Team Effort

As VA hospitals struggle to meet rising demands, the Red Sox Foundation and Mass General have found a way to shore up care for local vets.

vets – the lifers of the hospital – dominated the group sessions Evan attended. He couldn’t relate. He wanted more one-on-one care, but said he only got more drugs. (The VA won’t talk about individual patients.)

Gary didn’t know what to believe. Massachusetts’ VA hospitals were supposed to be esteemed. Then again, Evan wouldn’t lie about something like this, would he? It was frustrating. It was more frustrating to learn, months later, that during Evan’s three months in Bedford the service organizations that operate within VA hospitals and are charged with putting in disability claims failed to do so for Evan. This paperwork was critical – without it, he couldn’t receive long-term VA care.

The hospital released Evan in January 2009, and for the next year he had weekly therapy sessions – but again, among Vietnam vets with whom he felt he had little in common.

He wanted to go back to school, and this past January he got the chance. The VA referred him to the Northeast Veteran Training and Rehabilitation Center in Gardner. There, Mount Wachusett Community College offers classes, free of charge, to rehabbing veterans. But Evan wasn’t ready. He couldn’t concentrate. Within two months, he got kicked out for not doing his classwork. He moved back home.

He was anxious, depressed. The night missions started up again. Intellectually, Evan knew his behavior was bizarre, but emotionally he needed to quell his apprehension until he could be sure that Amesbury at night was not Iraq at night. His parents tried to get him back into Bedford, but were told no beds were available. When the memories of Iraq became too acute – the bombs he disarmed, the insurgents and civilians killed in one particularly intense sweep, the fellow soldiers who died in IED blasts – Evan blurred them by binging on pills. He talked of suicide. The VA saw him when his parents called again, but the appointments were short and infrequent.

This past May, the VA admitted Evan into a substance-abuse program in Bedford. It would not treat Evan’s PTSD – the real cause, Evan believed, of his drug use. Yet it was a start. Evan wanted to go back to school, become an EMT, and he knew a program like this could lead him to better days. On his third night there, he took something to help him sleep – a VA doctor had prescribed it at an earlier visit – and woke up the next day to a drug test, which he failed. Administrators kicked him out of the program.

"Fuck you," Evan told the security guards as they removed him from the building.

A few days later, and after an unsuccessful bid for admittance to another program, Evan told his parents he was done with the VA.

STORIES LIKE EVAN SMITH’S were not foreign to Tom Werner as he dug deeper into veterans’ care in 2008. "This is a massive problem," he says. "Boston is a center for excellent doctors…and I thought maybe there was enough wisdom where we could come together to address this."

  • Nancy

    This is a highly misleading article. I am also a Vet and have been treated better @ the VA than anywhere else. What I really see in your article is that VETs should be seen @ MGH at taxpayers’ expense. Care at a non-VA hosp is going to be higher. Of course if VA paid for it, the private hospitals wouldn’t be in so much red-ink!

  • Bryan

    This article is the most irresponsible thing I have read in some time. The author has clearly not read recent data of the VA hospital nor has he chosen to include anything regarding positive care at the facilities. The VA is an exemplary hospital system and access to care is not obstucted as he chooses to state in his attempt to illicit a tear or anger. Mr. Kix, this is not your best day.

  • mckenzie

    Mr. Kix, you should be ashamed. Is there a reason no interviews were completed with more veterans or VA employees? Perhaps a deadline was the reason for this poorly researched article.

  • M

    Mr Kix article doesn’t refer to an independent survey where VA scored tops in patient care based on surveying actual veteran patients or recent articles in WSJ that oppose some of the points he selects to portray. Personally I am not a veteran and receive care at MGH another of Boston’s fine institutions. I waited 1.5 YEARS to get assigned a primary care physician within that system. There can be long waits in healthcare no matter which hospital but the author omits these facts.

