My seven-hour ambulance ride

August 29, 2012

A veteran tells the story of his nightmarish encounter with the VA health care system.

I WAS recently admitted to the emergency room at my local Veteran's Administration (VA) hospital. I was having "suicidal ideations." After spending several hours there, the staff deemed it necessary to admit me to the mental-health ward.

The only problem was that the closest facility with a bed available was seven hours away and across state lines. I accepted this hardship because I knew that I needed treatment. Such issues began during my military service and have resurfaced at various times since.

So I made the seven-hour trip--via ambulance--to the nearest VA hospital that could see me. This is a travesty on many levels, but prime among them is that as a veteran, I am promised help through the VA. I should not have to travel across state lines to another hospital, far from my home and away from my support network, to get the treatment I deserve and need.

And it's outrageous that, after a decade of major U.S. military operations, the VA is still not adequately equipped to address the epidemic of mental-health illnesses confronting this country's veterans. I'm not sure whether the VA is simply straining under a massive caseload of veterans whose experiences have left them emotionally scarred or whether the VA is systematically underfunded or both, but in any case, the lack of sufficient hospital beds to address the invisible wounds of war is alarming.

A VA hospital facility in Illinois
Veteran's Administration facilities are straining under the massive caseload

I should be able to go to my local hospital and not have to worry about missing time away from work or my family. I should be able to walk in the door, get the treatment I need and leave in a timely manner. If this all sounds like it's awful, it is.

But there's also an upside to my ability to go to the VA: I don't have to pay a dime. The VA operates on a sliding-scale principle so that those of us less fortunate are able to still seek medical help without having to worry about crippling financial burdens that so often come with hospital visits.

This ability to see the doctor without financial worry should be at the forefront of everyone's mind when they visit their local medical facility. Health care should be available to all, not the select few who have good insurance or the means to pay.

As a veteran, I am no different from anyone else who works for a living or simply survives in this dog-eat-dog economy. We should all be able to get treatment for what ails us. The VA's system of treatment should be an example to all health care systems in this country.

We shouldn't have to dig deep in order to secure health insurance, thus enriching the insurance companies and then have to endure as they seek to deny us treatment when we need it. We should be able to, as I can at the VA, simply walk in and get the treatment necessary.

We must fight for this right. There are too many moneyed forces wanting to soak us for every penny we have. It is going to take us getting into the streets and demanding free health care to get health-care justice.

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