A Deadly Diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress: The Story of Christine Russell and How Her PTS Diagnosis May Have Cost Her Life

[“I need the Secretary of the Veterans Administration and the President of the United States to authorize my full medical care to TriWest immediately so that I can access Scripps Health care system and other systems to treat my stage four breast cancer and it has to happen in 24 hours, not 3 months.” – Christine Russell]

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Edited Letter from Christine Russell to U.S. Senator, Honorable Chuck Grassley

Dear Senator Grassley,

A while back I was a military whistle-blower and Charles Murphy aided me. I graduated from the US Naval Academy in May 2000, at Annapolis, Maryland.

I am reporting medical negligence, incompetence and discrimination due to my Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) diagnosis. Ultimately, proper treatment could have prevented the cancer I have from spreading to stage four. If they were doing their jobs back in 2016, I believe that Veterans Administration (VA) physicians could have caught the cancer in stage one.

For a while now I’ve been talking to Gary Bianchi, Assistant Director, with the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Back in November 2015, I started having some physical medical issues and started going in circles with the VA in La Jolla, California. I complained about chest pain and problems breathing a couple of different times during emergency room visits and follow up visits with a primary care doctor in 2016.

These visits and complaints are documented in the Emergency Room (ER) records and logs with primary care physicians. I also made requests for more testing via secure messaging. Instead of more testing, my primary care doctor recommended I take psychotropic drugs because, “It’s in [my] head.”

The VA ER treated is me as if my symptoms were all in my head. The primary care doctor also treated all the symptoms and problems I was having as imaginary symptoms, since I was diagnosed with PTS.

I ended up going out on Social Security disability in 2016, and I am 100 percent service connected with the VA. I have continued to get sicker, with symptoms that the VA could not figure out as I continued to go in circles with them and medical providers that I paid cash to outside the VA.

I went through my savings accounts paying for caregivers to try and figure out what was wrong with me.

But only biopsies, a PET scan, a breast exam, mammogram, and ultrasound would really show what was going on with my chest. I wasn’t a doctor and didn’t know. I just complained about symptoms in my body since 2016. And instead, I kept being told to check into the psych ward or work with a psychiatrist due to my PTS.

I lost my brain due to going in circles with the VA. And then I recovered my brain just to give it up again trying to figure out what was wrong with my physical body.

In 2017/2018 after being able to function with my brain again, I continued every once in a while to complain in the emergency room or to my new primary care doctor, that the symptoms and pain in different parts of my body were just being managed but were not improving and in fact I started having more pain problems without knowing the cause. I continued to visit the ER and primary care physician due to my recurrent symptoms.

At the end of March 2018, I was released from the ER after having once again gone in circles with the ER and primary care. On one ER visit a friend drove me there and I had to be admitted in a wheel chair because the pain was so bad in my chest. They gave me Toradol through an IV and told me it was for costochondritis and to follow up with primary care who had originally also provided a misdiagnosis of costochondritis (inflammation of the cartilage in the chest).

At no point in my entire medical care at the VA did anyone stop and ask me about doing a chest exam, mammogram, or ultrasound to screen for breast cancer. I kept telling my primary care doctor and emergency room doctors that they needed to do an MRI of my chest, but they never ordered the test.

I sent letters off to Senator Feinstein (Emily Condon caseworker) and Congressman Darryl Issa (Amy Walker caseworker) after some results of a CT scan came back of my chest in July 2018. An MRI was finally done on my chest the end of August 2018.

They had to redo the MRI due to medical incompetence. One of the radiologists coded the doctors information incorrectly. They had me meet with a cardiothoracic surgeon because they didn’t know what it was, and that doctor sent my images over to an orthopedic surgeon for the same reason. I told them they should have done the chest MRI back in March 2018, and in fact years earlier.

I told them I wanted my care through TriWest moving forward due to medical incompetence, negligence and discrimination.

