For many of us this has been a mild winter. Many of the Midwestern and Eastern states have had the warmest winter on record. Unfortunately, after a long drought, the West has received more rain than they wanted. But spring is just around the corner, so we can look forward to warm, pleasant weather.
On February 15 I underwent cardiac surgery to replace my aortic valve at the Manhattan VA Medical Center. The surgery was performed by Dr. Eugene Grassi from New York University Medical School. All went well although they had to crack open my chest bone to get to my heart, and I am in the process of recuperating.
I have lots of medical coverage and could have gone to any number of wonderful facilities in New York, but the Manhattan VAMC has an excellent reputation, and all the doctors come from NYU Medical School. The doctors were terrific, as were the nurses, several of whom are veterans. Additionally, the facility is spotlessly maintained, and many of the non-medical staff are veterans. I hope that my excellent service can counter some of the bad publicity that the VA has received. I encourage everyone to get regular checkups, as I had no idea I had this problem.
I want to thank everyone who sent me their best wishes. The truth is my wife Mariann had a harder time of it than I did. She did all the worrying and waiting while I underwent the surgery and a follow-up treatment to deal with a post-operative arrhythmia. I am unable to drive for a while and must sit in the back of our truck when we travel. They are afraid that if we have an accident the air bag would ruin the surgery. I am unable to lift any weight for a while, so I cannot help walk our dogs. Mariann can use your good wishes more than I.
While I was in the hospital, I was visited by the new VA Secretary, Dr. David Shulkin. Dr. Shulkin lives in New York, and while he was Undersecretary for Veterans Health he visited the Manhattan VAMC to see veteran-patients. While in recovery
I heard that Dr. Shulkin might be visiting. I sent him an email, and he was kind enough to stop by.
VVA liked what Dr. Shulkin had done as Undersecretary, so we sent a letter to President Trump asking to keep him on. We were pleasantly surprised when he was chosen to be the new Secretary.
Dr. Shulkin and I had a good conversation. As he has stated publically, he assured me that the VA would not be privatized. I also raised our concerns about the Board of Veterans Appeals process. He mentioned that he had been discussing this issue and seemed amenable to VVA’s concerns about the lack of precedent in adjudicating claims.
The existing VA appeals process does not work. It takes too long and, given that at least 70 percent of the time the veteran’s original claim is either approved or remanded, it must be reorganized. What is particularly egregious is the lack of precedence. Just because one veteran’s claim is approved does not mean that similar claims will be approved. Different BVA judges can make different determinations based on the same facts. This is unacceptable.
I am in the process of bringing together some of the great minds from the leading law schools to take a look at the VA appeals process in order to develop a proposal for an entirely new system. The piecemeal approach does not work. It is time to develop a new, modern appeals process that will serve veterans.
I want to congratulate Rick Weidman for his Lifetime Achievement recognition by HillVets for his service on behalf of veterans. Rick is the face of VVA on Capitol Hill. I am proud to have known him for almost forty years and to call him my friend.
By John Rowan