"Keith, I'm not sure why they keep denying me for VA benefits?" Mr. Bill, my chronically ill patient at Jo Ellen Smith Medical Center back in 1989, said.*
This was my first hospital job after doing mainly administrative social work at the New Orleans Council on Aging and Catholic Charities of New Orleans.
Jo Ellen Smith was a small hospital, the first one I worked at as Social Services Director from 1988 to 1991. The hospital was named for a great nurse who was unfortunately killed in her generous outreach work to the needy in an area nearby.
Every day that I went to work, I would see Jo Ellen's picture by the elevators, and she inspired many of us to emulate our own "Florence Nightingale" hero!
I had felt a little anxious then about working at a hospital in a clinical setting primarily as a Discharge Planner, as I had done more administrative and community organizing preps in graduate social work at SDSU with a gerontology (study of aging) emphasis.
So I was very unfamiliar with many health care concerns, especially with Veteran Affairs and benefits.
"Mr. Bill, I'm new at hospital social work, but I'll check into that for you," I shared with my client, whom many on my treatment team referred to as a "Frequent Flyer," since he would unfortunately have many re-hospitalizations due to what many elders, and especially veterans, had to deal with: some non-compliance with health practices, limited family or other support, and, unfortunately, fragmented health care providence at times.
"I know that I had served 90 days in the army without combat experience before leaving for health problems, but they kept telling me that I only did 89 days, even though I was honorably discharged," Mr. Bill said.
"Okay, Mr. Bill, I'll check into that for you," I shared with him.
The average daily census at the hospital was about 65+, and being the only social worker for acute care, ER, and all hospital patient discharge and overall concerns—including hyperbaric patients—it was hard, at times, to keep up with all my patients.
In addition, at that time, I was assigned—since I was a BCSW (Board Certified Social Worker); now we are LCSWs (Licensed Clinical Social Workers)—to help cover, as was required then, for the SNF (Skilled Nursing Facility) residents at the Jo Ellen Smith Convalescent Center.
That time era in the late 80s was long before sophisticated computers, Google, and other things we take for granted, so I was very limited in doing research on Mr. Bill's concerns.
Well, after many unfortunate re-admissions to the hospital over the next year by Mr. Bill and some of my arduous, manual reviews about his situation, as well as some great help from a local librarian, I was able to find out that Mr. Bill had actually served 90 days in the military as a non-service connected veteran.
The veteran had served partly in 1960, A LEAP YEAR, so somehow, a day wasn't counted previously to establish his VA eligibility!
Thankfully, Mr. Bill was subsequently able to get enrolled in the VA and did benefit greatly from their help, as well as an eventual engagement with hospice, but he died a few months after that.
*This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.