- - Monday, May 11, 2015

Why are military caregivers, including those within the Veterans Administration Caregiving Program so distrustful of the VA? Because the VA fails our veterans if we do not continuously advocate for them. If we do not double check symptoms, cross-check medications, go to non-VA doctors for second opinions, something gets missed and our veterans end up neglected.

There are good workers at the VA, and we are very grateful for them. These good employees, though, are usually in short supply at many VA hospitals. I had to fight the VA for eight months to get my husband a VA-approved, VA-doctor-ordered medical device. However, my story pales in comparison with what caregiver Jennifer Henkel dealt with on May 7, 2015. (Disclosure: Jennifer is a fellow with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, where I have a fellowship position as well.)

In April 2015, her husband left their home in Utah for the Black Hills VA PTSD Treatment program located in South Dakota. Her husband severely suffers from post-traumatic stress and together they both hoped that this program would help him with recovery. As a military caregiver, she was doing what she believed to be in the best interest of her veteran.

On May 7, 2015 the Black Hills VA PTSD Treatment program released Ms. Henkel’s husband from their program midway through treatment. Why? Her husband was isolating and not always engaging in the program. Normal symptoms for someone struggling with PTSD. However, the most shocking part of this is what the VA did. Did they ensure that Mr. Henkel had a safe, and secure flight home back to Utah?

No. They drove him an hour away to a homeless shelter and asked him to give them a call when he got home to make sure he was not suicidal. As VA employee Danielle Cronkhite, M.S., LPC told Ms. Henkel, that since the VA decided that he needed to be in an outpatient treatment program, the VA was not responsible for helping him get back home because he did not complete the program at Black Hills (remember, this was due to the VA releasing him from that program).

Ms. Henkel understands if the VA believed that a different program would be better suited for her husband. However, leaving him at a homeless shelter, multiple states away from his caregiver and family, is what infuriates her. As a military caregiver, how is she supposed to continue a relationship of trust when her veteran was literally dropped off at a homeless shelter because the VA changed it mind on the appropriate type of treatment for her husband? Unable to afford a last-minute plane ticket and with four children at home, Ms. Henkel had to purchase a bus ticket for her husband to go back to Utah – with no help from the VA.

Stories like this are why military caregivers are distrustful of the VA. We want the VA to help, to be able to send out veterans to treatment programs near and far, to have successful medical appointments and work positively with the VA to improve our veteran’s life. But when VA employees lie, when VA doctors change their mind about treatment, when our veterans are left at homeless shelters, we are unable to fully trust that the VA has our veterans’ best interests at heart.

(Disclaimer: The views expressed are my own and not those of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation.)

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