Veterans Affairs / health care / disability
Hello. My name is Paul. I am 55 and I served in the U.S. Marine Corps in the '70's. In 1977, while on active duty, I was injured and broke my right femur. I was stationed at Parris Island and was brought to the Beaufort Naval Hospital. At that time, they did a surgery to insert a 42 cm rod inside the femur. To do this, they did a surgery on my right hip in order to drill a hole in the top of the bone and they also did a surgery on the side of my right leg in order to make sure that the bone was set properly. I was released from active duty on schedule and honorably discharged, not for medical reasons. In late August, 1978, the V.A. Hospital in Providence, RI, did a surgery to remove the rod from my femur. This required them to make an incision on my hip in order to put a hook into a hole in the top of the rod so that they could tap it out. After the surgery, the incision became infected and I was in the hospital for several days.
After that, I lived a fairly normal life. I went to college and graduated with two degrees, one in computer science and the other in accounting. From high school I was always very athletic and I continued to participate in athletics during and after the Marines. There were no issues. I worked in computer programming until 1997 and then went into the mortgage business for roughly 10 years. I moved to northern Kentucky, right across the river from downtown Cincinnati, OH, just over 10 years ago, mid-February, 2002.
But, about 10 years ago, I started having some pain in my right hip and a friend of mine noticed that I was limping even though I hadn't noticed it. So, I went to the V.A. Hospital in 2003 and the doctors told me about something called "tissue ossification". They did an X-Ray and told me that on the top of the femur bone, where the hole had been drilled, there was some extra bone growing, almost like a knuckle sticking up. And, free-floating in the flesh near the bone was additional bone growing. They told me at that time that there was no surgery that could be done to improve it and said, in fact, that if they did a surgery, it would only make things worse. That was back in 2003.
I was still somewhat athletic and active. I wasn't running, but I was still working out at a gym and keeping myself in decent shape. I had bowled during the '80's and into the '90's and from my 4th year, where I averaged 207, I maintained an average over 200 the rest of the time. After I moved here, I started shooting pool and began shooting in tournaments within a year after I started.
But, severe problems began about a year and a half ago. Whereas the pain was manageable and I could sleep, now the pain increased whenever I sat or when I laid down to sleep at night. Over the course of this period of time, I may have averaged 3 hours sleep per night. Also, my ability to walk has been reduced to almost zero. I do walk, but with a cane, and if I try to walk, even a block or two, my hip swells and the pain increases dramatically. Because of not sleeping and not being able to be mobile, my health has suffered dramatically. Whereas I was a "young" 50, now I'm a crippled 55. I began having chest pains in the first week of this new year and I went to the V.A. Hospital here in Cincinnati. After 4 days, they determined that I had no trouble with my heart and they discharged me. The chest pains have not diminished since and the hospital has done nothing about it and now it's two months.
This is background info to all that is actually happening with me now.
I was receiving a 20% disability check, $243 per month. On November 1st, my check was $57.01. They took out $185.99 for medications. I called immediately and they explained why it was taken out. I let them know at that time that this was causing a severe financial hardship for me. They assured me, going forward, they would take out no more than $25 per month for medications. On the day after Thanksgiving, I went to the V.A. Hospital and spoke with a woman named Mary in the Billing Department on the first floor. She told me that I needed to get her financial information going back two years and they would not take any more money out of my disability checks. She also told me that money that had been taken out would be refunded back to me. I spent 7 hours on the phone with the IRS and finally spoke with someone who could send me a letter that I could bring to the V.A. and this took over 3 weeks before it arrived.
In the meantime, my December 1st disability check was, again, $57.01. Now I was put into a situation where I could become homeless. I made several phone calls that day and on the following day, I was called by a man whose name I did not get, but he stated to me that there were "apparently two mistakes that were made". First, he told me that the V.A. took out more than I actually owed and now the V.A. owed me $53.86. Secondly, he told me that apparently I wasn't told that when they're going to only take out $25 from my disability checks, it takes a least 30 days to process. That's correct, I wasn't told this. So, now the V.A. owed me some money, but even getting back $53.86 added to the $57.01 wasn't going to help me avoid becoming homeless.
On Wednesday, December 7th, I spoke with Linda D. Smith, the Director of the V.A. Hospital in Cincinnati, at roughly 4:00pm. After I explained to her how this could potentially make me homeless, she stated, verbatim, "We won't let this happen." To date, she not only has not lived up to that statement, but the V.A. has done nothing to help me with this. This is a fact, they've done nothing.
In the meantime, in late December, the letters arrived from the IRS and I brought them to Mary in the Billing Department. When I asked her about the refund of money that had been deducted from my disability payment, she stated, verbatim, "We don't do that anymore". I reminded her of what she told me on the day after Thanksgiving, when I was there at the V.A. Hospital and asked when this had changed and she couldn't answer. I gave her my documents and asked that a Billing Manager call me. Marti Shiles called the following day. I explained everything to her, she said that she would make some phone calls and would call me the next day. She didn't. I had to make follow-up calls to the Billing Department and asked them to have her call me. She still didn't.