The La Jolla VA performed a bone biopsy of my sternum on September 18, 2018, to figure out what it was. On September 24, 2018, I was informed I had cancer.

On September 26, 2018, I was told I had breast cancer after having a mammogram, ultrasound, and breast exam and then meeting with a breast surgeon. This was the first time in my life I ever had a chest exam, mammogram, and ultrasound. I was informed first that I had breast cancer.

Stage four breast cancer was confirmed by a PET scan on September 28, 2018. I’ve been telling all of them that they are not touching me anymore there at the VA Hospital in La Jolla, due to major medical negligence, incompetence and discrimination.

Every time I walk though the doors of the VA hospital in La Jolla, California,  I get very sick to my stomach, and my whole body convulses because of the gross negligence, medical errors and discrimination made there. Ultimately they failed miserably, and have potentially shortened my life span with dealing with cancer.

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All I have is Veterans Administration TriWest Insurance. Scripps says they need the authorization for my entire medical care. I am not able to move again due to the physically deteriorating condition of my body. I just recently was forced to move from San Diego to Carlsbad due to the marijuana madness from my neighbors that I shared walls with and got very sick because it came into my unit every day.

Being forced to move and trying to fight the legalization of marijuana battle as a neighbor that lived on a no smoking property cost me about $10,000; the rest of my savings. It’s just me.

Since I am on Social Security Disability, I don’t have the financial means to pay for my own health care as a cash patient and because I’m on disability.  I am not able to relocate amongst a stage four breast cancer diagnosis. I’ve relocated over 35 times in my life’s journey and thought this relocation would bring me some time to finally heal and recover and move forward, but instead, I was informed that I have stage four breast cancer.

My younger sister, Stephanie Mae Radford, a Major in the US Army, is a graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point, NY, and is stationed at Fort Polk, Louisiana. My younger brother, Matthew Roy Russell, a Major in the US Marine Corps, is a graduate of the US Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, NY, and is stationed in Pensacola, Florida.

Today, as a cash patient, I met with Dr. Ma, who is a breast surgeon at Scripps. She recommended I go to the emergency room so she can admit me to the hospital so she can do a full work up on me and get the rest of the tests done that are needed due to my quickly deteriorating physical abilities, pain and weakness.

She is very sad about what happened to me and so is her nurse. They understood that if the VA hospital in La Jolla had done their job and listened to me back in 2016, 2017,  and maybe even 2018, it could have prevented my cancer from advancing to stage four.

Roxanne Rivers, patient advocate at the VA Hospital at La Jolla, understood because she has seen me since 2016. She gave me the claim for damage, injury, or death form to fill out. She said she couldn’t help me fill out the form due to conflict of interest.

I’ll go to the emergency room, but I am scared about the bills not being covered by the VA. Scripps was concerned about the stress of not having finances to pay for medical care. However, I need to follow Dr. Ma’s orders.

Every VA clinic and every emergency room across the nation needs to add to the checklist screening questionnaire when you check in with the nurse or doctor at all your appointments….

Have you had a chest exam/breast exam recently?

Have you had a mammogram recently?

Have you had an ultrasound recently?
They always ask the questions, “Are you homicidal; suicidal; depressed?” etc.

But they never ask….

Have you had a chest exam/breast exam?

Have you had a mammogram?

Have you had an ultrasound?

Thanks for the help,
Christine Russell

[“The gross medical negligence, incompetence, and discrimination that happened to me is inexcusable and can never ever happen to any active duty military service member, reservist, or veteran  again. If they had done their jobs correctly and not discriminated against me due to having a preexisting Post Traumatic Stress diagnosis (do not call it PTSD because it’s not a disorder), I know they would have caught the breast cancer at stage one or sooner and it’s considered to be curable at that point. Their actions and lack of actions have cost me my life.” – Christine Russell.]

