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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Jerkoff of the Month - US Department of Veteran’s Affairs

Jesus Christ, how many times do we have to go over this?

What we need to happen, and I mean right Goddamned now, is for every government bean counter to be rounded up, slapped into a uniform, and dropped into the Sunni Triangle for six months with a weapon supplied by the lowest bidder and a box of paper assholes for armor.

These little pencil pushing bastards need a wakeup call.

Meet Erik Roberts, US Army (Ret).

On 25 April, 2006, while on patrol in western Baghdad, a roadside IED exploded next to the hummer he was riding in. The explosion ripped through the vehicle and, despite supposed battle hardening, the Humvee caught on fire. The fire filled the interior with dense black smoke and caused the vehicle’s ammo stores to cook off, i.e. explode from the heat.

Roberts, A.J. Jefferson and Luke Murphy, already badly injured and disorientated from the explosion, were hit by flying shrapnel. They jumped from the burning wreckage and lay bleeding and helpless and exposed on the ground in hostile territory while their own transport burned and exploded above them.

The rest of the squad rushed to their aid, coming through the fire and flying metal at great risk to their own lives, and managed to pull Roberts, Jefferson, and Murphy to cover and safety. The team medic managed to stabilize their wounds long enough for evac.

All three were severely wounded. Murphy would loose his leg immediately and Robert’s right side was shredded. Roberts was medivacced back to the states, ironically the flight out was on Robert’s 23rd birthday. Once home, he underwent a series of surgeries to save his life, including twelve separate operations to save his mangled right leg. The doctors had to insert a steel rod into his thigh in order to provide supporting structure for the shattered femur to knit back together around.

Robert’s recovery was long and painful. In 2007 he was medically retired from the Army, lucky to still have a leg, lucky to still be able to walk on it, but his days of jumping with the 101st Airborne were over. He enrolled in college on the GI Bill, majoring in Finance and economics at Youngstown State University. And transferred his medical care to the Veteran’s Administration.

His leg would never be right again, of course. He’d always feel pain and discomfort from his wounds. But he wasn’t complaining. Like hundreds of thousands of other Vets injured in the line of their profession, yours truly included, he simply lived with the pain and went on with his life.

Then in December of 2008, he noticed a lump, golf-ball sized, in his wounded leg. Painful, and growing larger. And certainly not normal.

He went to the VA. The doctors told him not to worry about it.

Some of you readers are doctors, but you don’t have to have to be an M.D. to figure out immediately that a painful golf ball sized lump in a recently healed shattered bone caused by a catastrophic invasive injury, following 12 major surgeries and the insertion of surgical supports, is something that you probably ought to fucking worry about.

Roberts left the VA hospital untreated.

Several days later the pain became so severe that Roberts went to the local civilian emergency room. The leg, as it turned out – and as any first year intern could have told Roberts at first glance – was badly infected. Immediate surgery and treatment were required, or Roberts would lose the leg after all. The doctors there couldn’t do it, the best they could do would be to amputate. Robert’s mom contacted the Army surgeon who had saved her son’s leg two years before, and he referred them to Dr. William Obremskey, an Air Force veteran and surgeon at Vanderbilt Orthopedics in Nashville, Tennessee. Obremskey saved the leg, but it wasn’t easy, and the outcome was in doubt for a while and it wasn’t cheap. $147,000 it cost, so far, including $90,000 for six weeks of intravenous antibiotics -which Roberts administered himself, rather than spend two months in a nursing home.

The $57,000 surgery bill is still outstanding.

Now Roberts has private insurance, and they picked up the majority of the $90,000, leaving $3000 for the VA. This is how it normally works, if you have civilian insurance, and you op for care outside the VA, the civilian insurance is your primary, and the VA is your secondary. Simple, I do it all the time.

Except in this case, the VA said basically, Fuck You. After being told that there was nothing to worry about, you went outside the system. As such, you can pick up the remainder, all $3000. We’re not paying.

And then there’s that surgery bill.

Somebody contacted CNN.

CNN contacted a U.S. Senator. That Senator contacted the VA and demanded answers. Oddly, the VA has now decided to pay the $3000. Fucking gracious of them, wouldn’t you say?

But there’s still the matter of that surgery bill.

Roberts has put his education on hold, wondering if he’s going to have to come up with the money.

You know, it’s a hell of a thing when the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs -the government organization specifically chartered with the care of veterans - forces a decorated recipient of the Purple Heart, a combat vet who was wounded in line of duty in a hostile land while fighting for his country, to choose between his education and his fucking leg!

Those at the VA should be damned glad that I’m not in charge. Because I’d Court Martial VA Secretary Eric Shinseki right the hell now for utter dereliction of duty, for actions which bring discredit upon the service, and for failure of leadership. Shinseki is a wounded combat veteran himself, there is absolutely no excuse, whatsoever, for this travesty.

Now, the only mitigating circumstance I can accept for this abject failure of leadership is that Shinseki has only been Secretary of Veteran’s Affair since January. But, he assumed office in the middle of war, with thousands of returning combat wounded vets. He knows what that is like, he was wounded in Vietnam – he better than anybody knows what is needed here, that’s why he was put in the job in the first goddamned place. He needs to take charge, forcefully, now, and issue an immediate order to everybody in his Department that this bullshit will NOT be tolerated. Period and no exceptions. He needs to issue an immediate apology to all veterans for the failure of his department to execute their mission promptly and in full, and he needs to issue a personal apology to Eric Roberts – and that apology should be made in person, if Shinseki remembers what honor is. And he needs to formally request that charges be brought against that fucking bean counting Bush Loving bastard James Peake for failing to turn over the department in good order.

