Grab a beverage, this might take a while…
91 days ago (June 24th to be exact) I had an appointment at the Cheyenne VA as I was having continued problems with my back and my knee. I have service-connected disability ratings for both and have had chronic issues with both since I was “fortunate” enough to get into the VA system in August of 1991.
I see my “new” “Primary Care” doctor who I only remember as having a last name that started with a “V”. During my appointment, the doctor looks at my blood work (which should tell him a lot about my knee and back) and talks to me about my chronic pain and specifically issues with instability in my knee. He asks when my last Compensation and Pension exam was done, and I told him it has been so long I can’t even remember. Eventually, he tells me there’s nothing he can do for the knee or back and will refer me to Ortho and order an MRI for both the knee and the back, especially since I continue to have issues and I haven’t had a “Comp & Pen” for a while, and they will be needed to show the degeneration in my conditions.
I leave thinking I might actually have some luck this time around rather than the typical boning I usually get from the VA. Until 3 weeks later when nobody has called to schedule MRIs, x-rays, or an Ortho appointment.
So I call the VA at the 307-778-7550 number listed in the “Contact Us” section of the phone directory on their website since I can’t find anything in the directory for “Primary Care” and can’t remember the doctor’s name. I called a total of 6 times and was transferred around from extension to extension each time and was actually told once that there was no doctor in Primary Care with a last name beginning with a “V”.
After about the 4th call and still not getting any results, I called the Patient Advocate‘s office at 307-778-7517 and naturally had to leave a voicemail because nobody answered the phone. Never got a return call. I left a second voicemail about a week later. Still no return call.
This past Sunday evening my knee shifts out of joint as I’m getting out of my truck. I’m already halfway out of the truck and gravity takes over. Somehow I was able to get my left leg out of the truck fast enough to put all of my weight on it and not end up in a heap under my pickup. Lots of pain, but nothing new. This has happened more times that I care to remember — just glad I caught myself this time.
After the Steeler’s game is over, I notice and show my wife, brother and sister-in-law that my right knee has swollen up to nearly twice the size of my left knee.
So after a day of rest and ice, etc., I get an appointment (next Tuesday) with the doc who operated on my shoulder 5 years ago because the knee’s really hurting bad now and something is obviously wrong with it.
Today at work all I can think of is that my insurance shouldn’t have to pay to cover anything that has to be done with my knee since I injured it in the Army and I have VA benefits. So I make a personal visit to the VA after work.
While waiting outside the Patient Advocate’s office (she was in a closed-door meeting), I hear a male voice inside exclaim “I constantly get complaints from vets about the lack of communication, we need to do something about this”.
I figure while I’m waiting, I’ll go to the Primary Care area and ask for the name of the doc I saw in June so that I know what name to give when I finally get to complain to somebody. The guy who helped me was very helpful, and explained that I had seen Dr. James Valenza, who is no longer seeing patients at the Cheyenne VA. My “new” Primary Care is now Dr. Brent. Well, isn’t that special…
I tell this guy that I was supposed to have had an Ortho consult and 2 MRIs scheduled as a result of the June appointment, but nobody has called. He replied that the consult had been submitted on the day of my appointment but had been “discontinued” by a Denise Curtis with no explanation he can see. For those of you not familiar with VA bullshit lingo, Discontinued = Cancelled.
Wait for it… Cancelled. The. Same. Day. It. Was. Submitted.
So of course, I go off, then apologize, because this guy is actually the first freakin’ help I’ve gotten since June 24th. He tells me, “Of all the people in here you could go off on, I’m the one. I’m also a disabled vet and have to sit on the other side of the desk.” I have to reply with the most obvious, “But I bet your shit doesn’t get fucked up since you work here.” And apologize again.
I ask him if I can get a copy of what he’s looking at. He says that he can’t give it to me and that he could get in trouble for that, but I can get it from Release of Information. Not wanting to screw the first person to shed some light on this bullshit and actually help, I told him not to do anything that would get him in trouble. I thanked him for his time and headed downstairs.
I go to “Release of Information” and give a brief yet distinctly pissed off account of why I’m there and that I want a copy of the “Discontinued” information. While I’m filling out the release form the guy who is helping me calls somebody who handles “consultations” to get a reason for the “discontinuation” of my consult.
While he’s on the phone, he too finds out that Dr. Valenza is no longer seeing patients at the Cheyenne VA and that my new PC is Dr. Brent. (At least everybody seems to be on the same sheet of music with that story…) He then finds out that the consult was discontinued with a comment, “Provider, please order appropriate weight bearing and spine x-rays for review and submit orthopedic consult after appropriate images are obtained. We will not see pt.s without images.”
The lady tells the guy helping me that what I need to do is schedule an appointment with my new Primary Care (that would be Doctor Brent) and have him/her submit an order for MRIs and x-rays and then order an ortho consult.
Kiss my what??
So, my consult was cancelled because MRIs and x-rays were not done. And according to the note left by Denise Curtis, Primary Care physicians within the Cheyenne VA cannot request an consult with an ortho doc within the same fucking building until “after appropriate images are obtained”. Evidently ordering both at the same time, ensuring that the images are done first is a no-no.
So after 91 days, here is what I have learned.
- Dr. James Valenza apparently did not follow proper procedure by requesting an ortho consult at 11:53 on 6/24/2014 before not ordering the MRIs and x-rays he told me he was ordering.
- Denise Curtis then “discontinued” the ortho consult at 16:29 on 6/24/2014, entering a comment into the notes of the discontinuance, which apparently is all she needed to do with no further follow up.
- Between 16:29 on 6/24/2014 and the time that Dr. Valenza stopped seeing patients at the Cheyenne VA, he and an unknown number of other VA employees either did not see Denise Curtis’ note, or chose to do nothing about it.
- Between the time that Dr. Valenza stopped seeing patients at the Cheyenne VA and approximately 16:00 today, 9/23/2014, absolutely nobody followed up on Dr. Valenza’s patients to ensure everything had been addressed prior to being assigned to a new PC. To include my new PC, Dr. Thalia Brent. (Great continuity of care. One of the several reasons I hardly ever go to the VA unless I have to.)
You’d think after gaining national attention about the system and employees screwing vets in Cheyenne, the processes would have been cleaned up by now and there would be some freaking checks and double-checks in the processes.
I plan to raise hell with the Patient Advocate, contact the American Legion Service Officer at the VA, and contact the Wyoming Veteran’s Commission. I plan to keep my appointment with my own doctor and bill the VA for it. My insurance shouldn’t have to pay! And neither should I!
I also expect to get the usual and customary post-op compensation and pension benefits outside the VA as I would receive from within the VA. Even if I have to go to our Senators and Representatives. (This would be the second case Mike Enzi had been involved in for me.)
Oh, I forgot to add that I did learn one more thing in those 91 days:
The VA is just as fucked up today as it was in 1991.