After a while sitting at home my mind will begin to race. I tend to overthink as well as fall into a dark place. Once my mind takes me there I feel it’s where I have been for quite some time, almost like a death metal album. When I speak of my thoughts to others it is as I am embellishing a typical nightmare only it is the life of many veterans. This article does not only acknowledge the failure of the VA system but the medical world is failing many Americans. I am only concerned with veterans in this article as many of my brothers and sisters live in areas where there is not a VA close by and we get pushed to remote clinic where the people and help is short in supply. When we say “the system is broken” we should take any opportunity that may arise to help change that, as my intention in the beginning was to only get help for myself and not exactly looking write this article that I help guide my fellow vets to the right path to get the treatment they not only deserve but “earned.”
Monday night my wife and I had an argument, as it grew I realized I needed to inform her of the thoughts that plagued my mind and I needed to get help. I’ve been on the phone and I have walked into to my remote clinic where I live. A remote clinic serves as a spot for vets that live in a location that is maybe quite a ways away from a VA Hospital. The main issue with remote clinics, in my experience, is that there rarely a primary Care Doctor onsite and we speak with a nurse who then relays the appointment results to the doctor. It feels like seeing the Baby Doc in the military, yea they are there but are they going to get things right, like maybe hit the vein for a blood draw on the first try. Additionally, there may not be a psychiatrists on site nor will do a video and we are left again with a nurse who will pass the message along. However, how long will it take for the PCM or Head Doc get back to us? The answer is always unclear in my situation. I was set up with a therapist at the remote location. I knew I was not going to like him the first day as he showed up with a coffee stain on his dingy white shirt and while business casual he added sneakers. So that began my trip down therapy with the VA remote clinic.
A few months in I was getting nowhere and as expressed my thoughts and home life, I was then told to contact Children’s Services and report myself for honestly nothing warranting such action. It was so pointless the CPS agent told me the VA does this all the time and it is to protect their behind, so of course I felt betrayed and will never trust a VA therapist again. With that said we should dive into the heart of the article and I pray with this information we can make some changes. When it comes to getting a real doctor while in the remote location it is hard to get an appointment in a timely manner which is why the Choice program was created. Choice is supposed to help us get to a civilian doctor if our appointments a certain distance away from our residence. In my case the Choice program is flawed as I get told there is another clinic downtown and once I state how far out appointments are they then tell me there is an opening at the remote clinic, but it is always with the nurse, not the doctor. So you can see my dilemma and the circle I go through.
As I mentioned, it was on a Monday night where I expressed my concerns about my mental state and where it may be leading to my wife. The next day I called the Veteran’s Crisis Hotline (800-273-8255 and you can text 838255) and I informed the helpline representative that I was suicidal. After he wanted to go over ways to prevent such thoughts and to plans to occupy my mind I then interrupted him to advise him I needed to be admitted to the hospital. They will offer you an ambulance if you do not want family or friends involved but I had my wife take me. This was not easy on her as she has watched me diminish as myself and become more of an angry man looking for chaos, although, she stood by me until I knew I would only be repeating the nightmares and treacherous thoughts that were circling my brain looking for the climax which would be fatal.
My visit was actually swift as I was met with my hotline representative and he helped get me back to be evaluated. I moved along repeating my story over and over then I felt a sense of push back in addition so I informed the Psychiatrist I again wanted to be admitted. Nothing was being passed along it felt as when they did my vitals they mentioned it was my first time getting vitals since 2008 but I had been there within the year. This is common in my case as there is one clinic up north from me that has info that has not been shared with the downtown clinic. Go figure. After all the hoops I have been going through I was finally getting moved along through the process and arrived in the Psychiatric Ward getting stripped down and getting my front as well as my back looked up and down from head to toe. Then I got my pajamas answered the usual questions and on I went to watch TV with my fellow vets needing help, although, many of the men and women needed much more than I did so I decided that while I got myself checked out I was going to look into the others stories to see how treatment is going.
I met a quite a few and I saw some sad stories as well as seeing things like a fellow vet getting medication he was not supposed to get. We found out he was given an anti-psychotic medication that he was only supposed to get if he got out of control which was due to a blow up earlier that night when he was told he could not get any migraine medication and the doctor had left for the day. Evidently there is no doctor available through the night for that specific ward. I find that hard to believe but the nurses were great and after I explained why I was there they were even more willing to help get the message to the doctors.
I called the suicide hotline and threatened suicide just too finally see a doctor. Is it wrong? Did I exaggerate somethings? I do not believe it was wrong as the thoughts were there and why should I wait until the gun is in my mouth? I exaggerated to get myself in there so I could actually see a doctor. Besides my mental status I also have back problems that have not been completely taken care of and I live in pain 24/7 as many vets do. After months of no actual appointment set or any additional help I saw a doctor, got my medications transferred over from other insurance, new medications, and follow up appointments. Finally, I got things set up! No. No I did not. My follow up was today and it was with a nurse who then said my appointment would be in 6-7 weeks to see the psychiatrist and I already have an appoint with my new primary care doctor in 2 months. I was back square one. Already knowing the answer I asked the nurse if he had heard or read my actual story as to why I admitted myself. Of course, the answer was no. Again there is no communication or it is just negligence on the staff’s part. Who wants to repeat their story 50 times? No one, so I did get an attitude about it then next thing I know I have an earlier appointment but it was with another nurse. I left there with them well informed of my displeasure with this situation. Once I got home I “coincidently” got a call for the first time ever from the Choice program to schedule an appointment with a civilian doctor.
In conclusion to this article, through all the run arounds I found that the hotline works. I am not saying call the hotline like I did to get a doctor as we do not want it to start becoming an issue to where vets in need on are on hold. Additionally, I feel it is important to acknowledge that not all VA hospitals are the same as I was in the Phoenix, Arizona facility. It was brought to my attention that if you are having thoughts but not fully to the point of planning suicide you can still go to the emergency room at the VA to make sure you see a doctor and do not let them push you away. I also recommend being serious about admission to the hospital as you could be in there for a minimum of 7 days, this would not be ideal if you are not needing full time attention as you will not want to stay and take a bed from someone who could truly need it. What I did was maybe wrong but I needed help and I knew I was not the only one. My wife is a veteran of Navy as well and has had trouble getting appointments so indeed was doing it for her as well once I got in to see what was going on. I recommend giving the VA staff a break as well since they are not really the problem. Once taking this claim to the patient advocate executives we agreed it is a coordination problem which really needs to be corrected. Remember to use the hotline if you are planning suicide because I promise it will get better and you deserve the chance to move on. Check for support groups in your area and they are not what you expect as you will be joining people who just get it. Once you have your appointments scheduled and need to talk to your doctor just use myhealthvet.va.com, where you can also order your DD 214 and medical records. The portal is constantly being worked on but what is not being worked on in the VA?
By: Dave Bravo