“That’s Crazy!!!” – More Chronicles From the VA Chapter 3

Bobblehead DollIt is no secret I am on several prescription medications.  I take these under strict medical advice, and three of these prescriptions regard mental health improvements.  However, my prescription reasons were subtly shifted because Phoenix’s last two primary care providers did not listen to the patient.  Since the El Paso primary care physicians appear to be utterly incapable of even attempting to listen, I have now been without a mental health prescription for an entire week.  This is called bureaucratic cold-turkey prescription stoppage!

Not the first time this has happened, especially for this particular medication, a serotonin blocker.  Here’s the rub, the physical and mental withdrawal symptoms of cold turkeying the drug; includes, but is not limited to, the following symptoms, of which I have ALL of the problems!

      • Nightmares
      • Suicidal Ideation/Thoughts/Visions
      • Headaches
      • Heart Palpitations, radiating chest pain
      • Anxiety
      • Depressions
      • Mood Swings
      • Irritability
      • Tinglings and Prickling sensations of the skin
      • “Brain Saps”/”Brain Shivers”/Spaced-Out Zombie Spells
      • Fatigue
      • Dry Mouth
      • Insomnia and Sleepiness – Which is a major whiplash feeling!
      • Pain and neurological events in every part of my body!
      • … and more… Much…  Much… More!

I have been without this medication due to bureaucratic stupidity for several days in the past due to pharmacy issues.  But, this is now the longest I have been without this medication since getting prescribed this medication.  I wish, like anything, I had known some of these withdrawal symptoms before I went to the ER earlier this week for pain and neurological problems; I would have raised the refill issues as part of the ER visit.  I went online looking for other people’s experiences; I want some medical advice before continuing this medication!!!

PACT_modelI am a root cause kind of person; why do I bring this up?  I have had three primary care providers since arriving in the El Paso VAHCS in May 2021.  None of them have gotten any of the medications correct due to a blatant refusal to LISTEN to the patient with the INTENT to understand!  Nurses with VA-provided primary care providers are expected to communicate with patients between 24 and 72 hours post any ER visit.  Since moving to Las Cruces, I have visited the ER twice and have not spoken to the nurse yet!

I have initiated the conversation with the nurse through phone and secure messaging, and the nurse has refused to engage.  Through secure messaging, I am advised, “Secure messaging is not the place to triage a patient, and no question can be answered as this requires triage of a patient.”  No direct phone contact is possible with the clinic.  One must call, get routed to a call center, leave a message, and then hope the clinic calls you back sometime before you die!  Don’t forget; I am the same patient told, “The clinic will not see you in person because you “WILL NOT” wear a mask.”  Completely refusing to understand, accept, and believe that I cannot wear a mask due to medically documented (by the VA medical providers, which medical records they possess) reasons.  Best of all, the veteran is then sent letters and marketing materials urging the veteran to use secure messaging through “MyHealtheVet as a safe and secure way to access your medical team and get your questions and concerns addressed by your PACT team!”  If the VA were a mental health patient, they would have schizophrenia and at least a dual-personality.

PACT 1Snide, rude, and disrespectful staff, all made possible by, supported through, and legally accepted under federal government fiat.  Do you realize that the nurse not doing their job will have any number of valid and acceptable excuses, and these excuses are accepted because of designed intentional incompetence allowed under federal employment laws, regulations, and directives, established by and supported through Congressional oversight?  In Disney’s “Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement,” Viscount Mayberry has a line,

Your staff is incompetent and unreliable!”

The VA is incompetent and unreliable, and the victims are the veterans and their families.  We are talking about dangerous drugs, forced addictions, and then the ineptitude of incompetent and irresponsible bureaucrats who refuse to do their jobs in a timely and responsible manner.  But do not take my word for it.  Let’s review what a watchdog organization, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG), has to say on this matter.

