Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Our Story: You ARE Important

Every veteran’s story is unique, but each one is important. While every human experience is unique, one is neither more important nor less defining than the other. Our story began with a deployment and is still being told.

After my husband’s retirement from the Army, we moved to Alabama. We were assigned to the Pensacola Joint Ambulatory Care Center (JACC) in Pensacola, FL. Prior to separation, my husband was having weekly mental health appointments, had a prescription setup that seemed to be acceptable, and had monthly visits with his care team. After separation, he went weeks without word prior to his first appointment with any sort of care provider at the VA. Once he did receive his appointment, it was downhill from there. The appointments with the Primary Care physician were once every 4-6 months, with appointments being late, without fail.  Once in the appointment, the physician would focus more on the computer screen than the veteran.  The physician never seemed to remember my veteran’s concerns, keeping his back to us during the appointment and reading the computer files.  The medications that my husband had at the time were changed and modified, even though concerns were expressed about the changes. While some of the changes make sense, my husband was taken off Xanax cold turkey which very nearly destroyed him. Then there was the issue with getting referrals done. We had to ask over the course of three visits for a sleep study, and finally, after about a year, one was scheduled for four months out.

He went from weekly mental health visits while still active duty, to once every 3-4 months at the JACC. The professional he was seeing declared that since he didn’t lose any limbs in a bombing, he wasn’t as in dire need of her help or as important as her other soldiers she was seeing (yes, she said those very words). She decided he could get by with visits spaced out that far apart, then gave us information on the Pensacola Vet Center where he could get free mental health services.

This is the professional that ruined the JACC for my veteran, and created tense situations within my household for VA visits. At that particular visit, she looked over my husband, asked him about loss of limbs and his injuries. She decided that since my husband had not been blown up in a roadside bomb and lost any limbs that he only needed to be lectured about depression and coping with depression. In that very first 25 minute session, she told him he was the reason he was depressed and that he could deal with it. She was kind enough, however, to get him an appointment with the Pensacola Vet Center for mental health counseling.  First of all, where did she get the right to tell my husband he wasn’t important and then turn around to get him mental health appointments at the Vet Center?

That session, combined with a doctor that didn’t even make eye contact, created fights on appointment days. Every time there was an appointment scheduled it was the same thing – veteran refusing to go, wife/caregiver begging, fighting, arguing and yelling, with bribing and dealing, until either the veteran is in the car angrily complying or the caregiver is making appointment reschedule phone calls.  It was a repeat performance, every time without fail. Appointment days were greeted with apprehension and tension. It was going to be the same argument as last time – if they can’t make eye contact, remember what my issues are, consider me important, be on time for their appointments, why should I go?

We recently moved to another area, with a different VA, and the differences are like night and day. My husband now goes to the Alexandria VA Medical Center. Within six months of going to this hospital, he has seen his Primary Care physician twice and has mental health appointments every other week. He has also begun speech therapy as well as physical therapy and has bimonthly appointments with these professionals.  The Alexandria VAMC has impacted my family in a far better way than the JACC ever had, and I’m glad we moved to this facility. The staff at the VAMC greets my husband and me by name, this includes the physician when we see him in the waiting area! I am welcomed into all appointments, and they also know to call my phone for anything. The appointments are on time, and his new mental health professional makes him feel like his experiences are important and deserve to be worked through. We have not had an experience at the VAMC that put us off yet, and appointment day routines have changed. We do not have the fighting or sulking that we used to experience.

To learn more about the State of Heroes and Families project, please visit our main site or visit any of the following direct project links -

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