23 December 2015

"I figured they would take care of me, but so far they haven’t."

“They promised me health care, and I figured they would take care of me, but so far they haven’t.”

That's the story from so many VA patients in Oklahoma and elsewhere. More stories than there should be, given the standards VA sets for itself and the typically complex medical situation of aging veterans.

We've written before about how much it hurts all veterans to read about VA failures in providing essential medical services. The title of the USAToday news feature sums up its damning indictment of the Oklahoma City Veterans Hospital. Not only are veterans abused with a claims system making them wait months and years before allowed VA medical care and benefits, but the care they've been promised falls short of their needs.

My own care at various VA facilities has been excellent for the most part, especially in dental service, urology, medical imaging and the emergency department services. 

However, I also had my second-worst experience at the VA when the Portland VA emergency department diagnosed avascular necrosis of my right hip. I was referred
to orthopaedics where a surgeon concluded I had simple bursitis, although I couldn't walk for the pain and had several falls. He made this conclusion despite his own hospital's emergency department and radiology physicians' written diagnosis of avascular necrosis, basing his conclusion on the fact that I had no history of taking prednisone, a powerful steroid.

Problem: the orthopaedist didn't bother reading the many pages in my medical record that detailed his own hospital's prescription for my massive doses of prednisone over a several year period. He wrote in my records "no history of prednisone use," and nothing came up in our conversation about it for me to realize his oversight...I discovered only on reading my records after a FOIA request. 

His failure to diagnose cost me many more months of increasingly miserable pain, more falls, and failed to treat a hip that could have been saved. Like the patients in USAToday's article, my problem was finally diagnosed by a private physician. Complaining about it to my VA doctor's supervisor and then, filing what's called an 1151 complaint, only brought VA's official conclusion that my VA care (for the hip and for the probably unrelated earlier problem which required the massive prednisone) had somehow equaled the standard for care in the Portland medical community. The complaint was dismissed. 

Avascular necrosis (large bone death caused by loss of blood supply to the bone) is progressive...and how! I eventually couldn't move the hip at all, and was bedridden until I sought care and was properly diagnosed at Oregon Health Sciences University. By then my hip was damaged past the point of recovery and I went through two painful replacements and less than optimal results.

Months later I felt ready to collapse and ended up once again at the VA emergency room –with an infection of the hip prosthesis I'd received at OHSU. I was shocked when the same VA physician came in to care for me, and for the first time in my life I refused care and asked to be transported to another hospital. 

My story, like every other individual's story, is only anecdotal. It takes many such stories to prove a fact, and we've seen those stories accumulate to the point of proving the case: VA care too often is substandard and veterans pay with pain, suffering and death. USAToday and other publications have certainly proven that VA care is too often below the standard of what aging veterans need and below the standard the Secretary expects of his Department.

Mr. President, Mr. Secretary and my own Colorado federal legislators, the entire country needs the VA to succeed. We need heros in the VA to pull it up to the standards in health care we deserve. With news like Oklahoma City, Phoenix and other problem facilities, we're losing the support of the American public. Without that support, the Department can only sink lower and lower into disrepute. Please lead the Veterans Health Administration into the ranks of America's finest!

Because I need it and my experiences warrant it, I'm a vocal supporter of the Department of Veterans Affairs and its leaders, but not VA's claims process. Stories like this in USAToday sadden VA's most enthusiastic supporters and threaten to make 2015 a repeat of 2014, which everyone called "the year of scandals."

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