Waiting for Effective Pain Care at the VA

By Steve Pitkin, Guest Columnist

As a veteran of Vietnam and as a chronic pain sufferer, I am so glad that Pain News Network has been a consistent voice for 100 million Americans who are basically being told to "go off and die somewhere" by the DEA, CDC and other government agencies who are supposed to be protecting us.

I started on morphine, clonazepam and temazepam in 2001, and was constantly monitored by a team of psychiatrists, psychologists and my primary care physician at the VA Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. I did not get "high" from the treatment, but it gave me a quality of life that I could not have with other medications.

I was in a car wreck after I retired from the military in 1997. In September of that year, I was taking my youngest daughter to an orthodontist appointment when our vehicle was hit by a truck right after a rain storm.

The crash seriously injured my daughter, who was clinically dead for over 6 minutes before being brought back to life by a helicopter rescue team. She still suffers from a traumatic brain injury, as well as pain issues herself.

The accident worsened the already extensive injuries to my cervical spine and lower back area. I started to lose strength in both arms, and a civilian doctor attempted an ulnar nerve release. That worked for about a week, before the pain and numbness came back.



I eventually moved to Montana and was treated by a new primary care physician at the VA clinic in Missoula. He and his nursing team were not very helpful, so I asked to be transferred to a new doctor last year.

I was called back to the clinic and was introduced to my new physician. He took one look at my medical records and said, “The amount of painkillers you are on is borderline medical malpractice and we're going to have to get you off of them as soon as possible."

I nearly hit the roof when he said that. I had three failed right knee procedures, my cervical and spinal pain had grown worse, and here he's telling me that I was a victim of too many painkillers?

I have been pretty much bedridden since my dosage of morphine and the other medications were reduced. I have also been told I need to have both knees and both shoulders replaced. However, I was refused surgery on my neck by a neurologist who said, “If I were to operate on you, the amount of painkillers you’d need would kill you. You need to get off the morphine and benzodiazepines first, then come see me."

I told the neurosurgeon that I was an ex-Green Beret medic and had already gone through surgery several times with no serious side effects. But I was talking to a blank wall.

I went to see another primary care physician about the problems I was having with the lower dosage. He laughed at me when I asked if he could raise the dose. “You signed this paper saying you agreed to it," he said while waving the paper at me.

I didn't have any choice in the matter. I was told either to sign it or be cut off altogether.

I have written to both the House and the Senate Veterans Affairs Committees and was told there was nothing they could do to help me. When I found out that Montana Sen. John Tester was on the Senate Committee that helped the VA pass these measures, I was livid and told him so.

I even emailed President Obama and received a reply from him, saying something to the effect that it was important to keep heroin off the streets and to stop illegal sales of prescription pain meds.

There’s no doubt about that, but we who need those medications are being lumped into the same pile with drug abusers. The veteran suicide rate is estimated 20 a day and many vets, as well as civilian chronic pain patients, have been forced into buying illegal drugs and are dying from them.

I have always been a patriotic American and didn't hesitate to volunteer for the draft when I was 18. But if I knew that the government I served for so long would declare me an enemy, I think I never would have gone into the military. If not for my strong faith as a Christian, I would have killed myself long before writing this.

I can only hope that President Trump realizes that waiting in line for healthcare is not the only problem with the VA, and that wars injure and maim people for life.

Was it all really for nothing?

Steven Pitkin lives in Montana.

Pain News Network invites other readers to share their stories with us.  Send them to:  editor@PainNewsNetwork.org

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.