I would like to start this entry out by saying that to most people, the fact that I have a blog, may assume that I want the world to know my business and my life. The goal of my blog is to educate. With that being said, what I am going to write about is very personal, but I feel that it needs to be read so it doesn’t happen to someone else. I also want it blogged about so I can hold accountable the people who have offered their help in the matter.
My last blog post was about Bear acting strangely with me. I couldn’t figure out what he was trying to tell me. Then it hit me almost at once, I had, without my knowledge or realization, plummeted downward into my dark rock bottom. I knew I needed help for the frightening thoughts that were going through my head. I knew the VA Hospital was the best place to get the proper help I needed. The only reason I reached out for help was because I knew I would have Bear there with me.
I called my mom while I was on my way to Memphis. She and a Vet Center employee met me at the hospital. They had already informed the OEF/OIF Transition Patient Advocate and he was working on arrangements to have me admitted into the hospital. Everyone (including the ER staff) was very friendly and helpful and everyone was trying to figure out the protocol for Bear. They told me there was a room for me there but they were trying to see about what to do with Bear. My psychiatrist was all for Bear staying with me and along with my patient advocate we stayed in the ER for 5.5 hours trying to get Bear admitted with me. The bottom line was the Chief of Staff of that VA (Margarethe Hagemann, at least that’s what the website says, never met the person) refused to allow Bear.
Some of the reasons I was given was first, “What if one of the patients is allergic to dogs?” I said that that isn’t a legal reason to keep him out. Next, “We can’t accommodate his needs as far as using the bathroom.” They allow their patients six.. yes SIX smoke breaks. On smoke break the patients go to the desk and get their cigarettes and walk outside to a courtyard (fenced in and has a large grassy area) to smoke. Why then, can’t I take my dog out during one of those breaks? We have demonstrated that we can work as a team without his leash, so they can keep his leash and collar behind the desk and “issue” it to me the same way everyone else gets their cigarettes. They then said that they are concerned about the safety of Bear. WHY would you allow ME somewhere that my dog wouldn’t even be safe at?? They read and re-read me the VA Memphis policies on service dogs (failing to recognize Bear as one unless he was a guide dog). I tried to explain to them that if their policies violate my civil rights, or violate federal law, they can’t enforce them. No one cared. The people who dealt with me face to face were, for the most part, working to keep me and Bear together. The people who made the final call never bothered to come down to talk to me. This showed me they are in their office for a paycheck, not for me, the Veteran.
They then tried to pawn me off on another hospital, which, as I have learned, is the one that takes the people that no one else will. In fact, there was a murder that took place less than a month ago there. I explained that they may possibly be able to pawn me off tonight and get rid of me and this “problem”, but that I am their worst nightmare because I WILL NOT GO AWAY. I will not stop advocating. I will do whatever it took, be the loudest squeaky wheel they’ve ever dealt with until they start following the laws. I said that I would do it because I fought and earned the right to the VA hospital. I didn’t check into the other hospital, I came to the VA for help. I drove 80 miles and past 3 other hospitals I could have checked into. I went to them for help. I would do whatever it took to make sure this wouldn’t happen to another veteran.
I ended up without Bear that night. If I fought for it that night, I would have lost and been forced in (which I believe requires a 3 day stay). I was there without my dog. I have military sexual trauma and was left in a hospital with roughly 10 males. I was a nervous, anxious wreck. I had another female (this is rare from what I hear) and she really looked out for me. The next morning she was going to be discharged so when I saw my doctor I pleaded my case and was released by that afternoon. Without skipping a beat, I went upstairs and spoke more with the OEF/OIF coordinator (Nancy Withers) and she made it clear that she would be working hard to get this sorted out before the next veteran like me came in. She had stayed up until 2am that night I was admitted looking into laws and how other VA hospitals were dealing with this. I really felt like she and her colleague, Bob Brooks were going to do everything they could to get this sorted out. It was the first time I ever felt a VA hospital employee care about me.
This morning my husband, Bear and I all drove over to Memphis to speak with Congressman Cohen’s office. I had in hand the laws concerning service dogs and specifically where they stand when it comes to hospitals. I handed my information over to Marzie Thomas who let me know that she would be speaking with the Director of the VA (I believe that’s who she said) as well as opening a congressional inquiry into the incident.
Through all the chaos and drama though some good things came out. I am being referred for cardiology since I have one regular doctor who said I had MVP and another who said I didn’t. The VA ER doctor said that I do indeed have MVP and I need to get my echo-cardiogram done at the VA so it will be in my records there. That way I can show my regular doctor the most recent findings. I am getting a referral for pulmonary because, although I forgot about this until I started with the “I can’t breathe” thing again, I was diagnosed with COPD by a regular doctor (after having the whole work up at a main hospital with a specialist, it showed I have an obstructed airway or something or another). I also am finally going to be screened for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).