Update from John #2

So this should be an interesting topic to cover regarding medical care inside these prison walls. As most of you know, I’m a 100% service-connected disabled veteran (qualified several times over). I’m rated for severe PTS—TBI (traumatic brain injury), a prosthetic shoulder, degenerative disc disease, recurring malaria, hearing loss and lots of other aches and pains resulting from the hard and fast life of parachuting and lots of combat from 2001-2003. I was being treated for a range of issues at the Lexington KY Veterans Administration (VA), including my TBI. There’s a lot we still do not know about TBI. Treatment options are still evolving as new knowledge comes about. So, prior to going to prison, I was a guinea pig, as we learned new things. At the VA, I received the highest priority for VA services because I am 100% Service-connected. For example, I would be able to be seen for an appointment ahead of those who were not classified similarly. Also, because I was one of the earliest veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I went to the front of the 100% service-connected disability line. As a Purple Heart Recipient, I again received preference to go to the front of that line. The final preference was for those who are multiply-wounded combat veterans. There are just a few of those in KY. This allowed me to be assigned to the”Poly Trauma” team which made it possible for me to get an appointment within a week. I was assigned a Nurse Practioner case manager who was wonderful. I know that we hear bad things about the care at the VA, but I can’t say one bad thing about my experience back then. I was grateful for their help, and they were quick to give it to me at the Lexington VA.

When I came to prison, it was like a light switched off.

As many of you know, prior to my wrongful conviction, I saw the writing on the wall because of the decisions made by the court stripping me of any way to successfully defend myself against the changes for which I was convicted. I fled to the woods of West Virginia, and I evaded capture for over ten months. During that time, by law, my VA money was cut off. However, when I was caught and sent to prison, I wrote the VA notifying them of my conviction and asking that my 3 daughters draw allotments off of my pension (a request that is authorized under the federal statutes…I cannot have the money…but they can…they are not punished for the sins of their father). I had to jump through some hoops—the mother of one of my youngest daughters hadn’t put my name on her birth certificate so I had to petition the court to add me and then get her added as a dependent with the VA. This took months, as everything had to be done via snail mail.

One day I received a visitor from the VA. He was there to re-evaluate my 100% disabled claim. After an exhausting hour day answering questions and being poked and prodded in the medical room at Eddyville State Prison, he thanked me and said I would be notified. A few months later, I was given “Permanent and Total Status” (“P&T Status”), which means that my injuries had been assessed as degenerative and “never to get better”. One of the great benefits to this category is that they have a program to pay for the college education of 100% disabled veterans’ dependents!! That means my girls get their college paid for! P & T Status is seldom awarded to wounded veterans, and it wasn’t luck that I was given this—it should be taken as an analysis of my injuries, all service-related. And I received this final status while in prison.

A couple of months after this happened, I get a denial on my allotment requests for my daughters. The VA sent me a letter saying that they had me in their system as being incarcerated since 2006—I wasn’t convicted until July 2012, and did not enter prison until October 2013. Further, they said that all of the benefits I drew between 2006 and that date were obtained fraudulently, and that I now owed the government $187,000! I’m sure they could have just clicked over to the next screen and seen that the last time I had been treated at the VA was in 2011—way past 2006! I was incensed that my girls had to go more time without my financial support (it had been about 2 years). I drafted an immediate appeal and collected all of the paperwork dispelling their clerical error. The VA isn’t allowed to cut a veterans money off until 90 days after conviction. I sent them my final sentencing paperwork, and an official copy of all the pertinent dates having to do with my case. I sent them a notarized copy of the letter I sent them 47 days after I was finally sentenced informing them of my fallacious conviction and requesting the allotments be set up for my daughters. A few months later I got another letter form the VA failing to even reference the documents I sent them, but telling me that I should be ashamed of myself for defrauding my government and that the money I would have been entitled to would be used against the debt I owed the government.

I was sent to prison because of the misuse of a legal precedent that claimed my honorable military service was a “prior bad act” (because I was a combat veteran who actively participated in combat and heaven forbid, owned weapons after my service). My military service was introduced at trial under the “prior bad act statute”, allowing the Commonwealth of KY to pose the legal theory that my military service was inextrictably intertwined with my character and as such met the Evidentiary Standard for an “implied threat”. Thus my service to my country was used at trial to convict me and I came to prison for serving my country. I lost my every worldly possession, my money, my daughters and nearly my mind for being a Veteran. And now, after giving all—my body, mind, soul, youth, health and my sanity, the VA was also trying to deprive my girls of the support that I earned and sought to give them as their dad—AND they accused me of FRAUD!

