AN ABSOLUTE OUTRAGE - VETERANS ABUSED
AND DISRESPECTED AT MAINE'S V.A. HOSPITAL
IN TOGUS - ELDERLY PATIENTS TRAVEL HUNDREDS
OF MILES TO FIND APPOINTMENTS CANCELED
INCOMPETENCE AT BEST - INDIFFERENCE AT
WORST - JIM WALLACE AND OTHER VETS SUFFER
AS A RESULT - "WHAT THE HELL IS YOUR
PROBLEM?" SHOUTS SURLY V.A. DOCTOR
"THE OPERATION IS FREE." - MEMO TO THIS JERK:
VETERANS ARE NOT "WELFARE RECIPIENTS"
THEY'VE EARNED AND DESERVE MEDICAL CARE
© 2008 MilitaryCorruption.com
It's early morning in Pembroke, Maine, a rural community some 170 miles from the nearest Veterans Administration hospital.
Seventy year-old Sandra Wallace helps her elderly husband Jim get in their 2000 Ford Windstar van for the tiring four-hour road trip to Togus. He's had a bad night and, riddled with cancer, is periodically bleeding from the rectum. His loving wife of fifty years hopes and prays they will make the trip without mishap.
This has been Maine's worst winter since the heavy snows of 1966 and the road is rough in places. Wallace, a former Army paratrooper, winces with pain whenever the vehicle hits a bump or pothole. He would rather be back home in bed but he has a scheduled appointment at V.A. for a minor medical procedure that his doctor insists must be performed at the hospital and not the much closer V.A. clinic in Calais, Me.
"He's been getting weaker and weaker," Mrs. Wallace sobbed into the telephone as she talked with a MilitaryCorruption.com reporter. "Jim's 75 now, and his strength is giving out. His long battle to get justice from the V.A. has sapped his spirit and some days he tells me he just wants to die and get it over with.
"Jim fell in the house recently. Thank God he didn't break a hip," Sandra Wallace said. "I'm so weary, sometimes I want to give up, but then I think of the way my husband's been treated and I get the courage to fight on." [see related stories box at the end of this article for our two previous investigative reports on the Jim Wallace case].
The elderly couple don't know it yet, but by the time they arrive for their appointment at the medical center near Augusta, things are going to get worse.
A LAZY ORDERLY AND AN OPERATING ROOM NOT READY
First indication of trouble was when a lazy orderly hands Mr. Wallace a package and tells him to go in the bathroom and give himself an enema.
"What? One of my arms is useless, I can't do this."
But the orderly insists, so the 75 year-old man, (his wife is out in the waiting room) does as he's told with the limited mobility that he has. He feels deep shame and disgust that he is being treated this way.
However, the worst is yet to come.
His doctor informs him that the operating room is "not ready" and unfortunately the procedure cannot be done that day. "You'll have to come back another time," Jim is told. Since it's a Friday, and doctors are loathe to work on weekends unless there's a medical emergency, Wallace and his wife aren't offered overnight accommodations at the hospital but instead are told to "go home."
THE WALLACES EVEN GET "STIFFED" ON GAS MONEY
Sandra Wallace breaks out in tears when her husband emerges from the doctor's office and tells her what has transpired. Remembering the high cost of gasoline burned up on the long highway trip, she goes to the clerk to request mileage reimbursement. The journey is an exhausting 340 miles round-trip. There's some sort of screw-up on the computer and she's told it says she has too much income to get the some 28 cents a mile that others regularly receive. That's news to her, because both she and her husband's Social Security checks combined total less than $1000 a month.
"The mortgage on our (double-wide) trailer is nearly $800," she says, "and with the high cost of heating oil and electricity where we live, we have to scrimp on meals from time-to-time. We're not only not rich, I guess some people would call us poor." But still, they have their pride. "Jim and I don't ask for handouts."
There's not much money in a home where they also take care of a disabled 35 year-old daughter, but there is plenty of love. "That, and a lot of prayer is what gets us through," Sandra says.
It was a long, sorrowful trip back to Pembroke for the Wallaces. Even though it was the V.A.'s error, not only did the aged veteran not receive needed medical care he was scheduled to be given, but he'd burned $80 worth of gasoline and been treated without dignity.
This is an outrage.
Hold on folks, it gets worse.
ARROGANT DOCTOR INSULTS VETERAN'S WIFE
When Sandra Wallace complains to a V.A. doctor at the Calais clinic about her husband's treatment, the little twerp, Dr. Christopher Cocoran, shouts: "What the hell do you want? The operation is free!"
Just a minute there, doc. It isn't "free." Jim Wallace and other veterans are entitled to medical care. It is part of their enlistment contract, or so they were told. They "earned " it. And with him being registered for care at V.A., you had better not treat this man like a "welfare recipient." Because he's not. Many of us have gone in harm's way and suffered as a result of our service to our country. Some have spilled their blood and left body parts back on the battlefield or in the stinking jungles. Who are you, well-paid and arrogant Dr. Cocoran, to disrespect a veteran or his wife?
You ought to get down on your hands and knees and ask God forgiveness for being so insensitive and such a jerk. We guess that you aren't living with the pain and despair that is Jim Wallace's daily existence. Don't ever say that V.A. medical care is "free." It is deserved and already "paid for" with blood and tears. And don't you forget it!
