What you never read about the V.A. Health Care System.

Yesterday morning, I went to the V.A. medical center, where I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years… especially over the last few months. I’ve received wonderful care there. I’m a lucky veteran in that I have access to non-V.A. health care, too; I choose the V.A. over non-V.A. as my primary health care resource because I’ve found it to be a better system. In my experience, V.A. health care is superior to non-V.A. health care.

I know why you might be surprised. The media only wants you to know about the bad stuff pertaining to the V.A. health care system. Believe me, if the entire V.A. health care system was BAD, I wouldn’t be going there.

In brief, my experience at the Phoenix V.A. Medical Center has been superb.

In more detail, I prefer the V.A. health care system for the following reasons:

  • The time I have to wait to get in to see the doctor is significantly less.
  • The time I have to spend sitting in the waiting room waiting to be seen for my appointment is also significantly less.
  • The time that I spend sitting with the doctor during my appointment is considerably greater. I get more personal, thorough attention at the V.A. than I’ve ever received at non-V.A. medical facilities.
  • The quality of the care that I receive from doctors (including specialists), nurse practitioners, lab technicians, and administrative staff at the V.A. is better than what I’ve experienced at non-V.A. health care facilities.
  • V.A. doctors order labs and X-rays readily and on the spot. Since the orders are put into the computer system and the labs and radiology are right there under the same roof, I can leave the doctor’s office and go immediately to have the testing done.
  • If other testing needs to be done, the clinic in question contacts me promptly to schedule my appointment.
  • If I prefer an open MRI due to claustrophobia, the V.A. sends me to a non-V.A. clinic that does open-MRIs.
  • Doctors at the V.A. take a precautionary approach; they send orders for in-depth testing if they think there’s even a remote possibility that something of concern is going on.
  • The pharmacy, too, is housed in the same facility. I can procure my new medication in the same visit and go home with it in hand.
  • Lab and radiology test results come back in a fraction of the time it takes to get results and analyses done in non-V.A. clinics.
  • The V.A. has an online portal system that allows vets to access all of their medical records, notes, and lab results. Vets can also contact their doctors and other health care practitioners online via the My Health-E Vet system.
  • The V.A. is merciless in sending appointment reminders in the mail and calling with reminders. (This is a good thing.)
  • If I have to cancel an appointment, the clinic will call to re-schedule – repeatedly, until I’ve been re-scheduled.
  • The V.A. has a seamless phone-in system for pharmacy refills. Refills show up in my mailbox within 8-10 days.
  • The V.A. always asks me whether I’m safe and whether I have a place to live.
  • The V.A. always points me to available resources, should I need them.
  • The V.A. reimburses vets for their travel costs in getting to and from the medical center.
  • The V.A. ensures that vets have the suicide prevention lifeline phone number.



I could go on with this list, if I had time. I could offer specific personal examples, if I wanted to share details of my medical picture. Suffice it to say that I’m speaking from experience. It’s not just me, either… I don’t know (or know of) any vets using the Phoenix V.A. health care system who have a bad word to say about the health care that they receive within that system.

I’m impressed anew after the outstanding experience I had with my new rheumatologist at the Phoenix V.A. yesterday. (Previously, I’d gone to my former non-V.A. rheumatologist, who’s nevertheless also good.)

Now, at the Phoenix V.A. medical center, I have my primary care physician, my shrink, my doctor at the women’s clinic, and my rheumatologist. They’re all first-rate.

Yes. The best medical care I’ve ever received is at the infamous PHOENIX V.A.

Do non-V.A. health care systems have problems? Yes. Corruption at the highest levels occurs at non-V.A. health care systems, and patients’ risks on the ground can include negligence, poor conditions, poor treatment, scheduling hold-ups and issues, and all manner of malpractice.

I remember a case I’d read about a diabetic man who had the wrong leg amputated. It didn’t happen at the V.A.

I’ve heard about patients contracting varieties of strep and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections in hospitals to disastrous effect, but all such cases that reached my attention have happened at non-V.A. medical facilities.