VA 3

  • Tracy McNeil, of Raeford, North Carolina, was sentenced to one year and one day in prison and ordered to pay $90,003 in restitution for committing wire fraud involving an elderly veteran in her care. From February 2015 to February 2017, McNeil fraudulently obtained benefits from the VA and the Office of Personnel Management by executing a power of attorney over a disabled veteran who served in the Army and worked for the US Postal Service. The investigation revealed that McNeill arranged for the victim, who had dementia, to move into her home in February 2015 and then directed the VA and OPM to deposit the veteran’s benefits into her bank account. Between April 2015 and December 2016, the VA deposited $11,151, and OPM deposited $61,318 into McNeil’s account. Further, OPM disbursed the veteran’s life insurance for $17,533 to McNeil. Financial analysis showed that most of the funds were spent on McNeill’s expenses, including rent, utilities, credit card payments, and personal purchases.

VA 3

  • Strock Contracting, Inc., of Cheektowaga, New York, has agreed to enter into a consent judgment with the United States for $4.7 million to resolve claims that Strock violated the False Claims Act. The United States filed an action in federal court alleging that Strock Contracting profited financially after fraudulently obtaining federal contracts intended to benefit service-disabled veterans. The United States alleged the company, which was not owned or controlled by a veteran, recruited a service-disabled veteran to create a pass-through company, known as Veterans Enterprises Company, Inc. (VECO), which the Strock Contracting its owner, Lee Strock, controlled. The company allegedly directed VECO to submit false eligibility certifications to the government, obtaining substantial profits on numerous federal contracts.
        • Where are the VA Employees who should know what “fake eligibility certificates” look like?
        • Where are the supervisors who should have been providing training?
        • Where are the Congressional oversight teams in holding the VA accountable?

VA 3

    • William Rich, of Windsor Mill, Maryland, was arrested for allegedly obtaining more than $1 million in veterans and Social Security Administration disability benefits by falsely claiming that he had paraplegia. Allegedly, Rich misrepresented his physical condition in VA disability compensation claims, in communications with the VA, and during medical examinations in pursuit of VA disability benefits. While serving in Iraq in 2005, Rich sustained injuries that resulted in the loss of use of both lower extremities. However, approximately six weeks after his injuries, he made substantial progress toward recovery and was no longer paralyzed. Later records show the VA rated him one hundred percent disabled following an examination in 2007. The examining physician noted that he did not have access to Rich’s complete claims file, so he did not review Rich’s medical history or observe the earlier report. In 2018, the VA OIG conducted an audit of specific claims and learned of conduct by Rich inconsistent with his purported condition. Over the next two years, VA OIG special agents conducted surveillance. They observed Rich walking, going up and downstairs, entering and exiting vehicles, lifting, bending, and carrying items—all without visible limitation or assistance of a medical device, including a wheelchair [emphasis mine].
        • OK, let me be clear, I am glad this veteran got better; I do not in any way condone theft. But, where is the VA in being culpable for FAILURE to do their job correctly?
        • Will the doctor who failed to do their job be held liable for the malpractice performed?

VA 3

    • William H. Precht, of Kent, Ohio, was sentenced to 37 months imprisonment and ordered to pay $1.25 million in restitution after pleading guilty to theft of government property and participating in a bribery and kickback scheme. In October 2010, Precht registered a purported vendor, a company he controlled, as a small disadvantaged business and veteran-owned small business in the VA vendor system. He then used his VA purchase card and other employee cards to purchase over $1 million in alleged medical supplies from the vendor. In addition, from May 2015 through January 2019, he conspired with Robert A. Vitale, a medical sales representative for multiple companies that conducted business with the medical center, to devise a scheme in which Precht would receive kickbacks and other items of value in exchange for steering VA business and other monetary awards to Vitale.VA 3

Speaking of staff being “incompetent and unreliable,” did you know that the VBA is using “COVID-19” as an excuse for being backlogged in cases, AGAIN?  Did you know that COVID-19 was so powerful that it caused the VA to fall 200,000+ cases behind, in an inventory of 600,000+ cases requiring decisioning, with 70,000+ needing additional review for entitlement, and needs to hire 2,000+ new employees to help correct the problem?  Since the VBA continues to fail in staff training, exactly how will hiring new employees help?  Honest question!  With the current staff rated as incompetent and unreliable, not by me only, but by the VA-OIG who has regularly taken these issues and more to Congress asking for additional scrutiny and assistance in improving the VBA, VHA, and National Cemetery specifically and the VA collectively; what exactly can new employees do?VA 3

The VHA cannot plan construction projects and put planned maintenance into proper categories to execute maintenance tasks correctly.  Congress refuses to scrutinize budgets and fiscal compliance for just maintenance of facilities.  How in the world can anyone expect more when the VA cannot even hit the basics of planned maintenance tasks?  I can; I do!

