Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Our Story: A Matter of Time

I am writing regarding VA medical services. Although my husband has only been retired for six months, we have had the occasion to use the Auburn, CA (Reno, NV) VA health system on several occasions. There are many areas that can use some serious attention, and also things that are done quite well.

Recently, my husband pulled his back on a Monday. By Tuesday morning he was unable to move or walk, and in severe pain. He has an existing back injury for which he has a VA rating. He called early Tuesday morning for an appointment to see his PCM. He was not called back until 4:30 that afternoon and was told to take ibuprofen every six hours, which he had already been doing since Monday night. He called again on Wednesday morning, still unable to tolerate the pain he was in, at which time they advised they would call back to get him scheduled for x-rays. Again he did not hear back until late in the afternoon, and was told to take Tramadol and that it would be mailed from Reno, NV. He did not receive his Tramadol until Tuesday of the next week and was in pain all weekend. This is not how to treat our war-torn heroes.  The Friday before receiving the Tramadol I sent a secure message to the office begging for them to help him, to relieve the pain, and also to get a case manager so that he would get proper medical treatment. I was informed by the primary care nurse that she was our case manager and she followed what the doctor told her to do. The PCM did not feel it was bad enough to warrant seeing him or getting his medications to him sooner. We asked for a new PCM and she said it would have to go to her manager and that she would have to have her call us back. This was over a week ago and even though we have left two messages, we still have not heard back.

My husband sees a psychiatrist for his severe PTSD, Asperger’s, TBI, anxiety disorder, and major depressive disorder. His doctor has not been helpful at all with his meds. We have already gone through one intentional overdose because his meds were not correct. We went to see Dr. Lee in the Auburn, CA clinic and asked him to please review his medications as his anxiety is so bad that he cannot tolerate social situations anymore. He is also having many more PTSD episodes than he usually does, not sleeping well, and feels like he is going on a downward spiral.  The doctor flat out refused to review his medications and told him to stop taking the Strattera, which he takes for his Asperger’s, and to increase his Risperidone that is used as an anti-psychotic  My husband has already made it clear to the doctor that the anti-psychotic is not working and that of the nine mind altering drugs he is taking Strattera is the only thing that seems to offer some benefit. His prescription was not changed, but the doctor advised him to just change it on his own and to come back in two months for follow up.  This is completely unacceptable medical practice. Had this been a civilian doctor they would be facing a lawsuit, but because he is a VA doctor he gets away with the bad treatment of his patients. It might be noted that this doctor (as well as his PCM) did not speak English very well, they were obviously much more fluent in their own Asian language. This caused a language barrier with my husband and further frustrated his already stressful day.

Not all of the doctors at the Auburn VA are bad. My husband has just begun seeing a new psychologist who is new to the VA. His name is Dr. Edwards, and he really, truly seems to care. He is a retired service member and my husband feels comfortable around him and believes that this doctor truly has his best interests in mind. He takes time each visit to make sure that my husband is stable and gives him tools to help with his breathing and coping skills. He even made sure to explain the mileage program so that we could get paid for the miles we travel to the appointments.  He referred him to a special program out of the Reno office that is given through telecare to help with intensive PTSD therapy for my husband. I respect this doctor and of all the doctors we have dealt with so far he seems to be the only one that is there for the right reasons, to help our vets.

I understand that it may be difficult to hire doctors in smaller cities, but time should be taken to ensure that the doctors understand who their patients are and that they have special needs. The difference between a vet getting help for his medical issues or PTSD and giving up on his life may depend on the attitude of the doctor who provides his care. I understand there is a huge backlog within the VA, but we are losing 22 heroes a day to suicide, many of whom I believe could be saved if the VA would provide more care and show more concern in a timely matter. 

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