Today started out like any other day that I have to get up and go into Tampa for an appointment at the VA Hospital. The alarm went off at 5:00 a.m. Rocco, my service dog, began pawing at me to make sure I didn’t roll over and go back to sleep. He is trained to do that. He keeps me from laying in bed, day after day, when my depression and PTSD gets the best of me. Rocco won’t let me hide in my bed. He paws at me until I get out of my bed. When you have an 80 pound Doberman pawing at you, you respond … especially when he doesn’t stop pawing at you UNLESS and UNTIL you respond to his “request”.
I had two appointments this morning at the VA Hospital in Tampa. The first one was uneventful. A nurse by the name of Charlie (short for Charlotte) in the Specialty Clinic gave me an IV infusion of Reclast. She did a great job and I barely felt the stick of the needle as she hooked me up. Thirty minutes later I was done and out of there. Thanks, Charlie for making my appointment quick and painless.
My next appointment didn’t go quite as well. That was where I met Stanley Robinson. I didn’t meet him right away nor did I know his name until after my encounter with him. I went to the Dermatology Clinic and checked in early for my appointment. Like I always do, I told the clerk that “I don’t see male healthcare providers”. This one particular clerk in the Derm Clinic, (sorry, I can’t remember her name) has checked me in before. She always looks at me like I’m nuts (and yes I am) when I tell her I won’t see male healthcare providers, but she always puts a note on my chart after she makes me repeat myself two or three times. I sometimes wonder if it’s a language thing.
The waiting area was packed with male Veterans, something that makes me very uneasy, so I told the clerk I would be waiting outside. Rocco and I turned around and went outside to wait in the heat and the sunshine. Oh, I didn’t mention I had Rocco with me? Oh yes. He goes everywhere with me these days. Like American Express, I never leave home without him. He is my constant companion. He keeps me steady on my feet, he keeps me from falling when my knee goes out, and he calms me when anxiety, panic or PTSD rage kicks in. He also “blocks” and keeps people from getting in my space.
I had been waiting outside for maybe 15 or 20 minutes when a man in blue scrubs came outside and called my name. I immediately went on the defensive. Why did a man have my chart? He wasn’t supposed to have my chart. It was marked “females only” and this man was clearly NOT a woman. He may have been a woman in a previous life, but in this rendition he was all male. I was having none of that. I said, “I’m Wendi Goodman.” He told me, “You’re seeing Dr. ‘X’ today”. I asked him if the doctor was a female because my consult was for a woman doctor. Apparently he had read my history and knew why I was there because he said to me, “No, the doctor is a male. We have two males on today.” I told him, “I don’t see male doctors.” In that instant, that split second, I felt myself slip from MST Survivor to MST victim. I let him intimidate me back into the victim role. Friends, this was the Dermatology Clinic but I had a gyn/derm issue I was being seen for. He was trying to get into my personal space and Rocco immediately jumped in front of me to “block” him. Every time I stepped back, that jackass took one step forward towards me to intimidate me. It was working. Once again, I felt like a MST victim. I wished that Rocco was an aggressive dog. I would’ve loved for Rocco to have taken a chunk out of that SOB, but a good service dog isn’t aggressive nor do they bite.
Our “Hero” then said the one thing that caused me to almost completely lose control. He said, “there are male gyn doctors and female gyn doctors, there are male derm doctors and female derm doctors. A doctor is a doctor and it doesn’t matter who you see.” That was when I felt the switch flip. Those of you with PTSD know that switch. You feel the rage come on instantly. You can hardly control it. One minute you’re annoyed and the next you’re in a full blown rage. Rocco knew it. He leaned into me and I felt his body tense up. He started nudging me with his nose as if to say, “Come back, Mom, come back”. I took a very deep breath, unrolled my fingers which were already rolled into fists, and told this idiot, “Look, I’m trying very hard not to get angry and I’m not having much success. You need to understand something. I was molested by an Army doctor. Do you know what that means? I don’t see male doctors. Doctors aren’t doctors and I am not seeing a male doctor.”
