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Navigating Rough Waters- Part Two

By Liz Brown

I've been waiting to write Part II of our story about dealing with the VA. Even after our first two miserable experiences, I hoped things would get better. I was praying the story would end better than it started.

Because how could I give up on getting my husband the help he needs? How could I shrug and sigh: 'That's just how the VA is.'

I can't.

Days after our failed trip to the VA clinic, I reached out to a friend, a clinical psychologist, who has colleagues at a different hospital. When I told her about Rob's most recent experience — being directed to a walk-in mental health clinic, waiting for two hours and seeing no one, having a doctor later call and say 'No one told me you were here' — she was both personally and professionally horrified.

"I know you're not doing this for other people, you're doing this for Rob," she said, "but you should make a complaint. Keep after them." In the meantime, she promised to pester her colleagues about getting Rob an actual appointment with a psychologist.

The words 'you're not doing this for other people' stayed with me for days. It's true that my mission is Rob; he is my top priority. I'll walk through the darkness with him for as many miles as it takes for us to find sunlight again. But I know we're not the only ones struggling.

Some veterans and families are not just frustrated, they're desperate. I remember them when we sit and rot in waiting rooms.

I remember the Iraq vet with PTSD who froze to death in the woods after the VA turned him away. I remember the 53-year old homeless veteran who committed suicide in the parking lot of a Phoenix VA.

They are also why I won't give up. I can't give up.

My psychologist friend gave me a name and a number for a VA clinic on the other side of the state. I called. The woman I told our story to got defensive: "That's just how the VA is; we don't make appointments for mental health intake. Your husband has to walk in and wait. There's no promise he'll see someone. Tell him to come early."

That week, Rob showed up when the clinic opened. He met with a case manager who assigned him to a psychologist. A few days later, Rob met the doc for a one-on-one appointment. It went well.

True, this story is far from over. It does feel like the pen and paper has returned to our hands, though. We're finally in the system and Rob has some power to make choices for himself.

It would all be great if we didn't care about other people. But I can't stop thinking about the veterans still mired in the VA mud. My husband is getting help because I have a well-connected friend. What about those still frustrated, still desperate?

What about the Iraq vet who froze to death in the woods after the VA turned him away? Or the homeless veteran who committed suicide in the parking lot of a Phoenix VA.

Who speaks for them?