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Another VA Hospital Horror Story

Last night I wrote a lengthy post linking to this sad story from Terresa Monroe-Hamilton about her friend's horrific experience at the VA hospital in Long Beach. Please read her story.

In my post last night, I talked about my uncle's horrible experiences over twenty years ago at the VA hospital in Durham, NC, as well as the crummy medical care my husband received in the Marine Corps fifteen years ago. My post disappeared into thin air and I have been unable to recover it. I don't have the time or energy to recreate it now, but my point was that the problem with VA hospitals should be no surprise to anyone paying attention. I have heard horror stories about the VA hospital for decades, both through my uncle's experience and from others.

The stories, like those from Walter Reed, and the one Terresa shares of her friend, are truly horrifying and disgusting. The good news is that a problem that has been around for many years, and that I assume has been greatly compounded by those injured in the Iraq War, is now getting front page attention. I hope that the result is a solution to the problem, rather than political posturing and empty promises. We owe our veterans the best medical care possible. Anything less is a failure to honor their service and sacrifice.


Comments (42)

The jackasses in Washington... (Below threshold)
mantis:

The jackasses in Washington need to end their political posturing on this and fix it. Now.

We have a lot of VA hospita... (Below threshold)
David:

We have a lot of VA hospitals in the NE and I always tell my students to shop around for the best one (Springfield is pretty good).

Why can't veterans simply g... (Below threshold)

Why can't veterans simply get subsidized health insurance that they can take anywhere? If they don't like the VA system, go to another hospital. Not only would it probably be cheaper for the government, but better for the veterans.

And to be clear, Walter Ree... (Below threshold)
Buddy:

And to be clear, Walter Reed is not a VA facility. It is an Army facility. WR is not a VA problem. It is an Army problem.

Most of the horrible service the VA used to be known for is no longer, though I'm sure there are some that are less good than others. The VA hospital my Dad goes to has been pretty stellar.

And sometimes it just be th... (Below threshold)
Matt:

And sometimes it just be the VA bureaucracy causing the problems

This is what government-run... (Below threshold)
cadrys:

This is what government-run health care looks like. "Single payer" system, anyone?

Walter reed is privately ru... (Below threshold)
Craig:

Walter reed is privately run

My guess as an almost retir... (Below threshold)

My guess as an almost retired MSgt of 23 years is that everyone will scream for changes to be made right up until someone asks how much they'd be willing to pay for it and then, as always, the silence will be deafening.

If they do this DoD wide? There's just no way you can fix it without raising taxes and then most of the money will go for "administration" versus "services."

It's the government and the government is broken.

Lorie: "I have heard hor... (Below threshold)
Lee:

Lorie: "I have heard horror stories about the VA hospital for decades, both through my uncle's experience and from others."

Quit making excuses for the Bush administration's failure in this regard by suggesting the problem is decades old. The VA Hospital system has not been utilized to this extent for decades. The Bush administration did not include the wounded soldiers anywhere int he planning process (I know - what plan???).

The problem TODAY is that the Bush administration took us to war and apparently ignored the plight of returning wounded soldiers. This aspect should have been part of any cogent planning process, but Bush and company have blown this aspect of the effort as well.

It's an abomination, and suggesting it's been going on for decades is bullshit. My father, a Korean war vet, has been a happy, satisfied customer of the veterans' hospital system for 50 years. You may hear of horror stories, but what you don't hear is the satisfied customers because they aren't complaining.

Quit the bullshit political posturing and get on the horn with your friends in the GOP and get it fixed.

On second thought never mind - the Democrats in Congress will straighten this out -- so why don't you just sit on your hands and whine instead. Whining, and hiding from any form of accountability, is about all conservatives can accomplish these days anyway.

/rant off

So only VA hospitals are ba... (Below threshold)
VagaBond:

So only VA hospitals are bad? There are no other bad hospitals?

If one VA hospital is failing, isn't there a voucher program that allows the person to use another hospital?

There are bad hospitals, an... (Below threshold)
epador:

There are bad hospitals, and there are bad hospital systems.

VA system exists because it was created to fill a vacuum for care for military veterans who had no other solution. About the time there were big City Charity Hospitals and large State Hospitals for the Insane. How many big city hospitals are Charity Hospitals anymore? And how about all those big pre-One Flew Over the Coo-Coo's Nest State Mental Hospitals? The VA system has indeed evolved, but the current structure is overwhelmed trying to take care of the past War Veterans, much less the current one's.

