Guest: Gretchen Martens
Guest Bio: Gretchen Martens affectionately known as the veteran lady. She is the author of untying the yellow ribbon transforming how veterans and communities thrive. In addition, she is the co-founder of the east texas veterans alliance and founder of homeward deployed.
Gretchen Martens talks about how our veterans are transitioning from the military service back to the community.
Neal Howard: Hello you’re listening to Health Professional Radio. I’m your host Neal Howard, so glad that you could join us today. Our military, returning veterans are some of the most important people in our society. They’re highly trained, they’ve actually sacrificed their time, their family, sometimes even their jobs and their health in order to go and serve in military uniform. We’ve got in studio with us today a lady that’s affectionately known as the “Veteran Lady,” her name is Gretchen Martens. And she is here today to talk with us about how our veterans are transitioning from the military service back into the communities. How are you doing today Gretchen?
Gretchen Martens: Very well, thank you Neal.
N: Great, glad that you could us today. Thank you so much for your time. As the Veteran Lady, you’re versed in transitioning our veterans from military service back to civilian life. You’re also an author, the author of “Untying the Yellow Ribbon: Transforming How Veterans and Communities Thrive” and also a children’s curriculum known as a “Veteran studies weekly.” You’re also the founder of Homeward Deployed and cofounder of the East Texas Veterans Alliance. Could you speak a bit about what exactly it is that the Department of Veterans Affairs in the United States and the Veterans Administration does as far as transitioning veterans back to community life and their healthcare?
G: That’s an interesting question Neal because a lot of people don’t understand exactly what the VA does. So once a service member gets out of the service, they get basically a form called “DD-214” and at that point they can apply to the Department of Veteran Affairs to get a disability rating. So for most of are veterans that are eligible for care when they have a Disability Rating. So we see a big gap you may come out to the Department of Defense with the Disability Rating but that doesn’t automatically transition through your VA Disability Rating. So not all veterans are actually eligible for care, many of our veterans returning home from today’s wars are eligible for care for a period of time, following their deployment but that’s not necessarily care for the rest of their lives. So for the veterans that are eligible for care, they’re entitled to wellness care, psychiatrist or psychological care or post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury, getting prosthesis and other kinds of adaptive devices that they need, rehabilitation and training. The VA also is the place the Administration that puts out all of the checks. So if you have disability check, you got your GI bill benefits check, those are the things that the VA is supposed to be doing.
N: There are many countries that basically don’t address any of their returning Veterans’ problems as far as adequate housing, employment searching and as we were talking about today, healthcare. In the United States however the Veterans Administration is responsible for administering the healthcare of returning veterans as you say if they qualify. What are some of the things that would render a veteran ineligible for the care that many of us think that veterans deserve?
G: Well one of the barriers for veterans getting care of the VA is you have to have the Disability Ratings. So this is the before the current scandal of the VA, what was in the news consistently is the length of time that veterans are waiting to get their Disability Ratings. So sometimes that can be as much as 600 days just to be eligible to then walking to a VA clinic and say, “I need care.” So that’s one piece of the barrier and there the GI bill benefits the veterans also apply for – there are significant delays often in those veterans who are … veterans getting their VA checks. So it’s a very complicated system of who’s eligible for what and what it’s going to take to get them care and the other piece that cause problems for the VA recently is they’ve re-issued guidelines around Agent Orange. So now all of a sudden we see Vietnam veterans who weren’t eligible for Disability Ratings are now eligible. They’ve tied Agent Orange to Parkinson’s disease, Diabetes things like that. So now people who weren’t eligible, when my dad was coming out of Vietnam are now eligible for benefits so they’re coming back to get their VA Disability Ratings so that they get disability pension checks as well as care at VA hospital. So it’s a very complicated system, it doesn’t justify what happen, but it is just a very, very complex system and a lot of different parameters around who’s entitled to what kinds of benefits and for how long and how much money they’re gonna get in Disability Ratings.
N: Now during the rollout of the Affordable Care Act – a big controversy over access to the exchanges. There was lots of talk about the government being unable to administer healthcare. Now the Veterans Administration is government run and now there is a lot of talk in the media and people they call into to talk … talking about the Veterans Administration being the model of what the Affordable Care Act is going to be. In your opinion, is that the measuring rod by which we’ll count the Affordable Care Act as a success or a failure by looking at the VA?
G: I actually don’t think it’s a very good comparison because the VA is almost like a private hospital system. It’s like a Humana or it’s like one of the people they’re looking at to take over the VA is Dr. Cosgrove from the Queensland clinic so that’s a big medical center. The Affordable Care Act is about how you get health insurance to go to access local hospitals in your communities. So by using myself as an example, I buy my health insurance because I run my own small business – I’m an author, speaker, and consultant. I’m not going to a government run healthcare facility, I’m using the private pay or services within my community using my privately paid for healthcare as a way to get access to those services. So to me the better question is why if I can go private pay and so I’ll just disclose this – I’m 52. I’m in excellent health, I still have to pay about $450 for really good PPO or Preferred Provider Optional on my health insurance but that’s what that’s a $6,000 a year I’m paying for my health insurance, because I need good coverage. When we look at the numbers of veterans that use the VA only about a third of veterans use the VA. They have a budget of a $164B a year that comes up to $45,000 per veteran. So why can I get excellent healthcare coverage at $6,000 a year but Veterans at $45,000 per veteran that actually uses the system can’t get good care?