I believed I deserved protections as much as anyone else since I actually went and held the line for my country. I believe that a trial could be fair, that a judge would not be corrupt and sabotage my defense. that the prosecutors wouldn’t be so determined to cross any line to achieve their desired result. I believed I had rights, that this was the land of the FREE—but the verdict had been decided before the trial ever began.

Yes, there was a fraud perpetrated here and I had been too blind to see it. How could I have not seen it coming? I decided to dip into meager savings to hire a lawyer to get the girls their money. Altogether it took me years from when I sent that first letter. I had to write dozens more letters, file 6 appeals, and pay a lawyer $4500 (he was another veteran who gave me a good deal). And it worked. My three girls each get $1200+ per month and I am so glad. Even though I don’t get to talk to my girls (their mothers do not want me in the girls’ lives), It makes me feel good to fulfill at least that part of my financial responsibility as a dad. A man is not a man unless he takes care of his family. Prison is psychologically designed to emasculate each of us. For most everyone, it’s pretty effective—they lose themselves into the penitentiary grind and slowly little by little, compromise by compromise, there’s nothing left.

Anyhow, this was a big load off of my mind—my girls can benefit despite my current circumstances. Whether my girls know it or not, I’m proud I can contribute to them. I’m their dad and I love them. Its razor wire and guards with guns keeping me from being there with them.

So let me delve back into the medical problems (My family is intimately familiar with my 10-year long fight to get adequate health care). I had hoped because of my VA status that it might be possible to see the specialists at the VA that I saw before I was incarcerated. There was no relative cost either way because I was entitled to VA and Medicare both. But the government does not allow the VA to treat imprisoned veterans. The veteran must rely upon the medical “treatment” (I use that term loosely) provided by a for-profit prison medical outfit that is incentivized to spend as little as possible for our care (profit rules). I wrote many letters to the VA and the DAV over the years asking them to consider the realities of medical care for incarcerated veterans, especially the wounded combat veterans who have special needs that no one in the prison bureaucracy seems to be concerned with. As an example, my TBI and PTS have grown drastically worse in prison. My seizure episodes have skyrocketed, my ears constantly ring and the vision in my right eye cuts in and out with no apparent aggravating factor—especially since my attack at Lee County Adjustment Center last August. And I have yet to see a neurologist—the most recent date they’ve given me is November of this year, 15 months after the attack that nearly killed me.

I have begged prison medical providers thru the years to read my medical record from the VA (provided to KY Department of Corrections – “DOC” – 7+ years ago). When an inmate is finally seen by a medical provider inside prison walls, there seems to be an automatic assumption that the inmate is lying. In the 9 prisons I’ve been to in almost 10 years, there is only one doctor provider who has bothered to read my records to verify my medical history showing that I have no ulterior motive. For years, I sought help from debilitating migraines (probably linked to TBI) and I have always been refused treatment.

As for chronic pain goes, I’m just an old beat up Joe—it all hurts. The prison medical establishment is especially sensitive about any claim of chronic pain as Kentucky is the #2 state for opiate addiction in the U.S. While seemingly justifiable to hesitate treating using opiates, this can’t be such a black and white issue. For instance, a simple examination of my VA medical file would show a refusal of all pain medication (I don’t want to be addicted) despite drugs frequently being recommended. It would list discussions with VA personnel where I personally railed against the “prescribe frequently and often” methods of VA doctors. I complained about the lack of holistic alternatives in the VA’s formulary, and offered alternatives that were holistic, to no avail. I keep thinking that if someone would read the records, and see my long history of refusing drugs, that if I say I’m in pain, they would conclude that I realty AM in pain. In KY prisons, working with a for-profit medical provider, veterans are offered no services that fit their health histories and needs, and it is a travesty.