Our own Health Care system is creaking and groaning over the profit motive versus government half-baked and half-funded interventions that plague it.

Unfortunately there's a plurality of doctors and their organizations that are more interested in maintaining provider income flow than evolving a healthy health care system. Once the government stopped subsidizing medical school, doctors began leaving school with large debts, and government sponsored insurance tainted the free market system, the effects have generated a huge system aimed at procedures and wasting huge sums of money on end of life futile care allowing preventive and restorative care programs to languish.

As long as we concentrate on the horror stories, react to them with "quick fixes" and refuse to step back and look at the entire systems (military, VA and civilian heath care) things will continue to degrade patients suffer.

A look at what the Alaskan Tribes have done to turn health care on its head, from provider centered care to patient centered care, might give ya'll a clue on a positive direction one could take.

Google away, its easier than me inserting links.

I've had the pleasure of wo... (Below threshold)
gattsuru:

I've had the pleasure of working with the Dayton VA on and off for a while now (I'm one of the many people involved in an attempt to tighten down network security, so I mostly pop in once a month with basic instructions, then come back a week later to see everyone ignore them). The problem is obvious.

The problem isn't the money. The VA hospitals have more than enough. They have land, and people.

The problem is the latter. The VA is very dependent on managers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers. Sadly, it has very few good ones. Most of the internal directives are filled with office politics, and few people have the veteran's viewpoints in.

You can see buildings owned by the Dayton VA rot, literally to the ground, merely because no one can figure out a way to use them for 'patient care'. Right after the recent stories regarding Walter Reed, the guy in charge ordered any veteran that walked through the doors to be and got a reply stating something similar to 'We don't let soldiers pick their own care'.

The last time I was at the Dayton VA, the most friendly shrink was wearing a turban (I assume Sikh?), who actually seemed to care about the veteran's mental health. One of the other psychologists said she didn't believe in PTSD. A social worker informed another psychologist that he wasn't a "taxi for cripples". A last social worker, after giving the "taxi" a speech capable of setting flame, informed me this was typical, and not the half of it. She had been arguing with a higher-up for most of the morning to just get enough on-duty personnel to deal with bursts of suicidal patients, something her manager hadn't quite managed to figure out could be a minor liability issue.

This isn't a problem that can be fixed at the federal level. It's a rot that's spread throughout the entire basis of the VA system, and most of the mental health experts available. It's sick, and it's disturbing, and worst of all, it's something that probably wouldn't cost much to fix.

But the Democrats can't risk scaring the psychologists and medical professionals mooching off the system, and the Republicans can't point it out while they're holding the reigns or they suffer the political backlash of 'building' such a poor system.

Little Byrd,It has b... (Below threshold)
catnip:

Little Byrd,
It has been awhile since we chatted, but, I'm suprised that with your military exposure that this would come as a suprise to you. My father-in-law had bad experiences at the VA in Mich. before he passed away. Stories have been around for years. Why the donks are making such a big deal now is clearly political. Although, I'm sure your right when you say that the stress of the additional casualties from the war have just made it worse. Well, I'm glad I found out where you are sice you left polipundit.

lee, "Quit the bullshit pol... (Below threshold)
D-Hoggs:

lee, "Quit the bullshit political posturing"

Riiiiiight, cause your ridiculous rant isn't bullshit political posturing. People have been pointing out problems with the VA for ever, and NO congress has done anything about it. Your BDS is out of fucking control.

Lee is correct in one thing... (Below threshold)
Allen:

Lee is correct in one thing; Walter Reed is Bush's problem. They never figured on people getting hurt in the so called cake walk and flowers program.

The VA mess has been around for years, and yes, both Democratic and Republican parties are to blame. No use pointed fingers about the VA as both parties are to blame, and any bets on just lip service being done to improve it?

Walter Reed is another problem, let's see how BushCo takes care of it. Time will tell.

I lay this debacle at the f... (Below threshold)
WildWillie:

I lay this debacle at the feet of the democratic leadership and oversight committees. They have been so eager to cut the troops and run from Iraq, they didn't focus on the troops here at home. With leadership comes responsibilities. ww

Ohhhhh... I see now, and it... (Below threshold)
ggoriam:

Ohhhhh... I see now, and it was the deplorable conditions that Code Pink was protesting outside the windows of wounded troops at Walter Reed. Yeah, that's the ticket. Right, Lee?

