Friday, February 20, 2009

Never the Twain Shall Meet

Not long ago, I called the Veterans Affairs hospital nearby and followed their automatic system through a series of lengthy prompts until I was finally placed in touch with their mental health department. I was not “suffering a mental health crisis,” so I did not push the button that indicated I was. I would wait in line like everybody else. If somebody actually needed help, I wanted that line open, at any rate.

After the line rang unanswered for a few minutes, the system automatically spit me back to the main operator switchboard, where I told them that I was trying to reach their mental health department. Very apologetic and friendly, the lady transferred me over yet again. More ringing.

Ten minutes and a few more “spit backs” later, somebody finally picked up the phone and informed me that I needed to speak with the chief secretary of the department for my question. They would transfer me to that number. Nobody answered, so I left a message. I’m glad my matter wasn’t urgent.

The reason for my call was this: I am attempting to gain access to the VA mental health staff for a series of interviews wherein I inquire what they have found to be the greatest challenges (mentally and emotionally) facing readjusting to civilian life, and what are their treatment solutions to best help them with the transition. Not only am I curious, but more importantly, I am concerned. I have friends who are struggling, and the facts show many more that I do not know do as well. Were this not the case, the VA itself wouldn’t estimate that 5,000 veterans will take their own lives this year.

In addition to learning what the VA is doing to best help these men and women, I am also interested to determine what we, as family members, loved ones, friends, fellow veterans and Americans alike may do to best assist the VA in their treatments and also best support our veteran friends. Certainly there is something more that we can do – and what better way than to hear the suggestions from the professionals devoted to assisting them? It seems like a good use of my time, potentially productive, and also potentially helpful to the numbers of men and women that need it most.

The next day, having received no call-back, I tried again and spoke with the chief secretary. She told me that I needed to speak with the department head, and forwarded me to that number. No answer. I left a message, grew impatient soon thereafter, and tried again. At last, I spoke with the right person. Well, not really. She directed me to their Public Affairs office, and I was connected with an agent who quickly informed me that I needed to submit the entire proposal to them via e-mail. Oh dear, now I needed to write things down, which I had not yet done.

Nevertheless, I got my act together, wrote something up, had a friend edit it and offer some good suggestions, and then submitted the entire package to the hospital’s public affairs office. A day later, she e-mailed back that the proposal had been sent to regional headquarters for further examination and approval/denial. Now we’re getting somewhere.

Readers may recall that I wrote a post a few weeks ago about my positive experience at my local VA clinic, wherein I dealt with a very competent, friendly, and concerned doctor with an outstanding memory. Towards the end of that piece, I also indicated that I was considering sending them a thank-you letter for their professional and caring service to veterans. And I did just that about a week ago.

Yesterday, I received a phone call from the doctor herself, thanking me for my letter, which they found encouraging, and also thanking me for the humorous post (which I boldly included) regarding VA facilities and my good experiences at her particular clinic.

“We all really enjoyed it, and you write well, so I went ahead and forwarded it to the Richmond. I hope that’s okay.”

It was not, but I didn’t tell her that. It was VERY not okay.

This is the same place to which I just submitted a serious research proposal, and now another document, also replete with my name, as arrived on their doorstep, this one making comparisons of their facilities to Russian sanitariums. The two documents – one written seriously with an eye towards professional research, and the other geared towards poking fun at a massive government entity – are almost completely contradictory.

I have no idea if the same people will see these documents. Nor do I know if it will make any appreciable difference. It’s rather disturbing that a mere eight months after beginning regular writing, some of my material is already potentially biting me in the butt. For the moment, all I can do is hope that one group reads on piece and finds it humorous, another group reads the other piece and finds it inspiring, and that never the twain shall meet. Ever. And in the future, be more careful about what I write.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved


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  2. I wonder what good is going to happen to you today.