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.
gun. The Humvee was traveling roughly 60 miles per hour when it fell into a bomb crater. The impact sent DelRossi into the cab of the vehicle. A bit dazed, the Marines resumed the chase, forcing the thieves to crash. DelRossi detained both suspects.
The next day, he told a military doctor that his neck hurt, but he didn’t stop to have it examined; he didn’t want to leave his unit. By the time he returned to the States, in the spring of 2009, he could barely turn his head. He also had back and knee pain, and could climb stairs only by holding a handrail.
He went to the VA’s outpatient clinic on Causeway Street in the North End. He told the doctor about all his conditions; it disappointed him to receive only an X-ray for his neck – nothing for his back or knee. The staff asked him to wait for the diagnosis; this visit, he was told, would be used as evidence for his disability claim, which the VA would need to approve before DelRossi could get treatment.
He waited nine months. His back hurt so much he slept on the floor. When he walked, he shuffled like his grandfather. When the disability approval did come this past January – along with a diagnosis of cervical spondylosis, an abnormal wear on the cartilage of the neck – it carried the lowest possible disability coverage the VA offered. DelRossi would receive a monthly check of $123 – an entitlement that didn’t account for his other injuries, or what he believed to be PTSD. (He was anxious when awake, and had nightmares. He thought he would rest better if he owned a gun. "I can’t wait till I get my goddamn gun. I’m going to sleep with it every night.")
The low monthly check led DelRossi to find care through Home Base. He wanted to see if his other ailments could be confirmed so he could claim new injuries and hopefully land a higher disability rating. First, the Home Base doctors diagnosed him with PTSD and scheduled him to meet with a Home Base psychiatrist. Then they tended to his neck, knee, and back pain. That’s when doctors discovered DelRossi didn’t suffer from cervical spondylosis, but rather from slipped disks. The pain he felt could have been more easily managed all along. DelRossi now receives steroid injections to lessen his swelling and suffering.
The VA experience left him so angry, he accepted a leadership role in Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom Veterans of Massachusetts, an advocacy group that directs social services to the 20,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who live in Massachusetts. "I didn’t want other veterans to go through what I’ve been through," he says. If a vet calls his State House office about a VA problem, it doesn’t take DelRossi long to ask, "Have you heard about Home Base?"
By the end of May, the program had treated 124 other veterans. This month it is scheduled to open a standalone clinic on Merrimac Street near the West End.