I recently realized that my glasses were starting to cause more issues than they fixed. Blurriness, double vision, problems changing focal planes.

This is top fuck. Exactly what I needed. I have a more recent prescription that works fine (as evidenced by the sunglasses I have to wear most times outside these days) but the prescription is expired, which means that no reputable place will accept it for the purposes of making eyeglasses, and unlike many places I have lived, here you can't just slip the guy a tenner and have him do whatever you want regardless of what the papers say.

I surely do not have the money to get an eye exam and new glasses. Last time that shit cost a couple hundred bucks at the cut-rate.

Yes, I hear you: "WHO FUCKING CARES ABOUT YOUR GLASSES? THIS IS THE WORST INTERNET SOB STORY EVER. THERE'S NOT EVEN A HERO DOG WITH FACE CANCER BATTLING LANDMINES IN THE SUDAN. THAT IS THE GOLD STANDARD."

And I agree. Patience, please.

So I looked at my options hard for a while (as hard as I could, without a good prescription) and realized that if I could bring myself to go back to the VA, they'd get me hooked up with an eye exam and some glasses. Dorky government glasses that work are better than nothing when you're struggling to read the whiteboard on a 19 credit hour schedule.

It was a hard decision to make, given what I've been through with the VA. But I figured, if nothing else, it would be an entertaining look into the real dysfunction of dealing with the organization for the most mundane of things.

If you didn't think The Trial was a comedy, you should probably quit reading now.


I called the number for the switchboard at the local VA clinic. After wading through an absurd number of menus, I was finally passed to a human operator.

I asked for the OEF/OIF desk; She obligingly transferred me. Naturally, it rang out to voicemail, so I left one.

A week later, with no reply, I called again; again, a voicemail. I left another one.

A few days later, while I was in class, I got a return call. It rang four times and then they hung up, not bothering to leave a message, or even to see if it would go through to voicemail.

I called them back about ten minutes after they tried to reach me; nothing. I finally convinced the harried operator to give me the direct line to the desk I wanted. "We're really not supposed to," she said, "But I can look it up for you."

It was abundantly clear to me by this point that the whole enterprise was playing games with call lengths and transfers, undoubtedly to meet some target metric by any means necessary - to include simply shutting out patients.

I called the next morning, five minutes after opening time, and finally (and almost certainly accidentally) got hold of someone at the OEF/OIF desk. I told him what I needed (a referral to Optometry) and he told me to just go ahead and call up there. I asked if he was sure, because I thought I had to get a referral first.

"No no," he assured me, "All you have to do is call them, then they'll put your name down and call you back within a week to make an actual appointment."

I asked him to transfer me through; he said he didn't know the number by heart, and told me to simply hang up and call the main number and ask the operator for Optometry.

So I did. And she patched me through to Optometry. And the gentleman there told me that I would need a referral from my primary care physician. I asked him if he could transfer me to the OEF/OIF desk (where my primary care physician is located) and he told me "We can't do that anymore, just hang up and call the operator."

But my luck for the week had run out. I left a voicemail explaining that I specifically needed a referral to see an optometrist, per my previous two voicemails and the words of the Optometry desk.

A week later I called the OEF/OIF desk again, and got a human being by some miracle. I explained who I was and what I needed. He said "Oh yes, of course, if it's been more than a year you'll need a referral. I'll go ahead and send that up right now. They'll get it this morning and call you within a week to schedule an appointment up there."

I asked if he was absolutely sure I didn't have to see a doctor first, since it had been more than a year. I told him that Optometry had specifically said it had to come from my physician. He poo-poohed and said they didn't know what they were talking about, he could send it right this instant.

I asked him to please check my records and be sure, because I was really tired of being run around.

He sighed, slapped some keys loud enough for me to fear for the hardware, and then said "Oh, yeah, you'll need to see your doctor, it's been a really long time since your last appointment."

The soonest he said they could get me in to see my doctor was two and a half months. Not that she was really "my" doctor; I'd not seen her but the once, and years previous, as part of my combination enrollment/discharge physical.

So when I asked him if there was any way to get in there sooner, he offered me the chance to switch doctors and get in within a few weeks. I took it. Honestly, I'm hoping that decision has saved me.


I slogged through the next few weeks putting more lines in my face and not driving anywhere at night. It was scary in more ways than one.

The heartwarming part of this story comes next, but only as a way to lift the reader up for a moment before dashing them back onto the rocks for another round of Hugo-esque misery theater.

I made it to my 0700 appointment a little early. The whole building still seemed to be asleep.

After the usual prodding, blood pressure, height and weight, smoking questionnaire, internal services advertisements, etcetera, I was passed off to my new primary care professional. She's a kind old nurse practitioner, obviously very experienced, and has been working at the VA for a long time.

She asked if I had time to possibly stay beyond the appointment, since she wanted to start from scratch given that she was not my original doc and that it had been so long since my last appointment. I told her I had all day.

So we started from the beginning.

She followed along in my records, all digital these days, and after a while stopped and said "Oh, there seems to be some problem with your records. It doesn't show your disability rating."

I explained that I didn't have one. She did a double take and then looked at me with her mouth actually hanging open and her head cocked.

"My God, why not!?"

