I had intended to write the second installment about my husband Jeffrey, and the issues he has had with the VA; however, after having received my second secure message about my request to be put back in for Special Mode Transport I decided to do this installment about this subject instead. Are we the only ones with problems with Special Mode Transport? Absolutely not! There are severe problems that fall throughout the program. Look at this story, which literally happened within days of our situation starting.
It is from one side of the spectrum to the other, and none of them are good.
In my first diary, I briefly spoke about our issues with the Villages Transportation section and our ongoing problems trying to get Special Mode Transportation for both of us. I find myself wondering just how many excuses this organization/individual is going to come up. How many individuals will be placed in the middle of this situation so that the blame will not fall back on the real culprit. The unfortunate person that currently holds that position is my primary care doctor’s nurse.
The Villages Out Patient Clinic states on their web page “OUR MISSION: To fulfill President Lincoln's promise - "To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan" - by serving and honoring the men and women who are America's Veterans,” yet there seems to be a very distinct pattern emerging when it comes to Special Mode Transportation – to use any and every excuse possible to deny many veterans the benefit of this service.
I retired from the military on 31 December 2001. I filed for my disability March 2002 and received my rating on 16 December 2002. My rated disabilities are as follows:
· Removal of uterus and ovaries (Cancer) (50%)
· Migraine Headaches (50%)
· Limited motion in Lumbar Spine (40%)
· Knee Condition (20%)
· Knee Condition (20%)
· Paralysis of Sciatic Nerve (10%)
· Limited Motion of Ankle (10%)
· Paralysis of the Sciatic Nerve (10%)
· Embolism of the Brain (10%)
As you can see, my total rating was 220%. I had suffered many medical problems while in the military, but the kicker that forced me to retire was the stroke, which had been caused by the migraine headaches. I was incredibly fortunate in my recovery from the stroke. The primary residuals are memory problems.
I have been the primary driver since Jeffrey started having bits and pieces amputated – in 2011. I had put off the last surgery I had until we knew Jeffrey would be in a position to help take care of me. We knew that I’d literally be off my feet for months, we just didn’t realize how many months. It turned out to be far more challenging than we anticipated.
We started trying to get Jeffrey Special Mode Transportation before I even had the surgery because we knew it was going to be a problem getting him to and from his VA appointments both at the Villages and in Gainesville. Another veteran had told us about Special Mode Transportation and that we should put Jeffrey in for it. Up until that time, we had never even heard about it. As I stated in my first diary, on 4 October 2013, I physically went to the Transportation department and inquired about it for Jeffrey. I filled out the paperwork and a few minutes later I was told that he was not qualified “because he was only blind.” I was stunned, and then I got mad. I asked the question “So, do you want me to let Jeffrey drive to his appointments?” So I asked what was meant by “he was only blind?” and I was told that he had to be in a wheelchair. I stated that Jeffrey had a manual wheelchair (Gainesville will never approve an power wheelchair or scooter for Jeffrey – because he is BLIND!!). It was beyond my comprehension, literally. In confidence, I was informed that Jeffrey was not the only blind veteran this affected, that in the Ocala area alone it was affecting hundreds. There’s not much that surprises me, especially when it comes to VA, but this really set me back on my heels. So, I asked the question “What else is going on? How could so many blind veterans be continually denied?” I was told that this person was supposed to ask, “How do you get to the store? How do you get to church? How do you get to other non-VA appointments?” When the veteran replies, then they were told, “Then you can get here (VA Appointments) the same way.” It was at this point that I knew that I had to take this bull by the horns. Who do they think they are – denying veterans, especially blind veterans, this benefit? What were they there for? So, I started digging, and I started challenging.
I went back, armed with the information that Jeffrey was legally blind AND he had a wheelchair. The next excuse, and that is all it can be considered is an excuse, was Jeffrey had to meet the “Means Test.” I informed them that Jeffrey no longer had to meet a “Means Test” because he was Catastrophically Disabled. I was told that this didn’t apply to Special Mode Transportation; he still had to qualify under the Means Test. I told them I wanted to see the regulation(s) that stated that and I wanted to see the regulation(s) that governed Special Mode Transportation. I was told “they would have to look them up and give them to me – later.”
I had my surgery and within three weeks time Jeffrey and I realized that we had really bitten off more than we could chew. There was just too much he couldn’t do because of the blindness and his prosthetic. We knew that we needed help, so I contacted my doctor via secure messaging and explained the problems we were having. The doctor contacted the social worker in my VA “Team” and they contacted me. I explained our situation to them. Now, it is very difficult to explain what the Taylor Spatial Frame is. The social worker was having a very difficult time understanding what this thing was, so I asked if they had an email account, which they did, and I sent them a picture.
On the other end of the phone I hear “Oh my God, you just made my job a whole lot easier” among other things. The first thing I was put in for was Special Mode Transportation, and it was approved on 22 November 2013. I was also put in for an appointment to see Occupational Therapy to see what else we were going to need.
