- - Friday, May 15, 2015

Earlier this week, I wrote a blog which addressed the issue of military caregivers being unable to trust the Veteran’s Administration (“Why military caregivers don’t trust the VA“). The blog post highlighted the recent events of a veteran who was at the inpatient PTSD program at the Black HillsVA in South Dakota and left at a homeless shelter instead of being flown back home to Utah, when the Black HillsVA medical team decided that their program was not beneficial for the veteran. The article generated considerable attention, including the office of VA Secretary Robert McDonald. I received a phone call from a source informing me that Mr. McDonald read the blog post and was looking into the matter.

The veteran’s wife, Jennifer Henkel, informed me that she was contacted by the head of the mental health department of the Black HillsVA. According to Mrs. Henkel, they “took accountability for their errors, acknowledging that their reason for dismissing him was not acceptable and everything that happened afterwards was also gross misconduct.” Mrs. Henkel was also informed of an immediate policy change at the Black HillsVA to prevent this issue from happening in the future.

It is undecided if the Henkels will seek out a similar long-term treatment program for Mr. Henkel again due to their experience. For now, they chose to remain with the medical services provided by their local VA, where they have been treated in a trusting and professional manner. It is also still unknown how many other veterans were affected by the policy of the Black HillsVA.

I want to re-emphasize that there are good employees at the VA, which are our saving graces when having to deal with the overall VA system. But until doing the right thing is the norm and not the exception, many military caregivers will remain hesitant to fully trust the VA to successfully care for their veterans. I want to believe VA employees will uphold the “I CARE” values. There is definitely more work to be done, and caregivers are hoping that the quick action and change implemented due to the Henkels’ incident is just the beginning of what is to come.

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

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