Wednesday, May 21, 2014

My Personal Experience with the VA Healthcare System

My Personal Experience with the VA Healthcare System has been excellent with the exception of two issues.

The current issue is that I am unable to get scheduled with a regular 'Doctor.' There is quite a bit of shuffling of 'providers' within the VA system that it is difficult to see the same one every time you have an appointment, if you can even get an appointment; which is the current scandal involving the VA Healthcare System.

When I returned to the VA system in 2009, after having walked away from it in the '80s due to their lack of concern for my health coverage, I found that it had improved a great deal. Of course my situation had changed as I was now in the category of 'service-connected' disability, which had taken over a year-and-a-half to get approved by the VA.

My care-provider at the time was excellent. He knew his stuff plus was a Veteran himself. Two years later, he reached his retirement age and took advantage of it. That's when there was no 'provider/Doctor' assigned to cover my ills. What had happened is that the VA knew my 'Doc' was retiring, but didn't seek to replace him until after he departed. That went on for several months, as I was shuffled around from 'Doc' to 'Doc.'

Eventually, the VA hired someone to take me and many other Vets on as his assigned group. That didn't even last a year, when he was assigned to another function within the agency. No was was given the task of covering for his former patients. This is still the case as I wait for an appointment with God knows who.

The other practices/specialties at our local VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) are superb. I have no qualms with the services they've given me. But most of them require a referral by my 'Doc' and I don't have one.

The influx of Veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan "wars" have overwhelmed the entire VA Healthcare system. It was not prepared to handle an increased volume as these conflicts dumped folks into the system. Nor, of course did Congress even consider care for these Veterans when they sent them off to fight the 'wars' they fund. Buy bullets, but care for the injured and maimed warriors . . . oops, sorry . . . . we forgot . . . and continue to do so. (We Vietnam Veterans know that all too well).

Granted the Grand Rapids area is about to have a brand-new clinic building opening later this year, but that facility is located at the south end of the county, and transportation could very well be a problem for some of my comrades. We'll see what is done to resolve this point.

So, overall, I am content with the healthcare I receive . . . but I have to wait my turn; just as they trained us to do during our military service . . . . "hurry up and wait" and "stand in line."


The biggest gripe I have with the VA Healthcare system is the lack of follow-up or communication which happened to me in May of 2012. Here is the description of the incident I wrote up at that time:

I have had sporadic dizzy spells beginning in approximately 2000, and the episodes have been increasing since then. Several times they have occurred while driving. These spells have resulted in me losing my balance.

The most recent episodes of losing my balance happened twice in a span of two days; the first occurred on May 27th, 2012 when I turned around and subsequently fell and painfully bruised my tailbone. The second episode was more dire; On May 29th,  I lost my balance again as I was descending steps into my garage. (We were preparing for a trip to Ann Arbor (U of M Cancer Clinic) for my spouse’s appointment early on the 30th.) These episodes, I believe have attributed to my loss of balance and now has resulted in physical harm.

I was in great pain but needed to get my wife to Ann Arbor. So, we proceeded to Ann Arbor despite severe pain. When we arrived, I got her situated in the hotel room. I then drove to the Ann Arbor VA Hospital Emergency Room. I got there about 8:00 – 8:30 p.m. (if I remember correctly).

I checked in but they couldn’t seem to find any of my records, despite being in the VA system since the mid 80s. They had me wait for about 30 to 45 minutes to have an X-Ray. After the X-Ray, they sent me back to the waiting area to wait for a doctor. I waited and waited and waited some more. Finally, at 1:30 in the morning I told them I had to leave to get some sleep before taking my wife to her cancer appointment. They took my name and phone number (again) and told me that they would call if they noticed any injury. The next day (May 30th) I did not receive any phone call. Nor did I hear from them on the 31st, or the 1st, 2nd, 3rd or anytime at all. Eventually, the pain was so impairing that on June 8th I called the Grand Rapids VA Outpatient Clinic to see someone about the pain.

When I talked with the representative at the GR Clinic and explained my issue, she said I had to have X-Rays. I told her that I did in Ann Arbor (VA Hospital) on May 29th. She looked it up and saw the report of the X-Rays. She informed me I had a Distular Fibular Fracture (or broken ankle). I had been hobbling around in great pain on this foot for a week and a half without knowing I had broken the ankle. I was livid. I was then informed that I had to go back to Ann Arbor or Detroit for treatment, as the GR Clinic did not have the facilities for treatment of this sort.