I was seen by Occupational Therapy at the Villages on 6 December 2013. We discussed what are issues were and they brought up things we hadn’t even thought about. Jeffrey and I knew at the onset that I was going to be in the Taylor Spatial Frame a minimum of four months, and then the prospect of having to go through physical therapy and learning how to walk again afterwards. One of the things I needed was a motorized wheelchair or scooter. We had been given one that Jeffrey uses on a daily basis because he can only tolerate his prosthesis for a certain amount of time. Occupational Therapy and my VA doctor both agreed with this. I will go into greater detail about this in another installment, but by the end of day 11 December 2013, Gainesville had not only denied this request, but also dismissed it, without ever seeing or talking to me or anyone else. We ended up having to go through our private insurance and pay out over $2000 from our pockets to get one. During our time in the building, I was approached and asked if my phone number could be given to someone that wanted to talk to me about the issue we were having with Jeffrey getting Special Mode Transportation. We said absolutely, we would talk to anyone that wanted to discuss it. That ‘someone’ ended up being Vetwife; however, we did not get to speak until several months later.
While we were at the Villages, we went by the Transportation office to get a copy of the regulation(s) governing Special Mode Transportation. I am handed a paper by Robert Davis said here it is. I looked at it and stated “This is only a policy letter, where is the regulation(s)?” He told me that this (policy letter) is what we go by. Again, we get into a heated discussion regarding the “Means Test.” Then Robert stated that Jeffrey was not qualified for Special Mode Transportation “Because he could transfer from a wheelchair into the seat of a vehicle.” I was so angry I couldn’t see straight. There was no doubt in my military mind that this sorry sack of Siberian dung was going to continue to come up with excuse after excuse to not qualify Jeffrey for Special Mode Transportation. I had to leave. I needed to regroup and figure out how fight this.
In the meantime, we have primarily depended on my 76-year-old father to transport us nearly everywhere. The doctor that has operated on my foot/leg is in Port Charlotte, FL. She also happens to work full-time for the VA in Cape Coral and has a private practice. I see her in her private practice. Each trip we make down there – every two to four weeks – is three hours one-way. Plug in the time at the appointment and then the return trip is an all day affair. It is a painful and tiring trip for me; I can only imagine how my father feels.
I have since been in contact with Vetwife. Our stories are so similar in some aspects that it’s scary. We’ve been fighting the exact same fight, just in different boats. We have connected now and will present a united front for all to see. This crap has got to STOP. Our veterans deserve better than to be treated like this, period. I am especially livid about the fact that Robert Davis is receiving bonuses – as far as I am concerned – on the backs of blind veterans in particular.
Since Vetwife and I have started speaking about our situations, I have had to put back in for Special Mode Transportation since the original request was only for six months. This is what I received, it reads from the bottom to the top in date sequence. Does any of this sound familiar?
06/18/2014 07:51 AM
To: BYARD, LINDA
Message ID#: XXXXXXXXXX
Subject: General Inquiry
Hi Ms Byard: Special mode transportation is a service provided to severely physically permanently impaired non-wt bearing patients primarily. Situations such as yours are considered,though,temporarily, provided there is justification for it. We are requesting to please contact your physician so he can fax to us the status of your fracture, your limitations and the time frame involved so we can proceed to enter the consult ASAP. Our primary goal is to meet your needs, however, there are polices that we also must follow. Please let us have these documents ASAP so we can proceed. I hope you do not feel that we are not trying to help you, it just takes a little longer to get the information needed to place the consult.My apologies if that was the case.
Our fax # is 352-XXX-XXXX.
XXXX XXXXX RN
Previous Messages in Thread
Sent: 06/16/2014 XX:XX PM
From: BYARD, LINDA
To: ** XXXXXVillages_XXXXXXX Subject: General Inquiry
Ms. XXXX,Who, exactly, is "they?" I know you mean Transportation, but who in transportation?It is none of their business how I get to my outside doctor's appointments, the store, etc.
I believe I am entitled to Special Mode Transportation for my VA appointments and should not have to depend on others to get me there.
Sent: 06/13/2014 XX:XX PM
To: BYARD, LINDA Subject: General Inquiry
Hi Linda: I was placing your special travel request and they need to know:
-in your home life, how do you get to your outside dr's appts?
- how do you get to the store, etc...?
-if you have a transportation system set up for those types of things, why can't you use them to get here?
XXXX XXXXX RN
I had the Taylor Spatial Frame removed 14 May 2014 because I was in danger of developing osteomylitus – and infection in the bone – which could easily have led to my having to have a below the knee amputation. My leg (tibia) and fifth metatarsal are both still broken. I am in a boot 24/7 unless bathing (which I am finally able to do, with the help of the Home Health person that comes in three days a week). I am not permitted to place an ounce of weight on my right leg until the tibia heals for fear of a compound fracture. Initially it was thought that I would be like this and in the wheelchair for approximately 3 months. As of my last visit, it’s looking more towards 4-6 months total non-weight bearing and wheelchair bound.
Once again, the excuses have begun. First with Jeffrey and now the games have begun with me. We are both 100% disabled, mine is 100% service connected. If Robert has the “power” to deny all these vets service, they why do we even need to have the position for him? He needs to be held responsible for the DISSERVICE he has done to us, especially since he has been getting BONUSES twice a year for doing so. It is a bunch of crap and I don’t particularly care for the smell. Give us what we were promised and put our lives on the line for. It’s time to take a stand, period. Get rid of the baggage that is depriving us of what we have EARNED.