As of September 30, 2014, the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics states that the Veteran population in the State of Alabama consists of:
I am a solider, I am a Veteran and I am one of the statistics for Gulf War, Vietnam Era, Peacetime, and Female and I am truly blessed to not have to use any of my Veterans Benefits for healthcare or any other program or service provided by the Veteran Administration. I thank my lucky stars each and every day that I have 100% non- Veteran medical coverage with the ability to use inpatient and outpatient services, and pharmacies of my choosing who actually “put the patient first”, unlike the VA Hospitals in Alabama.
Before you run me up the flag pole, I recently divorced a Veteran who suffers severe mental health and mental disorders issues (non-military related) and acerbation of these mental health issues with long-term chronic substance abuse of cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin, marijuana, prescription abuse of methadone and OxyContin ( in which he has never received a prescription from any medical personnel and actually tested positive for illegally obtained OxyContin while residing in the Tuscaloosa VA”s DRRPT program for Homeless Vets on April 27, 2015, but that’s another blog) and chronic alcoholism.
So I am a veteran of four years of fighting the mismanagement, fraud, lack of adequate programs and services for Mental Health, Homelessness and Substance/Alcohol Abuse, destruction of records, medical and psychiatric employees who could not make it in private practice without a handbook, and bull hockey rote responses from administration with and for my ex-husband. I am also the holder of 5267 pages of documentation as evidence of proof of any of my statements and allegations for facilities located in Birmingham, Tuskegee, Montgomery and Tuscaloosa and Augusta, GA (which is the best facility I have dealt with in the past four years.
So with all that said, let’s talk about why Veterans are afraid to speak out about mistreatment by the Veteran’s Healthcare and Benefit system.
The Truth about Health Care for Veterans
Since 2000, funding for the VA system has fallen far behind the needs of returning troops and veterans. In the 1990s, the VA was overhauled and became a very good health care system. But over the past eight years, funding has not kept up with the needs of badly wounded vets returning from Iraq. Meanwhile, Vietnam vets are aging and we still have a majority of World II and Korean War veterans who are aging. This has led to impossibly long lines and, in some cases, has meant that the VA has not been able to hire and retain the medical staff that they need
According to polling in the past few months, the biggest issues troubling Americans are health care and the war in Iraq. What gets talked about less often is the point where these two issues intersect. . .
Around 12% of the 47 million uninsured people in the United States are veterans and their families: this adds up to 1.8 million uninsured veterans. These 1 in 8 veterans are typically 45-year-old men who worked in the past year and are earning from $30,000 to $40,000. Almost two-thirds of uninsured veterans were employed, and nearly 9 out of 10 had worked within the past year.
Why are they uninsured?
Defense Department data released in late 2007 show that thousands of National Guard and Reserve members who had to give up civilian jobs when they were deployed overseas have now permanently lost these jobs and with them their health insurance, pensions, and other benefits. (Federal laws are supposed to protect them from being penalized for leaving civilian employment for wartime service.)
For others it’s a Catch-22: many veterans make too much to qualify for federal benefits and too little to afford it themselves under current regulations. A 1996 law opened VA care to all veterans, but in 2002, limited resources forced regional directors to limit new veteran enrollment. A year later, enrollment was further denied to veterans without qualifying medical conditions or incomes. The question is – What does qualifying mean?
The numbers of uninsured veterans are rising and are predicted to climb further as demands for care and the costs of care outpace the Veterans Health Administration’s budget.
Why are veterans health care costs rising?
A veteran who becomes disabled during military service receives from the government anywhere from $115 a month for a 10% disability to about $2,400 a month for total disability – at least $1.4 million in their lifetime.
A November 2007 report from the Nobel Peace Prize winning Physicians for Social Responsibility predicted that providing medical care and benefits to Iraq veterans could top $660 billion: this is greater than the current operational costs of the war ($500 billion).
So Why Don’t More Veterans Complain about Their Treatment by the VA?
Fear, intimidation, reprisals and being afraid to lose the only healthcare treatment and benefits that the Veteran has, that’s why!
