One Family, Two Experiences

Name: Bob Rowen
Branch: Marine Corps
VA Medical Center: Multiple Facilities
Location: Multiple Locations

Bob writes:

As a Marine force recon veteran, I have personally experienced America’s private healthcare system and let me tell you it’s a dismal failure. Inside the VA healthcare system, on the other hand, I have experienced health care at its best. The VA healthcare system provides a clear example of what America’s system of healthcare should look like.

My story actually begins in 1961 with a horrendous parachute accident while serving in the Marines overseas. In December of that year, I was discharged from active duty. For the next several years, I received healthcare services from a multitude of healthcare providers for the injuries I suffered while in the Marines.

My injuries were later exacerbated by a fall down an embankment while employed in private industry. Before I enrolled in the VA, my physicians never talked to one another or tried, in any way, to coordinate services.

In 2005, I discovered the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) could help with my mounting medical problems. I have been enrolled in the VHA since.

“The care I have received from the VA has far exceeded what I have received over many years from private providers.”

Since I’ve been in the VA system, I have received care in several VHA facilities including the Redding VA clinic, Mather, Martinez VA clinic, Travis AFB, Mare Island, Chico VA clinic, and the San Francisco VA Hospital.

The care I have received from the VA has far exceeded what I have received over many years from private providers. I’ve been asked numerous times to explain why I have this opinion and my answers have always remained the same:

The VA healthcare system coordinates care between all providers. Radiology, pharmacy, physical therapy, laboratory, mental health, and patient care programs are well coordinated.

I have had two strokes. After my second stroke I was referred to the stoke center at UCSF by my primary VA healthcare provider. The doctor there provided the most thorough consultation I have ever experienced. Following that consultation, I was referred to the San Fransisco VA hospital where I received excellent care that was coordinated with the stroke center at UCSF.

‘A Devastating Bombshell’

My experience stood in stark contrast to that of my first wife, who was not a veteran, was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor in 1985, and died in 1986. Her diagnosis was a devastating bombshell that resulted in financial ruin and fourteen months of the worst nightmare imaginable.

My wife’s ordeal included care at six different hospitals during her gallant battle. We had healthcare insurance provided by my employer. The policy was considered a “Cadillac” plan known as the 365 Plus policy.

I remember the president of our Board of Trustees of our school district saying, “Our employees should be grateful for the health insurance the school district provides them.”

Our medical insurance policy had a provision for a “catastrophic” illness or injury. However, we learned through hard experience that the master policy contained numerous limitations and restrictions, which resulted in the loss of our savings and a mountain of debt.

“…We learned through hard experience that the master policy contained numerous limitations and restrictions, which resulted in the loss of our savings and a mountain of debt.”

One example was the limit of $1,000 per patient per illness or injury per year for speech therapy, which was one of the most beneficial treatment protocols for my wife. The healthcare providers charged $150 per session three times a week.

Medical transportation was limited to $500 per patient per injury or illness per year, and an additional up to $500 if the first medical facility did not have what the patient needed.

My wife had to be transported by ambulance many times during her illness. On one occasion, she was flown by air ambulance from Weaverville to San Francisco International for her second surgery. After she recovered from the surgery, she was then was flown back to Weaverville.

We had to pay the bills amounting to over $6,000. There was very little coordination of care for my wife between the hospitals, doctors, and other healthcare providers. And there was no follow up by UCSF – the institution dispensed the National Cancer Institute’s experimental formulation known as BUDR (a radiation enhancer).

“We Simply Could Not Overcome the Obstacles…”

What I fear most is that efforts to privatize VA healthcare and Medicare will put us all at the mercy of greed and profit. Having had experiences in the VHA and private sector healthcare, I know that the VHA is devoted to serving veterans and delivers care it is just impossible to get in the private sector.

How will veterans with serious mental and physical conditions be able to navigate the maze that is private sector health care? My wife and I couldn’t and we had the best insurance and were treated by people with the best of intentions. We simply could not overcome the obstacles the system placed in our way.

Bob Rowen
First Force Reconnaissance Company, assigned to Pathfinder Team 43
United States Marine Corps