By Barry R. Clausen - July 14, 2006
For well over a decade Veterans from all North State counties have been in a battle with the Veterans Administration (VA) over health care issues. Led by Veterans Advocate John Cleckner and Don Boardman of Northern-California Organized Veterans Advocates (NOVA) the issues and concerns over health care reached the boiling point this last week when on July 10 almost 200 Veterans carrying signs marched in front of the Redding VA Clinic. Dozens of others did not protest as a result of the heat and others were worried about “retaliation” if they were identified.
Some of the Veterans were in wheelchairs, some with walkers and others with canes but all with the same goal – to protest for better health care for those that have served and who were promised the health care they earned and deserve.
Sonja Barbano carried a sign that stated, “My Husband Died While Waiting Agent Orange Exposed.” Eyvonne Rosenberger whose husband died of congestive heart failure carried the sign stating, “My Disabled Veteran would still be here if he received the care he needed.” According to Rosenberger her husband’s symptoms showed his heart problems but the doctors failed to determine the difficulty until after his death.
Cleckner said that during and after the demonstration he was contacted by a number of widows who’s husbands had either died or were dying after being misdiagnosed with cancer at the VA. “Not to many things shock me, but this did,” said Cleckner.
As Veterans lined the street on both sides, the majority of the cars that passed were honking in support of the Veterans while VA undercover police officers with cameras in hand mingled with the Veterans taking pictures of them off of federal property.
Veteran’s benefits have been cut and services curtailed in all aspects of health care. They were protesting the cuts and asking for additions to their health care. In their demands to the VA they state, “We served equally - now service us equally. We need care when it is needed not just when the clinic is open.” They want 24/7 health care locally and do not want to be bussed to Martinez or Sacramento for their chemotherapy & radiation treatment. They have also asked for the right to choose mental health treatment and to reverse the serious “cutbacks” as order by VA officials that started last year.
In many cases when the VA Clinic is not open, emergency treatment at local hospitals is not covered by any health insurance. In a six-page June 12, 2006 letter to Dr. Robert Wiebe, Network Director VA outlining the problems local Veterans face, Boardman states, “Do the veterans at other VA Northern California Health Care System facilities have these problems? NO they do not, they have 5 VA hospitals to choose from. The end result has been that Shasta/Butte VETERANS because of non-payment of these services have had in most cases their credit destroyed, lost their homes and in the 4 years of NOVA presence had 3 veterans commit suicide.”
In a letter dated June 16, 2006 Congressman Wally Herger wrote a letter to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Jim Nicholson where he stated, “I would appreciate your review and consideration of the concerns that my constituents have raised, along with a response that outlines the Departments views on the provisions of counseling services and whether VA policy does or could be adjusted to provide for the implementation of a grandfather policy for veterans already being treated for PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder].” Since Herger’s letter there has been no changes in their complaints. (A phone call to Herger’s Washington, DC office went unanswered.)
On VA mental health issues Associate Director, John Mendoza of the Sacramento Valley Division of the Northern California Health Care System said Friday, “Our goal is to contact veterans to appeal the decision. There is a process to communicate with these veterans.” That process comes to Veterans in the form of a June 30, 2006 letter from Linda Reynolds, Redding VA Clinic Director. In that letter she states, “We sincerely regret and apologize for any anxiety you may have experienced…. “
In her letter she also states, “If you feel this change has adversely impacted you and your treatment we encourage you to contact your health care provider or Dr. Greg Nelson…” After contacting about 80 Veterans there appears that there has been very little trust of the VA Mental Health Department in Redding and that trust is continually diminishing as a result of Dr. Greg Nelson’s actions. Many Veterans and two local practitioners have expressed their feelings about Nelson and one other psychiatrist at the same clinic who have made their bias’s clear. They apparently do not subscribe to the fact that PTSD exists.
Henry Iasiello, Vietnam Veterans of America Inc, CA State Council, Northern CA District Director PTSD Committee Chair referenced Nelson in a June 30, 2006 letter to Redding Clinic Director Linda Reynolds. Iasiello states, “…I would like to reiterate that in my conversation with Dr. Greg Nelson about the reviews and cutbacks at the Redding Clinic he assured me that money was not the issue. His concern was that extended fee-basis [out of clinic care], especially as regards PTSD, did not serve the veteran. That in fact, he believes, many also are just ‘scamming’ the system. It was, I admit, a little disheartening to hear him characterize the Clinic as practicing ‘frontier medicine’ and PTSD as an ‘overused’ diagnosis….”
All of the Veterans involved with this issue want the public to know their protest is not against clinic staff, it is against VA management that have deliberately created the “cutbacks” and policies that are impacting the lives of hundreds of Veterans and their families that reside in Northern California.
Barry Clausen can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530 227 4774.