Well, golly gee willakers. You have to hand it to the VHA. VHA being the highly touted Veterans Health Administration. Every day I hear all manner of kind things about what the VHA has done for Johnny Vet. How he went in to get a cast on a broken leg and walks out without the leg. You know. The run of the mill heartwarming stories like the medical technician sharing his Hepatitis C virus with all those Vets up in New Hampshire. The dentist with HCV who refused to wear gloves in Dayton and shared it with Vets, too. Yep. That VHA.
Seems they’re back in the news again. I hear stories from all of you who tell me you call up for an appointment at your local VA medical Center (VAMC) or Community-based Outpatient Center (CBOC) and discover a three month wait to get an appointment for that funny new heart beat and the tremor/numbness in their left arm. Now we come to find out that if you don’t keep that current, they just push delete and poof- your appointment disappears into thin air. Our member Mark was scheduled to show up for an intake-only appt. to bring him into the VHA system in American Lake last week. It was a Saturday of the three-day weekend. They assured him they’d be there. Mark showed up and the janitor was the only soul about. Seems they do intake Monday to Friday.
I have long held VA in contempt for a wealth of reasons. Outside of the fact the VHA did everything in their power to kill me and failed, they have repeatedly stymied, delayed and obstructed my claims over the last 23 years. Losing a leg is a pretty serious screw up. I guess it could have been worse. At least they amputated the correct leg. But that pales in comparison to this.
The gentleman discussing this points out that VHA get 3,000 appointment requests every month at the LA VAMC but can only accommodate 800. This sounds a lot like the Veterans Benefits Administration, their big brother, who decides who’s broken. Actually, the odds are better on being seen at a VHA eventually than getting a claim approved by the VBA. Living long enough to accomplish either one seems to be the only common denominator otherwise.
I think I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that this practice of “delete and deny” is not a relatively new phenomenon. Like Mark, after calling and making an appointment in June 1993, I attended what I thought was my Agent Orange registry exam on September 21, 1993. It seems there was a little backlog then and it was the earliest they could get me in. After arriving, I discovered I had no appointment. Never did. In fact, the nurse even wrote on my chart “0% chance this Vet had an appointment on this date. Will reschedule doctor’s exam and do labs while he is here today.” I never heard back from them in spite of the fact I never moved or changed my address. In VAland, you will discover that the United States Postal Service, heavily staffed with Veterans, is unreliable and a lot of mail gets lost or stolen. VA cannot prove they mailed something like an exam appointment but the Presumption of Regularity ensures that it did, indeed, occur. Just because you didn’t get it or it showed up at the homeless shelter you lived at in 1979 doesn’t mean they dropped the ball–until now.
How many of you discover via the USPS that VA has scheduled you for a C&P exam which you failed to attend? How many claims were denied where the Vet finds this out in his denial? We are told that this is so rare as to be technically insignificant yet here we have the wholesale slaughter of thousands upon thousands of appointments going back years in order to tidy up the books. Not one word about calling the Vet up and finding out if s/he still desires the appointment. I guess I’d have a hard time finding the right words to use to explain that tardiness. Apparently VA has a stable of able technicians trained in this artifice.
“Hi. This is Shalinda from the West LA VAMC. Am I talking to Johnny B. Vet? Could you give me your last four and your DOB to confirm that?
“4647 and 4/01/1951”.
“Thank you, Mr. Vet, the reason we are calling you is we noticed you made an appointment for a MRI in October of 2006 and we see you still haven’t had that. Is there some reason for that?
“Yeah. I’m waiting for an appointment to be scheduled. The nurse said they’d call when they had an opening. I also asked to be put on a list if anyone canceled on short notice.”
“Mr. Vet, I hope you realize this is a two-way street. You understand these telephones work in both directions. I don’t see anything in the file about you calling back and confirming you still want the MRI. Is that what you are trying to tell me? Can I assume that you do?”
“Yes, ma’m. How soon will that be?”
“We’ll call you back real soon with a date, sir. Thank you.”
Lather, rinse and repeat. A good tech should be able to do about twenty of these an hour for a daily workload of about one hundred or so. One technician could conceivably handle the whole overflow of the 2,200 Veterans per month who did not get an appointment all by themselves if given a suitable bonus. The upside would be if the Vet didn’t answer, it could be inferred as a “no” and thus be stricken from the active list. This would be far more humane and inspire hope in the breasts of many a Vet who would otherwise be crushed to find out he had been summarily deleted without some interaction.
I think the VHA has a long way to go on being proactive in this business. Now that Fox News has identified the problem, the VAOIG can be called and an investigation and tee times can be scheduled for this April before it gets hot and muggy in West LA. Another win-win for Vets everywhere.
P.S. Every good story has a sequel and now we get to hear about it. Oliver Mitchell, a former Marine and now quite possibly a former VA employee, was in the thick of it in all this. As usual, if you notify the VAOIG, eventually they show up. This time it was several years later. They must really be busy with whistleblowers if it takes that long to investigate. Fortunately, by that time, everyone had been promoted or transferred and couldn’t be reached. The MRI records had been deleted and it could not be “substantiated” that any records had been deleted. Here’s the link. And we may want to bookmark Mr. Mitchell’s new blog on this subject.