I explained that after six months of being passed around like a baby with shitty pants, I had given up on the insane bureaucracy. When you spend 25 hours a week in one office, you expect some sort of progress to be made, but it never happened. She looked aghast, scrolled up and down the screen for a minute or so, and said "My God, you really should be."

I could feel a tightness in my chest and my throat started to strain. I realized with some difficulty that I was fighting back tears without realizing it. I took a long sip of the coffee to try to choke it back inside.

"Well," she said, typing some notes, "I'd like to thank you for giving us a second chance. Looking at your history here and what we've discussed so far, you're honestly one of the most under-treated patients I've ever seen. We need to fix that right away."

And that's when I cried. I can clear sidewalks with my body language and a hard look. For God's sake, I used to kill people for a living. And having someone's grandmother tell me I should have been taken care of better reduced me to tears.

She was professional enough, and had read me well enough, to let me stuff it all back in, and then continue where she'd left off.

She told me that it was clear I had a lot that needed to be taken care of; that as long as she was my doc, I would have the largest choice in the matter; and that her recommendation was that we prioritize and tackle one major issue at a time, ere my life seem to spiral totally out of control all at once.

She asked what I thought we should go after first. I told her that I had been dealing with the physical pain well enough for long enough that I didn't think it was priority, and that I felt like if I didn't get my head screwed on tight I was going to end up in some serious trouble.

She agreed, and explained to me that much had changed since I had been in last. That they no longer handed people off to the no-accountability black hole of the mental health department unless it was for things like bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. She explained that they had psychologists on the primary care team now, that they worked hand in hand with the doctors, and were fully tracked and accountable by the OEF/OIF clinic, which had developed into an island of sanity within the clinic at large.

I shrugged, told her I trusted her so far, and watched as she picked up the phone and called the headshrinker direct.

Before I left for the immediate consultation (no appointment, no callback - go right up there and he'll come get you, that's why we have him, and it's early so he doesn't have appointments right now), she handed me a card and told me to call one of these numbers if I need anything. To not bother calling the hospital general line. To call this person right here if the OEF desk didn't answer.

I smiled and said I was glad they weren't playing the same numbers games as everyone else was.

Then I noticed it was a regular commercial number, and so was maybe not tied into the big phone system in the same way internally-forwarded calls are.


The head shrinker didn't tell me anything I didn't already know, but hearing it come from someone official made it different.

He reviewed my records, questionnaires, talked to me for a bit, and told me it was almost certain I was suffering from clinical depression, and further, that I was what he was allowed to say was a "very high risk" of PTSD. Since he, for whatever reason, wasn't allowed to diagnose me directly (due no doubt to some Byzantine rule of the VA system, obsessed with numbers and controlling the metrics), he told me he would be working with me every few weeks in one-on-one sessions until they could get a slot for me in the special PTSD clinic.

I have no idea exactly how that's supposed to work. He hinted that it was a lot of talk therapy, group sessions, and structured support for self-directed exposure therapy.

Much of what he told me was bland, officious, and ridiculously simple. It was very, very difficult to take him seriously, and to take the session constructively, and I told him as much.

You're telling me I should be getting outside more often and exposing myself to the anxiety to build up a tolerance.

You're telling me that I need a support network, that I should socialize more, and make more friends.

You're telling me this like if I dialed 911 and got the fire chief, who told me the cure for a house fire is to put a bunch of water on it.

I understand that the first session is mostly for him to eyeball me, sniff out obvious fraud or tangential mental illness, give me a quick idea of the ground rules and expectations, and to manage my expectations for how and how fast anything would work.

So we'll see where it goes from here, and if the PTSD clinic is going to be the shit show that my last attempt was. I don't know, I'm not willing to speculate, and at this point, I'll try anything.


Now, a few weeks after my appointment, I am waiting to hear back from Optometry and to hear the results of my full bloodwork. I called the OEF desk (direct) and heard from a desk clerk that the notes on my file say that the bloodwork was "probably normal, I guess, they called but you didn't answer". That some vitamins and supplements had been mailed to me based on the bloodwork. That Optometry tried calling me but got a disconnected number.

They hadn't bothered to update my phone number or address when I made, or had, or followed-up with my appointment. And the delivery of my lab results, much-needed optometry appointment, and apparently, medication had all been delivered like a dead-drop. I'm sure in a database somewhere, it shows that all of this was done within the time limits required, so the metrics look great.

I updated my contact information. I called around to the various departments to confirm things. Nothing was confirmed, but I was put on a list to be called with followups.

In the mean time, I am told I now need another referral from the OEF desk, since my last one "expired".

I found a fly by night place that doesn't care if your prescription is outdated so long as you can pay, so I have some glasses that work well enough for now.

I have now this ungodly huge pile of glossy, shiny, stapled, and spiral-bound literature in an impressive folio. Pamphlets and booklets and little posters and data cards. Recommendations. Information. I can't take any of it very seriously, since what is advertised is very seldom what is delivered - in my direct experience.

But, the doc insisted I get the full bundle, since it either hadn't existed or I wasn't given it the last time I had been in. I have an appointment with her in a few days, and another one with the headshrinker not long after that.

If nothing else, real acknowledgement of what happened, of slipping through the cracks, of being "underserved", has been a sea change for me. I think I managed to put something down that I had been carrying around for a long time.

I don't much want to pick it back up again.

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