The scene of the Austin VA suicide this week turned into “a big clusterf**k” according to one onlooker at the facility.
One veteran in crisis walking into the busy lobby of the Austin VA Clinic and shot himself following a meeting with a patient advocate. At least 100 people were reportedly in the lobby with 20-30 staff standing around.
One witness described the VA staff “that were just standing around gawking not doing a damn thing.” The nurses were reportedly standing around watching for at least 30 minutes.
“It was just a big clusterf**k of a situation that could have been handled in a better manner and just shows that the VA doesn’t have its sh*t together and can drive Veterans over the edge.”
The veteran who committed suicide apparently received his care from the Phoenix VA system, but his case was transferred to Austin VA for some reason. When he sought care at the Austin VA, the staff could not figure out how to provide the mental health care required.
In response, the veteran walked into the lobby of the facility and shot himself in the stomach while standing in front of the American flag.
Comment On Veteran Suicide
This was one of the most perceptive comments I received on the website about the unfortunate incident. I hope by highlighting veteran perspectives on this key issue, key decisionmakers in DC will have a better idea about the problems veterans experience getting help from patient advocates.
Along with direct feedback of the scene, other veterans provided feedback about patient advocates at various VA medical centers. The consensus is that the patient advocate system needs to support the patients instead of working to support agency leadership.
I have had good experiences with patient advocates, here, at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center. But, the consensus from veterans says my experience is not the norm.
Patient Advocate Function
For some background, I have long held that patient advocates function more like human resource personnel than advocates for patients.
In corporate America, many ill-informed employees trap themselves by complaining to human resources personnel with the belief that human resources is there to help the employee. But, that cannot be further from the truth.
Human resource personnel almost always serve to protect management. Always. Their goal is the reduce liability, which may include helping an employee but often serve to identify trouble employees and arrange for an exodus.
Likewise, veterans frequently complain that patient advocates act to protect the interests of management at the facility rather than help veterans.
A Swift Fix?
Now, a swift fix could be to realign the patient advocate role where supervision of the advocate would be outside the chain of command within any facility.
If the oversight were changed, perhaps the advocate would serve as a Central Office spy rather than local road blocking bureaucrats. Maybe, in that role, the advocate could be incentivized to report certain behaviors that obstruct patient access to care.
Here are a few of the comments worth considering from veterans addressing the article I posted earlier this week:
- I’ve given up on the Patient Advocate all together!
- The va patients advocate are not there for the veterans. It’s a block and tackle tactic, nothing more.
- Patient’s Advocates are for the most part just an instrument of the Administration and unless they feel that you, the Patient, have some power above theirs, they will not act in the patient’s favor. Just more BS.
- If you go to the patient advocates it does no good, they will call you a liar, and they offer to escalate to supervisors, and it never goes anywhere. I certainly wouldn’t want to be in a meeting with those folks without a bodyguard present.
- After being in the VA system since the early 1980’s, I’ve NEVER met a “VA patient advocate” which advocates FOR the patient/veteran!
- Problem with patient advocate is they take your complaint and you may never hear back again.
- I spoke with a VA patient advocate a time or two regarding medical procedure or the lack of. It pretty much fell on deaf ears.
- As for “VHA patient advocates”, they are not “Advocates for the patient/veteran!” The advocate FOR the VA.
- The last place should go is the patient advocate. There are too many that use the information given to make sure their asses are covered instead of correcting your problems.