Three Days And Two Nights At The Bronx VA: All-Expenses-Paid

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When you're wheelchair-bound the need for occasional "tweaking" comes with the territory. Last week was my turn to again enjoy the benefits of an all expenses paid trip to the Bronx VA's spinal cord injury and disease clinic in order for them to do a little tweaking. As I've said many times, the healthcare given in the VA system is the best healthcare anyone can receive anywhere. That said, that does not preclude for some "interesting" times at the VA. So sit back for a minute, and be prepared to both chuckle and to shake your head. If I've learned one thing during my years of treatment at VA medical facilities, it's the need for a good sense of humor.

But First About The VA Budget

Notwithstanding what you might have read elsewhere, to properly describe the VA medical center budget - it is at best... lean. And that is being optimistic. One result of operating on an underfunded budget is other than emergency nurses-care is given on a "when they can get to it" basis. This in no way is the fault of the nursing staff or the hospital itself. While I'm not certain what percentage increase in staffing would bring the situation up to an acceptable basis, I do know from first-hand, the budget has not kept pace with veterans needs.

Jailhouse Lawyers

One of the patients that shared my room (he had been there for a period of time) was the proverbial jailhouse lawyer. After we spoke a little while, and with him not knowing I was a veteran service officer, he proceeded to suggest to me the "best ways" to get the service we veterans were entitled to. The irony that he missed entirely, but which became quite clear after I was there for less than even a day - the majority of his requests (or should I say demands) were taken with more than just a little grain of salt. Unfortunately, more than a few veterans appeared to follow his lead.

Look but Do Not Touch

Another one of my roommates managed to break a cardinal rule; yell all you want but never, never touch anyone. Apparently, he was a veteran that knew his way was the best way (to do just about everything) and had no problem letting everyone else know this. I'm not sure exactly what caused it, other than he had physically accosted someone, but when I was admitted he was in the process of being removed from the hospital, having been there for elective procedures that were no longer to be provided.

And My Four Hour Trip Home

I left the Bronx VA at 3:15 p.m., arriving home at 7:25 p.m. No it wasn't traffic. It seems the dispatch for the ambulette service thought Massapequa was located upstate New York. So he had no problem putting me in with a patient who was being transferred to the Montrose VA medical facilities, situated just a stone's throw southeast of Bear Mountain. We arrived at Montrose around 4:45 p.m. After dropping off the veteran we left there at 5 p.m. On more than a few occasions during the whole trip the driver asked dispatch why he set up the rides as he did. Dispatch, when he did reply, said something along the lines... "Well isn't Massapequa close the Montrose?" Go figure.

Lastly, My Medical Procedures

As I knew would be the case, all of the procedures performed during my three day stay were done with the best of care. This includes the explanations provided by the doctors, the assistance given to the doctors, and the care given to me directly by the doctors, nurses, assistants, and volunteers. In this there was no surprise. Nor was it surprising that when I left on Friday afternoon the nurses on duty all wished me a safe trip. It takes a special breed to work with us veterans with spinal cord injuries and diseases - no matter how hard we try not to let it, sometimes our lot in life gets the better of us. As far as I'm concerned, the nurses at the Bronx VA spinal cord clinic all deserve some form of "hazardous duty pay;" they clearly earn it.

This Week's Not Commented on Topic

FIVE GOOD REASONS NOT TO CONFIRM DR. JAMES PEAKE AS VA SECRETARY -- Dr. Peake is being sold to the American people as a doctor and decorated military veteran. While he is both, these do not qualify him to be VA Secretary. Listed below are five reasons Dr. Peake should NOT be confirmed.

1. Peake has no first-hand experience with the VA system. He is an outsider who will have to spend the next year trying to get up to speed. Veterans can't afford such an unqualified person at the helm of the VA.

2. Peake, while Surgeon General of the Army (2000-2004), spoke often of his "efficiency" and his "financial objectives." Basically, Peake is a number-crunching budget-slasher. VA needs someone to lobby for adequate funding... not someone who wrote this about his job at the Army: "...our duty to be responsible stewards of the taxpayers' resources."

3. Peake's "financial objectives" mentioned above were well-realized as budgets for Walter Reed were kept low and jobs were outsourced. We saw what happened at Walter Reed. And, the problems there were known in 2004 as VA and DoD talked with patients about the problems. Those reports were buried. Peake cannot hide from these facts.

4. Peake, as he mentioned in his acceptance address, will push for full implementation of the Dole-Shalala Commission recommendations. If the Dole-Shalala legislation is passed, the VA disability compensation system will be changed forever. As Randy Reese of the DAV wrote, "At any point in time, disabled veterans would receive three types of variable payments. This is a recipe for abandoning the veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan." And, it is a recipe to move backward and include all veterans in this unfair system.

5. Peake is currently chief medical director and chief operating officer of QTC Management Inc., which provides contract medical exams for the VA and the military. The Chairman of the QTC board is former VA Secretary Anthony Principi. QTC has garnered a multi-year VA contract that could be worth well over a billion dollars. This is as close as you can get to a conflict of interest. It's just another example of the good ol' boy revolving door in Washington. In simple terms: Those that have, get.

--- Regards, Walt Schmidt