I informed her that I could not do that as it was a 2½ hour drive to Ann Arbor, additional time waiting for treatment and a 2½ hour drive back to Grand Rapids. With my wife’s condition, that would be way too much to ask of my her. I asked if the VA would pay for treatment outside of the VA. I was told, after a moderate pause in the response, that I would have some paperwork to complete and have to wait for approval. That was NOT acceptable under the circumstances with the pain and the injury.

Consequently, I called my local physician for assistance. He referred me to Orthopedic Associates, with whom I had a consultation on June 12th. The doctor took an X-Ray and determined that surgery was necessary. On June 18th the surgery was performed with a plate and eight screws implanted into my ankle.

As a result, I was housebound for two weeks and incapacitated and off my left leg for about 12 weeks. Additionally, I have incurred out-of-pocket expenses for the office visits, surgery, medication and a knee walker to provide some mobility. This has also decreased my ability to care for my wife and she has had to care for both of us. There will additional expenses as my case progresses.

In addition to the VA covering my out-of-pocket expenses/co-pays, I would like an apology for the lack of proper care and obvious indifference to my injury.

To this day, I've neither been reimbursed or received an apology for the 'pain' I've experienced as a result. I decided that it wasn't worth the grief and turmoil which it would take to have the scenario resolved, so to keep my blood pressure and temper under control, I've moved on. But I have a constant reminder of this snafu every time I step on my left foot.

I shake my head and remember the phrase . . . . "I'm from the Federal Government and I'm here to help you." Yeah, okay, thanks for your concern."

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Sunday, April 6, 2014

█ Remembering April 6th █

On this day, eight months ago, my Beloved Bride, Best Friend, Lover and Soul Mate, ♥ Mary Radigan ♥ passed away, leaving me behind to grieve her departure. I can't believe how much time has passed since we laughed and talked and hugged. It continues to be difficult to grieve and yet move forward, but I have such great memories in my heart, my soul and my mind of memories, to carry with me each and everyday. I continue my daily journey with the support of my family and friends and my group and counselors at The Vet Center. SHIMILY.

Also on this day in 1968, 46 years ago, my buddy, Dean G. Owen, was killed in Vietnam by a mortar shell. We had switched assignments, he got hit instead of me. Dean is buried at Arlington National Cemetery and his name is on The Wall. thanks for serving with me, my friend. R.I.P.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

My Thoughts on 'Gun Control'

I've been around guns all my life. I learned how to shoot before I was 10 years old. I did a lot of target practice and some hunting. In military academy I used the M-1 Garand, prior to enlisting in the U.S. Army, and there, of course, I used the M-14 and M-16 rifles. When I returned from Vietnam, I applied for and was approved for a Concealed Weapons Permit.

I have a great deal of respect for weapons and the potential tragedy of poor judgement and handling of firearms. I also am a firm believer in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the Right To Bear Arms.

Of course I'm not going to go 'postal' with any of my personal weapons, I just want the piece of mind and comfort know that should the situation arise where my safety (or that my of family or friends) is endangered, I can respond appropriately and responsibly. I pray that never happens, because as a holder of a CPL (concealed pistol license), I'm very aware of any and all consequences of firing at an intruder or other 'bad guy.'

When I was in Vietnam, I never had to fire at the enemy, thank God, but I was on the receiving end of rocket and mortar fire, again, thank God, I was never physically wounded. But I was ready and wouldn't have hesitated one second to fire at the enemy - another human being. Because I was around combat and saw the results of war, and the loss of my buddy, Dean Owen on April 6, 1968; life was pretty fatalistic - death was accepted as a fact of life.

Consequently I know what guns can do IN THE WRONG HANDS. As is commonly said, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." So have no problem with the private ownership of pistols, rifles and shotguns. I have mine. What I do have a problem with is gun 'control.'

I am saddened by the continuing killings which seem to be increasing rampantly. This is unfortunately the result of individuals who have had improper access to weapons. Frankly, I personally don't think that can ever be resolved, because if one really wanted to obtain a gun, they will. I believe in the statement by the NRA  “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun.”