Some of these facilities are manned by military personnel, but, most by private contractors or even contracting companies. If you are using these facilities for your health care please beware of the pitfalls encountered at some facilities. For some reason the VA doesn’t do a very good background check on personnel. We have doctors with suspended licenses, nurses without licenses or suspended working at some of these places. At some we even have people that are illegal in the country, but, we all know that is nationwide.
As recent as 2007 we had 3 doctors being held accountable for 9 deaths at the same hospital. Surgery was even suspended at this facility, for a time. We all heard and read about the deplorable conditions at Walter Reed a few months back, so, nothing comes as a surprise any more.
“There is no pleasure in the documentation of wrongdoing. Certainly the VA at the highest level must realize that they are sitting on a ticking time bomb, where if not defused by honest actions, it will be revealed that the largest health care system to be fatally flawed and undeserving of the trust of patients.”
—Dr. Edward Adelstein, before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, March 11, 1999.
Needless deaths at a VA hospital. Cover-ups. Whistleblowers. An ineffective VA Inspector General. All of this has happened before and will probably happen again.
It happens because the VA hospitals still have in place a system where the most dangerous person in the system is an honest man, the Inspector General is a lapdog not a watchdog, and people at the top are not punished for their misdeeds.
Add to that a lack of funding due primarily to Republican opposition, an increasingly dysfunctional private medical system, vanishing pension funds that put more veterans in the system—and you have a recipe for disaster.
In his testimony before Congress in March of 1999, Dr. Adelstein spoke about the roots of the problem and why cover-ups and malfeasance dogged the VA system.
“It is clear that for cover-ups to occur, no actual spoken conspiracy is necessary. No matter how heinous the crime, and the resultant cover-up, everyone knows that if you tell the truth, you will be punished, but if you take part in the cover-up you will be rewarded by promotion and considered a loyal team player with a bright future within the VA system….If these people are allowed to go unpunished, rich in retirement benefits and bonus awards and the truth tellers punished, this will stand as a critical example which will discourage truth and reward deception. This behavior needs to be rapidly reversed.”
Finally, Dr. Adelstein ended his testimony with a call to action: “I ask you in the name of justice to pursue all aspects of these events…There will never be a stronger case with this degree of documentation that will send a signal to the VA, the FBI, and the Inspector General that it is not business as usual. This is an opportunity to redefine government and justice. I can only hope that you and the committee have the strength and will to pursue these actions.”
Congress never had the strength or the will to pursue those actions. And recently, they haven’t had the good will to allocate the budget to take care of our veterans, forcing many of them into a massively overloaded medical system.
One VA employee, who fearing reprisals, spoke on background, summarized the problems as follows.
“Yes, there are systematic flaws with the VA. Two years ago the GAO pointed out waiting time problems. But you can’t simply blame Shinseki. Try blaming the folks in Washington, especially the Republicans, who refuse to fund more money for vets although they were fine bankrolling the Iraq war. In addition, as private insurance companies triage their patients and corporations welch on their pension funds, the number of veterans in our system has swollen. Before blaming the Obama administration, blame Congress, which won’t fund the VA, blame corporations, which don’t take care of their retired employees, and blame the Inspector General’s Office of the VA, which is asleep at the wheel.”
He also pointed out that while there are many problems with the VA, under the reforms implemented by Ken Kizer, service has improved and some hospitals provide excellent care.
Dr. Christensen, who left the VA in 2003, laments the failure of Congress to perform oversight over the system. “No matter which party is in control, Congress simply exploits VA problems for political coinage and moves on. The current state of events makes me sad. Nothing has been done since 1992. The Inspector General not only fails to do their job, because they are part of the VA and lack independence, they also colluded in the cover-ups in the past. And while congressional oversight has been abysmal, the Obama administration has been particularly poor at protecting whistle-blowers.”
He says the lessons that should have been learned from the VA murders in 1992 are very simple. Officials have to be accountable for their actions; there must be a system in which honest people who strive to do their job and tell the truth are rewarded—not punished. Finally, there must be at truly independent VA Inspector General that protects the truth-tellers, and makes sure those who do wrong are punished.
Until those things take place, there will continue to be more needless deaths at the veterans’ hospitals.