VA scandal finally reveals the truth about government-run healthcare

The only real outrage to be had from the current VA healthcare scandal is that it’s taken Americans this long to begin to realize what veterans and members of the military have known all along.

Government-run healthcare aspirates greatly. Here are a few of my personal experiences, most of which I’ve already shared with a Congressional inquiry back in 2006.

When I joined the military, George H.W. Bush was Commander-in-Chief, and it wasn’t unusual to blow half a day at the clinic if you were on sick call. A full day if they needed any kind of diagnostic testing. Most of that was “hurry up and wait” time, too.

For instance, it took nine months to figure out I had damaged cartilage in my knee during a training accident. Two months later, I was scheduled for a surgery that didn’t work. No rehab was permitted — I was just sent back home with a DD-214 in hand.

By then, Bush’s successor, Bill Clinton, was busy gutting the military. I got a medical discharge under honorable conditions for my trouble. But that wasn’t my only experience with government-run healthcare.

I have a kidney — my right kidney — that one urologist called a “baby maker.” In other words, I pass a lot of kidney stones. I’ve had nine so far that I know of, three of which have been real doozies. I passed my first one while I was in the military, though.

When I went to the base clinic — mind you, at a base with more than 15,000 active-duties — I was told I didn’t have a kidney stone (despite a family history that I reported). No, the clinic doctor said I had my belt cinched too tightly and refused a urology consult.

I eventually passed it on my own.

My second stone was, by far, my worst. It didn’t come along until I had been discharged for a few years, and it resulted in my first experience with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ healthcare system. For the uninitiated, a full-on kidney stone problem will go from pain level 3 to pain level 13 in about a half hour.

And, once you’ve been through it, you know what it is almost immediately the next time.

Feeling that pain coming on quickly, I called the VA Medical Center closest to me, and was told to call back in the morning for an appointment. If the pain became too severe, I could try to go to the local hospital to see if I could get authorization for outside care.

Two hours later, I was walking into the ER at the local hospital. I wound up being admitted for two days until they could get the pain under control, hopped up on enough morphine to knock out a full bull elephant (do NOT consume large quantities of gelatin snack cups if you are similarly treated; the end result will closely resemble a Kool-Aid fountain in the bathroom).

Eight hours after I got sent home, I was on my way back to the VAMC again. When I got there, though, “the inn was full,” so they sent me to the next VAMC down the road (in the back of an ambulance) where the kidney stone was removed “by mechanical means” two days later (it’s just as delightful as it sounds).

Three years later, I had another (No. 4) that didn’t want to leave my body, so I made another trip to the VAMC. They decided to “flush it out” in the ER, but the only room available was the “drunk tank,” where everything is bolted down, including the IV tree.

I had two IVs run dry and got yelled at by the resident on duty, who thought I was drunk (for the record, I cannot drink due to medical reasons not relevant to this story), when I finally had my fill. I went home and passed that one — without painkillers — two days later.

My last experience with the VA healthcare system came eight years later, when No. 8 got wedged and wouldn’t budge. Pain management had improved (I now know why NFL players like Toradol), but the waiting lists were a female dog; it took a month to get in to see a physician’s assistant in the Urology Department (meanwhile, I had two more visits to the ER for “flare ups”).

Several weeks later, I was finally in for the “surgery” (with an actual urologist), but the sedation medication for surgery caused me to pass the stone right before I went into the operating suite. No one bothered to do an X-ray, so we made the discovery when the scope made it to my kidney.

That last story didn’t make it to my congressional testimony, but the rest of it did. I know I wasn’t the only veteran who testified — there were hundreds of us. Given the huge number of House and Senate members who have been “serving” us since 2006, it seems a bit disingenuous they were surprised by the scope of the problem today.

It’s been there all along. This is what happens to government-run anything.