Thursday, March 29, 2012

Difficult Day at the VA

Yesterday was the in-person board appeal I requested through the VA because many of my claims have been denied.  When I got there, they realized I didn't have an advocate, and asked if I wanted one.  I was thrilled, because I've been attempting to get an advocate for a couple years now.  I was randomly assigned to one, and found out later he's probably the most respected of the advocates there (according to my judge).  He's former Army, former special forces, and a really Godly man with a solid knowledge of scripture.

During our initial interview, he educated me a lot on what I needed to say, how to say it, etc.  He'd read through my records (which might explain our two-hour wait) and had found the same concerns I found while reading my own VA records yesterday.  Many of the doctors who'd seen me contradicted themselves throughout their reports.  They recorded my statements and some facts incorrectly.  Half the time they either misspelled my name or referred to me as a male.  Most disturbing of all was discovering that my shrink thinks I've been lying.  During one visit where I'd had an extremely emotional and physically draining day, he asked about the nightmares I've been having.  I explained one that recurs often, and then stopped talking when I observed his reaction.  He got hung up on the fact that I'd claimed to be attached to Delta Force for a few weeks in January/early February 1991.  I let it pass because I was crying and really didn't feel like getting into it in depth.  Instead, I told him to check my service records.

I never claimed to be a member of Delta Force.  I never claimed to be trained in special forces.  I explained a recurring nightmare I had, seeing faces of people who'd been killed, various scenes of trauma, etc.  When I was a teenager and young adult, and even to some extent today, I had a very morbid curiosity.  "Faces of Death" was one of my favorite documentary series back in the 80s.  I've always been curious about and enjoyed seeing crime-scene photos.  Or used to.  Back in the Gulf, I saw rather too many up close and personal scenes.  I looked at too many polaroids.  After I got back, I started having nightmares, about things I'd personally witnessed, as well as things my active imagination ran away with after seeing photos.  My shrink asked me about my nightmares.  I obliged.  He somehow took it to mean I was making statements of fact about something I personally did over there.  Somehow, I became a special forces badass in his opinion, and was lying.

Then he shared that information with the doctor I see for general medical stuff.  He shared details of my session as well as his suspicions of lying.  Together they decided to try to confirm my past medical history through "outside sources" since I was "refusing" to provide outside medical records.  For three years, I signed medical release after medical release.  I didn't go up there every month, so until someone mentioned they still didn't have my records, I didn't know.  Finally, out of frustration, I paid Ochsner over $120 to obtain a physical copy of my medical records since 2006, and hand-delivered it along with a digital copy on CD to the VA, back in October of 2011.  Only then did that information make its way into my records.  Did my shrink or GP check their system the next time they saw me, to see if I was still "lying" about my history?  Nope.  Did my quality of care suffer because of this?  I believe it did.  I got the feeling of the cold shoulder from both of them the last several appointments.

As I read all of this during the five hours I waited to see a judge yesterday, it pretty much destroyed me.  I fought allegations of lying during my pregnancy with Ruby.  I posted pictures of her ultrasounds and later pictures of her after delivery just to prove I wasn't lying, and then later regretted giving in to the naysayers and compromising the experience of carrying and delivering her just to prove what I knew was true.  That time was really hard on me...I was dealing with carrying a child that was going to die after birth, ongoing medical issues, and a lot of emotional and mental anguish.  I still deal with difficult emotions in regards to her.  So you could say that I'm a bit raw when it comes to that type of thing.  Seeing doctors who had medical evidence before them still disbelieve me hurt.

Its not like I don't expect it...any time I have to go to an ER or see a new doctor, I dread it if I don't have a copy of my records with me.  I end up just telling them to write "train wreck" on the intake, as it will save time and pretty much cover everything, and I make jokes about it, but inside I'm wondering if they're going to accuse me of malingering again, or worse.  For years, I didn't go to doctors.  Then I almost died in 2006, and got pretty paranoid about the least little ache and pain.  I've seen doctors regularly since then.  A lot of things were diagnosed at once.  So when I recount my history, it seems like at best I'm a hypochondriac, and at worst I'm making stuff up.

