Disgusted, Denigrated, and Derided – Experiences with the VA

Carl T. HaydenIn August 2020, I received a call to schedule a multiple hour MRI with the Phoenix, VA.  My Primary Care Provider had made multiple orders for my injured spine to obtain new data and examine the S-Spine and C-0 specifically.  The earliest MRI was 07 December 2020 at 1400.  Important to note, since this appointment could not be scheduled any closer to a 30-day turnaround, I was supposed to be sent to Community Care for a faster appointment.  Instead, I had to wait.

06 December 2020, I receive two text messages from the VA about my upcoming appointment.  I called the Radiology Department at the Phoenix VA specifically, because I cannot physically wear a mask and wanted to make sure that this appointment, I had waited for months to obtain, would not have any difficulties in completing.  The VA previously has refused service by providers because I cannot physically wear a mask; cancelled only after I had traveled to the VA, waited in the waiting room, and told to go home unseen.  Thus, I wanted to ensure this would not be the case with this MRI.

After five transfers, I finally wound-up speaking to Scott, who identified himself as the Radiology Supervisor.  I explained my predicament, explained who he could call to discuss the problem, and called him a second time to provide the name of the person I have been working with Jennifer, a supervisor of patient advocates, along with the extension.

The Duty of AmericansLater that afternoon, Jennifer returned my call.  Everything was assured to me to be in order.  The workaround we worked out was for me to hold a mask in front of my mouth and nose.  That way, the mask is not causing breathing difficulties and I am then in compliance.  This arrangement had worked previously during an Emergency Room visit; thus, I kept my appointment.

For the MRI I was ordered no food or drink 4-6 hours before the appointment.  Two-hours was the scheduled time to be on the MRI table.  I planned my day, including my medications, around being able to return quickly home and relax.  Because history has proved that an MRI leaves me weak, hurt, and highly nerve sensitive, along with the usual sore muscles and other issues.

I arrived for my appointment, cleared the useless “COVID Screening” at the South Entrance to the Phoenix VA, and proceed to Radiology.  At Radiology I meet Jennifer’s supervisor (Paul?) who was to escort me around the hospital to ensure I did not get hassled by the VA Police.  I checked into Radiology.  When my name is called, I am met at the traffic control door by Scott the Radiology supervisor and an MRI Technician.  Scott refuses to allow me entrance because I am not physically wearing my mask.  I explain I cannot physically wear a mask; I walk with a cane so one hand is full, and the other was full of cellphone, MRI paperwork, glasses, and floppy cloth mask.  I held the mask up to my face and claimed this is the best I can do to follow the “COVID Policy.”  Then asked if the MRI appointment was still on or not.  This repeats 5-separate times.  Scott visibly has confusion written all over his face and cannot or will not decide.

The MRI tech, after the sixth question about the MRI being cancelled or not, turns slightly to Scott and says, “Why don’t we just do the MRI?”  At which point, Scott clears the door and the process of changing clothes, answering pre-MRI questions, and waiting for a room to open begins.  I walk to the MRI room without a mask, without problems, and without further questions about my mask-less face.  I suffer through the MRI.  At the conclusion of the MRI, I am told, “To get back to the dressing room, you have to be masked” and am offered a washcloth to hold close to my face; which I follow to the best of my ability.

PatriotismMy return trip to the dressing room is important for two reasons: 1) I kept losing my leg strength.  This is normal after MRI’s, but coupled with the lack of food, and I am in trouble if I cannot get food soon.  2) Nothing else is said about my not wearing a mask.  I exit the dressing room, walk out through the traffic control door, and spot two VA Police Officers looking like they are involved in a long discussion with Peter, the supervisor dispatched to help me navigate the bureaucrats at the Phoenix VA.

I walk out, headed for the elevator, and the two VA Police Officers start calling my name.  My intent is to go home!  Yet, the VA Police are delaying this because I cannot physically wear a mask.  Officer Interpreter places himself directly into my path shouting about my need to wear a mask, when I politely try to sidestep him, he pushes back, physically pushing me backwards.  The second officer is a Sgt., his name tag read (I think) “HUFF,” I am not sure, but calling him Sgt. Huff is acceptable to this missive, places himself beside Officer Interpreter blocking my immediate path to the elevators.

For the next 10-minutes, these two officers will harangue, threaten, cajole, try to intimidate, and eventually will choose to place me in handcuffs, threatening me with felonious charges unspecified.  When Officer Interpreter had finally decided to act and arrest me, he ordered me to turn around.  Not being able to turn around and knowing that Sgt. Huff was already behind me, I was not going to move.  I had previously almost collapsed and any movement at this point would be hazardous to my remaining upright.  But Officer Interpreter refuses to listen to any explanation on my part.  At this point, without knowing the extent of my injuries, Officer Interpreter places two hands me, thumbs in the armpits, mid-top of the biceps, and attempts to spin me to the left, towards the wall, in a standard police maneuver seen on every police show Hollywood produces.  Whereupon my legs collapsed!  My Thoracic Spine and up turned to the left, while my Lumbar Spine remained stationary.  I hit the floor hard, cutting two fingers in four places, and I begin bleeding like mad!  I also scratched my right arm in two places while falling which I did not realize until showering the next day, neither scratch is deep enough to need medical attention, but they are all injuries sustained when violently attacked by Officer Interpreter.

