Making Appointments At The Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center


Dearest Readers:

If you are a veteran, or if you’ve ever heard a veteran complain about VA Benefits…the process…the scheduling…the nightmares of GETTING BENEFITS, read on. You will understand and maybe be able to relate to the issues at any VA hospital. The process, to be totally honest, is like a process to get Congress to make a decision…and we all know how slow Congress is, don’t we! They move at a snail’s pace!

To those of you who read my blog on a regular basis, you might remember an informative blog I wrote years ago, resulting in quite a few ‘changes’ at ER at Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center. Let’s just say, on that occasion, I was about ready to ‘kill with kindness in ER.’ One of the nurses and I had a few words, resulting in her saying, and I quote: “He can always go somewhere else…” Thank goodness I had enough diplomacy to write in my blog, instead of having a ‘cat fight.’

Today, I’ve spent over 45 minutes attempting to get answers to “simple” questions at Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center. To the lady assisting me on the telephone, having to place me on hold numerous times, I thank you for your excellent customer service skills. You appeared to listen to me and to understand. Also, when I stated just how does a Veteran not give up when the ‘process to get an appointment is so complicated,’ you listened without becoming defensive. Each time you placed me on hold, you apologized and you followed up with me. Thank you. Unfortunately, I totally forgot to get your name; nevertheless, your customer service skills on the telephone was much appreciated. How I pray someone can locate you and tell you your customer service was 1,000% on target!

Allow me a few minutes to explain:

Tuesday of this week, December 27, 2016, to be exact, was a day spent at MUSC Orthopedics in Mt. Pleasant. My husband broke his left ankle in June. For almost three months, he wore a boot, issued from the VA Hospital. He’s had numerous appointments with the orthopedic surgeon (sorry, I’m at a loss for his name) and the decision was made that he needs surgery on his left ankle. Realizing he needed a specialist, his orthopedic surgeon at the VA Hospital suggested an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon at MUSC, Mt. Pleasant. That was in September. His appointment took three months to schedule? Tuesday, a thorough examination was performed. X-rays done, and now he needs a CT scan at the VA Hospital.

“Oh no…” I thought, and then I verbalized to the staff, “You do realize it takes an act of Congress almost to get an appointment at the VA Hospital.” When the decision was made for Phil to see an orthopedic doctor in Mt. Pleasant, somehow the wires got crossed and it took THREE MONTHS to get to see the doctor in Mt. Pleasant.

Readers, are you still with me? This gets more interesting!

Understanding how complicated it is to get information and scheduling at the VA Hospital, Charleston, SC [Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center], I suggested to my husband that maybe I should phone them to get the scheduling process active. My husband has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD]. He doesn’t take the ‘run-around process’ well at all, and when he doesn’t get his way — well, let’s just say — he isn’t diplomatic. No. Not at all!

Anticipating another run-around process, or the expectation of – “You need to have your husband schedule this,” — today, I actually got an understanding person on the phone. I’m describing her as a customer service rep, although, I’m certain her title is not correct. Her customer service skills = A+!

After holding on the line while she checked, and after she confirmed the information of the correct ####; address, phone, etc. she was most kind and helpful to me. Thank you! When she spoke to me again, I was told:

“Your husband has to get an order from his primary care doctor for this CT scan. Then, the order needs to go to his orthopedic doctor so he can place the order. Are you still with me, readers? It gets complicated. The VA Hospital has to write an order for the CT scan to be scheduled, even though I have an order from MUSC, signed by the orthopedic surgeon???”

“But….But…as I’ve stated, we have an order from MUSC Orthopedics to schedule the CT scan…”

“Yes, Ma’am…that is the process for the VA.”

“It is no wonder Veterans get so perplexed with the VA,” I said. “It’s always either a hurry up and wait….or…. Whatever!”

By now, this customer service professional was beginning to understand how frustrated I was becoming. I was placed on HOLD once again.

In a matter of minutes, a male voice picked up, confirming who I was. I do believe it was the orthopedic surgeon at the VA Hospital. His voice was familiar. Believe me, many of those professionals have met me. I suppose they know I have been described as “Intense…BoldRefusing to take no for an answer.”

Yes. That is who I am. There are two B’s in my name!

Placed on Hold once again, I decided I needed to meditate. Inhale for four seconds. Hold breath for seven seconds, then — breathe out ever so slowly. I did not want to get frustrated, or to come across as rude. I simply wanted to get the CT scan scheduled for my husband. His left ankle hurts!

About ten minutes later, my phone beeped. I was horrified I would lose connection with Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, so I chose not to answer via call waiting.