  • Alex

    i can only assume that Mr. Kix never served a purpose greater than his own self-indulgent needs. as a vet, i have given so much to this country, my father did too, as well as my grandfather. to read such slanted, half-truths about the only organization established to help those that served is heart breaking. i have not always received quick appts. or been treated like a king while at the VA but i know that the soul of that oragnization deeply cares about me and is honored to assist me with my medical needs.

    if one of my recently returned brothers (or sisters) reads this article and decides the VA can’t or won’t help them… if he/she does the unthinkable becuase they feel the one place that is meant to help – won’t… their death will be on your conscious. you owe us veteran an apology.

  • Roger

    This article hit the nail on the head. All the comments that the article was an in justice, are management for the VA in West Roxbury.

  • Cindy

    Where did you get your journalism degree, online? Most people, even the enquirer, check things out before they print them. Sounds like you had a beef with someone at the VA and are making up lies to suit yourself. I have several relatives that have been seen their and all of them have nothing but praise. Did you let the readers know that the IG report was from 2007, didn’t think so. The VA is a nice, caring place to be but you wouldn’t know that because you don’t know how to research, you just take one persons word for it. You are a disgrace to journalism.

  • Cindy

    Where did you get your journalism degree, online? Most people, even the enquirer, check things out before they print them. Sounds like you had a beef with someone at the VA and are making up lies to suit yourself. I have several relatives that have been seen their and all of them have nothing but praise. Did you let the readers know that the IG report was from 2007, didn’t think so. The VA is a nice, caring place to be but you wouldn’t know that because you don’t know how to research, you just take one persons word for it. You are a disgrace to journalism.

  • Cindy

    Where did you get your journalism degree, online? Most people, even the enquirer, check things out before they print them. Sounds like you had a beef with someone at the VA and are making up lies to suit yourself. I have several relatives that have been seen their and all of them have nothing but praise. Did you let the readers know that the IG report was from 2007, didn’t think so. The VA is a nice, caring place to be but you wouldn’t know that because you don’t know how to research, you just take one persons word for it. You are a disgrace to journalism.

  • Cindy

    Where did you get your journalism degree, online? Most people, even the enquirer, check things out before they print them. Sounds like you had a beef with someone at the VA and are making up lies to suit yourself. I have several relatives that have been seen their and all of them have nothing but praise. Did you let the readers know that the IG report was from 2007, didn’t think so. The VA is a nice, caring place to be but you wouldn’t know that because you don’t know how to research, you just take one persons word for it. You are a disgrace to journalism.

  • Cindy

    Where did you get your journalism degree, online? Most people, even the enquirer, check things out before they print them. Sounds like you had a beef with someone at the VA and are making up lies to suit yourself. I have several relatives that have been seen their and all of them have nothing but praise. Did you let the readers know that the IG report was from 2007, didn’t think so. The VA is a nice, caring place to be but you wouldn’t know that because you don’t know how to research, you just take one persons word for it. You are a disgrace to journalism.

  • Cindy

    Where did you get your journalism degree, online? Most people, even the enquirer, check things out before they print them. Sounds like you had a beef with someone at the VA and are making up lies to suit yourself. I have several relatives that have been seen their and all of them have nothing but praise. Did you let the readers know that the IG report was from 2007, didn’t think so. The VA is a nice, caring place to be but you wouldn’t know that because you don’t know how to research, you just take one persons word for it. You are a disgrace to journalism.

  • Cindy

    Where did you get your journalism degree, online? Most people, even the enquirer, check things out before they print them. Sounds like you had a beef with someone at the VA and are making up lies to suit yourself. I have several relatives that have been seen their and all of them have nothing but praise. Did you let the readers know that the IG report was from 2007, didn’t think so. The VA is a nice, caring place to be but you wouldn’t know that because you don’t know how to research, you just take one persons word for it. You are a disgrace to journalism.

