January Group Writing: Old Injuries, New Procedures

 

Whether you love or hate Donald J. Trump, I think we can all agree that the guy can just wear out some hyperbole. His use of superlatives in his speech used to make me nuts (and I’m a fan), but it grew on me over time and I ended up finding it hilarious.

Still, he had some major accomplishments. One of which, that he talks about but almost no one else does, is his revamping and remodeling of the Veterans Administration. I’ve heard from all kinds of vets that the system has been streamlined and vet-focused to the point where one has a hard time hating it anymore. That’s impressive, ’cause I’m a hater.

I was told, back in the day when I was a mere whelp of a Lieutenant Colonel, that processing claims with the VA for service-related disability was a process that would take three to five years after I retired from the service. Then, a couple of years before I retired, the VA started its Benefits Delivered at Discharge program. Six months before separation, troops could file their claims and the pie-in-the-sky goal was that upon final separation from service, the benefits troops were entitled to would be available immediately, with all assessments and adjudications complete. Nice goal, man, but we are talking about the VA. Good luck with that.

I dropped my claim exactly six months to the day before I mustered out. I showed up for every assessment for which the VA sent me an appointment. My benefits, such as they are, were turned on seven months after my retirement. So, a 13-month process. For VA deliverables, that was at the time considered light speed. Since POTUS 45 undertook the task to revamp the VA (a task on par with mucking out King Augeas’ stables in a single day), I’ve received feedback from a bunch of vets that the system is now actually functional and timely. That, I thought, is a good thing, as I’ve recently concluded that more interactions with the VA were necessary.

[Were I a better writer, I would work this point in with a little more grace and artifice, but I’m not so I won’t. Plus I’ve got the day off for MLK, and thus cracked my first breakfast beer at/about 0700, so: Anyone who joins the military and plans on having the VA provide their healthcare upon departure, well, that’s just a bad plan.]

The worst part of interacting with the VA was the assessments. I would get a letter saying that I had an appointment in Miami at 0800 or 0900. Now, trying to traverse Miami during those hours is a fool’s errand. The Hialeah and Hollywood municipalities are only approx 50 miles from my domicile. Ever spend three hours to travel 50 miles? Yeah. It was no fun. Some day, I’ll sit down and document my assessment adventures; there were times I felt like I was in bizarro world.

Some few months before I retired (I officially became a civilian on 01 FEB, 2016) I dislocated my hip in a fight. An 18D (SF medic) wrapped his arms around my ankle/shin, placed his foot in my crotch (after making a due diligence check that all mission-essential equipment was out of the way), arched his back, and popped the hip back into place. The noises the hip made, both while coming out and popping back in, were like unto the sound that the cartilage on a chicken wing makes when you rip it apart. Good times.

The hip never really got better. It hurt constantly, but I had full use of the joint, so I kind of blew off chasing follow-on medical care. One of the doctors I went to see stated, “I don’t think it’s your hip. I think it’s your spine.” Okay. The injury was livable and it was just pain, so I didn’t worry about it.

Over the next several years, the pain traveled from my hip up to my back, then across the pelvis so that I had both legs feeling the love. I finally went back to the medicos when I started losing muscular control (usually accompanied by a feeling like a taser shocking me). The stairs of my workplace are concrete. I started to get concerned that I might take a header down concrete flights of stairs. Been there, done that. Pass on doing it again.

The two phrases I remember from the MRI reading were “massive osteoarthritis” and “significant spinal stenosis.” I was walking around like the tin man without an oilcan in sight. The treatment is (until that inevitable point when I have to get surgery) to get epidural shots in my spine, every three or four months. Relief received from each series of shots is random.

I did take great umbrage during our shutdown period when no “elective surgery” was performed. Elective? Really? I always thought that one got elective surgery when one wanted bigger boobs, or a smaller nose. I had no idea that the shots that let me walk around like an actual human being were “elective.”

I put in an amendment to my original VA claim and waited with great trepidation for the assessment appointment paperwork to show up in the mail. Eesh. More long trips that would basically mean taking a whole day off work for a one-hour session with the assessment doc. Tarnation.

Instead of mail showing up six to eight weeks after I submitted my claim, I received a series of voice mails on my cell (DOD contractor, secure building, no cells allowed inside the building) to which I responded.

