(see also this blog Volunteers of America)
40 years ago, shortly after high school, I enlisted in the United States Army. It was less than two years after the end of the conflict in Southeast Asia — commonly known as the Vietnam War. I served less than one full term and was honorably discharged. Because I served less than one full “hitch,” I was told that I was not entitled to any veteran’s benefits other than a flag-draped coffin. I believed them. They were wrong. I did not seek nor did I receive any veteran’s benefits.
40 years later (36 years in the private sector and 4 years homeless) I was living in the streets of Las Vegas, Nevada. Through the network of other homeless individuals, I learned of an event the likes of which I was never aware previously — a “Homeless Stand Down.” It was a once a year event which provided free services and materials for the homeless. I went.
At the event, The Veterans Administration had a booth. On a lark and with little better to do, I stopped by. They ran my Social Security number and as it turned out, lo and behold, I was eligible for full medical benefits. No information on housing assistance was requested or offered.
Still homeless, I left Vegas by bus and landed in the Rescue Mission in Pensacola, Florida. The Mission has a veterans program complete with V.A. representatives who come 3 times a week to assist veterans. There I began receiving medical care courtesy of the VA at the large, new, and architecturally pleasing VA clinic in Pensacola.
I was referred and transported to a Volunteers of America housing program in Punta Gorda, Florida. Here I meet with a representative and liaison. I go to yet another large, new, and architecturally pleasing facility in Lee County.
VA medical provides provides a service that I believe state Medicaids do not. That is, the VA provides prosthetic care.The VA, universally, provides eye care and glasses. It provides dental care and dentures. It provides hearing care and hearing aids. These are all services that I require and the VA has provided me all of them.
Specialty care by VA medical seems (to my experience) adequate — not necessarily great but adequate. Primary care is where they receive a failing grade. They have a long history of below par and even some fatal service. These are clients who served in the United States Armed Forces and were actually or potentially placed in immediate threat of death to perform the defense of a nation, a way of life, and a democratic ideal.
I am within the orbit of VA Medical only a short while and in the interim have been under the care of three Primary Care Physicians.. All three were horrible; ineffective, incompetent, and monumentally rude and inconsiderate. I am far from the only plaintiff. Their record is . . . well . . . a matter of record. They have a legacy of poor service to those who offered their “last full measure of devotion.” It is part of their history and a long-lived national discussion. In my lifetime they were the subject of at least three national scandals. The last of which resulted in the resignation of the national Director.
If I were to grade the overall performance, I would give them a B minus. What are the reasons? I believe they are multiple and not entirely inexcusable. Does the VA provide good, valuable, and useful services? Undoubtedly, the answer is “yes.” Do they also do harm? Once again, and unfortunately, the answer is “yes.”
Who ARE the clients?
Primarily (and of course) they are the veterans of the Armed Forces of the United States of America. But, secondarily and nearly as importantly, they are all the citizens of the United States who support the practices of the Department of Veterans Affairs through their elected representatives and their tax dollars.
On a final and positive note, and the reason they receive a grade of B minus in my book, the VA has done well by me in two aspects.
One, they provide health care on a national basis, even though they seem to have serious difficulties in communicating within the system the health care records of veterans who have received care at other facilities.
Two, they provide (as mentioned above) prosthetic and treatment for peripheral medical needs.
This discussion concentrates on VA medical care. It does not approach other services provided, for example their efforts to house veterans who are homeless. Other discussions on other matters are the proper subjects for another time.