And finally, Shinseki needs to make it goddamned clear that the next VA bureaucrat who denies the medical care, coverage, or support to veterans in or out of a VA facility, especially vets with injuries received in combat, will be immediately and publically fired. No excuses, get your shit and get out.

Now, personally, I’ve had good luck with the VA – but it shouldn’t be a matter of luck.

This nation owes a debt to its veterans.

And it’s time to pay up.

12 comments:

  1. I don't think jerkoff is a strong enough word for the VA right now. Maybe complete and utter fucking assholes?

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  2. Oh, I'm thinking dangling them by thumbscrews from the VA office building would be too good for them.

    WendyB_09

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  3. Someone needs to contact my Senator, if he hasn't been contacted already.

    Rockefeller is on the Veterans' Affairs committee, and been outspoken about care for veterans.

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  4. Well, hi there, Janiece. I see you're having a good day.

    How about a VA horror story to give you indigestion and high blood pressure?

    Well, that would be just fabulous. Thanks so much.

    GRRR.

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  5. Janiece, I can hear your teeth grinding and knashing from here! ;D
    WendyB_09

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  6. I read the story on cnn.com todya and figured you'd have something to say about it, Jim.

    Someone should do something bad to the asshat doctors who sent him home from the VA. They didn't fully investigate a painful lump the size of a freaking golf ball? I may not be an infectious diseases specialist (and you know why) or (even worse) an orthopedic surgeon, but even I could see where that one was heading.

    Rules, rules, rules. Don't bureaucratic paper-pushers just love 'em?

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  7. Ack -- not todya --> today. Stupid fingers.

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  8. NeuronDoc, I see three failures, two epic, one much less so.

    The first one was the doctor, Nurse practitioner, or PA who sent this guy home without testing or examination, or getting the opinion of the staff orthopedic surgeon or doing a referral to a facility with proper specialists. Epic Fail. State Medical review board time. Hospital review board. Suspension. Need to pull head out of ass or find a new line of work.

    The second one was Roberts' mistake - he should have insisted on a second opinion. Demanded to see a specialist, and gotten a definitive answer. This is a minor fail - army guys, junior army guys are conditioned to follow orders, conditioned to respect authority. The Doctor said it was ok. Roberts might not have agreed, but probably wouldn't have argued. Additionally, it's obvious that the VA didn't do a very good job of informing him of his rights under law, or referring him to the patient advocate office.

    and finally, three, most epic fail of all. The bean counter who denied the claim for reimbursement/payment of medical expenses. This fuckwit needs to be fired, now, and never ever allowed anywhere near vets again. Period. In fact, let the vets escort him out to the parking lot. I'll help. I've met a million of these little dicks, all spreadsheets and procedures and red tape. This cocksucker should have run this to ground, saw it was a medical emergency, saw that the soldier's LEG was at risk - and realized that they were paying $3000 out of $90,000 and taken care of this combat veteran. Period, end of story. That's his job. Instead, he's petulant that a wounded soldier in danger of losing a limb didn't fill out the proper paperwork. And he can't fall back on "procedure" because when the matter was given congressional scrutiny, suddenly, hey! We'll take care of that, no problem. Why did it take a Senatorial inquiry to get this man taken care of? Obviously it could be done. It didn't take a change in law, it didn't take a plus up in congressional funding. Once it was made public, once a Senator called - bang, oops, we'll take care of it right away, Sir! Again, whoever made this decision needs to be fired. Right goddamned now. Publically, he needs to be named, and fired on national news. Here's why: Roberts got taken care of, how many other vets didn't? How many? How many lost legs, arms, eyes, and life because of little sons of bitches like this? The message needs to be sent, loud and clear and this bastard needs to be made an example of. This bean counting idiot has no idea of what the VA's charter is. Nobody with this attitude should be allowed around decorated, combat wounded vets. Ever. Or vets of any kind for that matter. The idiot ought to be grateful we let him live. and he should be ashamed of himself. I hope he gets fucking mained in a fiery car crash.

    Sorry but you have no idea how much this pisses me off. Shinseki needs to step up, or step off. Now.

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  9. This isn't the first time crap like this has happened with the VA. My ex's dad was exposed to zinc chromide/chromium-6 in the Army when a can of paint exploded with enough force to knock a foot-thick blast door off it's tracks. As a result, he's developed COPD and is unable to walk for more than 15 minutes at a time without getting literally blue in the face. I remember last year or the year before hearing that the VA wanted to take away his disability benefits, citing that he was "cured" because he could get around without a wheelchair and was holding down a steady job as a computer tech - which requires a lot of sitting, not moving around. The docs at the VA kept chaging his prognosis as well to cowtow to the bureaucrats and their unwillingness to give help to those who really need it.

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  10. Whoops, that should have been zinc chromate, not zinc chromide.

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  11. Sounds like it's time for a little downsizing... through the judicious use of a couple of fragmentation devices.

    Yeah, I really hope Shinseki gets his can-opener ready and starts opening some whoopass real soon now. I had more hope for his taking over the VA than this shows. Maybe somebody didn't read a memo.

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  12. Steve, I guess that's what burns me the most here: I definitely supported Shinseki when Obama nominated him. He's a vet, and more than that a combat vet who was wounded in action (landmine actually), was badly maimed, recovered and stayed on active duty. He rose to the rank of General, he slapped GWB and that fucking bastard Rumsfeld upside their collective heads.

    I really admire the guy.

    I understood when Peake had the con under Bush, I lived through the "fuck the military they're nothing but cannon fodder for the Conservatives" mindset - that was the attitude of the Bush administration.

    But this shit is continuing to happen on Shinseki's watch. He more than anybody should be taking care of business. This kind of nonsense is totally unacceptable, and he knows it. No way in hell that a senator should have had to call to make Shinseki's department do what they should have done all along - their job.

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