Let me see if I understand ... (Below threshold)
Wayne:

Let me see if I understand the liberals right. They think the lousy conditions for soldiers were OK in the past but not for soldiers hurt in Iraq. If Bush didn't go to war then the current and past conditions were still be OK by them.

Allen
At least you admit that Democrats share some of the responsibilities. That is unusual for a Lib. I agree nothing much but lip service will be done. Although it's amazing how libs put all past, future and current problems on Bush's porch steps and expect him to solve it. How about pulling some of the load and coming up with ideas beside anything against Bush.

WildWillie,Gee, for ... (Below threshold)
Allen:

WildWillie,
Gee, for the last 6 years the Republicans have been in complete control. Where in the fuck was the oversight committees then?

Run, don't walk to the Dr's office for your cranium/rectal surgery, as you are in dire need of it. Blow your smoke up someone else's ass, not here.

The Demo's may want to cut and run, but the wounded have been coming back for how fucking long, and who was in charge?

Wayne,I'm not a fu... (Below threshold)
Allen:

Wayne,

I'm not a fucking lib! Nor am I a righty. I call a spade a spade, and BS is BS. Starting thinking about what we, as Americans can do. We all know the lip service our elected officials will give us. And the VA is not Bush's problem, Walter Reed is.

The VA is both parties mess. Let's see what happens. Same as WRAMC, let's see what happens.

The Repubs knew about the p... (Below threshold)
BarneyG2000:

The Repubs knew about the problems for years and did nothing about it:

Washighton Post 3/7/07
Senior Republicans who knew about problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center while their party controlled Congress insist they did all they could to prod the Pentagon to fix them.

But C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., former chairman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, said he stopped short of going public with the hospital's problems to avoid embarrassing the Army while it was fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Young and Thomas M. Davis III, R-Va., the former chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, both acknowledged in interviews that they were aware of patient care problems at Walter Reed long before The Washington Post exposed them two weeks ago.

Lee said, "Quit making excu... (Below threshold)
Lorie Byrd:

Lee said, "Quit making excuses for the Bush administration's failure in this regard by suggesting the problem is decades old."

"It's an abomination, and suggesting it's been going on for decades is bullshit. "

Can you please refrain from calling me a liar in your rant? In the post my computer ate last night I talked about how my mother cried every time she went to visit my uncle at the VA hospital in Durham because the place was so scary and depressing and dirty. I also talked about how my husband's health care in the Marine Corps resulted in irreparable damage being done to his knee. That was 15 years ago. My uncle has been dead for over twenty years.

I am glad that your dad got stellar service and facilities, but to say that my experience is bullshit is, well, you can guess. Just as there are good and bad hospitals and doctors outside of the military, there are good and bad ones in it.

BG2000,Exactly wha... (Below threshold)
Allen:

BG2000,

Exactly what I have been saying, the Republicans have been in control for the last 6 years, members of Congress, who put party BS first, not working for all of America. Embarrassing the Army, hell he and is ilk have embarrassed them selves and their political party.

Rep. Young wife said she ran down the hall to raise hell with the general because some GI was lying in his own urine, and no one, NO ONE THERE would do anything about it. Well Rep Young represents the people, why, his excuse is BS, didn't he do his job? I think he was, and still is spouting the Republican BS line, support the troops.

But it doesn't matter what party a congress critter belongs to, they all say the visit the wounded GI's. Why haven't they made this public before?

I think C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla. owes the whole United States an apology. But don't hold your breath waiting for it.

Lorie, you should keep your... (Below threshold)
BarneyG2000:

Lorie, you should keep your post to either the VA or army hospitals. There are too many challenged persons on this sight that can't tell the difference between the DoD and Veterans Affairs.

By the way, the Repuds controlled the House from '95 to '07. That is 21-years of setting the budget for the VA.

BG2000, You are co... (Below threshold)
Allen:

BG2000,

You are correct on the 21 years, but Bush's new budget, although he says he is increasing funding, is making the vets pay more. I wonder how this BS is going to be spun?

A 100% disabled vet receives about $3,000.00 per month. That is BS. We, the American people sent them to war, they should be, if 100% disabled, receive at least $65,000.00 per year. How do you know what their earning potential would have been if not for being disabled?

