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House Committee on Veterans' Affairs: Allow Veterans' to receive prompt and adequate medical care

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On September 14, 2012 the Honorable Ann Marie Buerkle gave a passionate opening speech to the House Committee on Veteran’s Affairs about, “The Veterans’ Administration fee-basis care: Examining solutions to a flawed system.” It is with a heavy heart that I write and ask you to please review her passionate words from that day and act on them.

“….at the end of the day, what fee care is about is the effective and efficient delivery of care to veterans where they need it, when they need it. Getting it right is about honoring their preferences, choices, and daily lives as well as their service to our country. Getting it right is about telling a Vietnam or Korean-era veteran that he doesn’t have to travel 4 hours to the nearest VA medical center for his cancer treatments. He can go to a hospital closer to his home and spend the time he would have spent on the road getting better. Getting it right is about telling a Gulf War veteran that she doesn’t have to take a day off of work to drive to the VA clinic two towns over for a physical. She can go to the doctor down the street if she would prefer and get to work on time. Getting it right is about telling a young veteran, recently home from Iraq or Afghanistan, that he doesn’t have to wait all day in a VA waiting room to see his doctor. He can choose another provider who can see him now and spend the afternoon with the people he missed while he was overseas.”

This past weekend my friend Jeremiah Katches, a 29 year-old Army Veteran, husband, and father of two young girls, died as a result of the Veterans’ Administrations inadequate “Fee-basis care.” Today I write you not in order to pass blame or judgment, but rather to ask for your help through actions, rather than mere words. I understand there is not always an easy answer and the House Committee has a difficult job; however that does not mean we should accept mediocrity and inaction.

As combat related deaths have increased since 2001 and the current suicide rate of both active duty service members and veterans has increased to unfathomable levels, many Congressmen and Congresswomen have seen, heard, and acted upon these epidemics. Had my friend, my brother in arms, died as a result of combat operations or even suicide I could understand. However, he died for no other reason than not being afforded the opportunity to receive timely, adequate, and appropriate medical care.

Jeremiah, like myself, was rated 100% schedular from the Veterans’ Administration for Lyme disease. With a service connected medical condition you’d expect the VA to render care and if not able, allow him to use the fee-basis program and find a provider who could treat his medical conditions. Jeremiah died from complications related to Lyme disease. Had he not been forced to pay out of pocket for care; i.e. if the VA had helped this young man afford medical care, he would be alive today to watch his children grow up. Now his children will be forced to remember their father from photos, relive those memories of their father being wheelchair bound throughout the last years of his life, not because he “had to,” but because we ALL failed him.

Jeremiah worked with numerous infectious disease doctors from many Veterans hospitals, but not a single doctor was willing to treat him or sign off on his fee-basis request. He found specialists willing to treat him, but because of the high cost of the medications he wasn’t able to treat it aggressively and consistently.

Yesterday a husband, father, brother, son, and friend was lost for no other reason than the Veterans’ Administrations inability to render care to an American warfighter. Are we willing to allow complacency to deem these actions, or inactions, acceptable? I pray to God we don’t. It’s with a heavy heart that I ask you to please allow other Veterans’ like Jeremiah, myself, and countless others to receive the care we need, deserve, and earned through our blood, sweat, and tears.
Thank you for your time and consideration into this matter.

Capt. Luke D. Miller USMC (ret)

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