Okay, this sucks. The vast VA medical care system, one of the largest in America, gives up very easily and can tell a vet, “We don’t know what is causing the problem but we won’t do any more tests to figure it out so here is a prosthesis for you so you can walk a little more normally. No, it will never get better because we don’t know what is causing the problem and, since we aren’t going to send you to any more specialists, the problem will never go away and may even get worse, we just don’t know. Is that all? Okay. Bye.” That is, seriously, the exact conversation I just had with my primary medical “care” doctor.
My toes on both of my feet are going numb. Everyone agrees that what is causing that is the long term nerve damage effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam. Well, everyone but whoever it is in the VA medical care system that decides to award me the benefits that are due to every Vietnam vet that shows these exact same symptoms. That, I’m told, takes a minimum of eight months for the paperwork to even be looked at, if it isn’t shredded first, and then they will probably send me back to the exact same VA medical neurologists that made the determination in the first place so that they have a brand new copy of a report from a procedure that has now been done three separate times in three separate hospitals in the VA medical system but they can never find the results because the computers in the West Los Angeles VW medical system can’t be easily searched by the Northern Californian VA medical system. So I will probably have those tests a fourth time and, with the history of the VA being what it is, my claim will be denied, again without any cause stated, and I’ll have to appeal it and, well, they just hope I get tired or die in the meantime.
But that’s not the problem at the moment. I’ve been filing for Agent Orange benefits since the early 2000s and I know how the system goes as far out of its way as possible to deny every claim in hopes, as I said, that I get tired of fighting for what is rightfully mine or I just die and that’s the end of their responsibility. They’ll probably get a bonus of some sort for keeping costs down to the VA for that year when I die.
The problem is that about 2 years ago I began to lose feeling only in my left foot. For the last two years it was just a numb pain that kept me from walking for any distance and walking is my favorite form of exercise and helps me to get out of the house, off my butt, and clear my head. My favorite place to walk is along dirt roads all year long so that I can see the changing of the seasons in the plants and flowers and the birds and animals. That is my joy.
About 6 weeks ago, though, I suddenly could not lift my left foot as I walked meaning I basically drag it as I go. I demanded that the VA figure out what the hell was going on and find a way to fix that. I mean, they have the most experience in nerve damage and repair on the planet due to their close association with the battlefield doctors and the facilities that try to put our vets back together again in wartime. If anyone should be able to pinpoint what the problem is then the personnel at the VA medical system should be the experts. I mean, who has more experience in damages to nerves than the nation that is so deeply and sickly in love with war and torn up bodies?
Last Thursday I went to the Sacramento area VA medical hospital for a test on my nerves in both legs and feet. Yes, the exact same tests as before. The doctor gave me jolts of electric shocks and measured the responses at different point of my legs and feet. No, I don’t know what the tests are called but I do know she said she was surprised that she had to turn the equipment up so high to get any readings. It took about an hour and she said the word “wow!” and the phrase “Is the equipment working” under her breath a half dozen times.
Finally I’m told to get dressed and she leaves the room. When she comes back she says that the nerve damage to my feet is consistent with the many cases of Agent Orange cases she has dealt with. “Okay,” I say, “I knew that part.” As for the fact that I can’t pick up my left foot as I walk she said that it was a “pinched nerve”.
I asked if it could be an extension of the Agent Orange and was told “I don’t think so.” DON’T THINK SO? That’s the answer a doctor gives?
I asked if it was just a pinched nerve, could it be corrected with a surgical procedure to relieve the pinch? She replied that there was no way to relieve the pinching. I asked that, in as much as she couldn’t see inside my knee without some sort of x-ray or MRI or something would she be referring me for that kind of test? Again her answer was that it was a pinched nerve and there was nothing that could be done. I asked if it would ever get any better and she said, “No, it may get worse, though” and again I asked if I could be referred to another specialist that could look at it and…… she walked out of the room.
I limped down the hall after her and asked what was going to happen, then? She stopped and said that I would be getting a letter “in a few weeks” and that I would be fitted with a “prosthesis” that would help me bend my foot and walk without dragging my left foot along “as much” and that it would take “a few weeks for the letter to arrive” and I had to find, on my own, someone that makes those things, get fitted and then come back to Sacramento to receive it. “It shouldn’t take more than two to three months total.” And it’s a 350 mile round trip each time and they won’t pay mileage since I’m seeing somebody outside of the VA medical system since the VA medical has no one in the system to see.
I stared at her and said, “So I can’t see anyone else that might be able to figure out why I have the problem, I have to wait two to three months before I even get this thing that’s supposed to let me walk like a human being again and it is never going to get better? That’s it?” She literally shook her head in that way that parents shake their heads when their kids ask “dumb” questions, went to the counter and picked up the chart for the next patient and turned her back on me and forgot I existed.
The very next day I had an appointment with my VA medical “primary care doctor”. When I saw her I asked again why I couldn’t see another doctor that might be able to figure out what was going on since a medical diagnosis of “We don’t know what is causing it but it may get worse” doesn’t seem like it should be the end of the conversation. She brought up my chart on her computer, scanned it for a minute and said, “No, the doctor says she doesn’t know why you have the problem and recommends no further tests.”
I tried to be calm and reiterated what I had said the day before which was if it’s a pinched nerve then isn’t there a way to “unpinch” it and I could walk normally again? She looked at my chart again and said, “The doctor says here that it is DEFINITELY NOT a pinched nerve and she does not recommend any further testing and that you will wear the prosthesis for the rest of your life.” “NOT a pinched nerve”, I asked? “She used that term three or four times at LEAST yesterday. When did that change?”
“I don’t know what she told you but her report clearly states that it is NOT a pinched nerve and no further testing is recommended.” This the doctor said with kind of a shrug as if to say “Hey, that’s life. Deal with it. She changed what she said, apparently.”
Today I went to what is known as the VA Medical Patient Advocate, a position that is supposed to help vets get the treatment they deserve. I explained the situation, asked again if I could be referred to another VA medical specialist that could determine if it was a pinched nerve or not and why the hell it so suddenly went limp on me and what could I do to get the help I needed?
Apparently, the way he “advocates” is to simply call the original doctor again who then calls me and, in a tone of voice usually reserved for small children who want candy and can’t have it, stated that there will be no further examinations on my foot, that my heavy drinking was probably the cause (I haven’t had two drinks a year since the early 70s when I got home) and that I would have to learn to live with it and if there was nothing else she was very busy, thank you, bye. Click.
So, here I sit. Wishing there was something that came next other than putting some sort of brace on my leg for the rest of my life or until the damage grows bad enough that I won’t be able to walk at all.
My country did this to me. This is 100% Agent Orange related and they’ve decided that, just like the Iraq and Afghan vets will learn when the Depleted Uranium that they lived with comes back to haunt them, the system is finished with us now and they will provide the minimal amount of care they can get away with. The government cuts their budget. The VA medical system learns to live with less. They care less and less. They provide less and less. And I get to limp the rest of my life and never know exactly why nor ever be given the testing to discover why.
And people have the stupidity to ask me why I hate this government and the fact that it is run for the wealthy who send off the kids of other families to fight and live through hell for years just so that the wealthy can whine about paying taxes and get them reduced again and again and those kids who fought their wars can just go to hell for all they care.
If there was one Christian in this nation that would stand up for the defenseless and maimed I would probably die of a heart attack. But there isn’t. I’m safe from that danger, at least.