My Early Experience with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs

Hi guys, this blog pot is relatively negative in its tone as it describes my experience with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) abut 15 years ago – I am putting it in here to act as a benchmark to measure how DVA has changed in its dealings with clients. This will hopefully become evident in future posts as we progress down the road to recovery.  I promise the next post will be more positive and deal with re-engagement with past friends.

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I have heard many stories of veterans experiencing difficulties with dealing with the Department of Veterans; Affairs. I understand this attitude has now changed. This is an early experience I had with them for a physical injury from 2000.

After 19 years of service, carrying heavy loads, moving equipment, traipsing across the country carrying packs, rifles, ammunition, etc I decided to change my life and find a more sedentary life in the public (civil) service. Within three months of leaving the Army, I went to the local garden centre and bought a relatively easy to manage bag of garden fertiliser. When I got home and took the bag  out of the car I felt my back crack and immediately dropped the bag. I knew I had done something but didn’t think too much of it – after all, it was not uncommon to have lots of cracks and twinges occur after so many years of physical work.

That evening my back felt a little numb but I thought a night in bed would be all that was needed to fix the problem. Suffice to say, I didn’t sleep very well, despite taking over the counter pain killers. When I went to get out of bed in the morning I was in agony – a grinding pain was in my lower back and the feeling similar to how I would imagine a red hot poker would feel being inserted into my lower back and pushed down into my left leg. I managed to roll out of bed and onto the floor, still thinking things would be okay.

I used the bed to climb up onto my feet with the plan of going into work and seeing how the back went – if it was still sore I would grad some codeine tablets and soldier on. However, the stoic approach was not to be. Standing was agony, sitting was no better – the only relief from the pain was lying in the on the floor in the foetal position. At this stage I thought that maybe I had done more than just pull a muscle.

Long story short I managed to get an appointment to see my general practitioner the next day and after a very, very uncomfortable day and night I was seen and advised to immediately go to the local clinic and have scans done on my back to ascertain the damage. The drive to the clinic was a nightmare – sitting was agony and I found myself having to stop numerous times and lie on the back seat to try to get some relief.

I managed to eventually get to the clinic and was scanned, tested and prodded. I left and was told to get an appointment to see my GP to be given the results. Before I got home, I received a call on my mobile phone (yes it was the relatively early days of mobiles but my work provided me with one) and told to go straight to the GP’s surgery.

Once there, he told me I had burst a disc in my back and needed immediate surgery to have it repaired.  The next day or so is a now a bit of a blur but, within three days I was in hospital and under the knife of a neurosurgeon to remove the disc and scrape its remnants from my spinal cord, reducing the pressure and, hopefully, allow me to continue to be able to walk.

After seven weeks I was eventually able to return to work despite the ongoing pain in my left leg and lower back. After few weeks it was suggested to me, it was odd that lifting a bag that size should have caused such damage an maybe all the years of Army lifting would have weakened my back and, even though I had been out for three months, there would clearly be a link that it would have been a contributing factor.

So I went through the process of making a claim through the department. Mistakenly, I did it by myself, without the assistance of an advocate – I never even knew they existed. Advocates are, generally, ex-service people who are trained by Veterans’ Affairs in managing and submitting claims – they are worth their weight in gold.

So, after attending a number of required appointments and consultations with Veterans’ Affairs appointed doctors, my claim was rejected. By this stage I was exhausted by the process and, even when told I could appeal the decision, I had no fight left in my and just threw the letter into the filing cabinet with a hearty “Fuck that, I can’t go through any more of this shit”. They had won.

Even now, 18 years later, I still have chronic pain in my lower back and left leg and my left foot is numb. But I had been worn down by the system and gave up… I hear the Veterans’ Affairs has recently had a change in policy and attitude so it is more receptive and responsive to the veterans rather than looking for loopholes to counter any claims.  We shall see, as my current claims go through the system… with the help of an advocate.

I would be interested to hear any stories from you guys about your experiences – please don’t just make it a whinge or a story about a friend whose cousin had an experience – just your personal experience would be good to hear.

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