The thing is, non-V.A. health care systems aren’t scrutinized under the glaring political spotlights that blow up the V.A. health care system.

That’s actually another good thing about the V.A. health care system, though: since the system IS scrutinized, problems are addressed with highest priority. When corruption is discovered at the V.A., a gigantic national scandal ensues. The V.A. health care system is suddenly the worst thing that ever happened to veterans… mistreated veterans, poorly treated veterans, and veterans who aren’t treated at all. Action is taken.

Whereas non-V.A. health care system corruption and problems can go unnoticed and unresolved for years.

I’m in no way denying, discounting, or trivializing the horrendous or non-existent treatment veterans have suffered at the hands of the V.A. health care system; I’m not trying to detract from the real problems veterans have experienced with the V.A. I’m pointing out the fact that similar problems exist at non-V.A. hospitals, too, and they aren’t magnified x10,000 in the media. We hear about the V.A. because the V.A. is inextricable from politics. But from what I’ve seen, more veterans are pleased with the V.A. care they receive than not.

Speaking of medical matters, I’m happy to report that I had a great workout this morning. Here’s my gratuitous post-workout gym selfie:


Post-workout on a good physical day! I’ve been on a roll. I had five good workouts last week, and I hope to get in five more this week.


I am so grateful for my health and for the care I’m receiving at the Phoenix V.A. medical center.

Reiterating just to be clear: I’m not disillusioned about the V.A. health care system and its problems. I wanted to write this post so that somewhere, in some minuscule corner of the interwebs, there’s something positive to be found and read about the V.A. health care system, because it really is, despite its shortcomings, an excellent system.

It’s a shame that although there are many positives, only the negatives are reported. The public eye has been blinded to anything that could be positive about the V.A., which is a lot.

Thank you for reading, if you’ve made it this far.

50 Shades of Wrah-Wrah

Only one person in our household dressed up for Halloween yesterday, and that was Ronnie James. His costume was so easy, it was almost like cheating.


Ronnie James on the left. "Fifty Shades of Grey" on the right. Quite literally, NOT UNLIKE.

Ronnie James on the left. “Fifty Shades of Grey” on the right. Quite literally, NOT UNLIKE.


Okay, that was too easy, I admit, but that was a NOT UNLIKE just waiting to happen… the shades of gray (spelling it the American way outside of the title) in Ronnie James’ fur range from silver to gunmetal to taupe, with many more shades in between.

Incidentally, I have never read that book. I might one day. I’ve caught snippets of “news” reports here and there regarding who’s being cast as who in the film adaptation; since I haven’t read it, I can’t really weigh in on the matter, but based on what little I know, I’d venture to guess that Ronnie James wouldn’t work in any of the roles.

We’re now one week away from Moving Day, with the energy and excitement of moving increasing exponentially with each passing day! There’s so much to do, but it’s all very energizing rather than overwhelming. This morning, I woke up with a list in my head and knocked out half of it within an hour. Payments were sent, future arrangements were made, phone calls were placed, appointments were confirmed and canceled, letters were preemptively written, my planner was updated, “notes to self” were scrawled on Post-Its and numerous items were checked off the old “To Do” list. Callaghan’s putting boxes together and taking other things apart, and we’ll head out to the V.A. this afternoon. The whole next week begins now, and it’s going to pass us in a flash! Let the adventure begin!

“Gargarisms.” Just Try to Deny the Awesomeness of that Word.

The other day, Callaghan got up from the couch and announced, “It’s time to do your gargarisms!”

It was one of those moments I had to just sit and mull over his words for a few seconds. (It happens every once in a while.) Then I realized that he’d gone to the kitchen and taken a glass from the cabinet, and he was standing in the half-moon light of the open refrigerator door, pouring carbonated water into the glass, and it hit me: he was saying that it was time to gargle.

Context is a wonderful, helpful thing.