My primary purpose in owning guns is purely for sport shooting, but I want to be able to defend myself should I be threatened. I have a CPL because I live alone and no longer have the ability to defend myself adequately as I could when I was much younger.

I have a problem with 'government' telling me what I can and cannot have, whether it be guns, swords or a 32 ounce cup of pop. I am an intelligent human being, and able to make correct conscious decisions.This is the purpose of the Second Amendment:

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

 I'm not going to discuss any future potential of an insurrection or a second civil war, I just want the right to make my own decisions as to the type of weapon and amount of ammunition which I can possess. It's as simple as that.

I don't have the solution to the increasing amount of public shootings. I just want to continue my enjoyment of the sport, and the ability to protect my person.

I do respect the opinions of others on this topic, but I might not necessarily agree. That's called 'Freedom of Speech,' the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

This is what our forefathers did by forming a militia to  separate us from a monarchy so we could create our own free and democratic country.

I am not about to freely surrender my rights as a gun owner, nor will I.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Monday, March 24, 2014

Blank Spaces

As family members pick up items which have a sentimental value to them from our house, I find blank spaces left behind and empty spots in my life. I have great peace in sharing with them those special parts of what their Mother left behind.

Filling the blank spaces is easy enough, I have been hanging up in those locations, many of my favorite photographs I have taken over the years. I'm not replacing Mary's items, just filling in the obvious spots where things used to be.

But, filling the empty spots in my life; that's not as easy. Yes, I'm doing things, things for me, no longer for us. As long as I keep Mary close to me - in my heart, my head and my soul, I know she is behind me - supporting my efforts. That also gives me great peace.

So I continue to grieve, heal and move forward as I fill those spaces and spots. But the memories of what used to be there, remain with me where no one can take them away from me.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Monday, March 17, 2014

Sorting and Sharing

I've said that I live in a 'museum of memories' following the passing of Mary, and it is true. Our lives became so intertwined, that each of our individual possessions became 'ours.' Now that I am alone, there is much left behind, and it is time for me to determine what is the next step.

I am in no way disposing of everything in a moment of rash behavior. It all signifies Mary to me. Realistically, that would be selfish and perhaps even foolish just to toss it all away. Mary and I had some discussion in the last couple of years of what should be done when either of us passes. I followed up on most of her requests: clothes to In The Image and The Women's Resource Center, other items to other charities to be disbursed to those in need.

What is left are all the sentimental items, too many to mention here. Several of which are important to me, but others important to her family. Mary was part of my life for 15 years, but she was a part of her families life for all of her life. Therefore it was not difficult at all to share her personal items with them. It was important for me to do so, and I wanted to. That was comforting to me. So I did. This past weekend, her Sons, Kerry and Brian came over and help me sort though much of what was here in the house. There were no problems with this task, just trying to find some items and figure out how to get the other items to them. And, of course, there was the wholesale disposal of non-essential articles which would be of no use to anyone at all. Others are still hidden, to surface at another time.

Sorting was and will continue to be hard for me. I am keeping those pieces which are too personal and sentimental to me, to cherish, from our loving relationship. Others I will continue to give to her family.

What is the most difficult to bear is the obvious empty spots in the house where items used to be, but now have a home with her family, as it should be. It's just very obvious that something used to be here and there, which is a very visible reminder that Mary is gone in many ways, and a chasm exists where her presence used to be.

The physical spaces will be filled with replacement items, but the empty part of my life can never be filled again.

Material items can be replaced, memories cannot and it is the memories which I cherish the most.

 ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Saturday, March 15, 2014

"Life Isn't Worth Living . . . . "

That's what I said sometime following Mary's diagnosis of cancer, realizing the inevitable result. I said that as soon as Mary passed, I would join her by my own hand. I wouldn't want to live without her.

Yet here I am, by myself, step by step, moving forward in life. 

For several weeks following Mary's death, I was not really dealing in reality. Yes, I was alive, but in the minimal sense of the word. I was sort of stumbling forward trying to grasp the fact that the Love of My Life had departed this earth. At least I had some common sense left to not make any major rash decisions, and still being able to deal with the onslaught of all the legal affairs.