Apparently, now, if one lives more than 30 miles from the nearest VA facility, the VA comes to you. I was telephonically given a date, and paperwork was pushed to me via FEDEX confirming the appointment and what I needed to bring with me.

Of note, the address for the appointment was a motel off of Highway 1 in Florida City, 20-odd miles north of my residence. Highway 1 is also named, on the mainland, anyway, the Dixie Highway. How has that escaped cancellation, one wonders. Many of the motels and hotels cater to people that want to visit the Keys, but don’t want to pay Keys hospitality rates, and consider the 20/30 minute drive just to get into the Keys as an acceptable trade-off.

Still, Florida City? Get off of the north-south running Dixie Highway to either the east or the west, and you are truly in America’s Mogadishu. Maybe 8-Mile in Detroit is in the running for a more run-down, dilapidated piece of Americana, but it’s a tight race.

I pulled into the parking lot of the Leisure Inn on the appointed day and wondered where to go. Would they have a conference room rented out for performing assessments? Would they be conducting assessments from rented motel rooms? That seems like it would be very sketchy.

As I rounded a corner to get to the lobby of the motel to check-in and find out where I needed to go, I espied a huge, super-modern Winnebago (or whatever) variant in the parking lot. The name of the contracted diagnostic company was emblazoned all over the sides of the vehicle.

I’m thinking I’m probably in the right place.

The interior of the vehicle was as high-speed, clean, and well-appointed as any doctor’s office. The staff was wonderfully pleasant.

The doctor I saw was very caring and matronly; I have no idea how much older than me she was. She painstakingly explained that she did the assessment and sent the report up. She would have nothing to do with nor any input on the adjudication of my claim. Got it, ma’am.

After the assessment, she took off her glasses and gave me the motherly look. She seemed like she might be about to give me hot chocolate. Granted, January in South Florida and the temp was in the mid-70s, but I’m always up for some hot chocolate. Instead, she asked, “Young man, you’re in a lot of pain, I’m amazed you can even function, why in the world have you not had the surgery yet?”

I hate it when motherly professionals drop truth bombs on me.

I explained my situation, and why it was not a good time for me to be down recuperating for 8-12 weeks. She observed that I’ve got “a lot going on” but then (turning the whole motherly thing up to 11) admonished me not to wait until I was truly in crisis to attempt getting fixed.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Best VA appointment I ever had. Thank you, President Trump.

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  1. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    I wonder how many people especially those who voted for Biden, are enjoying such improvements without ever realizing how they came about.

    • #1
  2. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    Nice post Boss. Thanks for all you and those like you have done and continue to do. Really. Thanks to President Trump too. He definitely has the ability to cut through the red tape and bureaucracy. Always has. (See Wollman Rink)

    Spinal stenosis? I have been told that myself. Have you ever tried one of those inversion tables? Takes the pressure off the spine. Past performance is no guarantee yadda yadda yadda… But it worked well for me. Just a thought.

     

    • #2
  3. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Boss Mongo: Tarnation.

    Are you sure the word you wanted to use wasn’t “criminutely?”

    • #3
  4. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Boss Mongo: Highway 1 is also named, on the mainland, anyway, the Dixie Highway. How has that escaped cancellation, one wonders.

    I’m pretty sure the Lee Highway is doomed.

    • #4
  5. notmarx Member
    notmarx
    @notmarx

    Spinal stenosis? I too have had it for years. When I awake, it makes me feel my years (73). I head for my pullup/dip stand, hang for a bit (right-side up), then do some sets of pullups and dips; seems to stretch the spine and help the core. I’ve also had hip replacement surgery. They keep getting better at it. My advice is get it done sooner rather than later. The hip surgery may well help with your back.

    Democrats have a way of coddling ineffective bureacrats; I do hope the VA doesn’t regress under Biden.

    And yes, thank you for your service.

     

    • #5
  6. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    My friend, a Vietnam vet with multiple agent-orange-related issues, praises the VA every time I see him.

    • #6
  7. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    JoelB (View Comment):

    My friend, a Vietnam vet with multiple agent-orange-related issues, praises the VA every time I see him.

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard a harsh word uttered about the people that work at the VA (those that interact with patients). The VA system, however…whole different kettle of fish.

    • #7
  8. jmelvin Member
    jmelvin
    @jmelvin

    Excellent write-up. I’d heard that Trump had positively affected the VA from my veteran aunt who also worked in the system and had often talked about how awful it was.

