NEWS FROM THE VA: It seems the negatives outweigh the positives

Veterans Affairs Regional Benefit Office Togus, ME

by Gary Kennedy

Well, here we are again and I wish I had a lot of great news to share with you but these are trying times and, unfortunately, it seems the negatives out-weigh the positives. It seems even some of the positives are masking negative intent. I have received much anxious correspondence lately, it causes me some very deep thought; I never thought I’d see what appears a good thing masking as something else. It is so negative to be searching for an ulterior motive for what would normally be taken on its face as a good thing.

Recently, VA’s center Director and Regional Director made rapid decisions with a very large amount of money lying in its coffers. There are some of us who have a great deal of knowledge regarding V.A. and its history and needs. We have watched this Covid epidemic used in what some believe to be a distorted way. It has been authorized to build roads, sidewalks, two very large buildings while at the same time take advantage of the Covid epidemic and shutdown and/or eliminate some very essential path-ways to well being.

During this time of calamity, while there are those who think no one is watching, veteran services are being undermined, even destroyed. Some examples would be the veteran outreach program which is doomed to self destruct. Originally, the politicians sought a way to service all veterans in a like manner. Some veterans live in remote areas. Two things come into play here and they are the distance veterans still have to travel for care, but most importantly it should be quality care.

Vietnam era vets such as myself are now reaching the end of the line, so in order to grab those last few years, we need quality help. Reducing distance is only good for the menial of medical problems. Those of us who have suffered through cancer and many other trying medical problems need a large medical facility with MDs, specialists to help us achieve the edge we need. Instead we find life and death decisions and treatment are being handled by nurse practitioners, PAs and other such medical people, who are great to a point but that point should and must have its limits.

We are even importing medical people from India, Pakistan and the Philippines to name only a few. Don’t take me wrong, some of these medical people are specialists who will work for less money and the ability to become American citizens. Although this is unfair immigration, realizing there are paid waiting applicants, who are waiting their turn, it does give us quality needed people.

Until this past year we were paying outside practitioners exactly what they billed for their service. Well, in less than a year that came to a screaming halt. I spoke with medical representatives who now refuse to take veterans because the VA had cut the fees to between 35-51 percent of the bill they submitted. I had one office manager in Portland say, “we are a specialty operation and we have to pay our people a top salary as they are all professionals. We can’t do that on what the VA has limited us to now. We just can’t take veterans anymore.” That is something that is going to become more frequent. VA knew what they were doing and it is coming back to bite them.

What started out as a potential good thing is rapidly turning sour. Look at the wait times now. I personally was given a clinic appointment which I kept and was told I would be seen in a couple of weeks to finish it up. That was just the paperwork, information and partial exam. I received a call last week stating my wait to finish just the interview part would be three more months. My condition was/is serious and service connected. I used to be treated for this with weekly injections, or as needed. As you know I also work with veterans and help them with their cases to get medical help as well as claim resolution. Even though I have near death situations on my desk I will still have to wait.

Recently the Veterans Administration hired V.A. Advocates. When that program first started I offered to volunteer and that was considered great. That was the last conversation we had. Oh yes, there is money to hire. There are signs everywhere but still our men and women vets are being farmed out to strange facilities. Some vets have been going to Togus VA for many years and feel comfortable there. Another point I’d like to make is given the average age of Togus patients, Neurology is a very important department. Recently, the most knowledgeable neurologist who had worked there for many years decided to retire. I had a private conversation with her about what was going on and that we would miss her. She said, “Why? I really can’t do much for you.” She explained she could do some basic stuff but the rest would have to be done somewhere else. I asked, “Why?” she said, “we talked about this before”. We have no EMG equipment; it’s all broken and VA chooses not to replace it. What good is a carpenter without his hammer? I finally remembered I had addressed this before and had written a short letter as well as paid a visit to the director’s office. I received no response from either.

The last thing I will mention today and only because I hear about this a lot, and that is physical therapy. The therapy room itself is empty on most days. The most important and least expensive is the gym and pool. We are one of the only V.A.s with such a great set up in which therapy with caregivers can be accomplished without paying all but one person and yet the benefits it gives we older veterans are immeasurable. There is need for a lifeguard but the benefits to those of us with limb problems are great.

I would be remiss in my reporting and responding to the veteran’s questions if I didn’t mention the clever way that security stations have been placed at all entrances. Veterans use to be free to visit their home away from home but now they don’t feel comfortable. Also, there are many phones not being answered, thus causing walk-ins. The security booths were originally set up temporarily but now they are obviously permanent paid positions. All clubs and gyms with pools are open but are not user friendly to our vets.

I hear much about this and I believe action is being taken on behalf of the vets. If you have been harmed in anyway by this unnecessary act please share it with us so we can address it. We don’t want the VA being treated politically.

Stay calm and safe my fellow brother/sister veterans. You are not alone during these trying times. Just because the Service Organization doors are closed doesn’t mean there isn’t help. Call your organization for help and Senator Collins and King’s office are still working. I go there and you can as well. Like I told you in my last column, don’t let the news stations get you down. There is more reality in the cartoon stations these days and they won’t depress you.

God bless you all, stay strong and help one another.


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