“Un gargarisme,” Callaghan explained over my burst of hilarity, “is how you say it in French.” But he was cracking up, too, as usual.

That was our first good laugh of the week. Gargarisms! I had to do my gargarisms, yes. And that is a brilliant new word, I thought.

The greatest part of the story, though, is that when I went online to look up “gargarism” (thinking that someone else might have found it funny to twist the verb “to gargle” into a noun), I discovered that it actually exists!





The noun is classified as “obsolete,” but it’s legit nonetheless. I’d learned a new word! Two new words, in fact, since I learned both the English and the French versions.

Anyway, I started doing the gargarisms with soda water this week at the suggestion of a medical website in an attempt to get my throat to stop attacking itself,* as it’s been stuck in a cycle of producing mucus as a response to nothing at all, causing me to have to clear my throat all the time. I mean, ALL. THE. TIME. This started back in December, almost a year ago, so I’m really kind of over it at this point. The V.A. is sending me to speech therapy, because sometimes that can help. Pending that, pass the club soda so I can do my gargarisms. (I cannot get enough of that word. GARGARISMS!)



*I have autoimmunity, which means that my body habitually goes on sprees of attacking itself (meaning, me). It does this at random and as a response to stress and sometimes for no reason at all. Some of my problems are chronic (Autoimmune Thyroiditis, aka Hashimoto’s Disease; Reynaud’s Phenomenon). One is chronic and currently in remission (Sjögren’s Syndrome). I’m on the appropriate meds, and things are being managed just fine… except for the thyroid disease, which has recently decided to overstep the bounds of its medication. We will be having none of that! A batch of increased Synthroid prescription is in the mail as we speak, so hopefully I’ll feel less tired once I switch to the higher dosage.



Yesterday was my optometrist appointment at the V.A.


My eyes en route to the V.A. eye doctor.

My eyes en route to the V.A. eye doctor.


First, the doctor consulted my chart to check my age. Then looked at me suspiciously, but smiling.

“I have to ask you this,” he prefaced carefully. “Do you ever notice that you have a hard time seeing close print when you’re wearing your glasses for distance?”

“Sometimes, yes,” I answered truthfully, giggling. I knew where he was going, and I couldn’t contain my mirth. At last! I’ll be 45 in two months, and I’ve finally reached the crossroads of life with “BIFOCALS” pointing one way and “READING GLASSES” the other. SO EXCITED.

I’m not even being sarcastic. This might sound weird, but I’ve been eagerly anticipating aging-related far-sightedness since my 30’s, when I started noticing reading glasses in interesting, artsy styles and colors displayed in the drugstores. Before Callaghan and I left France, I made sure to pick up a couple of pairs so when the time came I’d be all set with some cute French ones.


Reading glasses from the Pharmacie du Vercors in Bourg-de-Péage, one of the villages close to where we lived in France.

Reading glasses from the Pharmacie du Vercors in Bourg-de-Péage, one of the villages close to where we lived in France.


I keep the black pair on my desk, and the hot pink and black ones in my purse. Recently, I’ve actually had occasion to bust them out to read the ultra-fine-print on food packaging ingredients lists at the store. (I read the ingredients on absolutely everything. Funny how food manufacturers often make it deliberately difficult with their microscopic fonts.)

“We’ll find out in a minute,” he reassured me as he slid over to the equipment. At the end of the exam, he was still grinning. We’d whiled away the time bantering about this and that, and he’d dilated my eyes and pronounced them healthy.

“Okay,” he said. “Now we have a little decision to make!” He explained that I could get bifocals if I wanted to, but I don’t really need them right now, and once you get bifocals, you can never go back, and that might be a good reason for me to wait another year. If I wait another year, I could easily deal with the mild far-sightedness I’ve got going on at the moment. I don’t wear my glasses all the time, anyway. My prescription is very light.

“In any case, I’d say you can get away with another year,” he concluded. “But it’s really up to you, since you’re so borderline. You can get bifocals when you’re 46….” He paused. I was cracking up.

“We make them without lines now.”

