In Defense of the VA


[From the wilds of Northern Idaho]

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I’ve recently enrolled in the VA in Connecticut, and am happy to report that I am pleased with what they have offered me thus far.

Background

I served in the Navy back in the mid-late 1960s including one deployment to Vietnam aboard an old WW-II Fletcher class destroyer.

Following my active duty, I was able to complete a college degree with the help of the GI Bill, and later we financed our first house through a VA loan.

But in the years to follow I pretty much lost any contact with the VA.

Then several years ago at a ship reunion, a former shipmate encouraged me to enroll in the VA – Mike was severely injured aboard  our ship when a wave washed over the fantail and sent Mike crashing into various metal parts and up against the safety netting at the edge of the ship.

Mike cautioned me that the VA consists of two parts; the administrative part and the medical part, and that they don’t necessary talk to one another and thus I would have to be, for the most part, my own advocate.  This turned out to be true as follows:

When I first applied in person I was rejected based on a means test, but was told that if I could qualify as a “brown water” sailor then I would be able to enroll. This started a long process of tracking down my service records that went on well over a year across several Navy agencies.

The biggest problem I had was that my requests for records and status updates were passed back and forth between Virginia and St. Louis where each claimed that the other was the responsible agency.

In frustration after more than a year of this game of administrative ping-pong, I went back to the same office where I originally applied, seeking some sort of advocacy. The lady behind the desk became my advocate, especially when I showed her what she referred to as my “me book” containing all of my service records in a three ring binder.  These records showed that I was indeed a “brown water sailor.”

A “brown water sailor” is one who served in the inland waterways and harbors of Vietnam, and the reason we are called that is primarily because of Agent Orange that was used extensively as a defoliant, and was washed into the rivers and streams. Our ship sat at anchor for several days in Da Nang harbor for Naval Gun Fire Support, and while there we took on fresh water from barges. This water was used for washing down the ship, showering, cooking, brushing teeth, washing clothes and other uses, so we were potentially ingesting Agent Orange during this time and for several days after leaving Da Nang. This exposure to Agent Orange qualified me for enrollment in the VA health care system.

My time at the Connecticut VA

The Connecticut VA is affiliated with the Yale University School of Medicine and the University of Connecticut Schools of Medicine and Dentistry

My time with the VA has been impressive in the quality and timeliness of the service there. The problems and scandals associated with the VA  in recent years have been well publicized, and I can’t speak to those issues hear. But I can describe the sort of service I receive at the VA in West Haven, Connecticut.

Once enrolled, my primary doctor set me up with a wide range of appointments as I describe below:

Audiology:

Like many my age, hearing has taking to the door and is exiting my life far faster than I would have liked.

I’ve worn hearing aids for 6+ years now and am on my second set. Life without them is a real chore and I miss so much of what used to be a vital part of the life experience. Hearing aids are an amazing device, but by no means replace original equipment.

So when offered an appointment at the VA audiology center I couldn’t pass it up to see what options I might have. My current aides are still under warranty, so the doctor advised that I keep what I have until the warranty expires and then come in for a new pair. She also gave me a list of the vendors they use, about six or eight as I recall.  When researching the options available throughout the various manufactures, I am amazed at the continual advances in the technology.

That the VA offers hearing aids is not surprising given the exposure many veterans have to loud and continual noise … be it gunfire, jet engines, drill sergeants and more.

Optometry

I was due for new glasses, and so I now have them.

Further, in examining my eyes the doctor notices and commented on a twitch I have on the left side of my face, and asked if I would like her to set up an appointment with a neurologist. The examining neurologist informed me that I don’t have a “twitch”, but rather a “semi-facial spasm.” How’s that for a name?

So then I had a Cat-Scan where a wonderful soft and fuzzy little kitten snuggled up and around my head trying to lick away that awful spasm.  Wern’t that way at all — they put me a small cage right below where a construction crew was blasting away above me with jack hammers for about an hour.

The good news of the CT scan is that they found nothing alarming. The bad news is that they found nothing … when I talked with the neurologist this morning I asked if they found any brains – sorry, he said they are all gone.

I will have a follow up when I get home (why would I ever want to leave this amazing Idaho?) and they will hopefully give me some sort of treatment that will keep me from winking at all those pretty girls  (Diana will like that!)

That an eye exam generated a neurology session and a CT scan amazes and pleases me … not something to expect at Pearl Vision or Costco.

Ultrasound

Another session I had was in the Ultrasound clinic where they examined my heart and various arteries and veins including down and into the abdomen area.

Psychiatry

A concern of the VA, as well as in the general population is suicide – especially among the young.

So when I had my entry interview the interviewer asked if I suffer from or have had periods of depression – also questions about have I ever had thoughts of suicide. I answered yes to both questions. 

So when I was offered an appointment with a psychiatrist I thought … why not … never done that before.

I’ve had two appointments thus far and have enjoyed them very much, and so far he hasn’t tried to “fix’ me or try to explore my inner most being …  just a real nice guy and great conversation between the two of us. Sometimes I think I may be helping him as well. Anyway I enjoy the sessions and have been invited back.


Bottom line as I’ve said is … I am very pleased with the VA and encourage any veteran reading this to at least look into and consider the VA.

Don Johnson – July 2015

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