Minutes later, my husband phoned. I answered, while praying the other line did not disconnect. Getting back in contact with the same party at the VA Hospital is another nightmare!

Speaking with my husband, he thanked me for phoning them.

“Make this quick,” I said. “I’m on hold with them.”

“And that’s why I called you,” he replied. “The CT scan is scheduled for later this afternoon. She was afraid you might’ve been disconnected, so she phoned me.”

“No run around?” I asked.

“Nope. Whatever you said got them to work through the channels to get the appointment scheduled.”

Sometimes it pays to have two B’s in my name!

Diplomacy pays when dealing with government officials. To the lady who worked through the process to get the order…and the scheduling done, I cannot thank you enough. Normally, the process is not this simple. I was expecting a three month waiting ordeal! I suppose I was ready for the ‘intense’ demeanor I have to kick in! I am known for not taking ‘NO’ for an answer!

Sometimes conducting yourself in a calm, but persuasive voice works. Today is a new day!

Thank you, Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center.

 

PTSD, Lack of Medical Care, and Blue Water Navy Dioxin Exposure The Emotional Wars Necessary to Wake Up the VA


After my marriage to a soldier, I was blissful of our future life together. Kissing him goodbye at the Charleston, South Carolina Airport I was fearful of what he would be like when he returned, or what would happen to me, if he did not make it home. Young and excited, I believed the military practiced their belief of taking care of their own. When I arrived at R&R in Hawaii, nine months after he departed, I was informed I had to attend an orientation before his arrival. I was told that he might overreact over something as silly as leaving the toilet seat up, or forgetting to place the lid back on the toothpaste. I needed to know how to respond. After all, he was in a war zone, seeing things that most Americans did not see normally, and I needed to know how to care for him. One year and five days after he left for Vietnam, I was completely surprised when no one contacted me to see how I was adjusting with my soldier husband home. Unlike Army Wives, I did not receive any type of family support. Never did either of us get a phone call or a referral to his reentry into a normal life. Never did anyone ask me how he was doing after fighting in a war zone. Our life as husband and wife finally began in Fort Gordon, GA where I witnessed flashbacks, irritability, and night rages where he choked me while shouting in Vietnamese language. When I encouraged him to get some help, his reply was an angry, “It don’t mean nothing.” Little did I know my husband was suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, along with the side effects of Agent Orange.

Flash-forward to 2009.

The war in Vietnam ended April 30, 1975. I remember watching the stories on the local news, while feeding our child, now three years old. My husband never expressed his feelings over the war ending. He simply rose from the table and walked away. I heard, “It don’t mean nothing,” again. Never did I understand the chill of those words until I slipped into a deep depression over the wrongs of my marriage. Suddenly it seemed my husband was an angry man. He spat off into bitter rages, shouting at me, telling me I should be ‘seen and not heard.’ He wanted me to be the happy homemaker, not the actress, singer, or writer I desired to be. I shouted at him, unable to understand why our marriage was falling apart. He blamed me – for everything. Our fights were my fault. Our finances, and our tight budget, were my fault. The car breaking down – my fault. The lack of intimacy was my fault. Defeated, I crawled into a shell. Why couldn’t my husband understand, I needed more than wife or mommy, I needed a life that was fulfilling, not just domestic. Our fights continued as he demanded that I quit work and focus only on him and our son. Defeated, I granted his wishes while the anger was brewing inside of me. In early 1980, I read an article in a magazine, describing how many Vietnam Veterans had returned to America, only to become angry. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was the culprit and it was destroying the lives of the Vietnam Veteran. The marriages of the Vietnam era were falling apart, with only 1% surviving. We, my husband and I, were 1%, and we were crumbling.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD] became a household name in the early 1980’s. As the wife of a former military man and a veteran, I was compelled to learn all I could about it. On one occasion I told my husband I suspected he had PTSD. He denied it, telling me our problems were all because of me and my independence. Yes, I was a feminist, and the longer I lived with him, the more defiant I became to make my own way. Nevertheless, I did not have the courage to end our marriage and I stayed with him because I loved him and I was afraid he would not survive without me.

In early 2000, he met a Vietnam Veteran on the golf course. Together, they bonded as brothers. With the acceptance of their friendship, my husband has recognized the behaviors he battles daily are a reflection of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He met with a representative of Veterans Affairs in 2001 or 2002, and is still battling to get the benefits he was promised. PTSD is his daily battle and there are times he actually wants to run away from himself. If only the VA could live with him for one week they would understand how painful his emotional wounds are. If only the VA could hold him during the flashbacks. In many ways, my soldier husband is still in Vietnam, never to return. On one occasion my husband met with a VA rep only to be told, and I quote, “It doesn’t help your case that you are still with your first wife.” When my husband expressed his comment to me, I was outraged, wanting the name, phone number, and contact information. My husband did not share it with me, but I can certainly educate others into the scenarios I discover.