On Monday, January 2nd, I began having some chest pains, but it didn't seem overly bad. However, the following morning, the pain had increased dramatically and I went to the V.A. Hospital. After about 8 hours in the emergency area, they admitted me and I was transferred to the 6th floor. They did the blood tests and a nuclear stress test. On Friday, mid-afternoon, Mardi Shiles came to my room with the Patient Advocate. At that time, she explained that they "can't" refund the money back to me. I explained that I don't appreciate being lied to and that when the V.A. tells me that they "will" refund money to me, I expect that money to be refunded to me. Mary is a V.A. employee and she made the statement. Because of her statement, I spent time, 7 hours, on the phone trying to reach someone at the IRS who could send the information that was required. I did my part, I expect the V.A. to do theirs.
Last year, in March, I started a petition to have my disability increased. I could barely walk. I've lost sleep because the pain increases when I sit or lay down and my health is going into the toilet. They sent a letter for me to come to the V.A. Hospital on the 24th of March for an examination. The lady "doctor", and I don't believe that she was really a doctor at all, examined me and during the examination she literally pulled a string from her lab-coat pocket to measure my right leg versus my left leg. Then she held the string in front of me to show me and said, "See, they're both the same length". I asked her what that has to do with my right hip and she patted me on my shoulder and said, "Don't worry, I'm on your side". On June 30th, I received a denial. On the letter explaining why it was denied, they wrote, "You can walk at least a mile and you can stand for hours". I can do neither. In fact, there are many employees at the V.A. Hospital who know that I'm not able to do either of those things, from first-hand knowledge. So, on the day after Thanksgiving, I also met with Roger Mente who is the Senior Benefits Officer at the V.A. Hospital in Cincinnati, and started an appeal of their decision.
How can I not be more disabled than I was 9 years ago, when I could walk very well then, I was in great shape then, I was working out at a gym then, and I could sleep at night? And, how can they state that "you can walk at least a mile and you can stand for hours"? Where did they get this? So, I was told that my appeal could take anywhere from 9 or 10 months to a year. Who knows, maybe longer.
I haven't worked in over two months, since I was hospitalized with chest pains. I can't sleep still and every step is terrible pain. People at the grocery store have come up to me to see if I needed an ambulance because I was still having the chest pains. I had to let them know that the V.A. Hospital said that it's not a heart attack.
And now to the clincher. I made it through February, including that leap day, the 29th, and still could eat. But, this past Thusday, March 1st, I waited for my mailman so I could get my disability check, cash it, and get some food. I had 5 slices of bread and 4 eggs and not one thing more for food. It didn't arrive. I called the local postal processing center on Dixie Highway in Erlanger. They did not have my check there and I was told that "anything that comes in, it gets put onto the trucks for delivery". I called the V.A. Benefits toll-free number. They said, "Your disabilty check for $251 was processed and mailed". I called the V.A. Hospital. One person I spoke with in the Benefits department there said that "a number of other people had called regarding the same thing".
It wasn't in the mail. I had two egg sandwiches, 4 eggs on toast, on Thursday. My check didn't arrived on Friday. The mailman did not have it and it wasn't at the post office. It didn't arrive on Saturday. And, it didn't arrive today, March 5th. The last time I ate food was Thursday. Since then, I've drank coffee and ice water and taken my vitamins and medications. I was told today that the "only" thing they can do is put a tracer on the check and it will take "anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks" before they can send me my money. I have exactly 28 cents, less than an 8th of a tank of gas in my car, and no food. They suggested that I contact some agencies, Salvation Army, St. Vincent De Paul, and others. I already had the list and had contacted these groups in December, when I didn't receive my disabilty check minus $25, but instead received $57.01. I now owe rent money since mid-November, $75/week, and I'm about to become homeless.
I've called Washington, DC, to their headquarters to see if there's anyone who can do something about this. There isn't.
So, to recap.
I can't even walk a single step without pain. I can't hardly sleep at night because of the pain in my hip. The V.A. denied a disability increase and lied on the letter listing their reasons. Linda D. Smith, Director of the V.A. Hospital in Cincinnati assured me that "we won't let this happen" when I told her that the V.A.'s actions would make me homeless and to date, she has done nothing to live up to her word. The V.A. has not refunded money that the V.A. told me they would when I did what they required. The V.A. has done ZERO regarding my chest pains except to rule out a heart attack. And, the V.A. did not send my disability payment on the 1st of March and now I haven't eaten since then and they intend to do nothing about this.
After a year and a half with very little sleep and having nothing but pain every minute of every day, I've made my peace with God. I expect to be dead soon and the V.A. can take full credit for everything that's happened to me in the last several months. I created a new Yahoo email address for the purpose of writing this, [protected]@yahoo.com. I may or may not be able to respond to any emails after today. But, if you do, I can provide evidence that proves everything I've stated is true, 100% true. There is no exxageration in anything I've posted.
I also have sent emails from my "regular" Yahoo email address to Linda D. Smith and Mr. Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and I've also included members of the media in those emails.
My hope is that this generates enough attention that someone with authority with the Federal Government, and specifically the Veterans Administration, will actually do something to make a very bad wrong a right, for a change. Or, they can continue "as is" and just let me die.