might add, it's money well spent! I am not a number, I don't have some government social worker in between my doctor and I. Best of all I am shown a little respect and I am certainly never disrespected or shown any disdain the medical staff! It is very expensive to have injuries, which were received in a war, physically and mentally cared for privately. The medicine is very expensive. I will probably never have a place outside of my trailer on some friend’s private property.
However, I do have my dogs and my dignity. These are things I require. I could write a decent sized book on the wrong doings which take place at the VA just from my experiences not to mention those of the hundreds of others that I have heard. The fact that these people get a bonus while the veterans suffer, kill themselves and die on some VA secret, shifting, waiting list, just chaps my ass. This is why I have taken the time to write and send this letter. I hope more Veterans do as well. We are trained to quit sniveling, Suck it up and drive on! Rub some dirt on it and get back in the fight! Enough is enough, we are dying here! If we don't stand up for ourselves and our brothers, it's apparent no one else will.
Operation Iraqi Freedom
Sams Valley, Oregon
I think the Horses for Hero's program, mentioned in my letter, would work with PTSD and perhaps minor physical injuries. I know the Rancher has very good intentions (article about Horses for Hero's below). However the V.A. sends severely wounded soldiers with busted up backs, legs and arms to ride a horse and discards their medicine as “pain management.” Clearly they have never been badly hurt or rode a horse.Facebook, Google Plus, & Twitter. You can also get Freedom Outpost delivered to your Amazon Kindle device here.