And it shouldn't be based on the rank they had in the military. Some college grad has more potential than a PFC? BULLSHIT! There are just as many non-college grads making just as much if not more than college grads. Why the difference. Does it cost more for a higher rank to support his family than a lower rank?

Allen, good points, and the... (Below threshold)
BarneyG2000:

Allen, good points, and the bush budget does not meet the projected funding needs for the VA starting in 2009. More Cuts to those that protected our freedom.

"People have been pointi... (Below threshold)
Lee:

"People have been pointing out problems with the VA for ever, and NO congress has done anything about it."

So if the problems have been known forever" why didn't this administration, at the time they committed over 100,000 US soldiers to the battlefield in IRAQ several years ago DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE PROBLEM?

Because they are incompetent, and they just plain don't care about soldiers - these men and women are pawns used for political purposes, and having right-wing bloggers making G-Damn excuses for that incompetence, and passing the blame off on others is sickening.

TODAY's problem began when we committed a very large number of troops to the battlefield and did a WHOLLY INADEQUATE JOB making ready for their care when they came off the battlefield wounded.

So, it started in the Carte... (Below threshold)
gattsuru:

So, it started in the Carter era? Maybe Ford, if we want to be technical?

Jeez, Lee, I would cut away from the political ties if I were you. Democrats did as much, if not more, to contribute to the issue, and despite what you like to think, every single one of Clinton's "Police Actions" resulted in a good number of people with injuries, psychological or physical.

So if the problems have ... (Below threshold)
gattsuru:

So if the problems have been known forever" why didn't this administration, at the time they committed over 100,000 US soldiers to the battlefield in IRAQ several years ago DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE PROBLEM?

Because unlike the West Wing, in real life, problems don't vanish the second you confront them. Rebuilding the entire VA system and portions of the academics training those who work there -- which could take years if not decades.

Also unlike West Wing, where only the Republican half of Congress is stupid or tied down by lobbyists, about in reality the number is closer to 100%. All it takes is one politician in the right place (of either party) willing to trade a vote for some friends in the Social Work system worried that clean up might kick them out.

I'll say it one more time. ... (Below threshold)
Scrapiron:

I'll say it one more time. All you have to do is weed out the hate America, hate the military left wingers that are employed (forever) at the V.A. and military hospitals and things will automatically be streight. I doubt that will happen until the revolution and all dhimmi's are done away with. Like the old days, eleminate the retarded.

Walter Reed is not a VA Hos... (Below threshold)
Paul:

Walter Reed is not a VA Hospital, it's an Army Hospital. There is a difference.

Yea, Paul I said that earli... (Below threshold)
Buddy:

Yea, Paul I said that earlier, but most people don't seem to get the distinction. Oh well...

The first time I set foot i... (Below threshold)
epador:

The first time I set foot in a DoD hospital was when I was born. I had my tonsils out at WRAMC and broken bones set at Bethesda. I still remember the map of the world that hung over the table you bent over to get a penicillin shot for strep throat or ear infections (I had a lot of those - and I still get a pucker reaction when I see a Mercator Projection). I've worked at DoD medical facilities across the US and the world. I've been a patient a few times in these places as well. I've watched many close family friends live and die at the hands of DoD and VA services. I've worked at two VA sites on the West Coast. I am a VA Primary Care patient. So I have loads of experience, some good, some horrible, to base my thoughts on.

DoD does a pretty fair job, considering the bureaucratic tangles, inter-service rivalries and typical military career goggles that so many AD administrators wear (all decisions are made based on how the decision affects your career, not whether its a good or bad decision for the service). The housing debacle at WRAMC is more a reflection of billeting than health care. And billeting is something most AD folks know can run from five-star accommodations to rank filth. Its an administrative and a money thing, It has nothing to do with political parties.

The VA system, as mentioned by gattsuru, is beset by a huge administrative and Federal Employee inertia (do you know how hard it is to fire a Federal Employee?). There are some beautiful buildings, some impressive programs (Portland, Oregon's VA is associated with Oregon Health Science University and has some awesome resources - but I wouldn't say their billeting is much better than Building 18 at WRAMC; they have some great docs and staff, but they also have shrinks who don't believe in PTSD, specialists who complain when you send them consults, and a long waiting list) and probably as many horror stories as wonderful stories. Overall, however, the VA has been forced to cut back services year after year. Pharmacy and employee costs are two big drains. Dental care, glasses and hearing aids are no longer an easy given, even when the health of the vet might depend upon any of them. Yet most of the providers who stick it out are committed at least as much to their patients as they are to their Federal retirement benefits.

