If they would just say that their mission is to screw up veterans' care, inflict more damage than the insurgents did, and offer competent help only by accident, then nobody would be disappointed, would they?
A year ago---or the year before that, the VA decided it wanted to get in a battle of wills with me over transportation.
I did a lot of convoys in Iraq, during one of bloodiest years of the war, and I saw some of that blood, because aside from combat, convoying was the most deadly thing you could do. In our first seven days, we lost our first guy, as well as another soldier who suffered permanent if relatively minor paralysis. Three weeks after that, my squad rolled out and got ambushed, pinned down, and refused extraction, re-supply, or reinforcement for twenty two hours, which was complicated partially by the attitude of British governor, who kept knocking back gin and tonics during the battle, then demanding that we hold the site, even while we were running out of ammo. A Marine general stomped on him and sent us two gunships, but that Brit gov wasn't done with us yet. With many of the detachment out of ammo, he stopped the convoy to only then check on whether or not he'd gotten all of his people out. He went on to write a book slamming my squad in particular for 'not wanting to hold positions on the roof' and 'for not wanting to use the radio.' I spent a few hours on that roof, getting pinned down by a sniper across the river, and my squad leader using that CINCGARS in the hummer was the only reason we got those gunships.
That was one month. I left out the mob we got trapped in, more snipers, and the SF guys getting shot up and limping back to town in a shot-up truck. And God knows what else.
So eight or nine months after getting home, I started having what I was later informed were panic attacks----and they always involved vehicles. And they got worse, basically because I spent months gritting my teeth and making fists so bad I carved bloody little half circles in my palms with my finger nails. Then came on so bad I lost consciousnes, and my NCO noticed and forced me to go to the VA.
The Ninth Circuit in California recently found that the VA was violating veterans' due process rights with their endless delays and incompetence, but of course the VA is appealing that.
So the VA abruptly informed me---after I'd started demanding to know from my 'team' why they weren't listening to me----that I was no longer entitled to transportation. Then my doctors told me they couldn't refill my meds---four of them---because I had to come in to do, and I wasn't doing that. You see the problem there?
I had to go through withdrawal, more or less simultaneously, from an anti-psychotic drug, an anti-depressant, an anti-anxiety drug, and an anti-convulsant. Does that sound fun?
They thought they could force me into coming into the VA, thus demonstrating that my panic attacks were not as bad as they actually are. Of course, the panic attacks had by then become full-fledged agoraphobia. I mean....agoraphobia. A very good day for me is pulling the garbage can to the alley. Some weeks that just isn't possible. I can't, for example, go as far as the street sign on my block. However, if something gets me angry, I'll be out that door in a rage, only to get stranded in a blaze of terror when it wears off and I suddenly wonder where I am. Adrenalin's a many-splendoured thing.
All of which is prelude to something that I just realized this morning. I have a Korean War buddy who's semi-retired. I save my Diet Coke cans for him so he can turn them in and while he can't do handyman stuff, he can drive me around.
You know how often he does that?
I was thinking about that. We're into September now. Except for the hospital, it's been a year since I left my house. That's how bad the agoraphobia is. I'm taking something that a friend gave me for anxiety, because the VA has a new front in screwing me over.
The issue is anxiety drugs. For at least four years, I've been taking Klonapin, which has never done much for me and now is basically a placebo. Only the presence of my friend and the knowledge of the route, the duration of the outing, and that's for something or someone other than myself---we always manage to swing by Good will or Animal Ark with donations-----make this possible.
This is because I asked my provider for a real anti-anxiety drug, something which would do something. I told her I had had to take twice as much as her recommended dosage before a trip to the VA, along with a sleeping pill, and still I tossed and turned and then got up paced the whole night, before realizing I just couldn't do it. When you have agoraphobia and panic attacks to begin with, going someplace where people subtly or not-so-subtly treat you like a malingering, drug-seeking idiot is not what I'd call incentive.
My shrink claimed she was worried about dependency. "I've been taking this shit for at least four years," I told her, to her face. "I just told you to your face that I'm taking twice as much to get any effect at all. And now you're worried about dependency? You might as well get worried about birth control when the baby's crowning."
Then she fell back on what seems to be the favorite tactic of the mental health team around here. "You're shouting at me, gin."
