Fixing the VA: Not done yet.

I have been involved in the Veterans Administration healthcare system for several years now.  During that time I can’t count the number of changes to the system.  Each one promises to get things working and to date, I can’t see where any has had much effect at all.

I’m not complaining.  The care I get is, for the most part, up to the standards of a general hospital or healthcare clinic.  That is, it’s mixed.  Some of the caregivers seem very competent and committed to providing their patients with the best care possible.  Others not so much.

One aspect of care that is different at the VA is the bureaucratic machinations of dealing with the agency.  Generally in private sector healthcare, there is a process for calling the healthcare agency, setting appointments, getting test results, etc.  There is supposed to be a similar process at the VA, but it doesn’t work.  If you looked at a published flow chart of the the two systems, private and VA, the flow chart would look very similar.  The VA health delivery systems have been designed to appear similar to the healthcare delivery systems of the private sector, but they are not.

A perfect example was this morning.  I receieved a post-card from the VA reminding me that it is time for me to set up an appointment to see my VA Primary Physician, Dr. Smith (not his real name).  There is a number to call and make the appointment and I call it.  No one answers the phone, the caller is switched immedately to hold with the accompanying typical hold music.  No answering machine.  No “Punch #1 for billing, punch #2 for an appointment”; not even the usual “If this is a life thretening emergency, hang up and dial 911”.  None of that on the line, just the hold music.

Imagine for a moment that I’m a recently returned veteran of Afghanistan who has finally mustered the nerve to call for an appointment to speak to a therapist about my nightmares.  Nothing…the VA doesn’t even answer the phone.