    As you truthfully note, Florida City is a hole. I’ve spent about a month of my life staying at hotels within or near its borders and it was not something I’d care to repeat if reasonably avoidable.

    • #8
  9. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Ekosj (View Comment):
    Spinal stenosis? I have been told that myself. Have you ever tried one of those inversion tables? Takes the pressure off the spine. Past performance is no guarantee yadda yadda yadda… But it worked well for me. Just a thought.

    Here comes a bit of a ramble, but…

    When I was living in Phoenix and occasionally finding rather amazing stuff that people were throwing out – or maybe the landlords were, after people got evicted for non-payment or went to jail or something – one of my finds was a nice Teeter Hangup inversion table. It was the latest model, too.

    I knew some people who seemed to have a knack for being able to sell stuff, including a nice weight bench and weights and stuff that I happened upon while it was being thrown away!

    Anyway, I told them about the Teeter, and they seemed interested but did nothing.

    A couple days later, nobody had grabbed the Teeter and the “landscaping” people had moved it from the sidewalk INTO one of the dumpsters, which were going to be emptied the next day.

    But I knew something good when I saw it, so I went and got the “knack” people and insisted we retrieve it. They grudgingly went along.

    They cleaned it up, and shortly after that a long-time friend of theirs who hadn’t been able to work (drywall mostly) for months due to back problems, got it from them. Very quickly it cleared up his problems and he was able to work again. In return, he took like $800 off what the “knack” people owed him from something – a loan maybe – in the past.

    Everyone came out ahead!

    • #9
  10. Jim Beck Member
    Jim Beck
    @JimBeck

    Evening Boss,

    As a fluke in my life I worked in the Medical Illustration dept at IU. Med school, I made simulators. My first major simulator was a spine simulator to showcase Acromed tools and a certain type of pedical fixation surgery. Docs would preform surgeries on the simulator without worries about patient outcomes. I have watched several videos of spinal surgeries and as another oddity my dept head and friend had spinal surgery for a condition called spondylolisthesis. His condition was one of the conditions we made into the simulators. His symptoms included a loss of feeling in his lower libs as his spinal cord was pinched. He had a plate screwed in place to join two lumbar vertebrae in his back to return it to its proper architecture, and had bits of hip bone used to attempt to fuse a couple of lumbar vertebrae. There are two hard parts I am getting to, sorry for taking so long. First, after watching videos of spinal surgery, I wish I saw doctors handling spinal roots more delicately, I wish I had seen docs be more precise, I wish I had seen docs not leave the pointed bits of screws left poking into the abdomen. I like docs, my brother is a doc and my pop was also, but the combined neuro and ortho surgery of the spine looked rough. Second, my dept head had a return of feeling but back pain did not disappear, and his ability to play squash or any twisting sport were lost. Lastly as a rather comic karma, I have come to a similar place with the same spondylolisthesis and scoliosis in the same lumbar vertebrae as my former dept head. I am reluctant to get surgery, I do not know what it will take to force the issue, I suppose when things get difficult enough I will think it is better than the status quo. If you ever come up to Indy, I have the neuro spine doc to see, sorry about your problem.

    • #10
  11. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Another great post, thank you.

    Long before President Trump was in office a friend that had served more than one tour in Vietnam had been diagnosed with liver cancer and the VA hospital was not much help.

    I visited him several times in that hospital and I wasn’t impressed with what I saw. He went to a Catholic hospital and they arranged hospice care in his home to include regular visits with a hospice nurse. Shortly before he passed away he received a letter from hospital administrators informing his family that they would waive all charges for his care due to financial hardship. 

    • #11
  12. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Jim Beck (View Comment):
    sorry about your problem.

    Jim, thanks. But you know what? I’m not dead yet. That’s kind of cool.

    • #12
  13. Bob Armstrong Thatcher
    Bob Armstrong
    @BobArmstrong

    I explained my situation, and why it was not a good time for me to be down recuperating for 8-12 weeks. She observed that I’ve got “a lot going on” but then (turning the whole motherly thing up to 11) admonished me not to wait until I was truly in crisis to attempt getting fixed.

    World needs to chill out so you have time to get yourself unbusted-up!