"No, I'm enunciating at you, because I've asked you the same question five times and you won't answer honestly, and aside from that you once again forgot what I did in the military, as well as the fact that I was in the military entirely." I'm surprised she didn't follow up with a threat to involuntarily commit me, which had been her go-to manuever ever since I got suicidal and asked to be admitted to the locked ward. While I was there a male patient threatened me, and the nurses shrugged and said---and I quote: "Aw, honey, what we can do? He's nuts." So, in other words, they had no interest in protecting a woman in that environment, when all the other patients were men. This, by the way, has been their attitude in every mixed group. Every time I see a VA press release that trumpets how marvelous their programs are for women, I think, "What programs for women?" It's almost like they're proud of being so horrible at my VA.
So I have been asking and asking and ASKING for a new shrink, in part because the anxiety is so bad that it keeps me awake, makes me have hallucinations, and has me jumping like I just got off the plane. The scent of smoke and dust haunt my days, and at night, exhaustion fills my ears with nightmares that I know aren't there---but I'm too worm out to fight.
I asked my doctor for a drug that I could take as needed for anxiety, provided it actually worked. Instead, she prescribed me a drug that treats neurological disorders. In addition, this has to build up in the system---which is exactly the opposite of what I wanted----and she's not even prescribing the therapeutic dose. I might as well be taking skittles. Got that? It's got off label uses for anxiety----but not my kind of anxiety. Once again, she didn't listen to me, didn't respect me, and then she scheduled me for a sleep study and physical therapy, which I can't go to because---no transportation, and no way to fight the anxiety. The drug doesn't work unless it builds up in your system. Apparently I'm the only one who looks this stuff up. One nurse told me to take one---the daily dosage is three and "(I'd) be fine!"
Then I talked to the patient advocate. "Well, you're not happy with ** and she's not happy with you-----"
"She's not happy with me?" How unprofessional, in so many ways. Why didn't she remove herself from the case then?
And then yet another prescription ran out, and the director of the womens' center, after listening to me complain about this, promised me she'd handle it.
She didn't. And you know how I found this out? I ran out and I called the pharmacy. Then I called the Director of the VA, the patient advocate---oh, wait, he'd quit---and my Senator. The new patient advocate has not returned any of my six phone calls over three weeks, and apparently people at the VA do not keep promises, return phone calls, or give any shit at all. The result is this: I'm leaving my home for the first time in about a year, for a place that's not a hospital. It's going to make me collapse into a coma when I get home, because it's so exhausting for me, and frankly, I just don't like having one of those gasp-and-jerk-around reactions in front of strangers. When people see a short-haired guy do that, they know enough to think he's a veteran. When they see a middle-aged woman with long hair do the same thing, she's just a freak.
The VA is doing a 'review' of my case, which means they'll read what other VA doctors say about my case. What do other doctors say about my case? They'll stress the time that I took a cab to the ER one night, out of my mind with the pain from what turned out to be an abscess in my jaw. My blood pressure was so high (and I normally have low blood pressure) from the pain that I had blood from burst blood vessels in my eyes, and intermittent nose bloods. Their blood pressure machine was broken and they couldn't be arsed to go get another one from down the hall.
The VA tends to leave out stuff like that abscess, the pain (which I described as a ten, something I didn't say when I broke my leg in three places and walked around on it for an hour), the blood in my eyes, the nose bleeds, and the racing heart beat and pallor and clammy skin. I'm sure they note or hint that I was probably exaggerating about the pain. They tend to do that a lot with veterans. We're all drug-seeking debutantes to them, it seems.
They'll just mention the cab ride. How do I know this? Because that's what my therapist did. Repeatedly. "But you took a cab that one time!"
So once again I had to call a Senator just to get my anti-depressant prescription filled, and I have a history of suicide attempts.
I called the Assistant Director for Veterans' Affairs in Washington. Somehow, in all the phone calls and messages and offers of this time they'd take me seriously, nobody mentioned the option of serious escalation.
I have no idea how to finish this off. But the next time you might see a middle-aged woman gasping and flinching somewhere, it's entirely possible she's a veteran like me, and if the VA can't manage to grasp that concept, I guess it's hardly surprising that ordinary people don't.
You don't have to sympathize. You'll note there's a lot of sarcasm in here. But unless people know how bad it is, how actually harmful it is, then they won't understand some facets of mental illness. I didn't have a clue before I myself got sick. What's sad is that the VA itself still hasn't gotten that far.