“I think I’ll pass on the bifocals this year. I have some cute reading glasses from France that I want to use.”

“Do you have them with you? Let me see these French reading glasses!”

I extracted the glasses from my bag and put them on.

“Oh they ARE cute!” the doctor said.

I left after ordering a pair of normal glasses with tortoiseshell frames in a modified cat-eye. The V.A. has quite an impressive selection! They look nothing like BCGs.

Birth Control Glasses… Classic!

Yeah, we all know my inner girly parts have left the party, so no need for birth control anything, but I’m getting these glasses, anyway.

Let me explain. See, I have an appointment at the Eye Clinic at the Veteran’s Outpatient Clinic in the first week of September. I’m going to get glasses there because I can, and I need them – not 24/7, but for watching movies and staring at computer screens for long periods of time, which I do (ahem) kind of a lot, being both a movie fanatic and a writer. My current state of “glasseslessness,” shall we say, has gone on long enough. I do have a pair at the moment, but the right-side lens is flawed… it fogs up spontaneously while I’m wearing them, so they’re pretty much useless. Has anyone else experienced this problem with their glasses?

Anyhow, I wasn’t even aware that I was eligible to get glasses from the V.A. until I attended the New Patient Orientation last month, and the presenter covered that topic as he navigated down through his informative Power-Point presentation. I almost missed it, because the subject came up while I was only listening with one ear. (My other ear was momentarily tuned in to my inner voice, which was busy wondering what we were going to have for lunch. I was hungry.)

I heard the venerable older Vet utter the words “eye exam,” and the word “glasses.” And then, as he casually continued on, he used a term I hadn’t heard in many years: “BCGs.”

It took a second for it to come back to me, but once it hit, I started laughing. I couldn’t contain it, and I instantly felt like a Bad Person for interrupting him. He paused… glanced my way… and burst out in laughter, as well! BCGs. Damn! I hadn’t thought of them in so long.

“You’re a Stormer, right?” he asked me, verifying that I was the Gulf War vet on his roster.

“Yes,” I said. The connection was made. Mutual laughter is a wonderful thing.

The military has acronyms for everything, and everything you need is provided as standard military-issue. If you need glasses, you’re issued glasses, and those glasses are known by the acronym “BCGs.” Birth Control Glasses.

The idea is that the glasses are so ugly, you won’t be able to get laid if you’re wearing them. It’s a joke, but “BCGs” is seriously what everyone in the Army calls them. It’s practically their official name, and that’s what’s so funny about it. All soldiers know what BCGs are… at least, they did during my time. I’m sure it’s still the case today. The Army is fairly change-resistant in many ways.

Depending on the era, BCG frames can be horn-rimmed or slightly squared-off, but they’re always large, thick and dark (either black or brown).

Callaghan was sitting there with me, and he was confused. Being French, he was thinking of tuberculosis. In French, “BCG” is the term for the tuberculosis vaccine (Le vaccin bilié de Calmette et Guérin).


French tuberculosis vaccine on the left, American military standard-issue glasses on the right. NOT UNLIKE.

French tuberculosis vaccine on the left, American military standard-issue glasses on the right. NOT UNLIKE.


In the civilian world, hipsters have now made BCGs a part of their basic everyday uniform. See how that works? Military HAS to wear them. Hipsters WANT to wear them. (Come to think of it, civilians also like to wear camo print and combat boots. Solider fashion, always in fashion! It’s a classic… never goes out of style. Hmm….)

And so it is that I shall obtain a pair of glasses from the V.A., and I’m grateful for it. When we wandered into the glasses area while we were down there last week, I saw that there’s a plethora of available frame styles, and some of them are quite attractive… so the glasses I get don’t have to be actual BCGs, unless I choose them with the civilian hipness factor in mind. Still, the idea of glasses from the V.A amuses me.

Now for the obvious question: If these glasses are perched on the favorable end of the desirability scale in civilian hipsterdom, what would that make them, in that case? “PGs” – Pregnancy Glasses? “GLGs” – Get Laid Glasses? Parents of hipster kids, lock up those glasses!