  • cecilia

    Ms. Matthews who is quoted in this article has helped 500 veterans who all hate the VA? Highly doubtful. And if in 10 years she has only helped 500 vets, perhaps she should be dismissed from her job which can be given to someone who is willing to work a little harder. There are plenty of unemployed vets who could use a good advocates job. Mr Kix, where did you get these sources? Must have been hard up.

  • robin

    When an article refers to Mass General readers understand the scope but when an article refers to THE VA – all facilties nationwide are included. An employee is cited not the thousands of others who beleive in the mission of caring for those who have borne the battle. In the article, Home Based care started after a visit to Walter Reed which IS NOT a VA facility – it is a military hospital. Was that point too difficult to research?? The VA has been a player in the Home Based program since the beginning. I except better reporting from Boston Magazine.

  • Mark

    It appears that you never took statistics since there is no evidence of the level of confidence, correlation of confidence,local population sample that you state in the adverse data in your article. I have had superior care at the VA at west Roxbury. They saved my life when I had viral encephalitis by correctly diagnosing it and treating it. I found the care superior to my private health care.I got several of my veteran friends to enroll and they said that their experience was superior as well. You shoud not pick and choose data or personnel for your stories without doing some sort of some blind randomized survey of veterans who use the local VAMC’s.

  • Mark

    It appears that you never took statistics since there is no evidence of the level of confidence, correlation of confidence,local population sample that you state in the adverse data in your article. I have had superior care at the VA at west Roxbury. They saved my life when I had viral encephalitis by correctly diagnosing it and treating it. I found the care superior to my private health care.I got several of my veteran friends to enroll and they said that their experience was superior as well. You shoud not pick and choose data or personnel for your stories without doing some sort of some blind randomized survey of veterans who use the local VAMC’s.

  • Mark

    It appears that you never took statistics since there is no evidence of the level of confidence, correlation of confidence,local population sample that you state in the adverse data in your article. I have had superior care at the VA at west Roxbury. They saved my life when I had viral encephalitis by correctly diagnosing it and treating it. I found the care superior to my private health care.I got several of my veteran friends to enroll and they said that their experience was superior as well. You shoud not pick and choose data or personnel for your stories without doing some sort of some blind randomized survey of veterans who use the local VAMC’s.

  • Mark

    It appears that you never took statistics since there is no evidence of the level of confidence, correlation of confidence,local population sample that you state in the adverse data in your article. I have had superior care at the VA at west Roxbury. They saved my life when I had viral encephalitis by correctly diagnosing it and treating it. I found the care superior to my private health care.I got several of my veteran friends to enroll and they said that their experience was superior as well. You shoud not pick and choose data or personnel for your stories without doing some sort of some blind randomized survey of veterans who use the local VAMC’s.

  • Adam

    MGH Department of Psychiatry is world renowned … for ethical conflicts of interest in research. Did Mr. Kix ask how much of the 6 million raised is going to support care of veterans versus lining the pockets of MGH research? Will MGH provide free care for veterans for life with complex PTSD, substance abuse, brain injury requiring prolonged hospital stays?

  • danielle

    What a poor piece of journalism. First of all the facts seem higly misconstrued – in 10 years of wokring at the VA an advocate helped 500 veterans, all of which did not think highly of the VA? What is the likelihood of that sample? And only 500 out of over 60,000 veteran’s in the system? This alone causes me to question the validity of the entire article. And the wait times? Really? I personally receive care at one of Boston’s major well respected hospital’s and rarely have I ever gotten to see my own PCP or specialist within 30 days. Overall, a truly disappointing article. I hope to see a more fair and better researched article regarding the VA published soon – our veteran’s deserve that.

  • William

    Talk about honestly, The VA in Boston makes up their own stats. The administration son’t us Vets, if you complain, they call their Police and now your a criminal. The VA us run by a bunch of sneakie non vet liars.

  • Jane

    I’m a combat veteran and employee. And they treat both like cattle. The student Dr’s don’t care about us Vet and the higher muckies are so out of touch, they believe their own stats that they create. I would take dog to the VA.