Carrying my records around everywhere with me isn't always an option.  For one thing, there's the sheer size.  It would be a couple boxes' worth if I got every record from every doctor and clinic I've seen the past six years.  For a while I carried a CD, but I gave my last one to the VA and Justin hasn't had time to make another for me (with my computer issues, he's kept the backups for me).  The main issue though, I suppose, is that I'm tired of it all.  I'm tired of proving that yes, indeed, this many bad things can happen to one person.  I'm tired of hearing "But you can't be the patient, you're too young," or "You look too healthy to have all the issues you've reported."  I almost never get to see a doctor on a "bad day."  Once they've reviewed my records from other professionals, they either no longer doubt me and proceed as normal, or they apologize before going about their work.  After it happens so many times, it just seems hollow words.  It makes me want to just give up.

During the hearing yesterday, I kept quiet about most of my medical problems.  I was very conscious of the two doctors in my VA records accusing me of lying.  I was in real danger of jeopardizing my hearing because I just wasn't talking.  My answers were all "yes sir," or "no sir," with no real explanations or opinions from me, even when asked my opinion.  Thank God for my advocate.  He made me clarify to the judge a few things.  The judge began to ask me very direct and pointed questions, which I answered honestly, shocking him at times because he wasn't expecting the answer.  For instance, I was diagnosed "manic depressive" back in 1990 at Ft. Bragg, NC.  He asked many questions about my treatment, finally asking why I sought treatment to begin with.  I replied I didn't have much choice.  He asked why, and when I told him I was sent to the TMHC (Troop Mental Health Clinic) it was after hospitalization for a suicide attempt.  He literally did a double-take, and almost yelled at me, asking why I hadn't mentioned that to begin with.  I could only shrug my shoulders.

Finally, at the end of the hearing, he asked if there was anything else I wanted to say, or clarify, or ask about.  I tried to express my frustration at the process, and ended up bursting into tears.  Humiliating.  My advocate again stepped in and explained that because of the way I've been treated by the regional office, I was leery of the procedures and process now.  Both he and the judge seemed frustrated at the way I was treated, the inconsistencies in the records, etc.  The judge told me he was a good judge of character, from doing this for a while, and he believed me.  That's really when I started crying.  The validation didn't feel good, it HURT.  It hurt because I finally had someone who knew the system, reviewed the evidence, believed me after initially being skeptical, and yet I couldn't enjoy it.  All I could think about was my shrink, whom I'd trusted, basically "playing" me and making me feel like a fool for trusting him.  I'm still not sure about the ethics of him sharing details of one of my sessions with the other my knowledge I never gave permission for such to occur, but its the government.  As my advocate explained, the minute I filed a claim with the VA, my Army medical records no longer belonged to me, they belonged to the VA and I had no real right to them without going through a process.

And for the record, I was never part of Delta Force.  I was a crewchief on a medevac Blackhawk helicopter.  My bird and crew, as well as one other bird and crew, were attached to give medevac support to another company for a few weeks.  It happened to be a part of Delta Force.  It amused the guys to let a woman shoot with them.  It amused them to share their stories and photos.  I was the only female on my crew, but the other crew consisted of three females and one male.  The other gals and I made something of a stir when we arrived to an all-male compound.  Of course there were guys talking to us.  Duh.  My shrink never let me get that far in my explanation.

Now, I don't know what to do.  I'd considered changing my care from Jackson (2.5 hours away) to the coast (less than an hour away) due to travel distance, among other things.  The coast VA is building a brand new facility and has the best Women's Center the VA can speak of...a brand new Women's Center.  It just makes sense to transfer.  The one thing that kept me in Jackson was my shrink and my GP.  I loved them both, felt they really cared.  Then the past year I noticed the sudden change in their treatment of me...and started taking steps to transfer care.  Now, I'm not sure how to proceed.  I'm still going to transfer, especially now, but I'm not sure whether to "clear the record" with them first (I have future appointments with both) or just let it ride and clear the record with the new doctors when I transfer.  Clearing the record would probably do nothing for me except possibly make me feel better, but given the evidence before them, and them still doubting me because of that one misunderstanding, would it really solve anything?  Its taken three years with my shrink for me to open up enough to trust him with one of my worst nightmares, and it was taken out of context, misunderstood completely, and then used to ridicule me.  I didn't sleep last night because of this.  I woke up in a foul mood today because of it.

Sometimes, what they say is true, its best not to find out what people are saying about you.

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