Just recently the Department of Veterans Affairs has come under an unparalleled level of scrutiny, or as many Veterans and myself would say, that for the first time in recent years they are being forced to air out their dirty laundry. I must admit that it feels somewhat empowering to see the level of attention and care that is being paid towards the overwhelming issue that is the VA, but I must also admit that I am to scared to believe that anything will get fixed. I am by no means saying that the VA is the sole reason for all of the issues that Veterans and their families face after military service, but what I am saying is that as a country as we start to open Pandora's box will it be too overwhelming, and the problems only continue to worsen.
Now that we have done the first step of admitting the problem we must now move on to looking at what the issues might be. As of 2012, according to the latest information found on the Census website, there are over 21 million Veterans in America. There are currently over 3.6 million Veterans that have service-connected disabilities due to their military service. A "service-connected" disability is one that was a result of a disease or injury incurred or aggravated during active military service. This information was astounding to me and terrifying to say the least, because as it stands now the system is backlogged at an unprecedented level, and it seems that the system in place cannot support the current workload -- much less the amount of people that it should be able treat -- and we are running out of time. Every time I have been to the VA the main problem that I have encountered has never been the level of care, but it has been getting access to care that has always been the issue.
The grueling process of enrolling in VA care is, in my opinion, the equivalent to siting in a bathtub full of scissors. You begin this journey first by getting your initial physical exam, which I chose to do during my last few months on active duty before separating from the Marine Corps in the fall of 2010. I had heard that after the exam it would take a certain amount of time before I would find out when I could begin to gain access to medical care. It was close to nine months later when I found out that I could go to the VA to go through the steps of being assigned a primary care physician. By the time I was able to attend my first VA appointment it was in the late spring of 2011, and when I finally arrived I found myself pleasantly surprised with the level of care received, and then thought this wasn't half bad until I began scheduling appointments thereafter.
The entire time I was waiting to hear the results of my decision I must have spent countless hours waiting on the VA hotline just to try and get any information. After more phone calls, wasted minutes and "accidental hang-ups" by the phone system, I learned a few things. The first is that there are two different types of call-waiting music, and the first is "you-are-just-waiting-forever" music. The second is the "next-in-line" music that you hear after at least an hour of waiting on hold, and half the time I was then redirected back to the waiting forever music.
I am not sure if hell has theme music, but if it does I imagine that it is the exact same as the call-waiting music of the VA.
The biggest issue is not the level of care, but actually getting into the door to your appointment. Of course, this is not the only concern, nor would this solve everything, but this is a major problem that could fix a lot of situations. There are Veterans who have died waiting on care, waiting to speak to someone about medical and mental needs that may have already been going on for months or even years. This is a very important time in our nation's history and what actions are taken next will be the measure by which we will all be judged. George Washington once said, "A nation is judged by how well it treats its veterans." My hope is that one day we will come to a place where stories like these become commonplace and that this moment in time be remembered as a turning point and not our downfall.