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6/25/2013 6:00:00 AM
Health care delays worry local veteran

Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa
Miner Staff Reporter

KINGMAN - Louis Russo is concerned that a lack of Veterans Affairs doctors and a change in the way the VA is handling pain medications is threatening the lives of local veterans.

Russo, a Korean War veteran, has been fighting to get his prescription pain medication refilled for more than a month. Russo takes the medication for the constant pain in his shoulders, knees, ankles and disabled right hand.

"The medication is just enough to take the edge off the pain and that's all I need. The pain's still there, it's just not as bad," he said. "I makes it where I can actually do something."

"This isn't really about me. I'm lucky. I'm not in as bad a shape as some of those guys out there. There are veterans out there who could die if they don't have their medications."

Ame Callahan, a public affairs officer with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Prescott, said the department sent out a notice to all registered veterans in its Health Trends newsletter earlier this year saying the department would start re-evaluating all veterans on narcotic pain medications in March.

"We're trying to convert veterans from short-acting medications to long acting medications. That way they don't have to take so many pills each day," she said.

According to the newsletter, short-term narcotics are less effective on pain because patients have to keep taking them in order to get relief. This can lead to a tolerance for the drug, which then requires the patient to take more, which can lead to addiction.

If a veteran runs out of pain medication while waiting to be re-evaluated, the VA will send them a 30-day supply, Callahan said, but if they go through that supply before the end of the 30 days they're going to have to either wait to see a doctor or work with their primary care team to get another prescription.

In mid-May Russo's prescription ran out, so he called for a refill.

"I had to call the VA two or three times that week to get the prescription filled," he said, a 30-day supply.

Then, because of the limited mobility in this right hand, Russo used a pair of pliers to get the childproof cap off the bottle - and when the bottle popped open, he lost half of the pills down the kitchen drain.

"I called to ask for another prescription but they said I couldn't get more until I saw a doctor. When I asked when I could see the doctor, they said they were shorthanded and would fit me in as soon as they could," he said.

At the same time as the VA was re-evaluating pain patients, the doctor at the Kingman VA clinic retired, Callahan said.

"We've had doctors filling in by using our telemedicine program or driving up from Prescott to see veterans," she said. "We're working very hard on the situation."

Since Russo ran out of pills, he's been taking a handful of Tylenol each day for the pain while continuing to call the VA.

Russo said a VA patient advocate did get back to him Friday afternoon after he left three messages that day with the office. The advocate told him someone would call him Monday. Russo received a call from a nurse around 3:30 p.m. Monday.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Article comment by: Capt. Nice

I have had problems with the VA pharmacy sending me the wrong meds, which is time consuming to get it straightened out, so I quit using them.
I know that the VA has to put up with a lot of different people, but it would be nice if the front window (not all of them) would start treating the Vet's with a little respect and quit treating them like they are beggars off the street and that they (the VA) are doing them a big favor.
The VA doctor that I am to see is from China I believe and cannot speak clear English and is hard of hearing. It is a waste of time talking to him as he prescribed med's for me that I have no idea why.
I guess we should get used to this as obamacare is going to be worse

Posted: Thursday, June 27, 2013
Article comment by: Butch Meriwether

There are always two sides to the story.
I have disabilities because of Agent Orange and I personally have had numerous dealing with the Kingman VA. All I can say is my medical needs have always been taken care of there and I feel as if they really cared about me personally.
An example is today I called the Kingman VA Clinic just before noon and told them my left foot has been swelling up. They instructed me to come to “open sick call” at 2 p.m. and when I arrived, I would venture to say I only waited about five minutes before a nurse came out and got me. She looked at my foot and then a doctor came in. It turns out my foot is swelling because of my diabetes.
I can’t explain why some people say they do not get receive good service at the Kingman VA Clinic and maybe it can be the way they present themselves when they arrive. If someone comes into the clinic (and I’ve personally seen this) demanding service, starts complaining or yelling at the front counter person, then I understand why they may not get right in to see a nurse or a doctor.
The guy who dumped some of his pills down the drain when opening the bottle shouldn’t have been over the drain – plain and simple. How does the VA know he dumped them down the drain instead of taking them?

Posted: Thursday, June 27, 2013
Article comment by: desert dweller

I too am a veteran and on file with the VA...I have to say, they have been very good to me...! I hear a lot of complaining and grousing about the VA, but never a comment on the cull thats in the white house that is causing the shortage of funds at the VA! The KIngman clinic...a number of years ago had over 4000 vets! 4000, you have any idea what it takes to maintain that many veterans? Those people work their butts off...I for one of proud of them, and yes , sometimes I get exasperated, but then I try to remember what they are trying to do for so many with so little....Watch what the H you vote for....see if they support veterans! I have been through a number of providers (Dr's and Nurses) , they come and go, for what they are paid and the hours they put in I can understand it, I hated to see some of them go, they were outstanding people...

Posted: Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Article comment by: Local nurse

I'm a nurse who deals with the VA all the time, and they're an absolute nightmare. Our veterans do NOT get the care they deserve. It's pitiful.

Posted: Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Article comment by: Melissa Robb

@ Big Crocodile Tears: Perhaps if you were a Veteran you could understand the agony of not getting the treatment you deserve. After all we as Veterans, Active Duty, National Guard and Reservists sign on the dotted line. That signature is basically a blank check that could cost as much as our lives. We do so in order for people like you to make the comments you do. Do not judge or make comments about something you know nothing about or until you have walked in Our Boots! Mr Russo..thank you and my prayers go out to you. I hope you get the care you deserve

Posted: Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Article comment by: war vet

I've had to take pain meds for permanent injuries I had got from combat in the Iraq War. Now my V.A. Doctor is cutting back on my meds. I don't know what the V.A. is doing, but It's going to be a problem for me.

Posted: Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Article comment by: He's Lucky they ever called

Hey your lucky they even called !!! I had left over 15 messages from last Feb. thru April and NEVER had anyone return a call. All you need to do is GET A REAL DOCTOR that gives a damn about people, at the va you get ONE ten min dr appt a year they just don't care about vets that are over 60 any more !!!!

Posted: Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Article comment by: Big Crocodile Tears

Gee, do you think that the veterans are about to be brought in to the real world. The world the rest of us have to deal with.

Posted: Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Article comment by: Dannies Joy

I am the wife of a Veteran who uses the local VA Clinic. I agree with Mr. Russo's complaints. My husband used the VA Clinic in Cheyenne, WY (hospital on site) and had no problems. There are other issues that need to be addressed with the local clinic as well: 1) There needs to be a doctor on site licensed by the State of AZ so prescriptions can be written and obtained locally (at a lower cost than the VA and quicker). One should not be FORCED to use the VA mail order pharmacy. 2) Veterans should not have to "split" pills when a medical issue prohibits them from doing so easily. 3) Recently, my husband had to travel from Kingman to Prescott to get an Xray in our own vehicle. The VA provides a van, however, due to medical issues, this was not an option. Note: last year he had a procedure requiring an Xray and it was done locally, why the discrepancy?? 4) It should not take MONTHS to get a surgery consult & surgery scheduled, especially is someone is experiencing severe pain.

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