Our Echo
Title, story type, location, year, person or writer
Add a Post
View Posts
Popular Posts
Hall of Fame


Story ID:9773
Written by:Frederick William Wickert (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:Albany New York USA
Person:Veterans Administration
View Comments (9)   |   Add a Comment Add a Comment   |   Print Print   |     |   Visitors
By Fred Wickert

Things being haywire at VA hospitals is nothing new. I retired from the military on May 1st in 1973. That folks, is 41 years ago. I had been injured while stationed in Japan in 1957. My left knee was defective as a result. It had two pieces of dead bone in the left knee joint that were being held in place by cartilage. Each of them was the size of a nickel. As long as they stayed where they were I was okay except for some pain. I was told one or both someday probably would come out and lock up the knee joint. At that time surgery was required to remove them but until that happened it was best to leave them alone. I was told if they were removed at the time they could make matters worse because then the knee might be like it had a pitted bearing.

When I was being processed for retirement I was told to sign in at the nearest VA hospital and claim disability for that knee. I was told I could elect to have the VA pay me disability in which case the amount I received from the VA was going to be deducted from my retirement pay, or I could just keep collecting my full retirement pay and the amount allowed for the disability would be tax exempt and I could pay that much less taxes but have no change in the money paid. I was also told it could help in getting a job as there were extra points or something if you were a disabled vet versus just a vet.

I contacted the Albany VA hospital. That hospital has since been named the Stratton VA hospital. I received a notice in the mail to report for a physical exam. The hospital was 72 miles away. I went at the assigned time and was sent around from one doctor to another. After spending most of the day there I was given a letter. It advised me to go home and wait for further appointment information. I was informed I had to be seen by a bone specialist and also had to have a barium X-ray procedure. That is because a few months before retirement I had been treated for an ulcer.

I received notice by mail of the bone specialist appointment time. I took off from work and drove to Albany to the hospital. I was on time but the doctor was not. Someone started a rumor that he was out playing golf. I donít know whether he was or not. I just know a bunch us were waiting to see him. Six hours after my appointment time the doctor showed up. After a few minutes they called the first patient. Soon they called another patient and then they called me. I went in the exam room and was told to sit in a chair. In about five minutes the doctor came in. He demanded to know where my crutches were. I did not know what he was talking about. He screamed at me that if I didnít use crutches there must not be anything wrong with my knee. He implied that I was a malingerer. Then he looked at my X-rays for a minute and told me gruffly to roll up my pant leg. After I rolled it up he yelled at me to roll up the other one too. He had a cloth tape measure hanging around his neck. He used it to measure both of my knees and then told me to leave. He muttered something under his breath about wasting his time. Later I read his report. The report acknowledged I did have damage to my knee but that at the present time it did not seem to hamper me any.

I was then sent to see yet another doctor. This one ordered me to remove my pants and under pants. He was sitting in a chair and told me to approach him. I did as instructed. He hooked his finger under my testicles one at a time and told me to cough. Then he told me to turn around and bend over. He checked my prostate and then he got all excited. He was almost gleeful. He announced that I had a beautiful set of hemorrhoids and that they were inoperable. He was recommending at least a 10% disability on those.

I could not believe what I was hearing. I had been troubled with them for 18 or 19 years but they never interfered with my work. My knee on the other hand interfered a lot. At the time I was working on a ladder most of the day and the knee was in great pain from it. That was not considered for disability. That grape like cluster in my rectum which did not slow me down in my work at all, was good for 10% disability. Who could believe that?

I was sent a notice that I was awarded 10% disability. I was to have one year to decide if I wanted to be paid all of my retirement or to collect 10% from the VA. I was also sent a letter when to come in for the barium X-ray procedure. There was a page of instructions with it telling me if for any reason I could not keep the appointment that I was to call the VA hospital and then follow it up with a letter.

I got a call from a realtor in Maryland who was selling my house for me. There was a buyer. The lawyers for both sides had set a closing time and I had to be there. I mentioned the appointment at the VA hospital and they told me I had to be there for the closing and it was not possible to change the time and date of the closing. It was short notice. I had no choice. I had to drive to Maryland.

I called the number given me for the VA hospital. I explained to the person on the phone what I was calling for. They put me on hold saying they knew nothing about it and had to get someone else. The next person got on the phone and I had to explain again. That person also told me they knew nothing about it and had to get someone else and put me on hold again. This happened with five different people. When the sixth person came on the phone, he listened to me and when I finished he said he didnít know either but he would find out and take care of it. I should not worry because he was going to take care of it. The others had been civilian employees. This guy was an active duty Army Master Sergeant. He talked to me as one sergeant to another. I trusted him and I was satisfied. I followed it up a couple of days later with a letter and requested a new appointment time.

