Modern-Day Vets Get Old-School Shaft



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Modern-Day Vets Get Old-School Shaft

Risking or sacrificing your long-term health and well-being by serving in the military should at least guarantee you a lifetime of top-notch medical care. But new revelations about the Veterans Administration health care system demonstrate that instead of getting the best level of care, our veterans just keep getting the shaft.

A recently leaked internal memo written in April by William Schoenhard, the VA’s Deputy Undersecretary for Health Operations and Management, reveals a deliberate pattern of delay and denial of medical care to hurting veterans seeking help, complete with “gaming strategies” meant to fudge records and maintain good appearances.

The memo came with an 8-page attachment detailing over twenty different "tricks" used by VA staffers: requested doctor’s appointments repeatedly being delayed, scheduled appointments times being double or triple booked and then canceled ten minutes before appointment time - those kinds of tricks, covered up with more dirty little bookkeeping tricks that made it seem like everything was working just fine.

This news comes after the 2009 revelation that improperly sterilized medical equipment was used for years on thousands of veterans in Florida and across the Southeast, exposing many to the risk of contracting Hepatitis B, AIDS and other diseases. Most were tracked down and notified of their situation, but just yesterday, the director of Miami’s VA Hospital system was taken off the job after it was discovered that an additional 79 at-risk veterans had never received notification.

Then we have an ongoing fight by thousands of veterans for adequate - honest - diagnosis and treatment of post traumatic stress disorders and traumatic brain injury-related mental and emotional disorders.

And a new report out in Time Magazine this week profiles just how miserably the VA health care system is failing the hundreds of thousands of women who desperately need it just as much as their male counterparts do. For instance, while there are nearly two million female veterans living in the USA, less than 40 percent of the VA medical centers even have a gynecologist on staff.

To be fair, there are no doubt many responsible, caring people at all levels of the VA’s medical care system as well, and while some veterans have fallen victim to wrongdoing, that same system has done right by many others.

But who?

My late uncle Dave always swore by the care he received from the VA, first in New York, and then in his later years here in South Florida. I know a number of other WW II and Korean War veterans in the area who are now in their 80’s, suffering with multiple health problems, and none of them have any real complaints about the VA either.

It would seem that the “Greatest Generation” is the only one getting adequate levels of care from a system we Americans fund and entrust to care for all of our veterans equally.

In co-producing a film about a far younger, more racially diverse group of disabled veterans who lost limbs, some also suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders, I came to understand that while they received a very high quality of care during their initial recuperation at military hospitals, once they were discharged and entered the VA health system, it was a whole different, often stinking rotten story.

The sad and awful truth is that as long as we allow this huge dinosaur to remain frozen in time - a time when the average age of patients was 65 to 70 - then the enormous, diverse population of younger, sicker, poorer, needier modern-day veterans will remain on the outs with an unfriendly and antiquated bureaucracy that seems all too ready to keep shutting them out.

Talk about a non-partisan issue for all Americans to rally around. This notion that there is a two-tiered and dysfunctional health care system for millions of young men and women who risk life and limb on our behalf is one we now all have to reject and rebel against.

Given just how slowly the gears of government grind, it may be understandable that the system still remains largely stuck in a late twentieth century model of care designed to meet the needs of old white men. But it doesn't make it acceptable, and it doesn't make it right.

It is in fact a disgrace, a great wrong, and one that every community and state in the nation should demand be made right by our federal government, once and for all.


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