  • Dana

    I am glad to see so many people supporting the Boston VA. As to the negative comments about the VA making up stats and non of top leadership being vets, I’d like to say that the VA Boston Director is a Vietnam vet and one of the health systems specialists in the director’s office is a Desert Storm vet and many service chiefs are vets themselves. The proper stats that Boston Magazine failed to use are not made up by the VA. The VA is ranked high in patient satisfaction according to many independent reporting websites. The VA pulls their data from reliable, electronic reporting sources that would be very difficult for someone to manipulate.

  • jennifer

    In a world where medical practice is increasingly dictated by reimbursement contingencies, the VA is one of the last settings in which the quality of care and the needs of the patients override all else. This reporter’s motives are suspect; at best, the article reflects incompetence.

  • Tracy

    Is Boston Magazine trying to hurt veterans, or is this just a by-product of bad reporting? I hope that you realize what a disservice you potentially do to the veterans by misrepresenting the services available to them in the VA versus the private sector.

  • Roger

    I agree, just be reading the responses here, it’s the VA administration on TAXPAYERS TIME responding to thier guilt. You can read thru the lines the idiots from West Roxbury. And for the director that employyes call OZ (wizard of OZ) no one see or hears from him, except the respond to this factual article.

  • John

    Mr.Kix is very, very uninformed about the VA. SO many studies available out there for him to reference that show how well VA takes care of its Veterans. I’m a Veteran and use VA care almost monthly. Many years ago VA was not the best provider of care but so many wonderful things have changed in the VA over the past 20 years. Perhaps last time Mr.Kix visited VA and our Veterans were 20 years ago and is so removed from understanding what he is writing about. Mr. Kix must have an agenda other than help Veterans because I don’t see this article helping our Veterans in any way. Perhaps Mr.Kix can explain how his article could possibly help our Veterans. I’ve been using VA for over 10 years and the bottom line is I could not ask for a better team of professionals and very timely care. Much quicker care than any primary doctor or specialist I had before outside the VA. Whenever there are specialized services needed and not available at the VA I was sent to the best medical services available outside VA and all was covered by the VA. Owners of Boston Magazine really…

  • Lisa

    This article represents a brief snap shot of the VA and it does not capture the whole picture. I am a 10 year Army veteran who receives all my care from the VA Boston system while there are some issu

  • Richard

    Perhaps the author is simply trying to draw attention to himself and that is more important than unbiased reporting. I am a Veteran and get all of my health care from Boston VA. I have never received better care and have thought that if we have to have national healthcare (echh)then it should be run by the VA. The author needs to change careers!

  • Paul

    I’n bewildered by most of the responses to this article. The author’s thesis is that there are large gaps in the continuity of services received by veterans through the VA. He then describes several particular examples supporting his assertion, identifying and quoting vets at the center of these case studies, and reports how private entities have emerged to fill the void. Seems pretty straightforward and normative as short investigative pieces go. I can’t help but feel as do others -given the disproportionate and misdirected responses – that many of the posters are pursuing an agenda that has more to do with protecting the VA than it does with addressing the current crisis in services for vets. Also, I must add that I know Ms. Matthews, who has seen “only” 500 veterans over the past decade. What should have been made clear is that Ms. Matthews advocates for veterans as a patriotic calling, doing so on her own time and at her own expense. Typically, her veteran clients describe her as the help they have been in dire need of for years, and that it is only after her advocacy that they begin…

  • Paul

    receiving apprpriate attention and services from public sources. All of this leaves me with two distinct impressions, the first being veterans frustration and need, and that sort of consistent-to-the-poin-of-cliche denail and dismissivness at VA. This a long, sad, and well-documented story that seems to remain stuck in a condition of “same as it ever was”.

