Thursday, January 10, 2019

Call the VA White House Hotline!

This is what happens when you call the VA White House Hotline with a legit gripe: they fix it, and fast. Many veterans do not know that such a mechanism exists, so I write this piece explaining how to use it. 

BLUF: VA White House Hotline:  1-855-948-2311.

Those who read my work and follow me on Facebook know that the Department of Veteran's Affairs and I tussle, and a lot. 

My latest dispute with the VA was caused by schedulers at the VA's Lake Nona facility in Orlando. I need to renew my medications, and my last visit to Lake Nona was over a year ago. So I scheduled appointments, and I bought a plane ticket. 

Then the schedulers canceled appointments that I made months in advance. 

It is my decision to live as an expat in Bangkok, and this complicates my health care. I see a cardiologist every month and a pain specialist at my own expense, and it is not cheap. 

I could seek reimbursement for these expenses through the VA's Foreign Medical Program, but the process is complex, it requires meticulous documentation, and it is prone to error. 

The last time that I tried to get reimbursed the VA clerk told me that the medication in question was not on the VA formulary. I just shake my head. The VA prescribed it for me, and they provide it for me every month. 

Just one example. I have stacks of receipts that need to be submitted to the FMP. They repay expenses two years in arrears. Someday. I wish that they offered an online process for reimbursement. They are stuck in the 1970's. 

I need to monitor my INR levels as every cardiologist that I see tells me that I will die from a stroke and it is impossible to know when that stroke will strike. So I take warfarin every evening and I pray the Jesus Prayer when I do so. 

My cardiologist also monitors my blood sugar levels, and she is nagging me fierce. What I put in my mouth is one of my lone pleasures, and she is crowding me. So my diet is increasingly strict. No carbs. Ok. Few carbs. 

My pain specialist is a psychiatrist, she prescribes my opiates, Methadone and Codeine. My addiction to opiates began with a gall bladder that tried to kill me several years ago. It was excruciating, and that was when I encountered the solace of Mother Demerol. 

My opiate addiction is controlled, I take strict dosages of Methadone to manage addiction, and Codeine when I cannot sleep due to breakthrough pain. I suffer from crippling arthritis, the price that I pay for 333 parachute jumps and many years under a heavy ruck. 

I would love to transition to a hemp or cannabis treatment, but it is not yet legal in Thailand. Medical marijuana is legal in many American states, and it seems inevitable that it will finally be legalized at the Federal level--which would make it available to veterans through the VA. 

In time. If I live to see it. 

Enough about that. I made appointments to see my primary care physician, my shrink, my neurologist and my cardiologist at the Lake Nona VA facility all the way back in September and October 2018. I made the appointments for one week in January 2019, so I could fly to Orlando, check into a hotel, and knock them out over a few days. 

All was well until December, when the Lake Nona facility began canceling my appointments. Doctors were canceling them for various reasons, and the schedulers then told me that no appointments were available for many months. 

I flipped out. I harangued a scheduler on the phone, I called the patient advocates at Lake Nona and complained my ass off, and then finally, I remembered: The VA White House Hotline fixed a problem for me before. Why not try them? 

So I did. I called, I was immediately connected to an agent, his name was John, I laid out the problem, John heard me out, then he said that he would open a case file and poke his liaison at Lake Nona. I received an email with a case number in moments. 

And just like that, shazam, the problem was fixed. 

Two days later schedulers from Lake Nona called me, Google Hangouts gloriously rang the calls through to my iPad in Bangkok, and they made new appointments for me during the week that I will be in Orlando. 

When the VA tells you that no appointments are available for several months, do not believe them. They can squeeze you in. This is proof of it. When somebody with sufficient authority tells them to fix their shit, they can do it. 

The VA then sent me an email a few days ago telling me that those appointments were rescheduled, and I almost flipped out again, but I reminded myself that the VA White House Hotline fixed issues for me twice before, and I could just call them again. 

I prayed. I pray and I meditate during my daily walk in my neighborhood, so I walked and I prayed, and the next day, I received the letter above in my mailbox. 

The Medical Center Director at Lake Nona who sent me that letter included a list of my upcoming appointments, and they were all listed. Mr. Timothy W. Liezert, Medical Center Director, sent that letter to my address in Bangkok. Other automated letters were sent to one of my addresses in CONUS. All the appointments are for the week of 22 January 2019. 


I will take it. 

There is no guarantee that a doctor at Lake Nona will not attempt to cancel another appointment before that week, but I suspect that my patient record is flagged to the effect of "Do not mess with this veteran because he will raise an unholy ruckus." 

Plus, we have an ally there, a man on the inside: Norm Hooten is on the Pharmacy staff at Lake Nona. I will make it a point to say hello. And Mr. Liezert gave me the name and direct phone number of Ms. Sanchez, whom I suspect is a manager of scheduling. At minimum she is a manager. She may be the Director. 

I wrote before that somebody anonymously helped me with previous challenges with the VA. I still do not know who that person is, or was. But I know that somebody out there in the vastness of the internet picked up a phone and advised somebody at Lake Nona to take care of me. 

To that anonymous angel, I again render my thanks. I know that you are no mere figment of my imagination. Too many synchronicities occur. I do not believe in coincidence. 

And yes, I thank President Trump, whose gatekeepers deep-six every letter that I ever send to him, I thank him for following through and setting up the VA White House Hotline. 

It just works. We desperately need a way, any way, to contend with the VA, which is tied with the IRS for most frustrating and incompetent government agency in the federal constellation. 

Some 22 veterans a day kill themselves. Each is an individual, as the Hindu put it, a universe, irreplaceable, a sudden black hole in the human continuity, but there is no doubt in my mind that frustrations with the VA are implicated in most of them. 

I understand that frustration. Before you eat your gun, call the VA White House Hotline and talk to an agent there. 

I will leave this at that.