This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
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In general the articles I write are not about me or experiences I’ve incurred. I try to remain an observer. I’ve written articles on the VA in the past because, as a veteran, I have connections who can bring special insight. The difference in this article is I am documenting my VA experience. The greater issue is what I am going through is indicative of stories I have heard and with what has been reported from our veterans across the nation.
I am a combat veteran and served in Afghanistan for over a year and have a diagnosis of PTSD. I have had anxiety attacks in my life and I battle insomnia. Unlike many veterans, I do not self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. I’m familiar with what other veterans face when they have to be humble and ask for help. I have been through it myself.
Successful Treatment Began Only to Abruptly Cease
I sought out treatment before my VA claim was even accepted. Thankfully, there is a place called Military One Source the DoD has funded that assisted me with seeing a therapist. My VA claim got accepted and my transition into care was relatively smooth. I was happy and my life was going as it did before I had PTSD.
Almost a year later my VA therapist’s office suddenly stopped returning my calls or emails. I had requested an appointment and was told to expect a call back that never came. Answers were finally forthcoming when I had to curtly insist I remain on hold. The answer was my therapist had left the provider network the VA was using. That was fine. These things happen, so I contacted the VA to get a new therapist.
The VA Round-Robin Commences
My VA claim was accepted for anxiety not for PTSD although my VA approved therapist did diagnose me for PTSD. Knowing this, most would assume I could be rescheduled with a new therapist with little effort. The VA’s policies do not allow for this, so my VA experience is not unique to me. I had to go back to my Primary Care Manager to get a new referral.
I was scheduled for lab work in November with a follow up the next week in December. A day before the December appointment it was cancelled and rescheduled until January. I can understand that due to the holidays. A few days before my rescheduled appointment that one was cancelled and rescheduled for a week later. Come the day before my re-rescheduled appointment and again another cancellation and reschedule. If you’re keeping score that’s three appointments cancelled. While this is happening, I begin to get anxiety attacks again due to unrelated issues.
Finally, I successfully have an appointment honored. After 15 minutes, the doctor comes in asks me a couple questions of my previous treatment and grants the referral. Now for this appointment I had to drive over 50 miles and this was to a satellite clinic. If I had gone to my actual VA hospital, the travel distance is over 100 miles. This too is not just my VA experience, as many disabled veterans face similar trips. After a half day out of work and two hours of travel I finally have an intake appointment for something I have already received treatment for.
I hold my intake appointment for therapy at the end of February. It was a teleconference and I’m used to those type of appointments. I’m asked questions about my symptoms, treatments, medical history, etc. They agree to assign me a therapist with the first appointment in March.
COVID-19 Fallout Hits the VA
The morning of my appointment I receive no email which is unusual as they normally send me a link to log into. I figured it was no bother because I had the last link for my intake appointment. After trying several times, it was clear I couldn’t log in, so I called the Behavioral Health of my VA clinic who told me my 10am appointment was cancelled two hours earlier with no communication to me. They told me I would get a call to reschedule. None came.
Now I sit for two weeks. Waiting. I watch the COVID-19 start to delay everything and I assume that is why I had not yet been rescheduled. I began to get concerned because, by that point, my attacks had already increased and the virus situation is not helping my general anxiety. My next step was to send a secure message through My Vet Health to find out when my appointment would be rescheduled. The response I received was I had to go back to my Primary Care Manager and get a new referral. Essentially go back two months and start all over.
The VA is a Bloat, Not Personnel Problem
As I write this I still don’t have an appointment. I’ve had several very nice people at the VA try to assist me. The people of the VA are caring, patient, and empathetic. They’re dealing with a bureaucracy that is overregulated, underfunded, and bloated. It’s not the fault of the individuals at the VA. It’s a fault of Washington.
The greater issue is the US is losing 20 veterans a day to suicide. This is the area of health the VA should be all over, especially with today’s political and social climate. The additional stress of COVID-19 lockdowns and quarantine only make matters worse.
I am putting my VA experience out there because, unlike many veterans, I have a voice. I would be remiss not to use this platform to work to improve their experience. Eventually I will be seen, but I think every American can agree it should not be this hard to get any medical care.
Michael Arthur is a writer and "Veteran Nation" show host for NRN. He's an Afghanistan Veteran and Marine Corps enlisted-to-officer mustang. After leaving active duty 2015, Arthur has remained active in several veterans organizations in his local community.