LinkedIn ImageOfficer Interpreter then tells me, “You collapsed on purpose, your injuries are faked.”  This mantra is quickly picked by the supposedly superior officer, Sgt. Huff.  In July when the VA Police arrested me for not wearing a mask, the officers touched my back, collapsed my legs, and left me with a sore right knee.  Today’s attack (07 Dec 2020) has left me with increased pain in both knees, cramps in the L-Spine, a feeling of disconnection between my T- and L-Spines, and my cut fingers just keep bleeding.  I guess the cuts on my fingers were intentional and the blood dripping across the floor of the VA was just staged for public sympathy.

In July, the arrest kicked off a massive neurological fit where my arms, legs, hands, feet, etc. just want to shake, twitch, muscles spasm, lots of involuntary neurological issues; all of which have been extensively recorded in my VA Medical Records.  Guess what collapsing my legs on 07 December 2020 did, the same thing!  My safety is placed at risk when I wear a mask; yet the VA is the only medical facility in the Phoenix Metro area that has a problem with me not wearing a mask.  I have had MRI’s, consultations, a gall bladder surgery which involved a full day in the ER, then two days in hospital all without a mask.  Thus, even though the first, and allegedly most important SAIL Matrix is Safety as in-patient safety, I am discriminated against because I cannot wear a mask and the leaders of the Phoenix VA cannot make a decision to protect my safety.

Once Standing, with officer assistance, I was placed in a wheelchair.  Sitting in a wheelchair is hard for me because I cannot straighten out enough to breathe.  Yet, on top of all my other cautionary statements about handling me to not inflict more pain, the officers continued to insist I sit in a wheelchair.  Worse, the officers felt it was needed to handcuff me with my arms behind my back while sitting in a wheelchair.  My back is in immense pain every time it is touched.  Yet, the officers continued to think it was acceptable to handcuff me, behind my back, where the cuffs, the bracelets around my wrists, are digging into my spine.  Which position also forces me to sit hunched over, making breathing even more difficult.  Where are my rights to patient safety in the VA Hospital?

PolicyLet us talk about process irregularity for a moment.  I spoke to the Chief of police in August who claimed the COVID Mask policy does not allow face shields, and there was some “minor” confusion about the use of face shields at the Phoenix VA Campus back in March, which has since been cleared up.  Today (07 Dec 2020), after the policy was supposed to have been clarified and re-communicated, I am offered the option of a face shield by another officer at the VA as an option to the mask mandates.  In July, I was wearing a face shield when I was arrested, because a face shield was not a face mask.  So, I ask again, what is the policy/mandate/whatever governing COVID Masking?  Where is a copy of this mask demand?

Let us talk about patients at a hospital.  My first day of new hire training for working in the VA Hospital (Albuquerque, NM), I was told three things that make great sense.

  1. If you do not know the condition of the patient, do not touch them!

  2. If you know the condition of the patient, do not touch them!

  3. When in doubt, refer to rule one!

Today, (07 Dec 2020) I get pushed, then twisted violently, then when I complain about the pain and problems the officers are causing, I am told that “You are doing this intentionally.”  Let me be clear, the officers started this confrontation by not allowing me to go home!  Then they compounded their errors by laying direct hands upon me.  My wife doesn’t even touch me because I hurt so much.  Yet, these two officers today, and the same officers from July, both feel they can violently lay hands upon a patient that is not being violent, is not acting irrationally, and this is WRONG!  If the patient is not acting in a manner that causes harm or injury to themselves, other patients, threatening the VA Police Officers, or damaging the VA building, then the policy should be HANDS OFF!

What makes this incident worse, I called the Administrator on Duty (AOD), “Michelle(?)” who claimed she has no authority to take a complaint about the police.  Stating that the police take all complaints and I will have to file a complaint with the same officers who just caused me an hours’ worth of agony handcuffed to a wheelchair and caused my physical injury!  So, just as a side question, what is the role of the administrator on duty where staff complaints and patient safety are concerned?  Every other VA Hospital I have visited where I have needed the administrator on duty, they have been empowered to act to fix problems and correct situations.  Why is the Phoenix VA different?  All appeals to the Patient Advocate since Monday have gone unanswered.