Editor’s note: Permission was given by Ms. Christine Russell to share this story, medical conditions and all, in the hopes that she would win the support of her governmental representatives, news media and others so that she may enjoy the urgent medical treatment she deserves considering her misdiagnosis and inaccurate treatment. PTS is a serious condition, but should never be used to preclude or preempt other physical symptoms, screenings and treatment.

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Fixing the VA: What a Disney Approach Could Do

Drastic measures need to be taken with the VA, and the Disney Way may be the best approach.

Beyond the comical mouse & friends, lies the pinnacle of business acumen. Individuals and companies spend big bucks each year to learn the secrets of Disney customer service, management, logistics, maintenance and more at Disney Institute, aka, Disney University.

SaluteMickey

Everything about the Disney Company is special, and successful. Of course, it’s all about the people, but then there’s the rub, isn’t it? The people make Disney special as much as the methods do.

I remember my father telling me repeatedly, as we frequently stopped a project to head to Sears for yet another Craftsman tool, “Right tool for the right job.”

One could easily say the same about people, or more specifically, employees. I say, “Right person, right job saves time and money.”

Disney invests in the person. Disney invests training, health care, benefits, frequent raises and vertical movement. Disney means quality. Disney means care. Disney means success.

What part of this does the Veterans Administration not need?

Exactly, they need all of it and more, fast.

Sending VA executives, managers, health care professionals, technicians, clerical and volunteers to Disney Institute may seem unnecessary and overkill, but why shouldn’t our veterans receive five star treatment and customer service? Remember, it’s about people.

Disney could help in other ways as well. The whole VA experience could be Disneyfied, from automated appointment making, to streamlined pharmacy operations; smartbands and housekeeping, parking, cuisine and yes, even entertainment. If the point is to get the veteran to the VA, then why not make it into a place that they want to be?

Short of having Disney characters in costumes at VA hospitals, Disney could infuse a little magic into the experience with state-of-the-art technology, from entertainment opportunities, moving walkways, fresh fruit and vegetable kiosks, petting places (where small mammals could be handled by vets for stress reduction), fitness centers, fitness pools, Jacuzzi’s, spa’s, bowling alleys, movie theaters, restaurants and coffee joints. OK, and maybe a meet & greet here and there?

Too frivolous, you say? Too expensive? How about the honorable veteran who wrote you a blank check for everything up to and including his or her life so that you can stay at home with your family and maybe take a trip to Disney World while he or she was out in the damn boonies getting their arses shot off?

Now whistle Dixie!

How do you infuse a quick fix while we rotate VA staff through Disney University? You activate medical National Guard and Reserve troops. Most medical personnel in the military are Guard and Reserve personnel. These part-time warriors are full time civilian health care professionals and workers, and could easily assimilate into the world of the VA medical system.

In fact, years ago, when I was serving with a US Army Hospital Reserve unit, we worked our drill weekends in the local VA hospital, and sometimes at the local state university hospital. Like fish in water, these reservists would fit right in. One big military family.

National Guard and Reserves typically do one weekend of service each month and then two weeks of training in the summer to meet minimum participation requirements. Why can’t this service be done in VA hospitals and medical facilities?

When I was hired by Disney back in the mid 1980’s for my dream job as a Davy Crockett Canoe ride attraction host, I went through Disney University (orientation). I will never forget the speech we got after watching the Disney Story in a small screening room. The lights came up and the trainer said, “So, what product does Disney sell?” Silence. “We sell happiness!” came the answer. “How do we sell happiness? By treating each person who walks through the front gates as if they were a guest in your own home.”

That was it. That was the secret to the Disney Way.

So, what’s so wrong with giving vets a little something they really deserve? A little happiness along with their health care. Vets have already paid for their E ticket, park hopper and annual pass; what’s left is a little TLC.

The Best Way to Honor Those Who Never Came Home: Take Care of Those Who Did

Michelle Obama, in her Open Letter to Veterans, published on Sept. 30, 2013, says, “If you are a veteran who is uninsured and hasn’t applied for [Veteran’s Administration] coverage, you may be eligible for [Obama] care through the VA.”

