Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Pain of the VA: Another Red Tape Diaries Entry

I promised a friend of mine I would write this story as soon as I had time. What you are about to read actually happened. I wish I was creative enough to make this all up, but sadly I am not. You are about to read why in this house we use the sayings "Good enough for the VA" and "Nothing from the VA shocks me anymore" quite frequently.

All veterans have to be seen at the VA at least once a year. Makes total sense right?! We want to make sure our vets are cared for so yes once a year is the least we can do. This is our once a year story.

Chaz began at the Murfreesboro VA in January 2013. Every year he went in for his annual exam, he was met by a different PCM, which is sad because we really liked #1. Finally in 2016 we were told this PCM would stay, but required Chaz to basically start all over again with the VA. The PCM insisted he complete a new patient exam. No we were not happy with this, but we thought well ok, maybe this new person is just wanting to make sure they know all about Chaz and his case. Once again we grossly misjudged the VA.

Chaz's appointment occurred at a time where I had to stay home to make sure kids got where they needed to be so I missed out on meeting this person. I was totally fine with them ordering blood work and etc for Chaz. Chaz requested the same requests with this PCM that he made with the other two PCMs. He wanted Physical Therapy so he could start walking again. He wanted ortho to look at his arm because his arm fusion was temporary and we are going on four years since an ortho doc has looked at it. And he wanted infectious disease because he has a long history of infectious disease and wanted to make sure he was on their radar.

We waited a year. Heard nothing from this PCM. Chaz called, sent messages, and got nothing. Chaz went to make his annual VA appointment for January and they said the earliest he could be seen was March 31. Finally I said enough we are using your Medicare to get you actual care. I could not take it anymore. I wanted someone to actually care about my husband. We found a great doctor here in our community and currently we have gotten more done with Chaz's care in three weeks then we did in four years at the VA. 

As we approached March 31, we had to reschedule his appointment and it was moved to April 7. Which is not too bad in VA time. But by the time of this visit, Chaz had been to PT and had an ortho and infectious disease appointment on the books.

At his very first PT session, Chaz's prosthetic leg fell off and he fell really hard. He hurt quite a bit and a lovely bruise that covered almost all of his leg's amputation site began to appear. Chaz has not taken any prescribed pain meds in years. He does have celebrex for his back, but that would not help him with the pain he had in his leg. Since this incident occurred just before his VA appointment we decided he would just ask his PCM for a pain med that was a little stronger than Motrin and Tylenol.  The one thing the VA is excellent about is prescribing meds.

Chaz went to the appointment, showed the PCM his leg and told the PCM the story and his request. I kid you not the PCM said, "Well you don't look like you are in pain, so no I will not prescribe anything for you," but did order an x-ray for him. The PCM told him if the pain continued then he should come back to the VA or visit the ER. Then the PCM informed him that based on his blood work the PCM decided he now has fatty liver disease. The PCM let Chaz know that they did not approve of him going through Medicare and reminded him he still had to be seen by his PCM at the VA. Lovely, huh?!

Again not kidding, the blood work that was referenced for the fatty liver diagnosis was taken in January 2016. We have three potential paths here with this PCM. #1-This PCM saw the blood work in January 2016, determined the fatty liver disease issue, and chose to not do anything about it. #2-The PCM reviewed blood work in front of Chaz at his appointment and just then made the determination. #3-The PCM was angry that Chaz called them out on their lack of caring and lashed out at him for taking care of himself by now going through Medicare. All proposed paths are 100% inappropriate.

Now you ask what is the PCM doing for the new diagnosis? Well they ordered an ultrasound for mid- May, five weeks from his visit. And Chaz was told to diet and exercise. Did she refer him to PT (which we had previously asked for) or a nutritionist? Nope, just ordered the ultrasound for five weeks later and said for him to cut back on high fat foods.

Sounds like a super serious issue, yes?! We want our veterans to be cared for, yes?! Liver diseases can freaking kill you.

And now you ask who gets to deal with the aftermath of this VA visit? Easy answer, I do. Chaz was livid. I got to be the one who calmed him down. I was the one who assured him that that PCM is a moron and no he should not feel bad for asking for pain meds. I was the one who helped him feel even better about using his Medicare. I was the one that suggested he call the local doctor and tell them what happened. (FYI the local doc had a script for Chaz in less than 30 minutes.) I was the one who cleaned up the PCM's collateral damage.

You want to know why we lose 22 veterans a day to suicide....it's stories like this. We have PCM who looked a double amputee who has a ton of pain issues he struggles with daily and said, "You don't look like you need it," and made him feel like he was a junkie. My girlfriend with vast medical knowledge said it perfectly the other day, "I know Chaz is coping with pain everyday that would cause people to end their lives." There are zero pain med scripts on file for Chaz at the VA. Was that consulted?! Nope, the PCM made their determination by simply looking at him. The PCM did not put their hands on him, they just looked. Then the PCM spun up my hubby with this new random diagnosis based on 14 month old blood work, but offered no true assistance to remedy the diagnosis.