I-CareWhen the VA publishes marketing materials claiming they set standards for excellence and lead the industry, I want them to prove their competence and abilities!  Right now, their failures scream louder than the voices in their own ears, and they refuse to listen to anyone, and I am not happy!  You, the taxpayer, should not accept the performance of ANY government agency, including the entire legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government at the local, county, state, and federal levels, until they correct their behaviors!  It is time to end the charade and put paid to this contemptible behavior and abuse!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Money, Wants and Needs, Goals – This One is Mental Therapy

Bobblehead DollDear reader, you might want to skip this article.  I write this mainly to organize some thoughts for myself.  I am not preaching; I am not trying to teach anyone but myself; if you find something that helps you, you are welcome to the words and lessons.  I have been struggling with learning a couple of things surrounding a couple of topics, and I want to take a minute and jot down some thoughts that have come to me.  I will return to weightier matters another day.  Please excuse me.

Money

My best friend, traveling companion, and spouse, once said something that stuck in my mental processes, “Money is sacred! [emphasis in original]”  She continued over time to add words to the effect that, since money requires effort and sweat to earn, money should be considered sacred and spent with purpose.  When spending money with a sacred purpose, we would necessarily change our spending habits to reflect the sacred nature of money, and in doing so, honor our sacrifice in earning money, respecting ourselves more.

Working DollarSince 2000 the software industry has undergone a very subtle shift; no longer do you purchase software, you rent it.  You make a monthly purchase for that software, which becomes more than the price you would ever have paid for the software previously.  Now, some argue this is due to the cost of upgrading software.  Some argue this is due to the price of intellectual property.  Some argue this is to reduce the cost of piracy of software.  Regardless, does this shift honor your sacrifice in earning money?

Games, especially phone games, are really expensive.  I have an addiction problem to phone games.  I quickly get hooked, then I justify making a dollar purchase here, a two-dollar purchase there, and then at the end of the month, look at the bill and see I spent $400 on a phone game.  True story.  I turn on the passwords; I turn on the purchase blockers, I try hard to avoid making purchases.  I can only succeed when I delete the games, put down my phone, and stop playing games.  I have tried playing games without making purchases and would argue that it is nearly impossible to play any game without making purchases. The games are not designed to be played; they are intended to be cash machines for the game manufacturers.  Maybe I am jaded, but I have yet to find any game that does not require regular cash infusions; believe me, I have tried to find a game that can be played without spending money, and I quit looking.

I am thoroughly embarrassed, shocked, dismayed, and disgusted by how much I have spent on games.  I lost my head some time ago, and it is past time I got myself back together again.  I turned off the last game this morning and will begin the slow addiction recovery process this morning; if I am grumpy, edgy, and bearish to be around, my apologies.  For the last couple of months, I have been overcoming sugar addictions that I think will kill me, gluten addictions that are harder than chocolate and tobacco combined, and I thought chocolate would kill me.  In the quest to lose weight and clean up my life to improve my diabetes, I am left with many questions about addictions and crutches.Question

I was speaking to a medical professional a month or two back and jokingly said:

Food for too long has been my comfort zone; I wonder what will take its place now that diabetes has ended food being the comfort blanket.”

Me and my big mouth!

For those going through addiction recovery for the more common drugs, alcohol, tobacco, sex, etc., know you are not alone.  I have been there for tobacco, now for sugar, chocolate, gluten, money, and food!  It never ceases to amaze me what humans will become addicted to, what we will use to find comfort in, what we wrap ourselves up in to find security and peace to silence the voices in our heads and a good night’s sleep.  I offer you the same hope I cling to, “We were born to succeed; we can do this!”