The system of both the VA and DoD, however, remains fairly provider oriented. Changing either system to a patient oriented system would likely make a lot more consumers happy as well as healthier. Firing Generals and gnashing of teeth will do nothing.

Why is it so surprising tha... (Below threshold)
troglodyte:

Why is it so surprising that this should happen in a health care system that is run by the government? Can anyone on ths thread identify a government-run program that is better than our own VA hospitals? Britain? Canada? Be serious!

I mean this with all due re... (Below threshold)
Lizzie:

I mean this with all due respect (and I absolutely agree that no-one deserves this sort of treatment, least of all someone who has served their country) but when I was reading this all I could think was, big deal ... you should be grateful that you are able to expect higher standards than that in the first place. In my country, that sort of thing is par for the course, if you even get treatment at all. For example, my grandmother's due to have an operation on her foot at the end of the month. She's been waiting three years for it. She's very apprehensive because when she was last in hospital, for a hip replacement, the operation was performed incorrectly - she can now barely walk at all and is waiting for a replacement replacement! The nursing 'care' was so appalling that it was only thanks to the fact that I was unemployed and could spend most of the day visiting her in the ward that she managed to recuperate at all - I was doing at least 50% of the nurses' work for them. And to top it off, she contracted a gut infection from which she has never recovered.

When a government takes charge of running anything, it becomes a mess. That is a simple fact, one that is proved over and over again. Healthcare is no exception.

Read the nhsdocblog for more insight into the NHS.

I really truly hope things improve for your servicemen: I hope that some arrangement is reached whereby they no longer have to rely on the state to provide their healthcare. Those who volunteer to risk their lives to serve their country are heroes, they deserve far better than that.

The republican leaders as w... (Below threshold)
WildWillie:

The republican leaders as well as the democratic leaders in the house were aware of the problems. I seem to remember something about the "First One Hundred Hours." Where was the democrats plan? Why was it not a priority? Why did the WAPO have to report it before the democratic leadship investigate? They were busy playing politics with the same soilders who are fighting in Iraq. That is the real deal. Your days of blaming GW and congress for everything is over. With leadership comes responsibility. ww

95 to 07 is 11 to 12 years ... (Below threshold)
Wayne:

95 to 07 is 11 to 12 years depending on how you count it not 21.

Yes there is a difference between VA and DOD hospitals but there have been problems with both for a long time now and both have been refer to in the news.

Even when a party is in control they do not get all they want especially if they don't have a filibuster proof majority. That was true for the Reps and is now true for the Dems. It does make a difference but to pretend any party without "a filibuster proof majority" has absolute control is B.S. A big part of the reason the hospitals problems haven't been solve in the past and most likely won't be solve in the future is money. Both parties are to blame for that.

The Republican Congres did ... (Below threshold)
JOHN RYAN:

The Republican Congres did not support the troops: they said they did, but they were not doing so.

WildwillieWith leade... (Below threshold)
Wayne:

Wildwillie
With leadership comes responsibilities is true. However most on the left are more interest in blaming Bush then supporting him to come up with solutions. I suspect any solution he comes up with regardless of how good it is will not be bash by the left.

If we are fixing blame for the problem then the leadership of the past shares in the blame as well if the problem existed then, which this one has. Sorry for the run on sentence.

O.K. Libs what program outs... (Below threshold)
Wayne:

O.K. Libs what program outside the military spending are you willing to cut to pay for VA and DOD hospital improvements. Also there are some other areas in military that could stand for some improvements.

Wayne, my post said both Re... (Below threshold)
WildWillie:

Wayne, my post said both Republicans and Democratic leadership was made aware of this. I was pointing out the demo's great first 100 hours that the MSM championed. NO mention of Walter Reed faciltiy problems. The left does expect GW to conduct rounds in all federal healthcare buildings. The libs are pathetic. They only support the troops when they can score political points. John Ryan: Get a clue. Get informed. Learn. Don't post a comment for awhile until you take in some knowledge. ww

I work at the VA Hospital h... (Below threshold)
patrick:

I work at the VA Hospital here in Indianapolis. My father served in the army for 30 yrs in a very distinguised career. Both me and my sister, both RNs, decided it was in our fathers best interest to see a private physician for his health care , to get a 2nd medical opinion about his ongoing conditions, because the VA isnt doing anything about it.




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