He turned around and walked back inside mumbling something about getting me rescheduled. I was beyond angry at that point. I was in a rage and barely in control. Thank goodness I had my friend, Donna, with me. Between Donna and Rocco I knew I was going to get through the rescheduling process. After I rescheduled the appointment WITH A WOMAN DOCTOR, I inquired about the man who’d been out to talk to me. I asked the clerk who he was and she replied, “Rob”. She was copping an attitude with me, too. I wanted to scream but I also wanted to get his information and not get thrown off campus. I asked for his full name and she gave it to me. Stanley Robinson. I asked, “Aren’t VA employees required to wear ID badges with their job titles on them?” The clerk wouldn’t give me a straight answer. It was obvious she didn’t want to get her buddy in trouble. She just kept repeating, “I’m wearing mine.” She was. It was turned around so that I couldn’t see her name. Then I asked her what his position was. She replied, “He’s a nurse.” “What kind of nurse,” I asked, “LPN or RN?” She told me he’s an “LPN”. Finally I got at least one straight answer from her.
Armed with all the information I needed, Donna, Rocco and I headed straight up to the Patient Advocate’s office. If you ever have a complaint about someone or something at the Tampa VA Hospital, go see Patty. She was kind and compassionate and listened carefully to everything Donna and I told her about Stanley Robinson. She assured me that she would be contacting the Chief of Dermatology with my complaint about Stanley Robinson. As I spoke she took very detailed notes. She was pleased that I had his name. She told me part of the problem is that they get a lot of complaints about staff, but patients often don’t have the offenders’ name.
One interesting thing she told me is that she doesn’t get many complaints from female Veterans about patient care. I told her that I could’ve reported many male employees over the last four years with this same type complaint but I’ve never done it because of the intimidation factor. In fact, had it not been for Donna’s encouragement and support, I would’ve been a victim again today. I never would’ve reported it had I been there by myself. I would’ve just let it go and chalked it up to being a victim again. Thanks for being there, Donna. I told her that across the United States that’s a common theme with women Veterans.
I have to go back to that clinic on Thursday. Am I afraid to go back there? You’re damn right I am. I stood outside and announced to everyone within earshot that I was assaulted by an Army doctor. I told it to Stanley Robinson. I’m almost positive he got a good laugh out of that one. I don’t expect to be coddled but for cryin’ out loud, when they put on my record that I don’t see male healthcare providers, I don’t expect to be questioned or told that “a doctor is a doctor”. There’s something called “patient rights” and I will see ONLY the providers I want to see. If that means I see only female nurses and doctors, that’s my choice and who the hell is Stanley Robinson to tell me “a doctor is a doctor”. Just walking in that hospital is a trigger for me. What happened to me today … well, it didn’t help any, that’s for damn sure. And what happens if I see Stanley on Thursday? I think I’ll just drug myself up on anxiety meds and hope for the best. Wish me luck.
In the meantime, FUCK YOU, Stanley Robinson. I hope you get what you deserve. (Pardon my french to those who might be offended by it).
AND THEN I COME HOME TO READ THE FOLLOWING:
A Marine combat veteran who suffered a mental breakdown as a result of war-related trauma said he might have received earlier help if his disability pay had been contingent upon his getting treatment.
Daniel J. Hanson, 27, who said he spent his disability checks on “booze and strip clubs,” said he needed a push from the Veterans Affairs Department to get help that never came until he attempted suicide and ended up in a faith-based program called Minnesota Teen Challenge.
Testifying on Tuesday before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Hanson said he never asked for help in the Marine Corps, and VA’s help wasn’t enough. In the Marines, Hanson said the fact he was an administrative specialist surrounded by infantrymen made him reluctant to speak up. “In a battalion of 1,000 Marines, I didn’t think anyone wanted to hear my complaining,” he said.