Wants and Needs

Robert Fulghum explained this one so well in one of his early books.  I will summarize his story but take the time to look up his story; you will laugh, HARD!  He is staffing a reception desk at a Dude Ranch Hotel on a night shift where he gets his meals included, but he has to pay for them from his salary.  The employee meals have been sauerkraut and sausages for a couple of weeks.  He is frustrated; he is mad; he wants to quit.  He reaches a boiling point.  He unloads one night on his relief an older gentleman, a WWII POW camp survivor (I think if I remember the story right).  Anyway, after listening to the rantings and ravings of a childish teenager, this older gentleman gives Mr. Fulghum a piece of advice, “you have to learn the difference between wants and needs.”

GearsI fully appreciate I struggle with this lesson.  I keep getting wants and needs confused.  Do I need a chocolate bar?  Do I want something to eat?  Do I want food?  Do I need food?  Much of my weight problem is trying to figure out wants versus needs.  Much of my mental state is wants versus needs and the confusion between what I want and what I need.  Going back to the games, do I really need a bucket of gems, or that shiny bottle of vitality?

While writing this section, the Grammarly word choices reminded me of another aspect of this conversation, words that confuse the wants versus needs selection cycle.  The English language continues to be a double-edged sword, sufficient to describe and to confuse in the same stroke.  Trying to figure out what I want and distinguishing between what I need has become clouded.  Why?  How?  I have learned that it does not matter when or where the clouding occurred, these happened, it is done; the job is to get them unclouded and get moving forward!

Goals

I do not know the original source.  I have heard several people make similar statements; I am not the initial source of the following thought.

If you have a dream, write it down.  Now you have an action item.  With that action item, give it a date you want to have it accomplished by.  Now you have a goal.  With that goal, set specific steps to achieve and milestones.  Now you have a plan.”

I would add a final thought.  Upon completion of each milestone and especially upon completion of the goal, CELEBRATE!  Celebrate failure, celebrate success.  Then the day after, hold an “After Action Review (AAR)” and review what was learned, pain points, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Start anew!  Too often, we miss the celebrations, and we forget to hold the self-reflections, and in doing so, we do not bring a goal to a close, and we do not write down lessons learned.  Failure to learn lessons means we relive those lessons.  How very tragic!Exclamation Mark

To answer the inevitable question, yes.  I have a list of goals for the coming year.  No, I will not be sharing this list publicly.  Yes, the goals are written down.  Yes, I have an end date.  Yes, I look to have the goals completed in 365-days.  Mental therapy is useless if I do not apply the lessons in my own life!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Thought and Character – A Discussion

WhyIn Proverbs, Old Testament, we find an oft-quoted aphorism, “As a man thinketh in his heart so is he.”  If we first accept this aphorism as truth, then the following from James Allen, from “As a Man Thinketh (1903)” can also be presumed truthful.  “A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.  As the plants springs from, and could not be without, the seed, so every act of a man springs from the hidden seeds of thought, and could not have appeared without them.”  Bringing into sharp reflection the connection between how a person thinks and their character.

In high school, the football and wrestling coaches played mind games to help us players think and become winners. Then, we went through drills to practice thinking and planning moves, so our most important muscle, the mind, was prepared to act when challenged physically.  Likewise, as a firefighter, I know the value of mentally walking through situations to prepare my mind and my fire teams’ minds before being challenged physically to respond to a threat or incident.

Ziggy on Political WeatherI once met a professional soccer player; we shared a bus trip from Salt Lake City to Vernal, Utah, as he traveled to catch a plane in Denver, Colorado.  While I do not envy him, his travel scheduler, we had a very interesting conversation on how thinking builds character.  Professional sports players have similar mental walk-throughs as a regular part of their daily exercises.  Here I had always been under the impression this was for non-professional sports players and was pleasantly surprised to hear his experiences.

James Allen insists that “Man is made or unmade by himself; in the armory of thought he forges the weapons by which he destroys himself; he also fashions the tools with which he builds himself heavenly mansions of joy and strength and peace.”  In the US Army, while serving as a Chaplain’s Assistant, I was wandering through the line company barracks and stumbled across a tank crew having “Sergeant’s Time” in the hallway.  There I met the most interesting character; he held a doctorate from MIT, he was utterly brilliant, and he was a specialist who drove tanks for a living.  When asked why driving tanks and not working in his field of study, he stated, “I do not like my field of study.”  Through education, this soldier had made himself tools for building a career he detested in a field he was bored with, and in seeking adventure, he joined the US Army as an enlisted man and found something he preferred.

