Joining Forces: Women Veterans Speak Out
Posted by YWM on July 18, 2011
By Jennifer Hunt
When I registered with the Department of Veteran Affairs after my last deployment I did it because it was just one of the many, many forms thrown at us during the demobilization process. I never planned on making it my primary care option.
After I got home I went to one appointment, the doctor said “I didn’t know women were on the front lines?!” and decided not to go back.
After finding out I was pregnant shortly before finding out I was also unemployed, I was persuaded to use the VA for obstetric care. That came with its own challenges, and I’ve written about those on VAntage Point. But that isn’t why I’ve finally given up on getting my healthcare through the VA.
Last Monday I was left waiting in the mental health care waiting room while everyone went to lunch.
I had arrived at the VA medical center at 9 am for an appointment with my Primary Care doctor. The one who didn’t know women are subject to the same combat injuries as men. I thought that if I went through her things might go faster than if I just showed up at a specialty clinic. I wanted to be evaluated for post-partum depression. The internet said I may have it, but the internet is not a doctor so I wanted an expert opinion. My doctor sent me to Primary Care Behavioral Health; which is a walk in clinic so my trip to her was unnecessary. Wish I had known that before sitting in the Red Clinic waiting room for an hour.
After waiting there for another thirty minutes I was seen by an intake counselor and went through all my feelings for the past five months. I was beginning to lift the lid on all the negative feelings I had been stuffing down and denying I was feeling. It was very hard. After that I went back to the waiting room. After another half hour I was taken in by the psychiatric resident for a full evaluation. I lifted the lid on my negative feelings and began to unpack them. It was excruciating. I cried. But I was getting somewhere. I was getting help. Things were going to be fine. I was sent back to the waiting room to wait on the head doctor and decide on a plan of action.
I waited. I expected to wait. I had brought a book.
Then I noticed patients around me disappearing. The halls were emptier, not as much staff coming in and out of doors. I looked at the clock. It was noon. Lunchtime.
As a nursing mother who hadn’t pumped since 6am, (in order to pump, be ready and get to the VA by 9 that was the latest I could pump). I thought this would be a good opportunity to pump, since I hadn’t wanted to leave the waiting room for fear of missing my appointment. I caught a passing nurse to ask if there was a place I could have some privacy. She got a pained look on her face, I suggested an exam room. The doctors use those as offices during lunch. The Women’s Clinic? Closed during lunch. The lavatories? No plugs close enough to a stall. And really, would you want to prepare a meal on a toilet? Because that’s the same way I feel about pumping on one.
So there I was. After four hours I was emotionally raw with a full chest and no place to empty it and no idea when the doctor would actually see me whenever lunch ended.
So I left. I walked down the hall, out the door and got on the first bus pulling away from the medical center. And I’m not going back.
According to a recent article in the Washington Post wait times for veterans seeking mental health face ‘unconscionable’ wait times. Veterans who are fortunate enough to appear in an article such as this, and veterans who blog about their terrible experiences often get their issue resolved when a high level person in the VA reaches out to them. But not every veteran who has an issue can appear in the Washington Post or write a piece that gets posted on VAntage Point. And why does it need to rise to that level for a Veteran to receive some resolution? Why do we need to throw public tantrums to get the care we’ve earned? It’s demoralizing.
I’m a little bitter. But mostly I’m tired. Tired of banging my head against a wall and trying, through writing about my terrible experiences, to make care for those who come after me a little bit better. I don’t have any solutions to suggest fixing this problem. So I’m taking myself out of the equation.
Staff Sergeant Jennifer Hunt has served 10 years as a Civil Affairs Specialist in the Army Reserve during which time she has deployed to both Afghanistan and Iraq. Since returning from her latest deployment, Jennifer has worked to raise awareness about the issues facing female Veterans returning from war and reintegrating into the civilian world. She currently resides in Maryland with her husband and newborn daughter.