Sgt. Major Jesse Acosta: Back at the VA

I got a call the other day from Sergeant Major Jesse Acosta.  You might remember that I wrote about him here last March when the VA revoked his caregiver benefits. Acosta, blinded by a mortar attack in Iraq, has been rated 70% disabled by PTSD and 100% disabled by TBI. The VA had determined he was no longer eligible for the Caregiver Program.  A veteran advocate saw the blog and took up his cause. The good news is that in the end, he was retained in the caregiver program and his benefit was restored.

But that’s not the end of the story.  On November 13, while exercising in his home gym, sudden, excruciating pain dropped him to his knees. Part of his injuries in the mortar attack had been back injuries. The diagnosis, when it came, was that a ruptured disk was pressing on his sciatic nerve.  In pain and unable to walk, he called the VA, who prescribed pain medication (which proved ineffective) and put in a request for a consultation with internal medicine.

Two days later, on November 15th, they called back. His appointment was scheduled for January 10. It was, the VA said, the soonest he could be seen.  That’s eight weeks. Jesse knows the VA.  He called his primary care physician who put in a request that he be seen by pain management.  Twelve days later, on November 27th, he received a letter from the VA saying that multiple attempts to contact him had failed. Really?

Under the caregiver program, Acosta gets seen by his case manager regularly.  He showed her the letter. He knew the President had extended the Veterans’ Choice program to allow certain veterans to seek care outside the VA, and he asked about it, but that option was not offered.

So he did what he had to: he went out on his own, out of pocket, for treatment. His physician immediately issued a back brace for him and prescribed a different med for the pain, which worked. Here’s what the VA had offered: prescription meds that proved ineffective for him, X-rays and two consults.  Except that the consults were somewhere in the future.  Like eight weeks.

We all know the size of the VA.  And the complexity.  Do you get the feeling that the parts are not in communication with each other?  What’s with that letter saying that multiple attempts to reach him had failed?  If you were disabled with pain, wouldn’t you be eagerly watching for something from the VA?  What about the extension of the Choice program?  Was he not eligible?  Wasn’t there someone who could have explained that to him if he weren’t?

I guess the most staggering part for me is that 8-week wait time for an initial consult for a decorated Army veteran who is further disabled by excruciating pain. Doesn’t that strike you as inhumane?  Understand that my complaint is not about the men and women in the Veterans Administration who do care. My complaint is with the system, which often looks like it is working against its own mission. Case in point: Acosta heard this morning, December 12, from the pain management clinic. The earliest they could see him is February. I know. But finally, the Choice program was offered to him, so he’s clear to get treatment outside the VA.

Jesse Acosta has the courage and fortitude to keep up the good fight.  I wish he didn’t have to. Don’t you?

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About the Author

Shad Meshad

As a U.S. Army Medical Service Officer in Vietnam in 1970, Shad Meshad began pioneering treatment techniques for what would later become known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He is the founder of the National Veterans Foundation and founder and co-author of the VA’s Vet Center Program.


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