Recently, I became involved with non-profit groups that desires to wake up Congress and fulfill the promises made to Veterans. In March 2008, my husband traveled to Columbia, SC to appeal a decision from the VA. Now, he is told his file is in Washington, still awaiting a decision. My concern is not just for my husband, but for all veterans. Just how long does it take for a veteran to get the physical, emotional, mental, and monetary care he or she needs so life can return to normalcy I recognize there is a multitude of complaints that must be addressed by Congress or the Veterans Affairs, especially in 2014 with all of the complaints finally coming to the surface. My mission is to write about these scenarios and to share with my readers. When called to duty, to service America and its freedom, our Veterans stood tall, fought the battles, and now when needing our service the most, the VA ignores, or procrastinates to service their needs. This is a disgrace to all serving in the military.

PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

VA Physicians are being instructed to deny or misdiagnose PTSD, or they are simply ignoring the signs, over medicating or improperly medicating, and simply not even looking into alternative ways of dealing with PTSD. Many Veterans are left to feel as if no one cares, or no one listens to their symptoms. Instead of listening, or asking probing questions, the medical practitioner prescribes a drug and it appears that the VA has a drug for every ailment. We as Americans must take a stand to service and understand our soldiers and Veterans, not simply remove their weapons, dust them off, and refer them to another source of treatment, or someone else at the VA. We must learn to listen and stop the habit of prescribing drugs for every ailment. Veterans are not pin cushions or guinea pigs. We promised our Veterans benefits, freedom, and a better life, not simply prescribed drugs by doctors who react by overwriting prescriptions, instead of listening to their emotional ailments. Is this the way the VA strives to help our Veterans? Just simply prescribing a drug in hopes the Veteran will feel better in the morning? Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD] is described as an ‘emotional illness’ and it was not recognized as PTSD until the 1980’s when the American Psychiatric Association recognized it as such, according to the website, http://www.psychiatric-disorders.com. PTSD leaves no visible scars, only the emotional scars that will remain forever inside the mind of the war veteran. PTSD leaves a stigma attached to it. To those who do not understand this ailment, the looks, discriminations, and lack of compassion leaves the Veteran with a lack of understanding of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the wounds of it. While it is true, the wounds are embedded within the mind, the wounds are so obvious to those of us who love the Veteran suffering with PTSD; and we strive to do all we can to make their life more productive and pleasant. We need the VA to do the same.

President Obama has said: “We have a sacred trust with those who wear the uniform of the United States of America, a commitment that begins with enlistment and must never end.”

You, as Americans, and politicians of a free society, do have a moral, ethical, and Patriotic obligation to provide benefits and care, regardless of the costs involved! Our government has a moral, ethical, and Patriotic obligation to care for those who did the job others failed to do, or the many millions of Americans who chose to escape the effects, physical ailments, illnesses, and emotional wounds of war. Freedom is not free; it comes with a price tag. Veterans paid a gigantic price, emotionally, physically, and mentally. Only a war veteran can comprehend how that price was paid for in full by our military and war veterans, along with their spouses and children! The price they paid for their devotion to their freedom does not have a monetary amount and it could be considered priceless since the effects of war leave so many emotional and physical scars that cannot be repaired. The price our war veterans paid was distributed in full with blood, sweat and many tears.

Isn’t it about time Congress, the President, and the Veterans Affairs actually stood tall and paid that bill? Isn’t it time to help our wounded warriors, including those who suffer with PTSD, lack of medical care and improperly cleaned or sterilized equipment, and Blue Water Navy Dioxin Exposure, along with the emotional scars, to be compensated? The actions of Congress and the actions and policies of the VA seem to express so loud and clear that it would have been far better had our men and women not served or died at war than to suffer the denials, the schemes, shenanigans, and the maltreatment provided by the government of the United States. Let us all make a bit of noise with our Congress and all lawmakers. Send a copy of this article to those in your community, along with those who represent your home front. Isn’t it time our Veterans were treated with respect and dignity? Isn’t it time we welcomed them home and gave them the benefits promised, without the emotional war they must battle now, just to get those benefits? The choice is yours. You must decide.

Barbie Perkins-Cooper is an awarding winning writer who loves the journey and exploration of travel, health, and hospitality. She is the proud wife of a Vietnam Veteran and works full-time as an editorial photojournalist. She has published numerous articles and photographs for regional, health and beauty and travel publications including the Travel Channel, New York Daily News and Buick Magazine.