ProblemsWednesday 09 Dec 2020, I receive a call from Nurse Crawford from the “Organizational Behavior Committee (OBR)” about the “disruptive incidents” at the VA Hospital.  Due to the injuries sustained on 07 December, I had spent all day Tuesday and Wednesday in bed too sore to move; this began the nurse Crawford conversation.  I explained to the nurse that I am not causing “disruptive incidents,” the VA Police in their zealotry are causing these incidents.  Yet, I am still threatened with having to show up to the VA Police to get a card, allowing me on premises at the VA, provided I wear a mask.  I explained multiple times that I cannot wear a mask and have tried all avenues to find reprieve.  Including sitting down, at the Wendy’s across the street, with the supervisor of Patient Advocacy, Jennifer, and hashing out a plan where I can hold the mask close to my face when closer than 6’ and dealing with VA employees.  This plan worked once, then never worked again, because of the bureaucrats at the VA, and the failure of leadership to act with patient safety in mind.

10 December 2020, I present myself at the VA South Entrance, to go to the ER, as well as to deliver paperwork and file a complaint against Officer Interpreter and Sgt. Huff from Monday.  To my chagrin, I discover that Jennifer will not see me, has refused my calls, and is claiming I violated the deal we had worked out.  I am standing in the entryway vestibule, not in the hospital, not in traffic, and not causing a problem.  When the snowflake supervisor of the COVID Screeners orders me out of the hospital.  I asked why he was taking that action; he refused an answer.  He orders me a second time; I ask to see his orders in writing, and this snowflake acts more tyrannical and complains to the VA Police officer.  Creating the scene that sees me surrounded by 6-VA Police Officers, a LT. pulling on my wrists adding to the bruising on my wrists, getting placed into another wheelchair, and carted off to the VA Police holding cell to be cited for disorderly conduct.

Police and Government Lines of CongruenceDuring this altercation with the VA Police, three things of note are important:

  1. The VA Police laughed and thought my injuries were faked as they caused more pain.
  2. I was told by the VA Police that my getting reinjured at their hands is my fault and to stop complaining, because I had brought this upon myself.
  3. I kept trying to explain my injuries and how they were aggravating the problems, and the VA Police mocked, ridiculed, and denigrated me and my injuries several more times on the trip to the holding cell.

One officer commanded me, using the first line in the Miranda Rights to shut up.  I asked if I was under arrest.  He claimed Yes.  I asked for my full Miranda Rights to be read, the officer refused.  I asked again, how could I be under arrest if my Miranda Rights have not been declared, the officer mocked my question and demanded I be silent.

While in the VA Police Holding Cell #2, I keep getting re-injured.  I explain that anytime someone touches my back it collapses my legs and intensifies my neurological condition.  At this point a Capt. arrives, does not say anything; but my treatment changes to something a little more professional.  Major Kratz arrives, at the end of my holding cell period, sticks his sausage-like fingers in my face and verbally castigates, denigrates, and insults me.  Every single question I answer with logic and ask a more procedural question, only to receive more verbal harassment.

11 December 2020, Dr. Moore who declared heads the OBR Committee, calls me complaining of my disruptive behavior, declaring that while I have a right to be safe in the hospital, I must wear a mask, and now suffer under the onerous OBR committee rules to enter and exit the VA Hospital.  Dr. Moore clearly indicated that I have the right to be safe, I have the expectation to be treated professionally, but since there is a pattern of “disruptive behavior,” my rights have been cancelled and I now must obey the OBR requirements.

Survived the VAIn plain speak, I am in the wrong for insisting that I cannot safely wear a COVID mask and the policy problems and leadership issues at the VA are all my fault.  I am being blamed for the VA Police being tyrannical and obscene in their actions of discrimination against those of us who cannot physically wear a mask.  The VA Hospital in Phoenix is closed to me until I comply with the wearing of a mask; which I cannot physically and safely perform.

In my letter dated 16 November 2020, RE: 644/00, I expressed the problems with patient safety risks being a leadership issue.  Reiterating in the strongest language, that continued mask discrimination due to a pissant COVID Memo, is still the single most critical issue for doing permanent harm to veterans seeking care at the Phoenix VA.

VA SealI have been laughed to scorn for complaining the VA Police Officers were hurting me.  VA Police officers have made jokes about my mental diagnosis, physical diagnosis, medications I take, all of which are direct HIPAA violations.  I have been left with bruised knees and wrists from the treatment received at the hands of the VA Police.  I have been ridiculed for complaining and asking questions, asking for a copy of the policy, and asking for administrative assistance in knowing and securing my rights.  I have been accused of crimes I never committed, cited for crimes not committed, but were made to appear.  I continue to be refused service, a Federal Crime under EMTALA, by the VA Hospital.  Shame on the VA leadership in Phoenix, VISN 22 HQ in Long Beach CA., and in Washington DC, for allowing this type of treatment to perpetuate.  Shame on the VA Police for acting in a manner that is beneath their badge and oath of office.  Shame on the VA Staff who watch these interactions with glee and merriment, then gossip, joke, and make fun of the veteran who is being treated thusly.

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the pictures.
All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:
https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

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msalis1

Dual service military veteran. Possess an MBA in Global Management and a Masters degree in Adult Education and Training. Pursuing a PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Business professional with depth of experience in logistics, supply chain management, and call centers.

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