The VA: A cautionary tale

Meet Bush’s yorkie, VA Secretary Jim Nicholson.

If I had a dog, I would shave its ass and call it the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Well, that’s not entirely true. I would never shave a dog’s ass.

In all of the dealings I have had with the VA since leaving the Navy almost 29 years ago, those I experienced this week have been the most infuriating, frustrating and probably a few other -tings yet to be named for a future draft choice.

My latest troubles with the VA stem from a combination of my employment as a part-time government employee, the VA’s unwillingness to share information with those who use its healthcare system and a little negligence on my part.

Health problems — degenerative arthritis of the cervical spine to be exact — contributed to my severe poverty level over the past year and a half. That led to homelessness, which continues although I have been staying in a motel until I can find an affordable place to live. I was hoping to use some reimbursements from my part-time job to snag an apartment or other dwelling this week. But the good-old ass-dog VA had other ideas.

My poverty and the VA’s negligence contributed to my having outstanding medical bills at three different VA systems in Central Texas, North Texas and Houston. A veteran who receives VA care must complete what is known as a means test to determine if he or she is able or unable to pay for their care or prescription copayments. The VA had always reminded patients each year to do that but somewhere along the line, that practice stopped and the veteran was responsible for getting that paperwork done. The problem is, and even as much as I was plugged into the VA in the past, I didn’t know that the onus fell on me.

Consequently, I owed for medical treatment and copayments that should not have been charged to me because I was below their poverty level.

Also, after more than 10 years of VA care I only learned this week that “Previous Balance” on my monthly statement is actually a delinquent amount. I was not a very happy person discovering these revelations.

My negligence stemmed from trying to survive and doing all the various necessities when one is homeless. This includes finding food, shelter and a place to wash away the funk. I was not as attentive to VA bills in the last year or so because I was trying to survive and it had never been a major issue being behind on your VA bills.

That all changed when I began working for the government in March.

I knew that some money could possibly be garnished from my pay for money I owed to the VA. But I did not know the depth of how that all worked.

It worked by taking all but about 1 percent of the money that was owed me for travel and per diem reimbursements. All of a sudden, bam, they took all my money without telling me squat with the exception of a notice that $80 would be garnished for my debt with the Central Texas VA system. And they will continue to take my money until or if I can get in place a waiver to stop these vultures from raiding my treasury.

The biggest problem I have with all of this — aside from my badly-needed funds being looted — is that these actions are taken with no consideration whatsoever of the individual’s financial circumstances. The VA as I am sure is the case with some other agencies has this mindset: “He’s a government employee. We can treat him however we want because WE ARE THE GOVERNMENT!” Tee hee.

Now I have never been accused of viewing life as particularly fair. But these circumstances go beyond basic fairness. The VA — led by former Republican National Committee chairman and whom to me resembles a Yorkshire Terrier Jim Nicholson — should above all treat its patients with some semblance of decency. The VA has a lot of wonderful people but also has its share of snakes. And these snakes don’t give a rat’s ass if you are homeless or blind, crippled or crazy. They want to make access to veterans health care difficult with the hope that the veteran will just give up and go away, and in some cases — die.

Mine is a cautionary tale. If you are a VA patient you should watch them like a hawk. Read all the fine print. Think ahead of them and keep in mind all the ways that the VA could screw you. I know that is hard to do if you are homeless, or you have a severe or life-threatening illness or you are struggling with physical therapy with your prosthetic leg that you now wear from fighting that f**ked up war in Iraq.

As for me, I will not give up my fight to seek a little fairness and to perhaps get a little of my money back. I don’t know what it will take. I have already filed a complaint with the office of my local congressman, U.S. Rep. Ted “Here Comes the Judge” Poe. I don’t expect a lot out of this move but it will at the very least make a few people at the VA a bit anxious. And in addition to studying my legal options, I likewise am thinking about taking my story to a few of my old media contacts. I would rather not do the latter, but the only way to get things done at the VA is to shame them into action.

It’s a sad state of affairs how our veterans are treated in this country. The VA talks the talk but rarely do they walk the walk. The agency often doles out what I consider as emotional abuse and sometimes harm the patients they are charged with healing. Physician, heal thy self. Please.

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