METZGER AND WALLACE - A DISGUSTING "DOUBLE-STANDARD"
Sadly, Jim Wallace's plight with V.A. - in earlier stories we have written about how his multiple cancers, diagnosed by Dr. John E. Gooey, chief of the Head and Neck Surgery unit at Boston's V.A Hospital and labeled by him "service-connected" - was disregarded by a rating disability board. Wallace, proven to have been exposed to atomic bomb radiation in the 1950's, doesn't receive one cent from V.A.
[Air Force Maj. Jill Metzger (see related stories box) however, is "medically retired" and cashing her nearly $3000 a month tax-free "PTSD" disability check each month after only 12 years of active duty service. Some people think she lied about her so-called "abduction" in Kyrgzystan and really was AWOL those three days in September 2006 getting an abortion on the local economy. But then, Wallace is just a farm boy from Maine with only a grade school education. He has no powerful connections like Metzger's retired colonel daddy or her young OSI agent officer husband, to say nothing of all the Air Force Marathon winner's pals and enablers who wear generals stars on their shoulders. No, Jim Wallace, is just flat out of luck.]
We wish we could say that what happened to Mr. Wallace on February 29 this year is an anomaly, but it isn't. It's just another example of an institution poorly run with a small minority of staffers who should be looking for another line of work. They are a disgrace to the majority of excellent employees at Togus who are dedicated to giving the veteran the best possible medical care.
Unfortunately, when the "leadership" is blind or indifferent to correcting situations like that which happened to Jim Wallace, it's infectious, and that's when orderlies get slothful and doctors abusive in their treatment of people that know more of pain and hardship than they ever will encounter.
THE WALLACE CASE NOT ISOLATED - OTHERS SUFFER AS WELL
To prove the Wallace case is far from isolated, let's cite some other examples, and we warn the V.A. ahead of time. Don't think you can run a "witch hunt" and punish or retaliate on staff members who tell us things. That will blow up in your face, because MilitaryCorruption.com always saves dirt in reserve to shovel on your head if you're stupid enough to not focus on correcting the situation and instead seek retribution. Don't even think about it, or you will be plenty sorry you did.
A 100%-disabled (combat-related) Vietnam veteran from way up in Ashland, Maine (Aroostook County) has both legs amputated at the knee. He's in severe pain and terribly discouraged. In December 2007 he has a heart attack and, unconscious, is flown by helicopter from the Aroostook Medical Center to West Roxbury, Mass V.A. Hospital in order to save his life.
The V.A. bills Medicare, but $1500 of the cost is not "covered" by the program, and guess who gets stuck with the tab? That's right, the poor vet who was unable to speak or communicate when he had his near-fatal cardiac arrest.
Well, earlier this year, the veteran (we are not disclosing his name for privacy reasons) was scheduled to travel to the V.A. Hospital at Togus to see a doctor and get an evaluation of his heart. He had pleaded that it be done in a civilian hospital nearer his home, but rules are rules and bureaucracy reigns at Togus.
He was told he had to come.
So, after an agonizing and uncomfortable six hour road trip, one-way from deep in northern Maine, the Vietnam vet is told someone "goofed" and his appointment was not put on the schedule. He will have to turn around and go home without treatment. Just the kind of aggravation a heart patient needs.
A TOGUS V.A. "INSIDER" CONFIRMS OUR OWN INVESTIGATION
These are the words of an insider who risks their job by telling us the truth of what goes on: "The V.A. healthcare system here at Togus has major flaws. On more than one occasion, appointments were scheduled, veterans traveled for hours and many miles, only to find out the appointment had been canceled and they not notified, or a operating room hadn't been reserved for surgery, etc."
We are also told by informed sources that physician assistants - not RN's or doctors - are used as rating examiners and that one particularly odious PA (we have her name - it rhymes with "Polly") is so nasty and abusive, two complaints have already been filed about her conduct. But to no avail. Is she being protected by the hospital administration? If so, why?
"She won't accept a veteran's answer about his ailment until she hears what SHE wants to hear," said an inside source. "That makes the vet very uncomfortable and intimidated into saying what they think she will only accept. It's unfair!"
Again, we want to emphasize there are many good and dedicated employees at Togus V.A. They do not deserve to have their hard work undermined by a slothful and indifferent minority. But the top leadership needs to set a proper example. And to date, they have not done so.
The chief administrator could start by digging into his fat wallet (or check book) and personally reimbursing the Wallace family for the $80 worth of gasoline they burned up on a day when V.A. clearly was in the wrong and responsible not only for a lack of promised treatment, but costing an already financially-strapped Maine couple badly-needed cash.
If that happens, and the "boss" offers to make things right, we'll be glad to report it on these pages.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: For many years, a dear lady and former World War II Army nurse, worked at Togus V.A. Center. Her name was Marian King (Mrs. Leland King Jr. of Coopers Mills, Me.) She was one of the kindest, most professional and caring nurses we have ever seen. Marian passed away a few years ago, but those of us who knew her when we were patients at Togus and grew up with her sons Barry and Michael, treasure her memory. She was the epitome of what a nurse should be. And it was people like her that helped give the V.A. health care system in Maine its then well-deserved reputation for excellence. We miss her to this day.]