Why do I feel the VA (Veterans Administration) likes to push my face into the mud every once in a while? Like treating me like a number, not a person, another Vietnam War survivor that someone on some staff gets paid for seeing, stamping and shuffling off after extracting information to satisfy the Great Bureaucracy.
Dr. Roach (not his real name) was the latest bureaucrat I’ve had to face. For my money (and your American tax dollars), he was the worst. A psychiatrist who could care less about earning a patient’s trust. He got nothing but contempt from me. But, I have a narrow perspective — that of a “grunt” who suffers from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) along with 17 to 20 percent of the military population that fought in combat.
I could not trust this doctor who questioned me at a Compensation and Review Board hearing last week. Particularly, after confiding in him and feeling “shut out” by the chilling effect of his body language and his tone of voice.
I must have “encroached” upon his sacred space when I got animated and “touched” him. Sitting in his office tucked away from a couple dozen other veterans waiting to see mental health providers, I felt confused and a little lost. I made a joke. One to break up the nervousness I felt and then said “you know what I mean,” tapping the shrink on his knee.
He pulled away. So abruptly, I felt like I had just put my hand into a fire and got burned. “Don’t touch me,” this little man said. It stunned me. Here was a professional who gets paid for “listening to” a person relate their pain, yet could not stand to be “touched by” their hurt, their discomfort.
I shut down, refused to fully cooperate and tailored the rest of my answers out of distrust to a person who lacked even the smallest of people skills during the 60-minute interrogation. How could I open up to him? I knew my answers were confidential. I also knew there were situations when a therapist “gave up” the patient-doctor confidentiality and I believe Dr. Roach would not hesitate in revealing anything personal I said to him.
But what if there was another reason for this aversion of him? Could I view his action as a “gift?” A “gem” to be treasured as a more saintly person might when seeing such harm being caused to another? Not just turn the other cheek, but try to see behind the act to understand that there may be other reasons for such behavior? View him, in other words, with compassion?
Perhaps he displayed an unsympathetic demeanor and glum attitude to get me to react in a certain way with an unguarded, more honest response.
Sure hope this was the case, and that I did not face a VA representative bent on saving the government money by setting out to deny a veteran an increase in a disability rating no matter what the facts.