I'm a Veteran. I served in the United States Navy for five years. When I decided to return to the civilian community, I was told all about my “Veteran Benefits.” Principle among them, a lifetime of free medical care through the Veterans Administration. In the seven years since I was discharged, VA policy changed from one where any veteran could just walk into a VA Medical Center and receive treatment for almost any medical problem to a policy that states, if a veteran is not “in the system,” they are not entitled to treatment, regardless of the fact that they are veterans. If a veteran is “not in the system” and has no commercial medical insurance, he or she can’t even turn to Medicaid because, as veterans, they are automatically disqualified for it (Medicaid would probably give them better treatment as well). Where does this leave them? With a choice of paying for medical care out of pocket, which most can’t do, or jumping through the flaming hoops of the VA bureaucracy.
I once made the trip to the Salt Lake VA to get an ominous looking growth taken care of. At the time, I thought I was in the system. Every other time I went to the VA, I was treated. When I got there, I was told that I wasn’t “in the system.” A doctor took a look at the growth I was concerned about and said, “You should get that biopsied, but I can’t do it. You’re not in the system.” Imagine the fear and uncertainty you feel when you hear a doctor tell you that you should get a biopsy and then hear that same doctor tell you that she can’t do it for bureaucratic reasons. I’ve often wondered how VA doctors reconcile such policies with the Hippocratic Oath. I remember leaving that day thinking, “What if it’s cancer? What if I die? Then I’ll have the words ‘He died because the VA wouldn’t treat him’ carved into my tombstone. That’ll show ‘em!” Then I thought, “Probably not.”
I’ve since jumped through the flaming hoops of the VA, but not without being burned. I receive my treatment through a medical clinic in Sanpete County. But in order for me to receive said treatment, I am not allowed to make my own appointment at the clinic. I have to call the VA Medical Center in Salt Lake City, where I am transferred to an office in Nephi which makes the appointment on my behalf with the clinic in Sanpete.
Since President Bush declared the war on terror, there’s been a lot of talk about our “American Heroes,” the brave men and women of the U.S. Armed forces who are paid so little, that many enlisted families, even with all their “benefits,” still qualify for food stamps and state-sponsored children’s health insurance. And when these people get out of the military, if they are unable to get civilian medical insurance, they are practically forced to accept medical coverage from an organization that is so poorly run and insufficiently funded, it makes the worst-run H.M.O. look like the Mayo Clinic. Oh, sure, the government says they’re giving more money to the VA, but take my word for it, as a VA patient, that money isn’t going toward the healthcare of our “Heroes.” I’ve seen, with my own eyes, the quality of VA health care drop from poor to pathetic. When I see ad campaigns on television for military recruiting efforts, it saddens me to think of all the hopeful young men and women who are answering the call of their country who have no idea that they’ll be treated like third-class citizens as soon as they take off the uniform and return to the civilian world.