Over the past several years, the Veterans Administration has weathered its share of criticism, and justly so in many cases. Stories of horrendous wait times—and subsequent deaths—have saturated the media, and it seems new tales spring up on a regular basis. In Cincinnati, a report has surfaced of VA doctors and nurses who are alarmed by cost-cutting measures, and the quality of care afforded to veterans. Yesterday I saw an article that stated that the Veterans Crisis Hotline has, at times, become overloaded, and those calling have been 'put on hold'. (Ironically, today I received a newsletter from the VA, featuring a story on how they intend to improve the Crisis Line. According to recent statistics, 22 service members take their own lives each day, and hopefully the Crisis Line issue will be settled quickly.)
I've been to the Department of Veterans Affairs website (www.va.gov) and read some of the stories posted there. In many instances, veterans sound off loud and clear with their own personal comments, and again, there's no shortage of complaints to be found. It's enough to make you truly thankful for whatever health circumstance you might find yourself in.
I am a veteran myself, still serving in the reserves. I feel compelled to share my own experience with the Veterans Administration, at the C.W. Bill Young Medical Center at Bay Pines in Tampa Bay. Based on what I've read and heard, my own case appears to be quite different from many of the stories being told, and for what it's worth, I offer it to show a different perspective.
Beginning in March of 2015 I started having symptoms that I first attributed to dehydration. At the end of a few extended runs, I noticed that I was leaning to one side, and having difficulty putting one foot in front of the other. These symptoms persisted in the coming months, becoming very chronic, until I was incapable of running a few blocks, or descending a flight of stairs, without exhibiting the traits of cerebral palsy. At that point I knew something was very wrong, and that I needed to do something about it.
Orthogonal adjustments (gentle chiropractic) seemed to help, but these were only a temporary fix. Afterwards, attempts to run or walk resulted in the return of the symptoms. During this debilitating period, I talked to my doctor at the VA, and requested an MRI. I was hoping to rule out anything affecting my brain. A few weeks later, in late December, I made my way to Bay Pines, where the technicians performed the test.
I went home and took a nap (fatigue was another side effect I was experiencing), only to be awakened by a call from the doctor's office. The nurse told me they'd gotten the MRI results back, and had found an abnormality. She told me they needed another test, this time with contrast, and I needed to come back 'as soon as possible'. I was told to bypass the doc's office and to proceed directly to the emergency room.
For the rest of that day, and into the next, another MRI was performed, and Sheila and I spent a lot of time in a hospital room, just off the VA's ER. I was visited by two neurologists, who explained to me that in addition to a 'mass', I had a great deal of cerebral spinal fluid filling the ventricles of my brain. The mass was a tumor, blocking the flow of fluid exiting my brain.
There was nothing the VA could do for me, from a surgical standpoint. But one of the doctors had previously worked at Tampa General, and knew of USF's Neurology Department and the highly esteemed neurosurgeons there. She spent an entire day working the system, and by that night, an ambulance arrived to take me from St. Pete across the bay, where I was admitted to the hospital in Tampa.
I spent six days there, undergoing an endoscopic ventriculostomy of the third ventricle. Brain surgery. The greatest neurosurgeon in the world, Harry Van Loveren, re-routed my brain fluid through a surgically created path, saving me from a severe stroke—or worse. I firmly believe the providential hand of God guided him. The tumor is benign, and at present it poses no threat. "Go and live your life," the doctor told me, and that's sage advice for anyone, brain patient or not. I'm sleeping better, I'm walking normally, and I've started running again, and staircases no longer fill me with dread.
In all of this, I have to give the VA a great deal of credit. The system might have viewed me as just another veteran with a medical condition, and my name might have simply gone on a waiting list. But that didn't happen. The doctors, nurses, and neurologists I saw took excellent care of me, and I always felt that my well-being was top-most in their minds.
Additionally, I had the love and support of my wife, who sacrificed sleepless nights to be at my side, before and after the procedure. The fact that she's a nurse certainly enhanced the care she gave me, and in the way she explained what was going on after the surgery.
Certainly my experience doesn't negate the poor care many veterans have received. My heart goes out to them. Slipshod medical attention is a poor recompense for our military. Americans need to continue to demand quality from the Veterans Administration. I have recovered well, and I don't have a horrific story to tell about the VA.