N: Very good question.
G: When the cost of that care is … almost 8 times what I private pay.
N: Yes. We’re talking about the recent scandal as being I guess the catalyst for a much deeper look into the Veterans Administration as a whole. Now you’ve mentioned that there could be a waiting period of up to 600 days just to be rated and to determine which category of care you even fall into. Now a year is what 365 days right?
G: Uh huh.
N: So you’re talking closely to two years upon returning from any country just to find out what they’re eligible for and not receive any healthcare form the VA in that time period.
G: Or only what they’re eligible for as a returning veterans who’s returned from deployment.
G: So that’s why we’re looking at veterans that died in the Phoenix VA hospital and that cooking the books now at 42 different VA facilities around the country but there are all these other facets of the VA that we’re not looking at. So we’re no longing really putting attention on the 600 days that many veterans are waiting to get their Disability Ratings. We’ve looked at appointment times but we’re not also looking at the quality of care that they’re getting and I know the big thing that the military is putting out now, is well once you get into the hospitals you get quality care, well that’s actually not true either. And then you look at student veterans who are not having their GI bill money processed. So we have homeless student veterans living in their cars or being denied the ability to reenroll because the bills aren’t paid and the universities finally said “You owe us for a year of payments, we’re not gonna let you come back and study.” And then there’s the whole piece that got almost no attention which is a hundred dead veterans in the LA morgue waiting to be buried by the VA with cemetery and burial rights their legally and morally entitled to and the VA has dead veterans that they haven’t claim for more than a year in LA morgue. So for me that’s five different facets of dysfunction at the VA and we’re only focusing on one of them, which is cooking the books on wait times which result in people dying.
N: Now is this problem something that you’ve discovered that is being going on for a long, long time or is this something that has just come up say I’ll be generous and say in the last 5 or 10 years? There’s been a lot of talk in the news, not on a daily basis but over the course of the last say 15 years about the Veterans Administration taking steps to improve many of their facilities nationwide. So how can they be improving for so many years with this underlying tragedy going on right under our noses?
G: Well and that’s another really troubling piece of this is that the VA almost from the time that it was set up, has had problems. I mean the VA, I wouldn’t use the word ‘incorporate,’ it created back in 1921. We really haven’t gone through a single decade since 1921 whether wasn’t some sort of a VA scandal and people not getting benefits, corruption, poor care, the list just goes on and on. So really the VA hasn’t worked since the very beginning, which leaves us the question, “Do we need to just completely have a different system?” which I understand would be extremely, extremely complicated.
N: As we wrap up this segment, you’re the author of “Untying the Yellow Ribbon: Transforming How Veterans and Communities Thrive.” We’ve been talking about not only the immediate healthcare issue but many of the underlying issues that no one seems to be addressing at least as the investigation is in its early stages right now. Why did you write the book “Untying the Yellow Ribbon?” What message are you trying to get out to our veterans and the population at large?
G: Well where the VA scandals become timely is it I thought for a number of years that our federal government was not going to get the job done for today’s young veterans coming home. Most of them are under 30, 85% of them under 30 with the high school education, 70% of them are married and/or have children and we are really in danger of losing them in the same way that we lost a generation of veterans after Vietnam. And I take no joy in the current VA scandal that just actually seems to be one of the final nails of the coffin of shame. If we don’t all pull together at the community level to take care of these young men and women, that we’re also at the fight because we elected the people that sent them, then we’re gonna have another generation of lost people. I don’t think any of us want that.
N: A vicious cycle of tragedy as far as returning home from a war zone. You’ve been listening to Health Professional Radio. I’m your host Neal Howard. It’s been a pleasure having in studio today with us the “Veteran Lady” she’s affectionately known as such her. Actually, her name is Gretchen Martens. She’s known as the “Veteran Lady” because she’s well versed and well respected in how today’s military men and women transition from military service back to civilian life. We’ve been talking about the issues that are have arisen in the VA as far as long wait periods. So long that some veterans are actually passing away or becoming even more ill just waiting to be seen at the many Veterans Administration facilities. She’s the author of “Untying the Yellow Ribbon: Transforming How Veterans and Communities Thrive” and also the founder of Homeward Deployed and the cofounder of the East Texas Veterans Alliance. It’s been great having you’re here with us Gretchen.
G: Thank you so much. I enjoyed being on your program.
N: Thank you. Transcripts of this program are available at hpr.fm and also at healthprofessionalradio.com.au.