CLICK ON THE LINK ABOVE TO READ THE REST OF THE STORY
I’m not yet service connected for PTSD but I am service connected for major depressive disorder. This Marine thinks our disability checks should be tied to getting help from the VA? That’s CRAP if you ask me. Pure, unadulterated crap. He’s obviously never tried to get on a regular schedule with my psychologist at the Brooksville Community Based Outpatient Clinic. I had an appointment last week with my psychologist. She wants to see me every two weeks and has been trying to get me set up on that kind of schedule. It took a long time to do it but she finally managed it. I was scheduled for every two weeks in a new clinic they set up for her patients. Well, guess what. They cancelled that clinic and along with that, they cancelled all my appointments. When I got the call that my appointments had been cancelled I asked, “so when is my next appointment?” I was told, July 22nd. I was told this at the end of May. I screamed at the clerk, “I can’t wait that long to see my doctor. I’ll kill myself!” In that moment, I meant what I was saying. I was in a very depressed state and needed to talk. I must’ve scared the scheduling clerk. She gave me back all the appointments she’d cancelled but at different times. A few days later I was back at the VA Hospital (yes, I practically live there) and I received an updated appointment list. Once again, all my psych appointments in Brooksville had been cancelled. It turns out that the clerk had put me in at times that the doctor wasn’t available! No one had called to tell me my appointments had been cancelled. Again. I only found out because I’d gotten an updated appointment list.
When I read the article about disability pay being tied to VA healthcare/psych treatment, all I could think about was how difficult a time that I have getting in to see my psychologist. What kind of demands would they put on us for treatment? How often would we have to see our doctors? Would they require inpatient treatment? That brings up an entirely different subject … at least for me it does. I can’t go to an inpatient program in Tampa. They don’t have an all womens program or an all womens floor. It’s well documented in my records that I’m terrified of men. I have told my doctors I will go to the women’s inpatient program out in California at the VA there but they won’t spend the funds to send me. They won’t fee basis me to a local women’s program either. Too expensive. Every time they’ve talked to me about admitting me to the Tampa VA Hospital, I’ve had a complete meltdown. They won’t let me bring Rocco and they can’t promise me that I’ll be placed in a room with a lock on the door. And that’s supposed to make me feel safe? Yeah. Right. Tying treatment to my disability check? What a freaking joke. We were soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coasties. We were responsible for millions of dollars of equipment. We were responsible for the lives of our buddies. Now we’re Veterans but we still have that discipline that was drilled into us when we served. I believe that we should each take responsibility for our own care. It isn’t up to the doctors or the VA to push us into care. WE applied for disability pay because WE knew we had a disability. No one twisted my arm to file a claim. How about you? Did you think that meant take the money and run? Did you think you weren’t, at some point, going to be called back in for a re-exam of your disability(ies)? Think again. The VA doesn’t want to keep paying you. They want you to get better. They will do anything to stop paying us. We all know that. So go to treatment. If you happen to improve over time and stabilize, expect your disability rating to decrease, especially if you’re fool enough to apply for an increase when you’ve gotten better. If you don’t get better, if you get worse, than apply for an increase. Just … go… for… treatment. I believe it’s our responsibility to ourselves. Just because some of you choose to take your money and drink it away doesn’t mean the rest of us should suffer for your mistakes. Am I wrong here? What do you all think? Am I blowing this out of proportion?
The final thing that has me pissed is this. I have an old friend. We’ve been friends for over 30 years now. We met while we were both stationed at Fort Leonard Wood back in ’79. This woman is one of the kindest, gentle women I’ve ever met. She never asks for anything and would give you the shirt off her back or her last buck if she thought you needed it more than she did. When we were young troops back in the day, we rented a three bedroom apartment in Buckhorn, Missouri, just off I44 a few miles from Ft Wood. We paid $125 each month to live in WWII barracks that had been converted into apartments. They had no insulation. We roasted in the summer and froze in the winter. We survived on hot dogs, bolgna and mac & cheese. We lived off post and we were in paradise. It was a struggle but we made it through some really hard times; financial, emotional and physical. I PCS’d to Germany in December ’81 and my friend PCS’d six months later. She was stationed in Landstuhl and I was in Vilseck. It was a short drive so we were able to see each other often.
Over the years our lives took different twists and turns but we’ve always been there for one another. We’ve been there for each other through countless relationships both good and bad, illnesses, the deaths of family and friends. Whenever there was news to share, good or bad, we both knew who to call for a sympathetic ear without judgement. We had each others friendship since 1979. No questions, no judgement. Just a sympathetic ear. I remember driving home to Chicago from New Mexico in 1993. I was going back to Chicago on emergency leave. My mother had just been diagnosed with a brain tumor and was going in the hospital for brain surgery. I was desperate to get to Chicago before my mother went into surgery. I was going to be driving right by my friend’s house on the way to Chicago so I called her from the road to tell her I was on my way. I was tired and I needed a shower and a couch to sleep on for a couple of hours.
