The news has recently been full of accusations against Veteran Administration hospitals in Phoenix and various other cities....things like secret treatment lists and the like that may have led to fatalities. I have no knowledge of that, whether or not it is true. From what I gather, there is a hard-and-fast rule that no veteran with a medical condition has to wait more thn 14 days before seeing a medical professional regardless of when their actual appointment is scheduled. I do have extensive knowledge of my personal experiences with the West L.A. Veteran's Hospital, that huge nest of buildings at 11301 Wilshire just past the 405 Freeway entrance. For more than a dozen years, I have been going to this hospital for various ailments, for providing my many medications, and for taking extensive tests. I experienced nothing but good treatment and successful healthcare with them.
I happen to be one of the 'privileged people'...someone who can afford to have private physicians as needed. I maintain relationships with several terrific Cedars-Sinai doctors who have been treating me for many years.....a great cardiologist, Dr. Bruce Samuels, and an excellent urologist, Dr. Arnold Cinman, with an occasional visit to a vascular specialist. So you may ask: Why go to the V.A.? It's simple....all 26 million American veterans, nearly 10% of the country's population, are eligible to be in the medical system, to receive treatment and their medications at no-or-low cost. All a veteran need do is take your honorable discharge certificate in, become a registered patient and get assigned a primary-care physician. I dug up my discharge from the U.S. Army in the '50s, honorably earned after 16 fierce months in the combat zone of Korea in that long-forgotten war. (I had been a buck private with a War Correspondent badge there until the Commanding General learned of my newspaper background and asked me to start a newspaper to rival Stars & Stripes, which somehow he disliked. I founded a daily newspaper called "The Hialeahan" (after the UN compound in Pusan, Korea where we were stationed with troops from 38 different countries.) As a former New York publicist, I called upon my many connections back in the States to get help with the paper... columnists Leonard Lyons and Earl Wilson sent excusive columns for more than year.) We ended up with more than a hundred solders and Asians on the staff and won three Army Commendation Medals as the best paper in Korea. Fond water under the bridge.
As I said, I joined the V.A. when I was spending thousands of dollars a month on my heart and blood pressure medications, but once I had an assigned doctor, they handled it all...mostly generic medications, but hey, so what? They renew then regularly and mail them to the house. I was fortunate enough to have a primary-care doctor, a fabulous fellow named Stephen Pandol, who was a top gastroenterologist there, and he took an interest in me and supervised my many trials and tribulations over the years. I have had every imagineable medical test there, from MRI's to Echocardiograms to a Sleep Apnea test (an overnight stay is required for that.) They have the best, latest equipment... more so than most private doctors and hospitals in town. My hearing has almost gone, and the Audiology department over the years has provided me with new state-of-the-art hearing aids, devices which would have cost over $3000 each otherwise. My vision is beginning to suffer, and recently I have taken extensive eye tests for glaucoma and retinal diseases, tests which would have cost a fortune if I could even get them on the outside. They have tinkered with my blood pressure medications until it is firmly under control. Carpal syndrome was cramping my hands, and they offered a custom-made glove to ease the pain. I had a lesion on the top of my skull and their Dermatology department treated it successfully. A doctor in the Endocrinology Department is watching various things. This morning I visited my new primary-care physician, Dr. Caroline Goldzweig, who has been there for 19 years and is one of nation's top internal medicine specialists. (Pandol was grabbed by Cedars-Sinai for their pancreatic cancer research study.) Did I mention that almost every young physician who goes through the UCLA and USC Medical School system has to serve at least a year at a VA facility before entering private practice? Over 500 university residents, interns and students are trained in their healthcare system each year.I am constantly surprised at the brilliance of the doctors I regularly encounter there.
The VA has instituted a fabulous internet system called "My Healthe Vet" whereby each vet can sign up and, once a member, you can draw up on your computer all of your medical information and test/lab results, order prescription renewals, check and make appointments, and communicate confidentially with your physician. Would that civilian hospitals did the same.
This morning a smart nurse who has been there for years stood in the waiting room with me after checking my blood pressure and said: "Look around you. See those guys in self-propelled wheel chairs, which we provide. That guy who is almost blind has a volunteer guiding him. Old and young, male and female, black and white and every color in between. They treat them better here than they ever would on the outside." Yes, it can get pretty crowded in some of the clinics. I waited 45 minutes to get my blood test today. No one (even me) gets preferential treatment. First come, first served. My favorite nurse told me that they are chronically understaffed but somehow they manage. I wryly smiled and said to them: "Can you believe that this government is not providing all the help and staff you need to treat thee patients? Guys and (increasingly) gals who joined up, volunteers all, served unselfishly and now you have to scrimp and suffer for lack of adequate care for them?" I learned today that a new facility for homeless veterans has just opened on the grounds. And increasingly the number of women veterans has increased, and they offer many new services for them, like pre-natal and pre-pregnancy services
I happen to be a big fan of General Eric Shinseki, the Army commander who now heads the Department of Veteran Affairs. He was a top soldier and is serving unselfishly in a highly-partisan environment in Washington. (Facing a Congressional committee on Thursday.) You ask me what you can do to help? The usual response....write your Congressman, that guy who is supposed to be serving you, me and them....and tell him to vote a bigger appropriation for the V.A. I doubt if it will help in this incendiary environment but it is worth the effort Believe me it is!
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