The VA issue hits close to home

By Jeff Linville - [email protected]

I’ve been in the newspaper business more than two decades. And you learn a few tricks of the trade.

When a big issue hits the country, you look for ways to bring it home. Donald Trump is sworn in as president, and you write a story about some local folks who attended the inauguration.

This week I have a national issue hitting at home and wish that it wasn’t.

As people are pulling this Thursday edition out of their delivery box, my dad will be prepping for surgery at the VA hospital in Salisbury. I’m nervous because, like a lot of Americans, we haven’t had good results with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Granted, we don’t have as much experience at it as some folks. Many veterans have been struggling with the VA for decades. My father is a proud man who paid for his own health insurance all the way up until his retirement. Only then did he seek care through the VA despite serving his country honorably as a military policeman. Our experiences are only from the past five years.

I’m sure some of these experiences will sound familiar to vets.

First, the hospital in Salisbury is 63 miles from home. There is no communications between departments so one doctor will schedule an appointment on a Monday, another on a Tuesday and a third for Thursday. To get to each doctor would require driving 378 miles in a week.

So, Mom and Dad get on the phone and try to consolidate the appointments. They spend an hour getting shuttled around to different departments. Possibly they get something done. Most likely they will have to postpone one appointment so they only make two trips instead of three.

The poor communication also extends to one doctor knowing and understanding the care the other doctors are offering.

Then there is this idiotic practice of giving percentages to one’s level of disability. If you have an ailment or lingering injury, you might be considering 10-percent disabled. If you have a few health problems, then the numbers are added together for a total percentage.

At one point, my dad’s various health problems added up to be 130 percent, certainly enough to qualify as 100-percent disabled (which brings with it more benefits). Instead, the VA listed him as only 80 percent. Why? He said they rounded off some of the ailments. Rounded off 50 percentage points?

When he had stomach cancer a few years back, the VA temporarily had Dad at 100 percent, but then the number was dropped back down after surgery. Oh, by the way, a surgery that was botched badly.

The surgeon didn’t tell us what happened right away, but after some issues arose, he finally fessed up.

Rather than cut the torso open, the doctors went down Dad’s throat to take out the tumor and much of the stomach wall. While working, someone dislodged the breathing tube going to the lungs. Because of all the swelling to the throat from the surgery, Dad’s airway was blocked off. The doctors had to stop the operation and just work on trying to keep Dad from suffocating on the table. The doctor told Mom it was an hour-and-a-half before they could resume surgery.

No one knows how long Dad was oxygen-deprived, but it was obvious afterward that something wasn’t right. He tried to fistfight a male nurse while still in ICU. Even a few days after surgery, he still seemed loopy.

When my sister came to visit, Dad asked her and her husband how they liked his new summer cottage. Once he went home, they were welcomed to stay at the cottage themselves. Check out the view of the lake from the window.

We all looked around at each other with our eyes bugging out of our heads.

It was like he had developed some mild form of dementia overnight. It’s been four or five years since that surgery, and there are still issues.

Since then, the doctors discovered Dad has prostate cancer, but they haven’t done anything to treat it.

Sure, prostate cancer is notoriously slow to grow, but even still, the cancer has been growing unchecked for about four years. The doctors said it wasn’t an issue at first, and that they wanted him to get stronger after the stomach surgery.

Then he had a bad case of pneumonia nearly four years ago, so now they think he isn’t healthy enough to undergo cancer surgery. If he were in the hospital, he could develop pneumonia again and die, so for four years they have ignored the prostate even as the PSA numbers go through the roof.

A PSA number higher than 4.0 is cause for alarm. The VA doctor said he wasn’t going to panic unless the number got as high as 10. In Dad’s latest test, the number is up to 12.1, and still the doctors won’t treat him. They seem content to let him die.

But today, Dad is having surgery for a torn labrum in his right shoulder. I’m hoping that the tough old buzzard pulls through this operation so well that the doctors are finally convinced he is strong enough to treat the prostate, too.

And because Dad is so proud, today’s copy of the paper will have to be accidentally thrown out so he doesn’t see it. Still, I wrote this because folks need to know what is happening with the care of our veterans who have and continue to keep us all safe.

By Jeff Linville

[email protected]

Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.

Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.

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