While in the Navy, I sustained an Achilles’ tendon injury while working out in July of 2015. It was diagnosed as tendinitis and I went through a few months of physical therapy. A Navy doctor wanted me to get an MRI done at that time just to be sure there were no tears but the referral to Tricare was never entered and the MRI never was conducted. Fast forward to March of 2016, the week I was set to separate, and I injured the Achilles’ again while working out. It was much worse this time, but I had just been hired at my new job so I tried to tough out the injury because I had no choice. I was separating from service and needed to provide for myself.

After a few months, I still had pain and a noticeable limp, so in June 2016, I decided to contact the VA to get it looked at. The doctor was skeptical about the injury since I was still able to get around, but he ordered an MRI due to my concern. The MRI revealed that I had a near full thickness tear as well as a high-grade partial tear further up my leg. The podiatrist recommended that I have it surgically repaired. Given that I had just started working in the civilian sector, I was considered about my ability to pay my bills while I was unable to get around. The injury occurred to my right ankle, and given post-surgical casting, driving myself around would not be safe for myself or anyone else on the road. I lived by myself in a 2nd story apartment, so the living situation was not feasible. On top of that, the company I worked for, nor the state of CA, could offer me Disability Pay or FMLA while I rehabbed the injury.

I expressed my concerns to the doctor, and he recommended I move back to OH to live with family and receive assistance until I was able to return to the workforce. I also expressed these concerns with my employer in order to work out a plan to allow me to keep my job. I suggested that I return to work after I was weight bearing, to which they offered 30 days of unpaid leave. If I didn’t return within 30 days, they would have considered my job abandoned. The post-op casting for this surgery is 6-8 weeks as explained by the podiatrist in CA. Given no other options, and putting my health and well-being first, I followed the doctor’s recommendation and resigned my position at the company on the basis that I would be recommended for a position at our Ohio office when I was healed.

Fast forward one month, after moving across the country from CA to OH, and waiting for the VA to get me an appointment, I finally got to see an orthopedic surgeon. The surgeon reviewed my MRI and records from CA and determined that he would not operate on the injury now because “it had been too long, and the procedure was too complicated.” I was speechless. I had just quit my job, moved across the country on the advice of a VA doctor, just to be told “nevermind.” I felt hopeless. I consulted with the patient advocates who appealed to the Chief of Orthopedic Surgery. The appeal was denied and I was told I needed to do physical therapy. I still have a limp, by the way.

I’m not a doctor, so I figured “Maybe they’re right? What do you know?” So I called back to CA and explained what OH’s recommendation was. They disagreed with their determination and said I needed to have a surgical repair if I ever wanted to try to get full function of my leg back. I asked them if they were still willing to do the surgery if I came back to CA. They insisted that surgery was the best option and asked if I would be able to support myself in CA for 6-8 weeks to allow for proper post-op observance, then I could return to Ohio to do physical therapy. Luckily, my girlfriend still lives in CA until November, and we worked out a budget that would allow us 6-8 weeks for my rehab timeline. One last time, I called the CA VA, and expressly asked “Are you sure you guys will do the surgery? I don’t want to come all the way to CA just to be told the same thing I was in Ohio.” They assured me surgery was the best route. So, I made an appointment at the CA VA with the podiatry clinic, bought a one-way ticket and flew back to CA.

By this point, you can probably guess where this story is heading. I got a second MRI done prior to my appointment so that the doctors could ensure no additional damage was done since I was last seen by them. Fair enough. I went to my appointment on Sept 14th (three months after initially contacting the VA!) and was told by the doctors that they would not operate on the injury because it had been too long. They recommended 6-8 weeks of physical therapy prior to considering surgery. They did exactly what I asked them not to do. Don’t make me come all the way back out there for no reason. I could have done physical therapy in Ohio. Once again, I’m not a doctor, so perhaps their opinion is the correct one, but I quit my job on the advice of surgery. I am not receiving disability compensation. The State of Ohio denied my unemployment claim because I “didn’t have a medical issue preventing me from work.”

The medical opinions of the Doctors are not my gripe. They may be correct. However, the way that my situation was handled, from the miscommunication between facilities, the delays, the disregard for my personal situation, is nothing short of appalling. I also find it curious that the Doctors at the CA VA recommended surgery and physical therapy never crossed their mind as an option in July 2016. However, I filed my disability claim in August 2016, one week before being seen at the OH VA. As soon as I submitted that claim, every single doctor’s opinion switched from surgery to therapy. I’m not trying to seem like a conspiracy theorist but I do find it extremely odd how the opinions changed so quickly in one month…

Bottom line: my situation sucks, but I know it’s way worse for a lot of others. And that’s a shame.

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