I am pulling my hair out. And I really don’t have that much hair left to be pulling out.

The other day I received a letter from the eye clinic at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center, to schedule an eye appointment. I called the listed number and got a message saying they were busy and to leave a message and someone would call back within a day. Of course, no one called back within a day. I e-mailed the patient advocate and was told that only two people answer the phones at the eye clinic and that’s just how it is.

OK.

I wrote another e-mail to the patient advocate to say that her excuse was pretty lame. I thought the VA was going to be all about customer service from now on. She replied that she would pass my concerns on to higher-ups.

OK.

A couple of days later a fellow calls from the eye clinic. The earliest he can get me an appointment would be Nov. 14. Today is June 24. He says if I want an earlier appointment I could go to a VA satellite clinic 40 miles from my home.

I tell him that I live only 4 miles from the VA hospital. Why the heck would I want to go that far? I thought if I was service-connected at 100 percent that I had some priority and that I should get an appointment within 30 days. He said he didn’t know anything about that. I know I shouldn’t have, but I hung up the phone in frustration.

That describes most of my interaction with the VA … frustration.

I started surfing the internet and found a newspaper article from May 2014 in the Star Tribune about a visit Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota’s First Congressional District, senior Democrat on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, made to the Minneapolis VA Hospital to investigate patient waiting times. The hospital defended its waiting-time practices.

However, while Walz said there is no evidence of a secret waiting list at Minnesota VA centers, data provided to his office showed that some veterans experience extended waits for appointments, particularly those in need of specialized services such as audiology and ophthalmology.

Gee, ophthalmology. That was four years ago. It seems things have gotten … perhaps worse. One would think that clinics such as audiology and opthamalmogy would be allocated more funds or restructured to meet a higher demand when these services were opened up to more veterans. It seems now that almost every veteran can get an eye exam and eyeglasses, which is a good thing. When I first came to the VA 30 years ago, you had to be service-connected to get the same benefits.

The other day I was running errands when a woman called from the eye clinic. My wife talked to her. She told my wife that I could get an earlier appointment, in October — unless I wanted to go to the clinic 40 miles away. My wife told her that was unacceptable. The clerk accused my wife of yelling at her. My wife said she wasn’t yelling and indicated that I would take the October appointment at the hospital.

Thank you for your customer service.

There was a story in the paper about hearings to confirm a new VA secretary.

VA Secretary nominee Robert Wilkie said that removing red tape roadblocks to getting veterans “through the door” to see a doctor would be his top priority if he is confirmed by the Senate.

“Many of the issues I encountered as acting secretary were not with the quality of care, but were getting veterans through the door to get that care,” Wilkie told the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee at his confirmation hearing.

Good luck with that.

I am told to advocate for my health care, but when I do I always turn out to be the bad guy, as does my wife when she stands up to defend me. The VA is my primary health provider. I am 100 percent service-connected for PTSD and service-connected for heart disease and diabetes related to Agent Orange, but it means nothing these days. It’s supposed to mean more than just a disability check every month. I had my first contact with the Minneapolis VA Hospital 30 years ago this July. In my opinion, things have gotten worse, not better. And don’t get me started on dentures.

I hope I am still standing by October.

 

Timothy Connelly lives in Richfield.