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