Saturday, February 1, 2014
Kingman VA Clinic tries to take care of veterans' medical needs


Butch Meriwether

Butch's Brew

I normally sit back, watch and listen to what people have been saying on the various social media outlets and in the newspapers about the Kingman VA Clinic and the Northern Arizona VA Healthcare System in general. However, I've decided it's time for me to step back up onto my soapbox and share my thoughts and views about the VA and the care they provide.

Understandably, some people will chime in to agree with what I'm saying and there are those who will vehemently disagree with my thoughts and views as I see it.

Right from the get-go, I want to say I believe the workers at the Kingman VA Clinic, are underpaid and overworked. I feel it's just as upsetting and frustrating to them when they have to work long hours with limited resources in an attempt to take care of the needs of every veteran who walks through the front doors of the Kingman VA Clinic.

Even if a veteran isn't designated by the VA as having a service connected disability, the workers at the Kingman VA clinic make every attempt to take care of their needs. However, they must realize those with service connected disabilities take priority when it comes to receiving medical care and treatment.

I for one have utilized the VA Healthcare System and specifically the Kingman VA Clinic for an extended period of time because of my medical condition and/or service-connected injuries that occurred during my almost 21 years in the Marine Corps. That included the "nasty exposure" to Agent Orange during my two tours of combat duty in Vietnam.

Admittedly dealing with the VA hasn't been all smooth sailing for me, but I believe most all of the workers in the Northern Arizona VA Health Care System are honest and hardworking individuals. I further think they do have the veterans' best interests at heart even though there are times when a veteran might feel as if they don't care.

Granted, there have been a time or two, I didn't receive the specific attention I thought I needed as soon as I wanted, but in the end run, everything turned out fine and for the most part, I ultimately was happy with the outcome.

An example is I got married in August of last year and it took me almost 15 months for the VA Healthcare System to recognize my beautiful bride as my wife. But through my perseverance, a lot of phone calls and a letter-writing campaign, I can now say my wife is my dependent as far as the VA is concerned. You might ask why it was such a big deal for me to have the VA to recognize my wife. It's because if I happened to go to that big cloud in the sky or the other direction and my death is attributed to one of my medical conditions the VA recognizes as being service connected, my wife will then receive a small pension for the rest of her life as long as she does not remarry.

Northern Arizona VA Healthcare System Director Donna Jacobs ultimately was able to correct what I perceived as a problem in regard to my wife not designated as my dependent. At the same time, I learned it took so long because the VA has been inundated with an enormous amount of veterans returning from Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas of the Middle East who have medical issues and disabilities. All I can say is kudos to Director Jacobs for stepping up to the plate and helping a veteran in need.

Another example that occurred to me was when I visited the VA Hospital Urgent Care Unit in Prescott with heart problems. I was there for almost three hours and they sent me home with my pulse running at about 34. I thought they should have at least kept me overnight for observation.

I ultimately ended up speaking on the phone with Dr. Michael Ward, a friend of mine and one of the emergency room doctors at Kingman Regional Medical Center. He recommended that I go directly to the KRMC ER and yep, I did exactly what he recommended. Because of my visit to the ER, I ended up spending five days in KRMC's "spa and resort" and during my stay there, I learned I have a medical condition called Bigeminy (Latin: Bi-Two Gemini-twins). It's a descriptor for a heart arrhythmia in which abnormal heart beats occur every other concurrent beat.

What I can't understand is I read in the newspaper where a World War II veteran in Kingman was having problems getting an appointment to have his blood drawn that had been requested by his primary care doctor. I don't know why the individual was having problems because I learned a long time ago that if the doctor requests a blood draw, the front desk personnel at the clinic set up with an appointment for you. And if that procedure happens to fall between the cracks and doesn't occur for whatever reason, all you have to do is call and make an appointment yourself.

I've never had a problem with getting Lee Elder (the individual who draws the blood at the Kingman VA Clinic) to stick a needle in my arm. As a side note, Lee has a medical license (not a real medical degree) issued by the United Federation of Planets, usually referred to as "the Federation," a fictional interplanetary federal republic composed of planetary governments depicted in the Star Trek television series and motion pictures. He also has a photo of himself in uniform and standing on the bridge of the Federation Star Ship USS Enterprise hanging on the wall of his phlebotomy office. As all who utilize his serves at the clinic, they know Lee is a diehard "trekkie."

Then I read were one veteran said they made him drive all the way to the VA Hospital in Prescott to have his prescription filled. That to me sounds bogus or that veteran had actually chosen to take the two and a half hour ride to Prescott because he wanted to get out of town for awhile. When the VA doctor prescribes medication for me, it shows up in my mailbox within a few days. The only traveling I have to do is to walk to the mailbox.

