By Alex Miller, Forbes
“I don’t work for you!” The receptionist screamed, causing my ear to crackle. I am a veteran, and I was at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Manhattan. Who did she think she was working for, if not, me? For years, I’ve grown accustomed to poor customer service, sub-par medical assistance and a general disrespect at the VA. Money has been funneled into this same system with the same results. It follows that the biggest problem is money being thrown at the problem, and this twisted logic, masked as a solution, is threatening — even ending — veterans’ lives and endangering their well-being.
$78.9 billion has been proposed for the 2018 Veterans Affairs budge – a $4.4 billion increase — along with new and progressive individualized care. This should be viewed with skepticism. The addition of outside health care providers sounds outstanding. But in order to make that change, dozens of other cuts in government spending may be made. Because if this is just another empty promise, I’d rather that money go into job training or early childhood education. If the VA is going to dangle dollar signs over our heads only for us to see it stuffed into renovating a doctor’s office, or into swapping out hospital rooms for boardrooms, then VA doesn’t deserve it.
“Remember,” a nurse said during an annual checkup. “You can always call the Veterans Crisis Line if you need it.”
I scoffed a bit too loudly. “I’m always in a crisis,” I said. “That’s why I come here.”
For five years after I left the military, I wasn’t collecting many of my benefits — like cheaper, more affordable medicine or a disability pension — despite having received a medical discharge, mostly because I didn’t know I was entitled to them. And I suffered from depression and PTSD that no doctor had addressed.
Greater outreach for homeless vets needs to become a reality. I said the same thing in 2012, when I was a homeless vet. Living on the streets and in shelters opens vets up to higher chances of getting hurt and wracked by disease. And homelessness can lead to thoughts of suicide or worse. Sadly, many have called into the Suicide Prevention Hotline only to have their calls put on hold or dropped.
There are also major needs for doctors, nurses and regional directors with military experience. Too many civilian medical professionals aren’t adept at dealing with those vets just coming home from war and should be replaced with good, empathetic professional veterans. I’ve found myself denied on many occasions for “open calls” only to find that I “wasn’t qualified” or that the job had already been filled, and those were for low to mid-level jobs such as maintenance and information tech (even though IT was my specialty in the military). I believed, as others did as well, that these assessments were true and just accepted them. However, more often than not, this isn’t the case because very few of the more than 300 top positions at the VA are irreplaceable and many good jobs at the VA aren’t medical or even require a degree. Besides that, saying veterans don’t have the know-how or the credentials is to spit in our faces, and an excuse to not have actual change happen behind VA’s doors. Most former service members were well-trained professionals with wide skill sets. Even more of a slap to the face is not having access to programs for training or retraining in order to employ vets in well-paid positions.