submitted by Karl Monger, Executive Director of GallantFew
Going through the fun process of attempting to receive care through the VA Choice Program, because the VA cannot get me in to a spine doc within 30 days. The following is one recent experience with the VA system. The purpose of sharing is to underscore the importance of connection. A frustrated, hurting and angry veteran might be a veteran who isolates, who drinks, who has difficulty keeping a job, or who might be so close the edge that this makes him or her think about ending their life. Stay in touch with your buddies – if you haven’t talked with one in a while, reach out and see how they are doing, and really listen. Be a GallantFew Guide and help guide a new veteran through these obstacles with which we are all far too familiar.
Eight Days Earlier
Flash back to eight days ago, when the VA called to try and set an appointment for me to see a spine doctor because of the intense pain in my neck and lumbar associated with herniated discs (3 in neck, 1 in lumbar) and degenerative arthritis. When the clerk told me the next available appointment was more than a month away, I asked for a Choice Referral.
According to the VA’s website, Choice “allows you to receive health care within your community. Using this program does NOT impact your existing VA health care, or any other VA benefit.”
He was kind enough to give me a phone number and advised me to call in a week, “just in case it gets lost”.
Yesterday was the week. Today I start by calling the number provided (Tri-West). Sure enough, there is no record of me in the Choice system. Cindy tells me that there is no record of me even being enrolled in the program and gives me two phone numbers to call. The first is to what she called a “non-VA care department” (rang 10 times, no answer), the second to what she called my “Choice Champion”. My Choice Champion was a recording that said “this is a non-working number at the VA”.
What does that mean?
So I start at the beginning, calling the Dallas VA phone number and selecting the option for Choice. After five minutes of minutes of recorded message I get to the prompt I need. This number is answered with a flat “patient advocate” that sounded like it was the last thing this person wanted to do, belying what sounded like a party in the background. I said I was trying to verify my Choice enrollment and he transferred me to another number.
The next person found me in the system, said he saw it was “pending upload to the system” and was probably sitting on someone’s desk. He said he would again forward the consult but suggested I call another number (because he wasn’t allowed to make the call) and ask why my authorization hadn’t moved.
This guy sounded helpful, so I told him about the two bogus numbers the Tri-West person had given me. He said not to worry about it. I said, “but they are going to keep giving out those numbers”, and he again told me not to worry about it. He wasn’t about to take responsibility of correcting the numbers Tri-West is giving veterans needing assistance.
I called the number he provided, it went to a non-personalized computer voice “please leave a message” voicemail. I left a detailed message. Wonder if I’ll get a call back. I’m not banking on it. I’ll call again tomorrow. Wonder if I’ll ever reach a “working VA number”.
Frustration and Anger
This situation can cause a veteran to go down a path of frustration and anger. If the veteran doesn’t have access to any other medical insurance, she waits in pain for the VA to move a piece of paper across a desk or for a seemingly unmotivated individual to make a phone call. If he does have other insurance, he’s faced with thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs for an injury incurred while serving.
The VA can do better than this. Some suggestions: Answer the phone as if you care about the veteran and are proud in your job. I don’t care if you talk with two hundred veterans a day, make each one feel like you value their service and you are proud to help them. Take ownership of problems. Fix them. Do 110% and then some.
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
– Serenity Prayer
Feeling frustrated but know you can’t change the system? Connect with others. Talk about your experience. Seek out suggestions from others who have been through the same process. Join the GallantFew network and let us help you connect with your community.
In case you are interested in reading more about the VA we have found some items for you and listed them below.
GallantFew is a non-profit charitable organization committed to the prevention of veteran isolation by connecting new veterans with hometown veteran mentors, thereby facilitating a peaceful, successful transition from military service to civilian life filled with hope and purpose. STAR Fitness System stands for self-training and responsibility, except GallantFew changes responsibility to response-ability. The five points of the GallantFew STAR are: Emotional Fitness, Physical Fitness, Social Wellness, Professional Fitness and Spiritual Fitness (https://gallantfew.org/gfit/)