I believe I got so caught up in all that stuff, I didn't have the time to even think of what I had said about what I would do after her death. I came to realize the grief of Mary's passing would be intensified by family and friends should I make the cowardly decision to end my own life. 

And so, I realized that my comment about joining Mary soon after she would die, was foolish, said in the turmoil of emotion when thinking about living without her.

I am still here, among the living, and plan to do so until God calls me home to join my Beloved Mary. I'm not planning on accelerating that date by any means, I'll wait until it is my turn.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Grieving . . .

"Experts' tell us there are seven steps in grieving, and some say they must follow a logical progression before you are no longer grieving.


In my case, it comes and it goes. Some moments I'm fine and at others, I'm not. The steps are not in any particular order, there is no map of this path. I never know when I'll encounter one of these emotions. One thing I've learned in my counseling sessions is that being emotional is a natural state for humans. It can cleanse you. Well I can tell you that I've been having a great deal of cleansing.

Some may look at me and think that there is nothing wrong with me, that I've 'moved on' or 'gotten beyond it.' Nope, the emotions are there, just lurking in the background, lying in wait to ambush me when I'm not expecting it. And there I am in that moment. Outward appearances can be deceiving.

I'm accepting that I will have these emotions over the loss of My Beloved Mary, My Soul-mate and my Best Friend. Even at this moment, it's trying to sneak in. I can't control it, I can only attempt to manage it. It would be nice if I could push a button and have that moment compartmentalized for handling at a more convenient time. No such luck.

I decided that I'm going to grieve in the manner which works for me, and not care one Dang iota about what people think. They are not walking my path. And if they think that I may be acting inappropriately or or not in a grieving manner (like I might be having too much fun); I don't really give a rip. Follow me down my path, you'll see.

So, I am moving in a forward direction, trying to heal (which I know might never happen) and continue to live.

I know that is what Mary would want.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A New Path

It's been a while since I posted anything of real substance here. It was over a year ago that I even visited and left behind any keystrokes. But in that year my life changed. The Love of My Life, Mary Radigan, departed this earth to be free from the restraints and frustration of cancer.

I knew this woman for over thirty years, professionally and socially. It was in early 1998 that we got together just for movie dates. By Christmas of that year our friendship became more serious. We found that in many ways we had a lot in common, and a few opposites. But that's what made us a perfect match.

As an example, in the early 70s P.O.W./M.I.A. Bracelets were being distributed and worn to remember the missing soldiers of Vietnam. When we started dating, I happened to notice one of those bracelets in a display case at Mary's house. A bell went off in my head and when I went home I dug out my bracelet. They were the same!

Later on, I noticed a carved lion sculpture in her house. 'DING' went a bell again. Yup, we both had similar items.

At this point we both became aware of how much we really had in common. Our friendship had grown into a serious relationship. Consequently on Labor Day of 2001 I proposed to Mary at Buckingham Fountain in Chicago's Grant Park. We planned to get married in 2002.

Eleven days later, the World Trade Center and the United States were attacked by terrorists. We both realized that we were no longer 'spring chickens' and why wait to get married. One month later we were Husband and Wife.

Our lives as a couple formally began on October 21, 2001. We had a wonderful time together, sharing our thoughts, political comments, humor (mostly on my part), and much traveling to mention just a few of many happy times.

Then it all changed. Mary had a strange growth on her body which was biopsied. On the morning of August 31, 2011 Mary received a phone call from the Dermatologist asking her to come into his office as soon as possible. We became worried about the call. As a result of the consultation, the world about us fell into a deep, dark pit of despair. She had been diagnosed with Angiosarcoma, an extremely rare form of cancer of the soft tissue (blood vessels). It was so rare that no known treatment was in place. It is not known where it comes from. U of M prescribed standard cancer treatment for the disease.

Our lives changed at that point as you might imagine. We became focused on 'slaying this dragon' and started rounds of chemo and radiation treatments as well as two years of endless medical appointments.

 In October 2012, Mary had a 'popping' sensation in her left hand. Diagnosis of torn tendons was made and surgery followed in November. She had to wear a device on her hand which I called a crossbow, it was so similar. I was doing what I could to make the situation laughable in spite of all she was experiencing.

