A few weeks ago, I joined hundreds of veterans who lined the street in Hagåtña to raise awareness on PTSD and suicide among our veterans on our island, and I wondered how did we get here? Is this what it’s going to take to get the attention of our leaders.
Year after year, we have hundreds who get out of active duty, the reserve or National Guard and move home, closer to family and friends as the Soldier, Airman, Marine, Sailor, Coastie and their families slowly reintegrate themselves and their families back into society.
These veterans and their families transition out of the military, most anxious and worried about the unknown. Sadly, most veterans get out of the service without being adequately screened for any physical or mental health issues. For one, I don’t blame them for trying to make the out-processing as smooth as possible because the more problems you have or you want to be addressed, the longer it takes to get that DD 214 in your hand, bags packed, and on a plane back to our island home, Guam.
In 2010, I transitioned out of the military and moved to California for a few months while contemplating moving home permanently. Within the short three months I was there, I was processed in the Veterans Affairs benefits office and was connected with medical services in the county of Los Angeles. That process took less than a day, and it only required me to call one office.
Early 2011 and I decided to move back to Guam and attend the University of Guam to attain my bachelor’s degree in business administration. During that time, I decided I wanted to transfer my VA treatment from California to Guam. I remember Googling the VA office phone numbers to get connected. I ended up getting the runaround before I met a friend who was connected through the Vet Center, which is outside of the VA clinic or medical benefits office. Through the advocacy of the doctors, I was able to get connected and continue with my medical care plan here in Guam. This process took me over a month to finally get screened and continue my post-military medical care plan.
Flash forward 10 years later, and we still hear horror stories of the second-class services veterans are getting here on the island from the VA. Veterans continue to struggle with limited access, poor service and bureaucratic operational systems and processes. On an island with a high enlistment rate to the military per capita, you would think the VA care is suited to the needs of our heroes.
In 2014, Congress attempted to improve veteran care through a provision in the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, which directed the VA to begin a temporary program allowing superb choice.
Again, this process is painful, most especially because we’re a territory, and with that comes a lot of red tape before you can get a referral. In fact, after speaking with a local VA doctor, the Guam Community Based Outpatient Clinic telephone operator, a VA social worker, and the Honolulu VA representative, I still wasn’t able to get approval to see a provider in the community.
I have experienced firsthand the frustration you can get from just calling the CBOC to get an appointment. God forbid, I don’t require any specialty care, but even speaking to other veterans, that process alone is one that can cause great frustration and anxiety. Most of the time, you have to be aggressive and persistent to get a response from the VA.
All these issues and problems are completely unacceptable. Our veterans deserve the best health care system available that delivers proper patient care with prompt access to care and short wait times.
Our elected leaders should not allow or continue to allow a system that functions poorly and does not deliver the services our veterans need.
Vincent Borja is an Army veteran, high school teacher, former business professor and an entrepreneur.