We are so blessed in this house. Chaz was "injured enough" that we can now get real care with people who really care about Chaz. There are so many veterans who are not Medicare eligible and cannot afford other insurance. The VA is their only option and this is the care they are receiving. If you want to be outraged, please go ahead, but know this one veteran will be fully cared for because he is mine. Please be outraged that PCMs like this are "caring" for our veterans everyday and this "care" is exactly why we are losing them to suicide!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Year 6- A Dream Becomes Reality

Six years ago today I sat at my desk in our home in Clarksville, TN. I was up and working away on a tax return when all the calls that turned our lives upside down begin. Six years ago I pushed my dreams way off to the side and committed to helping my family heal.

2016 was a year filled with severe highs and lows. We had our hearts broken a few times, but they are healing. With more time behind us, the heart aches will become just memories.

I left my job with Yellow Ribbon Fund in February 2016. It was a very hard decision to make. Once again, I had to put our family first due to reasons beyond my control. I miss my job and the staff at YRF more than words can say, but it was a decision that had to be made. I will forever be thankful for my years with YRF.

April 2016 Cutie #2 picked up sixteen chickens from 4-H. She has overalls and boots covered in glitter, so she has this farming thing down! We also added two ducks. We had to give three chickens back to 4-H as part of their program, the neighbor's dog ate two, and our Champ "played with one." We currently have ten and we collect eight to ten eggs a day. We love having our feathered ladies here. It was a great addition to our lives.

Summer 2016, I received a call from the Dole Foundation asking if we would fly to California and film some PSAs with Tom Hanks. The hope was this project would help the nation recognize the service and sacrifice of families like ours. Anytime Chaz and I can help military families, we will be there. So off we flew.

Let me go ahead and answer the two questions I always get asked now. Yes, Tom Hanks is amazing. Yes, he is the guy you imagine he would be. We had a blast in California making the PSAs. Here's the link for them.

Cutie #1 and I left CA on that Wednesday and were in NYC that Friday morning for a school sponsored trip. She and I had a blast adding "seeing both coasts in a week" to our life. Cutie #1 also joined the Sister Cities group here in our county. We hosted a student from Japan for a week in our home. It was a great experience for our entire family.

Summer quickly ended and we sent our girls to two different schools for the first time ever. Cutie #1 is in high school (insane to even think about it). She is cheering for her high school and loving it. Cutie #2 is in middle school, but luckily her school is K-8 so she didn't have to switch schools. She is taking dance and is even in pre-pointe. I think we can say we have them officially settled.

Right when we got the girls back into school, I got another call from the Dole Foundation asking me to be on the Today Show with Tom Hanks and then pop down to DC and share our PSAs at the Capitol. Here's the link for that adventure. And here's another link for the Today Show. That day was beyond amazing!

But something pretty great happened in California in Summer 2016. While we were filming the PSAs, Tom Hanks leaned over to me and said something about how I have all this education and knowledge, but because of Chaz's needs I am limited to what I can do. Of course I smiled and said something like yeah pretty much. He asked what can be done about that? I said do the best you can with what you have.

Once we got back home, Chaz and I had a serious conversation. Our original plans were always to let him put in his 20 years, then I would get my turn to develop my career. Well the bomb took care of the 20 years, but deep down I still wanted my dream. My dream (which Chaz always referred to as "The Sugar Momma Plan") was to have an actual brick and mortar building where I can provide financial services (tax prep, financial counseling, all of the things I am licensed to do). Chaz said it was time to get serious about that dream of mine. He and I made lots of plans while the girls were in school and then last week this happened.
I cannot have normal 9-5 hours. I really cannot have any "normal" hours. I have to work by appointment only. But I AM DOING IT!!!! The dream has come true. We have a building!! I have a logo!! It's not much, but it is a start and one huge step forward in our dream!

This all happened because Tom Hanks and the Dole Foundation. No, no one bought the building or anything like that. Chaz and I did it all with saving and planning. The Dole Foundation simply chose us to represent them in the PSA. That connected us to Tom Hanks. He simply inspired us to get back to the dream we chatted about so many years ago. We are so thankful for the PSA experience, because his words were the kick we needed to get serious.

Now everyone asks all the time, "What is Chaz doing?" Chaz is just enjoying life. As many know, he is very limited on what he can actually do physically. He helps out where and when he can. Most importantly he is focused on being an incredibly kick ass father to our cuties. He is still not (and may never be) in a place where he can get a job. We have always taken one day at a time. In 2017, he will continue doing what he is doing, enjoying a life that could have been cut short. And together we are making some pretty great things happen.

Today it occurred to me that Year 6 looks like it will be the year the new normal is finally just our normal. How awesome is that?!