It’s All in the Details. Too Many Details.

This week, I started having dreams of disconcerting detail. I jotted them down each morning, though I didn’t need to, because I still remember them all… these were not normal dreams, especially not for me, being someone who rarely has dreams she remembers. This week’s dreams have been sharp, multi-faceted and multi-dimensional, layered with thought processes, inner voices and memories.

Monday night: Details such as my dream-self thinking of the specific reason why I’d gone to bed when I did, in my dream, and the chipped paint on the corner of the distressed piece of furniture (a small chest of drawers), and how there were four pieces of white furniture, but two of them were different shades of white than the others, the image of the different shades etched deep on the surface of my memory when I woke up… and also knowing and remembering exactly how it was that I’d come across these pieces, and my thought process regarding the differing shades, looking at all four of them together and comparing the colors, and then the crisp detail of the style of the first piece, and of the others, going clockwise around the room and back, etc…. This kind of detail in a dream can drive you crazy, can’t it?

Tuesday night: The detail of the side of the bed in which I – my dream-self – had slept, and why I’d chosen that side. Dream rationale. The layout of the house, its floor-plan, how the water – the shoreline – wrapped around it; on the left side of the house, the fence closing off the private backyard, and noting how, from that side, you could only access the water from the inside of the house (a private little stretch of the beach), but how on the other side, to the right of the house, the water could be accessed by the public, though it was still a part of the private property. This kind of detail, and also the detail of the reasons why the new homeowner bought that particular house. The detail of the interior scents, as each room had its own, unique fragrance. The detail of the planning and the strategizing that went into the moving (into the house). The weather on the day of the move, and what the person explained to me (regarding my motivations the previous night) when my dream-self woke up in the morning.

Exciting stuff, right?

Wednesday night: How the angles of the clouds looked in the reflection of the rising sun. Yes, the clouds in the sky were angular. Fluffy sharp mirrors, blinding. Remnants of the hours spent dwelling on this. This is insanity. Also, the clouds were conversing with each other, and they were speaking French, each side of the dialogue absorbed into the ether.

Thursday (last night): The dog, a cute mutt, sitting and waiting in glorious detail on the front steps of a particular house in California, the key under the doormat, the doubled food and water bowls in the garage (hot pink bowls nested inside larger electric blue ones), and the heavy smell of rain in the air, a scent of rain so powerful that it wasn’t just intense, it was actually invasive, the dream-scent lingering in my nostrils when I woke up.

What is all of this? I wondered when I opened my eyes this morning, feeling tired after four nights of dreamscape insanity. Where are these dreams coming from?

Then it occurred to me.

On Monday, my doctor at the V.A. gave me Ropinirole for Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS). Ropinirole is a dopamine agonist, which is a compound that works to activate the brain’s dopamine receptors. It’s prescribed to patients with Parkinson’s disease as well as those with RLS. Following my hunch that it must be related to my bizarre dream activity, I looked it up online and read that the drug can cause hallucinations.


What a bottle of crazy dreams looks like. Not as nice as the mug Callaghan got me while were waiting to pick it up (at the V.A.).

What a bottle of crazy dreams looks like. Not as nice as the mug Callaghan got me while we were waiting for the pharmacy pick-up (at the V.A.).


So that explains it, right? Whew! I’m tired. How can anyone feel rested after nights on end dreaming to this ridiculous degree?

Since the drug isn’t really helping, and since I’m not enjoying the level of dream activity it’s provoking, I’m going to stop taking it. There are other options.

There’s a reason why I’ve never been attracted to the notion of experimentation with hallucinogenic recreational drugs – I don’t want to hallucinate. The idea has never appealed to me. I like reality. I like reality in all of its mundane and often depressing, dubious splendor, and I will navigate it with my sanity intact, thank you very much. Give me reality and the dreamless sleep of the dead any day.

Ropinirole. Not for me!