Two months went by and I heard nothing. I began thinking maybe I should call them. Then I got a letter in the mail. The letter told me they had determined that I did not need that barium X-ray test and they had sent my records to New York City. They further stated that if I got a notice for an appointment for the test I should disregard it.

Two or three weeks later I got another letter. This one said, your request for disability has been denied and the case is closed. Reason Ė failure to show up for an appointment.

I got so angry I threw all the paper work in the trash and decided then and there I wanted nothing to do with the VA.

More than ten years later they had gotten a new VA rep for the county. We had been without one for quite some time. The one that was there when I retired was incompetent. I told the new rep I had no faith in the VA. He told me I should go see them. He said they are a lot better now than they had been.

I was taking care of developmentally disabled adults for the state. One of them had to go to Albany Med for eye surgery. The two hospitals are across from each other. While the guy was in the recovery room after the surgery, I went over to the VA hospital. I went to an information kiosk in the lobby. I asked where I might make an appointment to see someone in regards to my case. He informed me before he could answer any questions I had to show him my registration card. I said I didnít have one. He replied that he couldnít help me. I had to get a registration card first. He pointed to a sign telling people the rules for obtaining a registration card.

The sign advised that signing up for a registration card could only be done from 0800 hrs to 0900 hrs on Tuesdays. For those who do not understand military time, that means between eight and nine A.M. I asked if any exceptions were made. I explained that I lived 72 miles away and that their one hour a week presented a hardship. They told me there were no exceptions. They gave me a little brochure which also listed the time one had to register. It also had some other information. It had a list of priorities. It was a list of who had what priority for service or getting an appointment. I was amazed. The list was from one to nine. I am retired from the military with no disability. That put me in the last priority. I was priority #9. Much to my surprise I found the civilian janitor, not a vet at all, was priority #7. The hospital is for Veterans but the non-veteran civilian employee was a higher priority for service than a retired military veteran with no disability.

Needless to say I was disgusted and vowed to never return and I have not.

I once had during that time a next door neighbor. He also was retired military. He had been employed at that hospital for several years. He was a Captain in the hospital security guard force. He suffered a heart attack and received immediate attention. He was about priority number six on that list. He did spend a couple of weeks in the VA hospital and then they let him come home. He was on convalescence leave for about three months and then went back to work. I think he had worked for less than a month before he announced he and his family were moving to Florida. About three or four months after he moved to Florida he died. I never learned why.

Our Bob Mitchum, author of the famous UNCLE FOSSIL stories has been fighting with the VA for more than two decades with only limited success. I know the VA hospitals no matter where you go are not noted for their efficiency and helpfulness.

In the current strife over the VA hospitals many have called for the resignation of General Shinseki. I am not among them. He himself is a disabled vet. If he goes, and remember the assistant has already resigned, a new director will have to be appointed. That will take a while. First, the President will have to find somebody. Then whoever it is will have to be approved by the Senate. That is likely to kill a lot of time. When you get a new director it will take him or her quite some time to learn the system and who is who. It is a vast system and will take months for a new person to figure it out. If you fire the man that has been there for six years you will lose all he knowledge he has gained thus far.

I believe him to be an honest man. I think his heart is in the right place. In view of what has happened and the embarrassment he has suffered I believe he will make a greater effort than anyone ever has before to straighten out the VA system. I think he is the best bet. I do not trust Obama but I do trust Shinseki and I think he has been motivated as never before. He is our best bet.

I have written and posted before about how our nation has always treated our veterans shamefully. It has been going on since the Revolutionary war. It is going to take an awful lot to change it. It is an attitude that has been bred in to our society. It was not long ago that the congress and the president cut disabled and retired veterans pensions. Bill Clinton twice screwed them out of retirement COLA increases while leaving increases for civilian government employees intact. There have been all sorts of things down through the years. Everybody loves the vets when we are at war. When the war is over and the shooting stops, they are quickly forgotten. It needs to change for the better but will it ever? It will only if the outrage does not die down. If the people slowly forget it like they do everything else, it will not change.

There is one way they had better pay attention. People should keep in mind that this is a health service run by the government. Obama Care too is run by the government. You are looking at the future of Obama Care when they have to start rationing health care. It is already forbidden to treat anyone past their 76th birthday for cancer. Keep the pressure on people, keep the pressure on. The lives of all of us depends on it.

Please visit my website at: