The battle for the U.S. Postal Service is costing veterans dearly
In late July, Richard Valdez placed an order with the Department of Veterans Affairs to have his meds refilled and shipped to his home in San Bernardino, Calif. – a precaution during the coronavirus pandemic for veterans like Valdez, who at 73 years old, is at high risk.
The request to renew his four medications – for headaches, post-traumatic stress and physical pain resulting from injuries sustained while in Vietnam as a Marine – was sent on July 25.
The first came at the end of the month. The other three still haven’t come.
When asked if he had received any notifications from the VA regarding the delays, Valdez said, “If I did, I haven’t received it yet.”
Valdez is just one voice in a growing chorus of veterans who have raised concerns that their medications, which in many cases are essential to their health, have been delayed by the U.S. Postal Service. The problem that was first brought to light by Abbie Bennet from Connecting Vets earlier this month and has since gained both national and congressional attention.
As public concern over the postal service’s declining efficiency has grown in recent weeks how the USPS would be able to handle the mail-in ballots in the upcoming November election – a problem that has become a politically charged battle over postal voting – these concerns are much more immediate for veterans and countless others across the country who receive their drugs in the mail.
Despite complaints from veterans like Valdez, the VA has remained adamant that prescriptions reach veteran patients within three days on average – in some cases through the use of commercial carriers like United Parcel Service.
“VA always encourages veterans to pre-order routine prescriptions,” Christina Noel, the department’s press secretary, told Task & Purpose Monday. “VA continuously monitors prescription delivery times across the country and uses a variety of methods to ensure prompt delivery, including in-person pharmacies, USPS and commercial carriers.
But Stephen Whitehead, the National Commander of Disabled American Veterans, ad On the same day the VA confirmed to the Veterans Service organization that the USPS had “fallen behind in delivering these essential drugs by nearly 25% on average over the past year, many places with much greater delays ”.
When asked about the claim that the USPS was responsible for the delay of up to 25% of veterans’ orders this year, the agency referred Task & Purpose to an August 7 speech by DeJoy.
“As we implement our operating plans, we will aggressively monitor and promptly address service issues,” DeJoy said. “You can be assured that we will continually review our operating practices and make the necessary adjustments to ensure that we are operating effectively and efficiently. ”
To get an idea of the magnitude of the problem, consider that there is roughly 18 million veterans in the United States, including more than 12 million are over 65, according to the most recent Census Bureau data. Of the total veteran population, more than 5 million have a service-related disability.
The vast majority of veterans – 80 percent – who receive VA care receive their prescriptions in the mail through Consolidated Mail Outpatient Pharmacies (CMOP), which dispense prescriptions to some 330,000 veterans every day. The VA sent over 125 million prescriptions in the last fiscal year alone, according to the presentation of the VA budget for 2021.
Despite the focus on medication delays, recent issues with the USPS also directly affect those waiting for VA documents for disability compensation, education benefits, and VA home loan forms – or in the Valdez’s case, critical medical information.
On August 5, Valdez underwent an MRI for his recurring headaches. The next day, his doctor informed him that he needed a CT scan, which prompted him to make an appointment for August 21. However, he received a letter from the VA the next day telling him that he had to do blood tests 15 days before his analysis; at that time his appointment with the radiologist was only seven days
Fortunately, Valdez lives fairly close to his local VA medical center in Lomo Linda, Calif., And was able to get in and do the lab work despite being late. But mail delays are more than just “vets and drugs,” Valdez said, adding that they include delays in essential documents and can impact the families of veterans – like, for example, veterans. spouses or children of veterans who rely on the Ministry of Veterans Affairs Civil and Medical Health Program (CHAMPVA).
“The reason I’m bringing this up is that when you see what’s going on and the comment, going” vets and drugs, “” vets and drugs “- it’s not just vets and drugs,” Valdez told Task & Purpose. “There is urgent information that also comes from the VA in the mail. “
Veterans who spoke with Task & Purpose have raised similar concerns. Justin Davidson, a former Army infantryman in New Jersey, said he had noticed a significant change in the timeliness of order renewals from the start of the year to date.
In the past, Davidson filled his acid reflux medications online through the VA Health Portal, My health, and receive a notification within the day that their order has been shipped. Now he says it takes over a week.
“It’s nothing that changes my life, in the sense that I won’t die if I don’t get my meds, but at the same time, I have come to rely on VA for my meds,” Davidson, who served from 2012 to 2015, told Task & Purpose.
“I feel a little bit silly in the sense that I read these stories of rural veterans who lack life-saving drugs like insulin, and things of that nature,” he added. “But if I’m a veteran from central Jersey, a non-rural area, who’s good with computers, good with technology, and can navigate My HealthEvet and know how to fix it – I can only imagine what it’s for the rural veteran, the old veteran, the veteran who really needs their medicine to survive.
For veterans like Tenley Lozano in San Diego, who need medication for chronic migraines and chronic pain, delaying their prescriptions can have serious consequences.
“There is a warning label on one of my medications stating that if I stop taking it suddenly there is a risk of seizures,” Lozano, who served in the hospital, told Task & Purpose. Coast Guard from 2008 to 2014 as a diving officer and assistant damage control officer. .
Over the past two months, Lozano says her prescription refills have been delayed, and although she usually asks for her pills a week before running out, “I wasn’t getting them on time and I was running out of my meds. at the end of every month, and I had to ask my doctor to extend my prescription to 90 days.
Lozano said the situation had deteriorated to the point where at the end of each month she had migraines “because I was running out of my medication.”
Matthew Ellis, a former Navy infantryman in Washington, said his pain, migraine and sleep medication was supposed to arrive Aug. 14, but he’s still waiting – a major inconvenience considering he plans to leave the region during the week.
And a Los Angeles veteran, who asked that his name not be used because he did not want to openly discuss his health, said his inhaler – which he uses to treat a chronic cough resulting from smoke inhalation during the 2017 California wildfires – was delayed for two months. His anti-anxiety medications and prescriptions for post-traumatic stress and depression have also been slow to arrive.
Now, lawmakers are taking action. In two separate letters to Louis DeJoy, the Postmaster General, lawmakers questioned whether the new procedural changes at the USPS were responsible for the late deliveries.
“The recent operational changes you ordered from the USPS are unnecessarily delaying veterans’ access to life-saving prescriptions when the health and lives of Americans are already at high risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” a group of 31 senators asked in a letter sent Thursday.
Four members of the House wrote to DeJoy and Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie in a separate letter on Friday, saying, “With local VA health systems across the country experiencing drug shortages and moving to 30-day refills, which could lead to further delays and disruption given the addiction to the USPS, these delays pose a real threat to our veterans, and your agencies must do everything possible to rectify the situation.
DeJoy should testify before Congress on August 24 – and hopefully provide answers to veterans like Valdez about why such a critical system for veterans across the country has fallen apart.
“You start to talk about ‘what kind of drugs would be affected’ and you have vets with PTSD and TBI, and you have physical injuries in combat,” Valdez said. “The big picture is not really shown in terms of how it transcends the entire veteran population that is affected by these delays.”