Yet the VA states if you have non-service related ailments or injuries, you don’t qualify for free coverage with the VA, fees and co-pays would apply.

The HealthCare.gov website Mrs. Obama recommends veterans go to stipulates that veterans who are enrolled in the VA system are considered “covered” and therefore do not qualify for care under the new health care law. Similarly, veterans who may be enrolled in Tri-Care, the military health care system, do not qualify to use the new Health Insurance Marketplace.

It’s no secret that “there are an estimated 1.3 million uninsured veterans,” according to Mrs. Obama’s letter. What may be a secret are the estimated 400,000 veterans suffering from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) – a leading cause of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which can lead to social, physical, mental and emotional health complications, including suicide – which claims the lives of 22 veterans every day based on the VA’s own data reported by 21 states from 1999 through 2011. That’s one veteran every 65 minutes.

Mrs. Obama doesn’t even mention these two devastating conditions for veterans, their families and loved ones. The VA backlog and ill-equipped and trained VA service providers barely make a dent in helping those afflicted with TBI and PTSD.

What is the best way to honor our fallen heroes?

“Take care of those who came home,” is the answer given by Dr. Chrisanne Gordon, founder and chairwoman of the Resurrecting Lives Foundation and physical and rehabilitation physician. Who could disagree with making sure veterans, our most noble of citizens, who write a blank check to every man, woman and child in America for everything up to and including their lives, are cared for when they make it home alive?

Dr. Gordon, on her website, states that, “It is estimated that only 36 percent of the veterans returning from the Iraq & Afghanistan wars actually receive treatment through the Veterans Administration, although all are eligible.”

That’s only 792,000 out of 2.2 million returning veterans.

How will the Affordable Care Act provide relief for veterans if the VA can’t do it? How can Obamacare hope to even scratch the surface of treating ailments the government already can’t get out of its own way on?

The HealthCare.gov website claims that if a veteran can’t afford private health care coverage they “may be eligible for Medicaid.” The website also says that “if you’re a veteran who isn’t enrolled in VA benefits or other veteran’s health coverage, you can get coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace.”

But is the Marketplace ready for these special needs patients? And if they are, can the veteran not enrolled in VA health care afford it?

“Getting coverage,” means “paying” for coverage through the Obama Care Marketplace. Why would a veteran, who qualifies for VA coverage, not go to the VA? It doesn’t make sense.

It’s as if Michelle Obama is trying to get “caring for veterans” points with a health care merry-go-round that will deposit the veteran exactly where s/he got on!

Veterans need to be directed to the VA, and then some need to have their hands held to even get them to sign up. Medicaid should cover the non-service related costs should the poor veteran not be able to afford these costs, however, because the Supreme Court ruled last year it would be up to the states to decide whether or not to implement Medicaid expansion, an estimated 284,000 poor veterans, who would have qualified for Medicaid under the expansion, will not be able to access it.

Obamacare has NOTHING for the veteran, nor should it. But why the smoke and mirrors towards those who already are faced with a daunting, bureaucratic labyrinth and well deserved mistrust of the efficiency of a government program?

It’s a shame that in this age of returning veterans with complex health care issues we can’t find a better way to address their needs than with just a confusing “open letter” to them about something that can do nothing for them.

What we need is to allow veterans to seek out treatment at any municipal health care facility, just like Medicaid patients can do. Restricting care for veterans only through the ridiculous bottleneck of Veterans Administration facilities, which are inaccessible to most veterans who tend to live far from these facilities, for an estimated 400,000 suffering the effects of service-related TBI alone, is trite, myopic, unnecessary and a dishonor to their sacrifice.

I am the author of “Saving Grace at Guantanamo Bay: A Memoir of a Citizen Warrior,” and three times mobilized U.S. Army Reserve Major (Retired). Author web page: http://sbpra.com/montgomeryjgranger/ Twitter @mjgranger1