As a (Veterans Administration) VA nurse working in a Bay Area Veterans hospital, taking care of veterans is a lot like getting married to a lost cause. There is the romance and honeymoon of wanting to believe that your patient is a hero, who needs your total commitment to get well.
You really do fall in love with them. Every one of them. And the VA promotes this. What greater mission as a VA nurse than to bring the hero back to health?
They come on the unit. They leave in some kind of state that is better than they came. They dry out. They take their meds. Their blood glucose comes down and they lose weight. They smoke less.
Six weeks, two months, a year later, they return. The roller coaster starts again. They break your heart.
They are in worse condition. One got his foot amputated, and then a year later the rest of his leg. “If I had known about blood sugar levels, I would have eaten better.”
No you wouldn’t have. But we start the fiction all over again. “You can do it! You are worth it! We are so happy you came in to see us!”
It is the least rewarding job for the most needy patients who steal your heart and stomp it into the ground.
The media says that lack of access at the VA occurs because the VA can’t find doctors and primary care physicians and nurse practitioners to work at the VA.
The question is not WHY are the wait times so long. The question at the VA is HOW to find health professionals who can bear the burden of the toll that war takes on these men and women. We who work at the VA know it is because the job robs your soul eventually. Who wants to do it with the current healthcare model where both nurses and the patients fail?
The real question is why doesn’t the VA spend more money on researching what is the best medical and mental health care for self-destructive, non-compliant, often very mentally ill people.
Working at the VA is like being a teacher in a special needs school. But the VA doesn’t teach you how to be a special needs nurse.
The mission of the VA is to serve very special people. As a VA nurse, the VA should stop pretending that regular health care models will work with veterans.
~ The author is a VA nurse working at a facility in Northern California who has asked that their identity not be revealed to protect from retribution.