There is just so much the workers at the Kingman VA Clinic can do for veterans, not because they don't want to, but due to their limited resources. An example is they do not have x-ray capabilities at the clinic and that's when they have to send someone to the VA Hospital in Prescott that is unless it is an emergency. If an emergency, they'll direct the veteran to go directly to the KRMC's ER located across the street from the clinic.

The Department of Veteran Affairs is also making strides to improve the care and medical needs provided to veterans locally. Access Received Closer to Home, better known as PROJECT ARCH, is just one of the many programs the VA is now utilizing. PROJECT ARCH is designed to provide veterans with improved access to health care by connecting them to high-quality services closer to their home. I am a veteran who is currently enjoying participating in PROJECT ARCH and Dr. Ismail Bokhari, MD is my local cardiologist who looks after my heart.

Another milestone to help local veterans is there's a new Kingman VA Clinic currently under construction on Hualapai Mountain Road and once completed, it will have additional services available that the current clinic doesn't offer.

But if a veteran is required to drive to the VA Hospital in Prescott for a medical appointment, the veteran receives $.35 per mile for their travel expenses to and from Prescott. If a veteran doesn't have a car or chooses not to drive himself, they can opt to utilize the free van transportation from Kingman to Prescott, but they must understand that if they do use the van service, they will not receive travel pay.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to find answers to questions regarding the VA Healthcare System and specifically the Kingman VA Clinic. All one has to do is ask the right person. The following are some factoids I've research and found answers to the innuendos and questions raised on the various social media outlets and newspapers:

Some portray the Kingman VA Clinic employees of not understanding what veterans are and their needs. Fact -C The clinic currently has, out of 20 total employees, nine veterans working at the clinic, three who have served in the current conflict or are combat veterans from prior wars;

¡ñ There are not enough doctors working at the Kingman VA Clinic to take care of the needs of the local veterans. Fact -C Yes, they have been without two physical providers for more than six months, but did provide services through computer video telehealth (CVT). But they now have replaced CVT visits with physical doctors who are now working in the Kingman VA Clinic;

¡ñ Local veterans have enumerated numerous times the workers at the Kingman VA Clinic don't really want to be bothered with veterans who walk through the door of the clinic. Fact -C Even though there was a severe shortage of staff, they came to work every day despite being called every filthy name in the book by veterans leaving nasty messages and having an attitude when they came in.

¡ñ It is the fault of the Kingman VA Clinic personnel for not having adequate amounts of personnel to provide service to the local veterans. Fact - The problem was Prescott was a bit slow to hire and process applicants.

¡ñ There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason as to who gets hired to work for the Northern Arizona VA Healthcare System. Fact - C Policies have now been changed and they are mandated to hire veterans first, but if a veteran who applies and doesn't qualify, the VA has to wait three months before they can post the position again. This is directed by Washington, D.C. officials.

When I spoke to someone from the Northern Arizona VA Healthcare System (they will remain anonymous to protect my source), the person told me veterans need to understand that it isn't what they personally want, but what the doctor feels is the best treatment plan for the veteran's health.

When a veteran comes into the Kingman VA Clinic and complains or demands treatment by a worker other than a doctor, the workers have limitations as to what they can do. Most of the veterans and others (other than the doctors and nurses) working at the Kingman VA Clinic have not gone through medical school and are not allowed to make decisions on their own.

It is my personal opinion the workers at Kingman VA Clinic are trying their best with the tools they are provided, but the constant barge of comments made in the various social media outlets and newspapers have taken a toll on the staff's morale. "Veterans need to understand that when a doctor makes an educated decision about a veteran's health care, it is because the doctor feels they are doing the best for the veteran," said a VA employee. "The staff does not have the authority to change anything the doctor might prescribe although they do discuss this with the doctor if they feel as if something else needs to be done.

The doctors choose to work in the VA Healthcare System not because they make the big bucks, but because they want to give back to the community. It is my personal belief they are not subpar doctors and they do their best, with the tools provided, to take care of the veteran's medical needs no matter what they are.

Remember Rome wasn't built in a day and for edification, here's a list of what God created on each of the six days of creation: Day 1 - the heavens, the earth, light and darkness; Day 2 - Heaven; Day 3 - dry land, the seas, and vegetation; Day 4 - the sun, the moon and the stars; Day 5 - living creatures in the water, birds in the air; Day 6 - land animals and people; and lastly Day 7 - God "rested."

You might ask what God and Rome has to do with the Kingman VA Clinic. Well, I want everyone to know things can't be changed or corrected in just one day. The new VA clinic on Hualapai Mountain Road is quickly being finished and when done, it will be an ultramodern facility to take care of the medical needs of local veterans and it will rival the civilian medical facilities in Mohave County.

Home  Commentaries  Contents