Op-ed by Jerry Donnellan
Director, Veterans Services Agency of Rockland County
Over the years I’ve worked with the VA both personally and professionally, and I have to say I have met a lot of wonderful people. I’ve also met some real knuckleheads.
Unfortunately, in a bureaucracy the “one bad apple” theory comes in spades.
One of my older veterans has been having trouble getting his pain medication since he has to wait 30 days before he can reorder (memory being an issue). He then has to be available to sign for the mail – so he has to have it sent to his work, which eliminates the possibility of getting it on Saturdays as well as Sundays. Mondays when there’s a 3-day weekend assuming he remembers to call the nurse to reorder (since older vets are not always computer savvy) it’s a case of getting someone on the phone, then the nurse having to get a hold of the doctor who contacts the pharmacy. The pharmacy not only has to fill the
order but then has to get it into the mail (personally I’ve had medication sitting filled at a pharmacy waiting to be picked up when the instructions clearly asked for overnight mail – and that’s happened more than once). For that matter, over the course of a year my veteran has been without medication for a total of 30 days because someone in the half a dozen or more set of hands this has to go through, dropped the pill.
However, when we’re dealing with opiates and vets can’t get what they should, they become frustrated with the VA and in some cases go into withdrawal. In many cases the older veterans will turn to alcohol. The younger veterans will turn to street drugs. Heroin is now going for $10, so we shouldn’t be surprised when overdoses among veterans increase as well as the rate of suicide.
My older vet becoming frustrated with the mailing system and complained, was told he could drive to the VA pharmacy and pick them up. He’s 91. The pharmacy at Castle Point was a 3-hour drive for him. He was then told he could go to the Bronx, which was closer. True, but only a few miles and putting him in the City at 91, I don’t think it’s a good idea.
What if the VA could make a deal with Walgreen’s and CVS to dispense their medication to veterans? It would give them over 21,000 additional outlets nationally that are handled by trained and licensed professionals.
Simply work it out with the computers where the veterans could by showing their VA ID card, pick up their medication. Have the medication available every 28 days giving them a little bit of flexibility. I think this works on many levels. Walgreen’s and CVS are open seven days a week – some 24 hours a day and many have drive-thru windows, which would be easier for disabled vets. Others will do home delivery.
We could start this slow. Say, just in NY State. My old boss used to say, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” Initially we could limit the vets to those over 65 or ones with service-connected disabilities. If it works, expand it. If it doesn’t, shut it down.
All the VA would have to do would be to refill Walgreen’s and CVS with the medication that was used. This medication they would have on hand and need anyway – and with what they would save in the cost of federal express could cover the changeover I would think.
Further, you might eliminate some of the pharmacy positions that the VA can’t seem to fill at this point. With the veteran population continuing to decrease, the VA will be forced to close hospitals and therefore pharmacies.
So why not start the transitioning while we have the ability to control the direction and not wait for crisis management? Done right everyone could take a bow and the vets would get their medication without hassle.
If the president can figure out how to trade five GITMO detainees for one veteran said to be a deserter, who from the look of things is going to spend the rest of his life in jail at our expense, then surely we should be able to get drugs to a drug store to help millions of veterans who have done the right thing for their country.