ToolsThe tools of education became the chains of bondage and weapons that left him without passion.  His thoughts had turned his desires in his chosen field into a trap, where he thought his only way out was doing something radical and “out of character.”  Except for those who knew him, his character was always bent towards being a soldier, but he had not thought thru this character aspect himself.  His thoughts had already revealed his character, but he had not become cognizant of this aspect of himself.  How many times has this happened to you?

President Thomas S. Monson, a previous leader of The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-Day Saints, was quoted as saying, “Decisions Do Determine Destiny” [emphasis in original]. Likewise, James Allen maintains, “… Man is the master of thought, the molder of character, and the maker and shaper of condition, environment, and destiny.”  Think of how vital thought is to the grand scheme of a person, and you will find the power to be and do anything!  “Man is always the master, even in his weakest and most abandoned state … [as a conscious master] man can only thus become by discovering within himself the laws of thought; which discovery is totally a matter of application, self-analysis, and experience.”  Doesn’t this assertion fill you with the hope that the chains of bondage in your mind are only there until you allow yourself to change how you think?

LaughterHow did I finally kick the cigarette habit, so the mental addiction could no longer tempt me to smoke; I change my thinking.  Instead of allowing myself to find second-hand smoke delightful, I began seeing it as something to avoid.  As I changed my thinking, my body stopped reacting in a manner to claim a need for the cigarettes.  It was not easy, but I had physically quit smoking 10-years before my mental processes, and mental addictions were finally conquered.  The power to correct my body’s behavior towards cigarettes was always mine to claim and apply, but first, I had to change how I think about cigarettes, then my mental needs changed, and then I was free of the mental addiction.  Changing thoughts and time, experience, was required, and slowly my body obeyed.

I have seen the same occur in reverse.  A female friend of mine claims she needs chocolate during her menstrual cycle to maintain mental health.  When she discovered that chocolate was the main factor in her deteriorating health and obesity, she still maintained that chocolate was healthy and blamed everything but chocolate for the problems.  When she went through menopause, she discovered that chocolate had no power over her body and was left without her mental crutch and excuses.  What could have been a life-altering discovery did not change behavior because the thoughts never changed.  I moved and lost contact before her story ended, but the failure to change thinking has always left me wondering what thoughts I need to change to avoid a similar fate.

Bait & SwitchThe New Testament records, “He that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.”  To which James Allen has added, “… for only by patience, practice, and ceaseless importunity can a man enter the Door of the Temple of Knowledge.”  I remember reading about a famous diamond mine in Africa, the largest diamond mine in the world, and how even with technology, the mining process continues to be one of patiently gathering, carefully digging, and unending repetition to haul diamonds from the dirt.  In L. Ron Hubbard’s book, “Battlefield Earth,” one finds the same pattern in digging for gold.  Patience, careful gathering, unending repetition, and still the results are teaspoons of gold for the tons of rock and dirt shifted.

The mind is the same.  Changing thoughts requires time, patience with yourself, and care in selecting new thoughts to plant.  Care in how old thoughts are removed so as not to damage those thoughts being cultivated, and unending repetition to remove the seeds of thoughts that would be the weeds in your mental garden.  But, with the pattern comes the promise; those who put forward the work will reap a garden of benefits.  What are those benefits of changing our thoughts, “As a being of power, intelligence, and love, [being the] lord [and master] of his thoughts, a man holds the key to every situation and contains within himself that transforming and regenerative agency by which he can make himself what he wills.”

Knowledge Check!What benefit could be grander, to will something into existence through the power of thought!  How amazing a world we could make when all people realize this power and claim this power by changing how we think.  There is a benefit to cause and effect; that benefit is realization, wisdom, and eventually power to will into being that which is powered by our thoughts. So choose to consider changing how you think and watch how the world shifts around you.  You can change yourself by changing your thinking!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.