  • ANONYMOUS

    I came home from Iraq with what felt liek a broken bak. Went to Va who just gave me pills. After I went back I finally got an X-ray, they said I had a strained back. Five months later, I landed in the Cape Cod Emergency room, the Doc got me an MRI finally. He said the VA had been tretaing me for a condition that they did not even know I had. Thanks for the great article, good to know about the Red Sox program. Anyone who hates this article must work for the VA All my buddies have similatr VA stories

  • anonyomus

    my husband finnally got some help Thanks to Peggy Matthews.My husband has only gotten help Because of Peggy Matthews.One day Peggy Matthews came in to his life and because of her he was able to introduce and refer many of his Vet frinds to her and she is in the process of helping them also.
    We were trying to receive help from all kinds of people even rhe veteran in the Center of our town,to no avail.
    Now that we found Peggy , He has finally got some where and we could not have done this with out her help.She has not taken any money for the help and I know she has put in long hours working on this for him. We are very greatfull for the help she has given us.

  • anonyomus

    my husband finnally got some help Thanks to Peggy Matthews.My husband has only gotten help Because of Peggy Matthews.One day Peggy Matthews came in to his life and because of her he was able to introduce and refer many of his Vet frinds to her and she is in the process of helping them also.
    We were trying to receive help from all kinds of people even rhe veteran in the Center of our town,to no avail.
    Now that we found Peggy , He has finally got some where and we could not have done this with out her help.She has not taken any money for the help and I know she has put in long hours working on this for him. We are very greatfull for the help she has given us.

  • dee

    While it’s an unfortunate generalization that Ms. Matthews said, “All the vets hate the VA”–clearly most of the responses to Paul Kix’s article indicate otherwise!–it should be kept in
    mind that 100% of those contacting Ms. Matthews were discouraged and exasperated with their efforts to procure satisfactory medical care. In other words, she–an unpaid advocate–was their last resort! Also, if one reads carefully, the article says that the biggest complaint was around bureaucracy and paperwork, which many vets simple couldn’t wend their way through. Who hasn’t been brought to his or her knees when trying to navigate any administrative system? And, of course, the paper work is just the first of many steps toward medical treatment. Ms. Matthews is just good at it. So no wonder she’s sought after!

    And to Paul Kix’s credit he took on a giant: the VA. Even if his research might’ve benefitted from being more balanced with documented patient satisfaction input and more up-to-date data on, say, that Class Action suit, he has had the nerve to poke a a stick at what some consider a hornet’s nest. The…

  • dee

    While it’s an unfortunate generalization that Ms. Matthews said, “All the vets hate the VA”–clearly most of the responses to Paul Kix’s article indicate otherwise!–it should be kept in
    mind that 100% of those contacting Ms. Matthews were discouraged and exasperated with their efforts to procure satisfactory medical care. In other words, she–an unpaid advocate–was their last resort! Also, if one reads carefully, the article says that the biggest complaint was around bureaucracy and paperwork, which many vets simple couldn’t wend their way through. Who hasn’t been brought to his or her knees when trying to navigate any administrative system? And, of course, the paper work is just the first of many steps toward medical treatment. Ms. Matthews is just good at it. So no wonder she’s sought after!

    And to Paul Kix’s credit he took on a giant: the VA. Even if his research might’ve benefitted from being more balanced with documented patient satisfaction input and more up-to-date data on, say, that Class Action suit, he has had the nerve to poke a a stick at what some consider a hornet’s nest. The…

  • anonyomus

    I can tell you about my husband a Viet Nam Vet. He went to sike apt at the Va in Bedford for many years.I attented Meetings for Wifes of Viet Nam Vets.At one meeting we talked about the Meds they put them on. The ones my husband was on I found out taken togather cause Homicidal & Suicidal thoughts. The morning after my meeting he went to the sike apt and he was locked up and refused the meds the were going to give him. Thank God he did’nt take any of them because i think if he had he would never come home. Thank God their are people that do care and don’t want any thing in return.Like Peggy Matthews she has ben their for alot of Viet Nam Vets and now for the young men and woman coming home now.

  • garrett

    I have had similar issues with the VA myself…

  • garrett

    I have had similar issues with the VA myself…