Not all VA hospitals are created equal. We are fortunate enough to live within fifteen minutes of the White River Junction (WRJ) VA facility in Vermont and it's top-notch.
Charlie began complaining of pain in his left shoulder last week. Within a day or so, he was having trouble raising his left arm. On Monday, I called the WRJ hospital for an appointment for him, and he was scheduled to see a practitioner the next day. He was seen promptly by a nurse practitioner, x-rayed and referred to physical therapy for treatment. They were unable to schedule him to begin therapy treatments until next week; hopefully by then his arm will have recovered and the treatments won't be necessary.
He also asked for (and was given) a walker that was specially fitted for his 6'2" frame; no papers to sign, no out-of-pocket expenses. The therapist even wheeled it to the car and loaded it in for our trip home. This walker will replace the one we borrowed from a friend when Charlie's mobility problems first exceeded the helpfulness of his cane.
The WRJ VA hospital has provided us with nothing less than stellar care since we moved to the area, five years ago. The doctors are outstanding and the nurses as good as any we have encountered at the nearby prestigious Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. The treatment here was a pleasant surprise after experiencing less than satisfactory service at facilities in New York and Florida.
The hospital was recently named the first VA hospital to have a PTSD treatment center, providing state of the art care for returning vets with mental health issues. The facility has a walk-in mental health clinic where vets can get immediate care if they are facing problems that need assistance, whether it is PTSD, drug and alcohol counseling, or other mental illnesses. The hospital has affiliations with the Geisel School of Medicine (Dartmouth College) and the University of Vermont, College of Medicine.
It wouldn't surprise me that this hospital will become an example of what all VA hospitals should be. Its biggest problem is that it is an aging facility—not the shiny new façade you see on the news in Phoenix, Arizona. But the care outshines the cracked walls and narrow corridors; it is the heart and expertise of the caregivers that make it such an outstanding example of what is expected of a VA hospital.
So it saddens me when I hear stories of vets turned away for no reason. My brother-in-law (US Navy and Coast Guard retiree) was recently refused care at a Florida VA hospital because he had first been seen at the vet's hospital in Buffalo. He lives in western New York in the summer, and spends the winter in Florida. He has had several melanomas removed and, when he went to the Florida facility to have a suspicious spot looked at, he was refused service.
WWII vets, what few are left, are happy to sit in the waiting rooms along side vets from Korea, Vietnam and returning Afghanistan vets, all knowing that they will get the very best of care here, in the little town of White River Junction, Vermont.