    • #13
  14. JimGoneWild Coolidge
    JimGoneWild
    @JimGoneWild

    I had hip and lower back problems. Someone suggested going a physical therapist and I did. No more problems. Just saying.

    Thanks for the write up.

    • #14
  15. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    Please don’t think for a minute I’m comparing my problems with yours. JY has suffered back pain almost as long as I’ve known him and I know it’s a misery.

    But I relate to the “matronly doctor”. Except mine was a Philippina who was shorter than me (and I barely hit 5’). My doc had referred me to her when I went bald in 2013

    After confirming I was, in fact, bald (after I removed my hat) she asked if I was under any stress? As stress can cause hair loss? I laughed maniacally (and I think burst into tears). My somewhat recently widowed mother was losing her marbles, my mother-in-law had dropped dead on Thanksgiving Day and son #1 was in Afghanistan.

    Once I calmed down she looked at me over her half-glasses and said: Is there anything you can do about it?

    I replied: Not unless I murder 26 people

    She looked up brightly and said: All righty then! Let’s see what we can do for you.

    She got me back a full head of hair. And I took responsibility for handling my life better. As my mother (who could be shallow and thoughtful at the same time) used to say: All this stress is going to kill you. And your looks will go.

    Right again, mom.

    Good luck, Boss.

    • #15
  16. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    Uh oh.

    My go-to line to convince people government-run medical care wasn’t a good idea: do you want your only option to be the VA.

    • #16
  17. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    The VA medical and disability system was one of those problems that presidents and congressional majorities of both parties repeatedly failed to actually make more veteran-useful/centric. That changed abruptly with President Trump.

    This post is part of our Group Writing Series under the January 2021 Group Writing Theme: “Old and New.” We have lots of open dates awaiting your participation. New here, or haven’t posted in months/years? You are especially encouraged to join in the conversation. Stop by soon, our schedule and sign-up sheet awaits.

    Interested in Group Writing topics that came before? See the handy compendium of monthly themes. Check out links in the Group Writing Group. You can also join the group to get a notification when a new monthly theme is posted.

    • #17
  18. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    I never filed my claim. It has been 12 years. I am probably not going to do it now.

    • #18
  19. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    My dad, on the other hand filed a claim related to his Type 1 Diabetes. About 5 years ago he filed for an increase in in his rating. It was denied, so he filed an appeal. The guy is 75. He is still waiting. 

    • #19
  20. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Annefy (View Comment):

    Once I calmed down she looked at me over her half-glasses and said: Is there anything you can do about it?

    I replied: Not unless I murder 26 people

    Love you, @annefy

    • #20
  21. Eeyore Member
    Eeyore
    @Eeyore

    Boss Mongo: Anyone who joins the military and plans on having the VA provide their healthcare upon departure, well, that’s just a bad plan.

    My brother was AF in the 1970s. When he mustered out, he stated one of the major aspects of his life plan was to never – EVER – have to depend on the VA for healthcare.

    • #21
  22. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Eeyore (View Comment):

    Boss Mongo: Anyone who joins the military and plans on having the VA provide their healthcare upon departure, well, that’s just a bad plan.

    My brother was AF in the 1970s. When he mustered out, he stated one of the major aspects of his life plan was to never – EVER – have to depend on the VA for healthcare.

    Smart man, your brother.

    • #22
  23. Midwest Southerner Member
    Midwest Southerner
    @MidwestSoutherner

    Glad to hear about the process improvements. Not glad to hear about the constant pain you’re in.

    A car accident did a number or two on my back. Chiropractic helps if I go regularly (which I don’t), and there are a couple machines at the gym that, if I hit them regularly, keep things mostly manageable and tolerable. @ekosj is right about the inversion table — I’ve gotten good results from that as well.

    Also, that “motherly thing” is something we moms take great pride in perfecting. The hubs and son, along with a few clients, tell me my game is strong in that department. Glad to know your doc is making the most of hers.

    Be well and take care of yourself — we need you.

    • #23
  24. aardo vozz Member
    aardo vozz
    @aardovozz

    Annefy (View Comment):

    Once I calmed down she looked at me over her half-glasses and said: Is there anything you can do about it?

    I replied: Not unless I murder 26 people

    She looked up brightly and said: All righty then! Let’s see what we can do for you.

