The old VA secretary is gone and the hospital scandal has fallen from the headlines, but veterans and their advocates continue to share their stories with Gawker. Today's story is from a Persian Gulf vet who says she lost a pregnancy—and years of her life—to VA incompetence.
The author says she is a 40-year-old woman who served in the Army in the 1990s, until duty-related injuries forced her out of the ranks. Because of her severe service-connected disability, she was designated a "Group 1" patient by the VA, given the highest priority for health care treatment:
I am 100% disabled, permanent and total, based on inability to work because of my service-connected disabilities (the way VA math works, my disabilities total about 125% on paper, but I am rated at 80%). It was my physician who initiated the paperwork for 100% based on inability to work and I fought him every step of the way—I want to work!
Unfortunately, I do have to admit that he was probably right to do that, but that doesn't make my desire to do some thing useful any less, despite the VA being the ones to declare me permanently and totally unable to work. I did not ask for that. Some may game the system, but many of us would rather do something useful.
Her 14-year odyssey navigating the ponderous system has been near-total in its demoralization:
Which personal experiences would you like to hear about? The one where they threw out necessary paperwork right in front of me, resulting in lost benefits, then called me a liar? The one where they lost paperwork they signed for and/or mailed the notification of having lost it to the wrong address—despite having the correct address) six years running, resulting in lost benefits (which they never paid back) until I got the White House involved and forced them to admit their error?
The one where the VA doctor caused a miscarriage and medically necessary hysterectomy on a 31 year old woman, and I later (when I complained and demanded a different doctor) found out she'd done the same thing to the patient advocate ten years earlier and was still practicing at the VA?
Asked for more details about her pregnancy experience, the soldier explained:
My physician had put me on the birth control shot as both a means of birth control and as a means of controlling endometriosis. Newly married, my husband and I were not necessarily trying for children, but not actively trying to prevent having them, either. My physician was well aware of the fact that the women in my family have all gotten pregnant while on birth control because I expressed that to her multiple times (I myself am a birth control baby).
When the time came to renew the shot, I told her point-blank that I was pregnant and she needed to run a quantitative serum HCG (tells you how much pregnancy hormone is in the blood) and not a qualitative urine HCG (a glorified home pregnancy test, just a bit more sensitive and a lot more expensive) because as a former lab tech, I knew the quantitative would give a more definitive answer and take only slightly longer.
She ran the qualitative, said it was inconclusive but that I couldn't possibly be pregnant because I was on birth control and then had her nurse physically restrain me so that she could give me the shot.
Within 24 hours, I was sick to the point of not being able to hold food down; within two weeks (perhaps less—it's been ten years or so), I was cramping and bleeding. Sparing the rest of the gory details, I bled for nine months straight because that doctor declined to do a D&C.
Finally the University OB/GYNs (VA medical centers at that time did not have their own OB/GYNs and often still do not—they use University doctors) performed a hysterectomy because there was no other way to stop the bleeding.
Upon registering a complaint with the Patient Advocate after recovering, as soon as I mentioned this doctor by name, the PA sympathetically told me that the same doctor had done the same to her a decade earlier and my doctor was changed on the spot—a process that normally requires a review and takes a few business days to complete (or it did at that time).
This took place at the Seattle VA.
Shortly after a car crash, the soldier also went to her Seattle VA clinic for symptoms of head injury, which she says went misdiagnosed for years:
That physician, without looking at my ears, knowing I had been in a violent automobile accident three weeks prior and had not been seen in the ER but had severe spinal trauma (notably in the cervical spine), declared that I had a viral ear infection that would "clear up on its own in 6 months"...
The other driver was court-ordered to pay the cost of my care due to being severely intoxicated at the time of the accident. We could not get the VA to accept payment for any treatment related to this accident. That's important to note—the VA outright refused to accept payment for treatment and chose instead to charge the taxpayer.
Two years later, 2009, I now lived in Texas, and those symptoms had worsened. The headache was permanent. I couldn't remember my own phone number or address (and still can't—it took me three years to learn my current address). I often slur my speech despite not drinking a drop of alcohol. I smell natural gas, even though I live in a house that doesn't use any. I "space out" mid action or mid-sentence for a seconds at a time, and sometimes this occurs multiple times in succession.
I've spoken to my doctor and a neurologist (who calls these periods of time that I have lost "fits") and gotten nowhere—except assigned to a psychiatrist because... it's the VA. Throw drugs at it... I got so frustrated with the whole revolving door that I walked in there, held up my hand, and told the guy, "Don't speak. Don't even say hello to me until you have read this." I handed him a list of everything I had experienced, going back to what drove me to the doctor in Seattle.
It took that man ten minutes to read and thirty seconds to say, "There is nothing psychiatrically wrong with you. You have an almost textbook case of temporal lobe epilepsy, which I'd almost guarantee is caused by the brain injury you took in that car accident"...
In 2010, six months later, I got a consult to neuropsychology, which did, in fact, prove that, yes, I do have a traumatic brain injury that impaired my function to the point that my IQ, which had registered in the 155-165 range prior to the accident, was now in the 90s...
However...Texas does not allow (or did not in 2010) non-OEF/OIF veterans access to the treatment facilities for treatment of TBI and/or seizure disorders that are not severe enough to break bones.
Oklahoma, however, does. So in mid-2010, I moved to Oklahoma. Started all over as far as TBI assessment went because for some reason, Oklahoma either ignores the TX assessment, claims not to have it (even though I hand-carried it to them), or the head of the Neurology Department here (a Dr. Couch) and I just do not particularly get along (see my first message. He is not permitted in the room when I visit the clinic anymore. I think he's afraid I might punch him, and to be honest, I might)...
Seven years, three GPs in Seattle, Texas, and Oklahoma; six neurologists in Texas and Oklahoma, a neuropsychologist and a psychiatrist. That's how long it has taken me to get this far, and the first three years of that was just to get diagnosed, and I'm still fighting to get diagnosed because some docs don't want to read what others have said from another VA facility... This is what veterans fight every single day.
Again, if you have personal dealings with the VA, consider sharing them in the comments below or emailing adam.weinstein at gawker dot com.
[Photo credit: VA]