Fighting the coronavirus at the VA is a miserable experience.

In his State of the VA speech (February 5, 2020), VA Secretary Robert Wilkie announced that veterans will see further improvements in VA services. Mr. Wilkie spoke enthusiastically about modern technology, including 5G resolution that a VA hospital in Palo Alto will soon boast, and virtual reality therapy “to help veterans with PTSD and pain management.”

Then, coronavirus broke loose. Workers of VA facilities countrywide had to wear sweat-drenched, “one per week” masks, as Veteran Health Administration implemented “crisis capacity strategies for mask and N95 respirator conservation.” Staffing shortages that employees had been complaining about for years, imposed “recycling” of COVID-19-positive doctors and nurses. Workers who should be protected due to their own underlying health problems were also forced back on forefront, or penalized with an unpaid AWOL status.

Traumatized staff faced helpless working conditions that were eerily reminiscent of precarious medical support on a battlefield. With little or no backup, slaloming among deficiencies, errors and contradictory orders – there was no way to dodge deadly chaos; our veterans’ lives were swept away as in a merciless avalanche. It’s a far and desperate cry from “state-of-the-art care” that VHA crows about in a form entitled “Rights and Responsibilities of VA Patients and Residents of Community Living Centers.”

An independent investigation conducted for the governor of Massachusetts (June 23, 2020, titled ‘The COVID-19 Outbreak at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke‘) brought to light substantial errors such as “opposite of infection control” overcrowding and mixing asymptomatic population with patients “actively dying” from the coronavirus. Poignant testimonies exposed conditions offensive to dignity of our veterans, and an intolerable suffering of both the patients and staff members: “One nurse described the move as total pandemonium. A recreational therapist who was instructed to help with the move said that she felt like she was walking [the veterans] to their death, and that the veterans were terrified. A social worker felt it was like moving the concentration camp–we [were] moving these unknowing veterans off to die.”

If the battlefield-like experience brought VA’s compassionate, “lowly” staff even closer to our veterans, the existence of an abyss between VA’s upper crust and “the commoners” become just more notably evident. Even in a coronavirus-free environment, homeless veterans would winch at VA’s new VR (virtual reality) craze, but according to the VA secretary, virtual reality will help our veterans “to process the emotions related to a traumatic experience in the field.”

How do you “process” sleeping rough in a dangerous place? Rejoicing that the VA Palo Alto hospital is about to become “one of the first 5G enabled health facilities in the world” is at present simply indecent; In some state veterans’ homes there were no curtains to respect an agonizing death.

The pampered Palo Alto facility must have been an apple of the eye of the previous VA secretary, too. As documented by Senator Mark Kirk in his Oversight Letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald (Jul.26, 2016), in Palo Alto, the VA blew: “$483,000 on a giant rock sculpture and $807,000 for site preparation for the giant rock, $365,000 for a sculpture at the aquatic center entrance, $305,000 for a sculpture in an exterior lobby, $330,000 for a half arc inside the mental health center, and $285,000 for art on the side of a parking garage… “

It looks like anyone (even President Trump), who compliments the VA will learn the hard way that there’s no trusting the VA without fact-checking.

In remarks at the announcement of the PREVENTS Task Force Roadmap (June 17, 2020) the president congratulated the VA on “unprecedented” ninety percent approval rating: “That’s a number that has never — not even come close to attaining that number, so it’s a tremendous job you’re doing.”

Sorry, Mr. President: Deja-vu.

In his remarks (United Veterans Committee of Colorado, April 10, 2016), unfazed by waiting-list scandal, then-VA Secretary McDonald announced that about 90 percent of veterans are either ‘completely satisfied’ or ‘satisfied’ with getting an appointment when they wanted. If “more of the same” is self-explanatory, it’s difficult not to comment on VA Secretary Willkie’s message to veterans: “Come see us. File the claims. Come speak to us. This is not your grandfather’s VA where the paperwork is going to take 10 years.”

Tragically, this is still our grandfathers’ VA. Some have been homeless since Vietnam era. Some have been fighting for Agent Orange claims approval for 40 years. Some have recently and prematurely died on disgraceful coronavirus battlefield.

