Tuesday, April 21, 2009

JR Salzman sent a message to the members of Petition the VA to Give J.R. Salzman a New Prosthetic Arm.

For the beginning, go here.

Subject: Thank You All Very Much

First of all, I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has joined the group, and expressed an interest and willingness to help in my struggle for prosthetics care from the VA. The small group I started rose to over 700 members in just four days, shedding plenty of light on the situation at hand. Thank you all very much.

As you may have noticed, I did my best at keeping the identity of both the VA facility and the individuals in question private. My goal was not to specifically target any particular individual or any particular VA Medical Center, but to raise awareness to the fact there are individuals like me who are not getting services they desperately need. My goal was and still is not to get anyone fired or relieved from their job. My goal was not to get anyone from Congress, local or state government, or the media involved. I have been through that mess before at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and I can assure you it's not a fun process for anyone involved. Our hospital halls filled with politicians all looking for answers. The media put wounded soldiers on display like political puppets. Our chain of command chewed us out and punished many with twice a day room inspections starting at 0600. Imagine a drugged up soldier missing both legs being told he has to have his room cleaned by 0600 everyday (in the Army, room inspections almost never happen after basic training, let alone at a medical facility with wounded soldiers). They tried to start making me wear my full ACU (Army Combat Uniform) every day despite the fact I could not even tie my own boots, let alone dress myself without the help of my wife. It was not a fun time. Getting the media and politicians involved is not always the best answer.I received two phone calls this morning. One was from a local prosthetics clinic calling to set up an initial consultation. Hooray! I have my first appointment Tuesday afternoon. The second phone call was from a rather angry, yelling, VA prosthetist who I have dealt with in the past. Allegedly, there is now a congressional inquiry into the lack of services provided to me. (For the record, at no point did I contact, or receive contact, from any politician at any level in our nation's government.) The individual continued with absurd allegations directed at me. “We were under the impression that you would take care of it.” “You should have called” (again). In other words, the fact I’ve been trying to get a new prosthetic arm for the last few months and still don’t have one is my fault.

The claims that they were "under the impression" I would take care of anything blew me away. How in the world would I “take care of it”? I do not know the inner workings of VA prosthetics, nor did I know who or where the nearest prosthetist is. I had heard there is a one in my neighboring city, but that was the extent of my knowledge. Until the phone call from the local prosthetist today, I did not even know their name or location. So then how in the world could I possibly “take care of it”? Furthermore, where is the card they told me (to my face on 2-3 different occasions) they were going to send me that would enable me to do such a thing (if that's in fact what I have to do, I still don’t know)? I have no knowledge of the inner workings of their department or how things are done. At no point during our February 24 meeting did I ever say that I would “set anything up” or “take care of anything”. To say otherwise and blame me, the patient, is simply ridiculous.

Maybe I carry over a little too much discipline from my time in the military, but when someone says they're going to do something, I hold them to it, especially if it is in their job description. Furthermore, one of the very first lessons I learned in the Army is never, ever, under any circumstances, assume anything. Open your mouth and communicate. You'll get a lot more done.

Overall, I do not know what, or where, the problem is. A few months ago they told me they were extremely backed up and looking to hire on more prosthetists after the first of the year. I was told that was the reason it was so difficult to get an appointment or talk to anyone. Maybe they're still too busy and short handed. Maybe it's because they have communication problems within their office. The more people you have, the harder it is to communicate with everyone. I have called on multiple occasions over the last year and a half to try and reach a prosthetist with questions. Unfortunately, my phone calls apparently didn't make it past the front desk. After about the fourth time that no one returns your phone call, you accept the fact that they're either not getting the message or just don't want to call you back. Do they not follow up with their patients? Would it be that hard for them to pick up a phone and follow up a couple weeks, or even a month after an appointment to make sure everything is working out OK? I’m still getting letters, emails and phone calls from the prosthetics lab at Walter Reed, as well as a number of other departments there. If Walter Reed can do it with new wounded coming in from Iraq and Afghanistan every week then I know they can do it. Is there no SOP to follow in setting up local prosthetics care for patients? Is there no list of approved prosthetics clinics in our surrounding area that I can go to? Why not print a small brochure, or even a small stapled packet letting patients know how the system works, and how they need to go about getting service (who pays for it, what you have to do to get it, who approves what, etc.)? They assumed that somehow I would just “know” how things worked and would “take care of it”. Clearly that is not the case.

The VA is a huge bureaucracy with many different departments that are all filled with many different people, who all have different ways of doing things. Some departments are great, while some departments are less than desirable. It is not an organized or streamlined facility. There is no “Welcome to the VA” handbook to guide you along your way. Up until three months ago I was not even aware I had a “VA Benefits Advocate” until their computer spit out another “go to these appointments” letter where I met the individual for the first time (after bouncing around the massive VA benefits system for over a year with no one to help me (keep in mind I'm rated 100% disabled)). For the sake of myself, and all the other wounded Veterans I hope the system improves. Direct supervision and a commonsensical structure are needed to ensure that patients like me are getting the care they so desperately need. Ultimately, people need to be held accountable.

Thank you all very much for standing behind me in this. With your help I managed to accomplish in four days what I could not accomplish in months by myself. Please continue to raise awareness for Veteran’s care both in your local community and nationally.

I don't care if you support our nation’s wars or not. All I am asking for is a little support for the people who have fought them.

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