I wasn't too surprised to find out how shoddy military and VA healthcare remain, even as more grievously injured GIs have flooded both systems since the onset of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. These forms of healthcare demonstrate exactly how socialized healthcare is inherently inferior to its privately-administered counterpart. As you could have probably guessed, I have a few examples of just how inferior it is.
1. In 1985, there was a rumor of an Army sergeant--female--who, having been diagnosed with breast cancer, had the wrong breast removed.
2. Also in 1985, I had my wisdom teeth removed, as the military
nags encourages its young personnel to do in order to avoid such people missing deployments due to dental issues. (Trust me, they take this seriously.) Unlike many, mine were removed via general surgery, since my bottom wisdom teeth were severely impacted.
When the nurses/technicians woke me up after the surgery, I was lying flat, still bleeding and the lip-spreader was still inserted in my mouth. Being still slightly under sedation, I panicked, simply because liquid--my blood--was going down my throat and I felt as though I were drowning. I tried to sit up but couldn't. I couldn't even open my eyes, but I could hear that there were at least two people in the room. I tried to say something, but, since the lip spreader was in, nothing was heard but my grunts and gags.
Instead of taking the lip-spreader out, one idiot put her ear to my lips and said "what?" My grunting got louder, which, fortunately for me, forced the blood out of my throat. Finally, a more intelligent soul in the room removed the lip-spreader. I remember saying something like: "You stupid b*tch! Sit me up so I don't drown in my own f*cking blood!" They sat me up.
(Later, when I had all my marbles back--such as they were--I apologized to an attending nurse [a civilian] even though I didn't know whether she had been in the room at the time or not. She hadn't been, and as I told her what had happened, her eyes widened in shock. Then she laughed and said that she didn't think that there was any need to apologize.)
3. Though I don't have any offspring, I have been pregnant before. I miscarried and I'm not trying to get sympathy or empathy, just trying to illustrate a point.
In 1991, my ex-husband and I decided to try to have a baby and almost succeeded. However, five weeks after a doctor confirmed that I was indeed pregnant, I began to hurt slightly and to bleed--from a place that a woman should not be bleeding when she is pregnant. So, of course, I went to the emergency room at a military hospital. The doctor--an Army major--could not find anything wrong, but assumed that I had some sort of infection--an STD, though the blood and other tests were negative--and prescribed an antibiotic. "Will this hurt my baby?" I asked. "No," he claimed. He put me off duty for three days and told me to come back on the fourth day.
Two days later, I woke up and was preparing to get in the shower when the worst pain that I have ever felt in my life shot like lightening up from my left hip to my same-side shoulder. I felt myself starting to pass out from the pain level, so I sat down on the floor and, then, laid down on it. (My ex was out of town.)
Have you ever felt as though you were about to die? At that moment, I knew instinctively that if I lost consciousness, I would be dead. So, I refused to close my eyes as I crawled over to the phone and dialed 9-1-1. Then I crawled over to the door of my apartment and unlocked it so that the EMTs could get in.
It happened that the same doctor who prescribed the antibiotics was the ER doctor again on that day. When he read my chart, he remembered me--sort of.
"Why didn't you come back when I told you to?!!!" He was shouting at me as if I were an errant child.
Perhaps it was the pain, perhaps it was the idiocy of the question or perhaps it was the direness of the situation, but I lost my military bearing toward an officer at that moment.
"In case you didn't notice, Doctor, you told me to come back after three days; however, it has been only two days since I last saw you. And, obviously the medication you gave me isn't working. NOW, GET OUT OF HERE AND GET SOMEBODY IN HERE WHO KNOWS WHAT THE F*CK IS GOING ON!" He did.
The next thing I remember is being in an ultrasound room and--after the preparations and the scan--seeing my child, seven weeks in the making. His heart was beating.
Nurse/Technician: " The baby is lodged in the opening between your left fallopian tube and your uterus and is implanted there. It has to be removed or you will die. "
Me: (Plaintively) "Can't he be moved?"
I began to cry--and I don't cry easily. That room was full of women (at least three). And not one of them patted me on the shoulder, held my hand or said something like "I'm sorry, dear."
After the surgery I woke up and promptly decided to think about absolutely nothing for a while.*
As I remember these events, it's ironic to ponder that if I were less naturally obnoxious and demanding--and had less of a survival instinct; IOW, if I were less of a you-know-what--I'd probably be dead right now.
All three of these incidents occurred at the notorious and now-defunct Silas B. Hays Army Community Hospital, located at also now-defunct Fort Ord, CA (During the time of the rumored incident and the other two incidents, I was attending the Defense Language Institute at nearby Presidio of Monterey). I have at least two stories involving less hair-raising examples of the type of "quality" healthcare that the VA provides, but I think you get my point. All of the military and non-military personnel at SBH, other military hospitals and VA hospitals are federal employees and, as is so for all other federal employees, it takes an act of Congress--almost literally--to fire them. Therefore, the only incentive they have to excel in what they do is that most prized of characteristics--personal integrity.** (The reason such is so prized is that it's difficult to find.) Barring real consequences for action or inaction, a federal worker with little or no personal integrity can simply squeak by and not worry about getting fired. In the case of all too many federal healthcare workers, competence and "bedside manner" appear to be optional. (See also other government-run healthcare facilities like LA's Martin Luther King Jr./Charles Drew Medical Center. King/Drew, a Los Angeles County facility, is colloquially known as "Killer King"; its negligence-borne body count likely has both doctors--along with Dr. Hays-- spinning in their graves. And many of the perpetrators, doctor, nurse, technician and administrator alike, have kept their jobs and gone on to, possibly, reoffend.)
Knowing the nature of this particularly beastly beast as well as I do, I still think that it was correct for the commander of Walter Reed and the Secretary of the Army to "resign." Even though military/veteran hospital healthcare has been spotty for a couple of generations, we live in a time in which this fact can no longer be ignored and the administrators of the two systems could have seized the opportunity to make changes. (Hey, every other thing involving military matters has been leaked to the Big Media--including classified action designed to combat terrorists; why not this?)
However, unless the conditions of government employment change--unless it becomes easier to terminate government employees for being incompetent--I think that neither the quality of government healthcare nor the quality of any other government agency's services (rendered) will change.
There is simply no incentive for change to occur.
*On a darkly humorous note, my first post-miscarriage visitors were three of my best friends--all men--and the attending nurse was in the room when the three came in together. He (the nurse) gave them this weird look, so I dead-panned that "they're all the father," breaking all four of them up into laughter.
**The above-mentioned nurse--a huge football player-looking Army lieutenant--was top-notch.
UPDATE: The surgeon general of the Army, Lt. General Kevin Kiley--who briefly repaced the commander of Walter Reed--"resigned" today.
(Thanks to Hot Air)