    At this point , I was worried your story would continue with “She then walked over to a cabinet, opened it , and handed me two AK-47s with six clips each, eight hand grenades, and told me an rpg launcher with a box of rounds would be waiting for me around the back on the loading dock($25 dollar copay for those, but this was no time to cut corners.).. . Best part was, the judge ruled it justifiable homicide and let me off with just a warning!”

    As it is, Im glad the story ended the way it did, @annefy.🙂

    • #24
  25. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    Boss Mongo: I dislocated my hip in a fight

    I have been having some hip pain lately but I think it is from excessive sitting. Different jobs have different hazards. A few month ago my doctor suggested I get an X-ray but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Maybe if he asked in a more motherly way . . .

    • #25
  26. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    Vance Richards (View Comment):

    Boss Mongo: I dislocated my hip in a fight

    I have been having some hip pain lately but I think it is from excessive sitting. Different jobs have different hazards. A few month ago my doctor suggested I get an X-ray but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Maybe if he asked in a more motherly way . . .

    This is an ongoing joke between JY and me. He has a long commute and a desk job and claims to have heard someone say “sitting is the new smoking”. 

    I tease him that our grandchildren will someday speak of him with such reverence. My granddad sat all day …

    • #26
  27. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Ekosj (View Comment):

    Nice post Boss. Thanks for all you and those like you have done and continue to do. Really. Thanks to President Trump too. He definitely has the ability to cut through the red tape and bureaucracy. Always has. (See Wollman Rink)

    Spinal stenosis? I have been told that myself. Have you ever tried one of those inversion tables? Takes the pressure off the spine. Past performance is no guarantee yadda yadda yadda… But it worked well for me. Just a thought.

     

    Would a chiropractor help you? Not the old fashioned back cracking kind, but one that uses the “pen”. It’s non-invasive. You might want to call mine and ask for a referral near you for this type, which is specialized. https://www.henardchiro.com/

    I have scoliosis and have been going to chiropractors for decades. I have not been back since COVID but if it weren’t for the relief of pressure and their ability to “straighten me out”, my ligaments would be in much worse shape. At least get a consulation with X-rays.

    You should also be on some sort of a vitamin regimen that includes a natural calcium (not a hard mineral type), bone broth and a collagen supplement. Also many swear by Osteo-biflex and turmeric for pain relief. If you have to wash it all down with a beer, start now.

    • #27
  28. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Annefy (View Comment):

    Vance Richards (View Comment):

    Boss Mongo: I dislocated my hip in a fight

    I have been having some hip pain lately but I think it is from excessive sitting. Different jobs have different hazards. A few month ago my doctor suggested I get an X-ray but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Maybe if he asked in a more motherly way . . .

    This is an ongoing joke between JY and me. He has a long commute and a desk job and claims to have heard someone say “sitting is the new smoking”.

    I tease him that our grandchildren will someday speak of him with such reverence. My granddad sat all day …

    Sitting for long unbroken periods of time is truly terrible for all of the body systems. I notice it because the work I do requires month-long stretches of sitting at my desk for most of the afternoon and evening, but I don’t do it all the time. Cooking is not great either–too-long periods of standing still. I feel my best when I’m spending a lot of hours each day in my gardens. I don’t like exercising–it’s really boring. So I’m glad I have flowers to grow. :-) 

     

    • #28
  29. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):
    You should also be on some sort of a vitamin regimen that includes 

    … bourbon.

    • #29
  30. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    aardo vozz (View Comment):

    Annefy (View Comment):

    Once I calmed down she looked at me over her half-glasses and said: Is there anything you can do about it?

    I replied: Not unless I murder 26 people

    She looked up brightly and said: All righty then! Let’s see what we can do for you.

    At this point , I was worried your story would continue with “She then walked over to a cabinet, opened it , and handed me two AK-47s with six clips each, eight hand grenades, and told me an rpg launcher with a box of rounds would be waiting for me around the back on the loading dock($25 dollar copay for those, but this was no time to cut corners.).. . Best part was, the judge ruled it justifiable homicide and let me off with just a warning!”

    As it is, Im glad the story ended the way it did, @annefy.🙂

    Well the doc is from the Philippines apparently, and the rebels over there do have some weaponry, so who knows…

    I was wondering if she had 26 people already picked out, or if it would be the next 26 people she happened to encounter… or maybe something more maniacally methodical, like picking names out of the phone book with first or last names – or both! – starting with each letter of the alphabet…

    • #30