Lyles on VA: Heroic efforts required to overcome bureaucracy

Dick Lyles
Dick Lyles

By Dick Lyles

Among the dozens of reasons for which I oppose Obamacare and government administered health care in general, the one that affects my reasoning most strongly is my experience with the Veterans Administration.

As a permanently disabled Vietnam veteran I’ve dealt with the VA several times a year for almost 40 years. Although some of my experiences have been excellent, I can tell you stories far more harrowing than most of my combat experiences.

Many competent and dedicated people work for the VA. Many put forth heroic efforts day after day to overcome the bureaucracy and provide quality care. Unfortunately, most of the time the bureaucracy wins and veterans lose. The audiology departments at both Mission Valley and La Jolla are examples of excellence in both quality of care and service. They’ve created a culture of delivering caring service that is truly exemplary. Unfortunately, they are an exception.

One of my afflictions for the past 10 years has been a muscle wasting problem in my lower extremities. The muscles in my legs simply started dying away. Muscle biopsies confirmed the effect. Dozens of specialists both inside and outside the VA from around the country have been unable to confirm the cause. The only cause no one has been able to rule out is that it is a residual effect from Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam. However, the VA won’t treat it as Agent Orange-related because years ago Congress defined what can be considered Agent Orange-related. The medical professionals can’t override the legislative definition. I’m not alone in this predicament.

A little over a year ago, my right leg took a turn for the worse, so I decided once again to get physical therapy, even though my past experiences with physical therapy provided limited gains. At the time, the physical therapy department at the VA was overwhelmed so after two months of waiting and wrestling the bureaucracy I received approval for out-sourced physical therapy services. I went to Kathleen Morgan of North County Water Sports and Physical Therapy, whose efforts were nothing short of miraculous.

Kathleen devised a treatment regimen based on my personal history that began to show remarkable results almost immediately. After a few months I could again drive using only one foot. I stopped tripping and falling. I was able use a whip kick when swimming the breast stroke. Even though I had made remarkable overall gains through my other strength training programs, I had not been able to do use my legs like this for 10 years.

The progress was steady and measurable. But the prescribed course of treatment expired. The VA wouldn’t approve more out-sourced treatments. They said I could continue physical therapy, but had to use VA facilities, because the backlog had been reduced. I appealed, asking that I be allowed to continue with Kathleen. My VA neurologist agreed, saying the results were astounding. The head of the VA physical therapy department agreed, citing the need for continuity of care. But ultimately my appeal was denied. The administrator who denied the appeal offered me an ankle brace, saying he noticed that no one had offered me one and I was entitled to one under the rules. I have continued with Kathleen at my own expense. It’s the only way I could get the quality of care I need.

The VA’s major problem is that In order to deliver quality care, VA professionals must put forth heroic efforts to overcome the bureaucracy. Most of the time they don’t. Think about that the next time you consider supporting Obamacare.

L

yles, a Poway resident, is a business/management consultant and best-selling author.

   
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