In 2013 things seemed to be looking up. Following several checkups at the University of Michigan's Cancer Treatment Center, her reports indicated she was 'stable,' not in remission, but the dragon was held in abeyance. However, Mary had been having increasing pain in her back and we thought that perhaps the cancer had spread. You can imagine our relief when it was discovered that one of the vertebrae in her spine was the issue. Back surgery was recommended, which would be her third operation of this kind.

In July 2013 surgery was performed followed with appropriate in-patient rehab. On July 24th she came home feeling better than she had any time previously. The situation appeared to be improving. Despite having to use a walker to navigate and all the pain meds prescribed, Mary's attitude was in a much more positive mode. We started to make plans to travel again and to resume our lives together after a medical hiatus.

However, this was not to be. After an appointment at the VA Clinic, Wednesday September 4th, I came home to find her on the floor in the bedroom. She was unable to move. When the paramedics arrived they said that she had a stroke and rushed her to the hospital. The medical staff told me that she was rapidly deteriorating and to call the family.

Two days later, Friday, September 6th at 1:45 p.m. Mary passed from this pain-filled life into a state free from all the physical shackles of this earth.

My loving partnership was over. I was devastated more than I had ever experienced before. I had lost my anchor, my stability in life, a relationship which could never be replaced. She was a woman and loving companion with whom I had such a partnership, more intense than anytime else in my lifetime.

And now, six months later, here I am, still missing her more than words can ever describe. I move forward, albeit sorrowful, but yet in remembrance of all the fantastic time we were together. There remains an emptiness which can never be filled, but I continue down the road of life with Mary with me in my heart and my soul.

I fill my life now with activities to help me continue a positive journey in this life, knowing full well that we will be together in another life.

I am grateful that I have the excellent support of my Daughter, Sarah, and my two Stepsons, Kerry and Brian, my best friend, John Sicard; as well as a superior group of friends who stand by me encouraging my growth. Thank you all for this support and stability you've been supplying to me.

As I end this tribute to a warm, loving, intellectual and fun-filled life with Mary, my very best friend, life partner, soul-mate and loving companion; I move forward in very small increments attempting to put my life back together as best I can without the woman I love so dearly.

I intend to continue this blog describing my journey down this path, with all it's trials and tribulations, but mostly documenting life as it happens.

Thank you for reading my soul.

Mike Hale

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Time for a change!

I can't believe how 'lame' the 2012 Congressional session was in accomplishing the tasks which the country needed to progress. Actually, it was the lack of accomplishments, compromise and bi-partisanship. This lack of any positive action has truly increased my production of acid reflux. I am so angry at what has evolved from Washington, that my bride shakes her head at my verbal political rampages directed at our 'representatives.'

I am so frustrated at the constant bickering, finger-pointing and tantrums (much like an infant) coming from our nation's capitol, that I really would like to do a nose-to-nose confrontation with some of those IDIOTS who say they are working for the good of U.S. citizens. HOGWASH (or insert the appropriate expletive of your choice here). Their actions, or inactions, have p****d me off! I am inflamed by their downright STUPIDITY and selfishness.

History will show, I'm sure, that the 2012 Congress has been the most least productive session of Congress in my lifetime, if not longer. The petty bickering and self indulgent actions of many legislators is embarrassing and shameful. I think it is time to seriously consider a recall campaign for many of those folks who claim to be working for us, but instead are working to benefit themselves and screw the taxpayers. Once those (insert an expletive here too) individuals have been dismissed, maybe forward progress can begin again for the future of our country, not for the 'Haves' but for the 'Have Nots.'

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2013 - A New Slate

It's been just over a year since I last blogged, and much has happened. I'm resurrecting the blog as it's time for me to remark again about topics which may or may not be appropriate in a forum such as Facebook or Twitter.

2012 is now behind us. A year in which chaos ensued everywhere. My personal life erupted in many ways as my lovely bride and I approached, tackled and overcame many obstacles which popped up in our journey together. On the national scene, I was affected in many ways as we observed tragedy, turmoil and stupidity.

I pray we learn from what occurred last year and use those experiences to make 2013 better.

Welcome to another chapter in our lives.

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About Me

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A retired former public relations practitioner, radio broadcaster, professional photographer, electronics geek and a Vietnam Vet.