When I arrived at my friends house and walked in the front door I smelled something familiar. It was the smell of chicken and dumplings, one of the favorite things she used to make for me. She knew me well enough to know that I was frantic to get to Chicago and hadn’t stopped to eat while I was on the road. After I called her from the road, she had put on a pot of chicken and dumplings just for me. She fed me when I arrived, sent me to take a hot shower and then put me in her bed while she and her husband slept on the couch. That’s a true friend.
My friend called me this past Saturday morning at 8:00. I didn’t know it because I was still asleep. I get my best sleep starting 4:00 a.m. By then, I’ve been awake most of the night and I pass out from exhaustion. During the week, Rocco wakes me by 8:00. On the weekends, my wife wakes up first and she takes Rocco out of the bedroom so that I can sleep in. That’s why I missed my friends first call. My wife didn’t want to wake me at 8:00. She doesn’t know my friend as well as I do and didn’t understand that a call from her at 8:00 a.m. meant she was reaching out for help.
I called my friend back and the first thing I asked was, “What’s wrong?”. She told me. I won’t relay the whole sordid story. My friend, even though she will remain nameless, deserves to keep the story between us. What I will tell you is that for the first time in all the years I’ve known her, she asked me for help. She got into a financial bind and needs help. She didn’t ask me for a dime. She would never do that. She asked me to help her find a Veterans program that would help her out. She’s 100% disabled and draws SSDI so that knocks her out of traditional cash assistance programs. I started digging and found there really isn’t a whole lot out there for Vets to get immediate cash assistance on a one time basis.
As an Army Vet, she does qualify to go through the Army Emergency Relief fund to apply for help. That’s one route we’re trying. I hope it works for her. But this is what pisses me off. This all happened on Saturday, 11 June. I’m writing this blog on 14 June. On Saturday I composed an email and sent it out to the VFW, the American Legion and the DAV. I explained her situation in great detail and told them all she needs is cash assistance to get her through just this month. A grant would be great, a loan is acceptable. I gave them my phone number and asked them to call me if they had further questions. Thank you for your time, blah, blah, blah. As of this morning, I hadn’t received a single response from any of the organizations.
Was I surprised I hadn’t gotten any responses? No. Everyone told me I was wasting my time. Everyone told me that unless I was a card carrying, dues paying member, none of those organizations would give me the time of day. After checking email this morning, I was ready to admit the naysayers were right and I had wasted my time. I was pissed. They send us emails, they solicit us on Facebook, they advertise everywhere you can think of to try to get our money; to try to get us to become members. Yet I tried to get help for one Veteran and none of them had the balls to even tell me to go to hell. Yeah, I was pissed. I was all set to sit down and write a blog about how rotten all of them were and how they all ignore the plight of needy Veterans.
This afternoon something happened to change my mind about ONE of those organizations. I got a phone call from the VFW in Iowa which is where my friend lives. The gentleman who called me, Mr. Stark, normally deals with family members of deployed service members. The State AG passed my email on to him rather than a service officer, he said, because he’s got more time than the service officers. He’d made some phone calls before he contacted me and they were going to do their best to assist my friend. He said my email was detailed enough that he knew what he needed to get assistance going for her.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! After the shit I’d gone through at the Dermatology Clinic with Stanley Robinson, and then having to retell the tale to the Patient Advocate, I needed something good like this to bring me back to reality. My friend was going to get some help. I don’t know how much help, but she’s going to get SOME help and it’s coming from the VFW in her home town. I couldn’t thank Mr. Stark enough times. I called my friend and I could hear the relief in her voice when I gave her the news.
I still haven’t heard back from the DAV or the American Legion. I don’t expect to. They can kiss my ass. Having said that …. I now say this. Thank you so much to the VFW in the State of Iowa for helping my old friend. It means a lot to both of us.
Now that I have all that off my chest I think I can finally say this:
Until the next time, my friends …….