In his State of the VA speech (February 5, 2020), VA Secretary Robert Wilkie announced that veterans will see further improvements in VA services. Mr. Wilkie spoke enthusiastically about modern technology, including 5G resolution that a VA hospital in Palo Alto will soon boast, and virtual reality therapy “to help veterans with PTSD and pain management.”

Then, coronavirus broke loose. Workers of VA facilities countrywide had to wear sweat-drenched, “one per week” masks, as Veteran Health Administration implemented “crisis capacity strategies for mask and N95 respirator conservation.” Staffing shortages that employees had been complaining about for years, imposed “recycling” of COVID-19-positive doctors and nurses. Workers who should be protected due to their own underlying health problems were also forced back on forefront, or penalized with an unpaid AWOL status.

Traumatized staff faced helpless working conditions that were eerily reminiscent of precarious medical support on a battlefield. With little or no backup, slaloming among deficiencies, errors and contradictory orders – there was no way to dodge deadly chaos; our veterans’ lives were swept away as in a merciless avalanche. It’s a far and desperate cry from “state-of-the-art care” that VHA crows about in a form entitled “Rights and Responsibilities of VA Patients and Residents of Community Living Centers.”

An independent investigation conducted for the governor of Massachusetts (June 23, 2020, titled ‘The COVID-19 Outbreak at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke‘) brought to light substantial errors such as “opposite of infection control” overcrowding and mixing asymptomatic population with patients “actively dying” from the coronavirus. Poignant testimonies exposed conditions offensive to dignity of our veterans, and an intolerable suffering of both the patients and staff members: “One nurse described the move as total pandemonium. A recreational therapist who was instructed to help with the move said that she felt like she was walking [the veterans] to their death, and that the veterans were terrified. A social worker felt it was like moving the concentration camp–we [were] moving these unknowing veterans off to die.”

If the battlefield-like experience brought VA’s compassionate, “lowly” staff even closer to our veterans, the existence of an abyss between VA’s upper crust and “the commoners” become just more notably evident. Even in a coronavirus-free environment, homeless veterans would winch at VA’s new VR (virtual reality) craze, but according to the VA secretary, virtual reality will help our veterans “to process the emotions related to a traumatic experience in the field.”

How do you “process” sleeping rough in a dangerous place? Rejoicing that the VA Palo Alto hospital is about to become “one of the first 5G enabled health facilities in the world” is at present simply indecent; In some state veterans’ homes there were no curtains to respect an agonizing death.

The pampered Palo Alto facility must have been an apple of the eye of the previous VA secretary, too. As documented by Senator Mark Kirk in his Oversight Letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald (Jul.26, 2016), in Palo Alto, the VA blew: “$483,000 on a giant rock sculpture and $807,000 for site preparation for the giant rock, $365,000 for a sculpture at the aquatic center entrance, $305,000 for a sculpture in an exterior lobby, $330,000 for a half arc inside the mental health center, and $285,000 for art on the side of a parking garage… “

It looks like anyone (even President Trump), who compliments the VA will learn the hard way that there’s no trusting the VA without fact-checking.

In remarks at the announcement of the PREVENTS Task Force Roadmap (June 17, 2020) the president congratulated the VA on “unprecedented” ninety percent approval rating: “That’s a number that has never — not even come close to attaining that number, so it’s a tremendous job you’re doing.”

Sorry, Mr. President: Deja-vu.

In his remarks (United Veterans Committee of Colorado, April 10, 2016), unfazed by waiting-list scandal, then-VA Secretary McDonald announced that about 90 percent of veterans are either ‘completely satisfied’ or ‘satisfied’ with getting an appointment when they wanted. If “more of the same” is self-explanatory, it’s difficult not to comment on VA Secretary Willkie’s message to veterans: “Come see us. File the claims. Come speak to us. This is not your grandfather’s VA where the paperwork is going to take 10 years.”

Tragically, this is still our grandfathers’ VA. Some have been homeless since Vietnam era. Some have been fighting for Agent Orange claims approval for 40 years. Some have recently and prematurely died on disgraceful coronavirus battlefield.

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