I have to preface what I’m going to write here next by saying that I have nothing against transgender inmates. What they do does not affect me at all. But I’m writing this to show the disparities of health care that affect all, and especially veterans, in this ”perverse system”. Got this: if an inmate declares himself transgender, the Commonwealth will pay for him to go to the hospital regularly to have hormone injections and to have his hormone levels checked. If a transgender inmate is going bald—other inmates don’t qualify—he can get prescribed Rogain to regrow his hair. These inmates get cells to themselves or they can choose whom they want to live with and they get their own shower times. The rest of us all have to shower together, up to 10 at a time. Our medical provider is a for-profit corporation and each provider is incentivized to only treat life-threatening injuries, thus retaining more profit. As I’ve written previously—(see updates about my attack in August 2019), even when I had open stab wounds, severe burns, a broken jaw, broken ribs and brain trauma, not only would the provider not bother to see me but it took threats of legal action by my dad to get me sent to the local ER. I saw no doctor until they received letters from my Dad after he and my aunt saw me less than 48 hours after the attack (aided by guards) by six other inmates that almost killed me. Now as to the comparison—transgender and combat veterans are both specialty populations with special needs. Each have diagnostic considerations that could greatly affect the success of each population while in prison and lay the groundwork for success outside of prison. But combat veterans do not have the political power and sway that lies in America today with the LGBTQI community. We are inconsequential in comparison to them.

What things have I experienced myself as a combat veteran and incarcerated person? (1) KY contracts out all its prison medical care, and the for-profit medical provider is not equipped to treat us, and doesn’t seem to want to treat us. As I said previously, only one of a dozen doctors over the years here ever bothered to read my extensive medical history (which was easily accessible to them). Some combat vets are plagued with chronic pain from explosions and bullet wounds. We have viruses and funguses and growths borne from jungles and deserts and mountains that these providers have never seen or heard of. Most commonly, we have a range of issues stemming from TBI (traumatic brain injury), the most common injury of the war and still largely a mystery to doctors. We are plagued by PTS, nightmares, flashbacks, sensitivity to light and sound, survivor’s guilt, suicidal ideation, suicidal attempts, hyper-awareness, depression, anxiety and insomnia. Yet, I have never had any medical provider –save that one doctor—even acknowledge that combat veterans are special cases. I remember one conversation with a provider at Eddyville Prison when I was requesting the use of a TENS unit (alleviates joint and muscle pain with electric heating pads). I made the argument that every other inmate was coming in requesting drugs, but I was requesting a method of treatment I’d already used as clearly seen in my medical history. She told me that if she approved it for me, she’d have to approve it for everyone and that there were other inmates in a lot more pain than me and she’d already told them no. I asked her if any of those other inmates had contracted their pain by fighting for her freedom and defending her right to judge me. Well, she called the guard and told him to get me out of her “*&^% [redacted curses word] office”. Time and again, I thought I might get some mercy, maybe a sympathetic ear-but I mostly received indifference and sometimes outright hostility.

So let me propose a few ideas that would make things better for all veterans behind bars: Inmates who have combat-related medical issues need some access to the VA where they should be treated anyway. Also,it would help our minimal quality of life if we had access to specialists for TBI and neuropathy, real PTS counseling, and a community that actually understands what is going on. After having my TBI aggravated by re-injury during the attack on my life at Lee County prison, a neurology appointment was made—15 MONTHS after the attack. This is with the full knowledge that my seizures are in a highly active state and my head is fit to bust almost all the time. 15 MONTHS. This is because of the ineptitude and poor quality of care given by WellPath (formerly CCS, they rebranded after too many prisoner deaths under their care, with accompanying lawsuits). So transpose this medical problem to the VA—I’m in the highest tier of care and could have seen a neurologist within a week, crucial to stave off even more intensive damage. For a person with PTS & TBI, life is very difficult in prison because of the noise, screaming, the slamming doors, loud speakers, violence, bright lights always on—these things are very triggering for anxiety, seizures and nightmares for my population. Being able to have a housing privilege of a single cell would be very calming, a quiet place where the demons of the combat past are a little less noisy. The actual combat veterans I have met in prison don’t speak to anyone, they move by themselves unattached to any group. They usually look tortured by all the bombardment they experience within prison walls. Perhaps counseling services exclusively for combat veterans independent of the for-profit “drivel”—“Do you feel suicidal? Do you feel homicidal? Ok, have a good day.” Again, I found VA services during my tenure with it to be excellent. I believe the VA should have a duty to us in here the same as veterans on the outside. For many of us, prison is a direct result of combat experiences. Other sensible ideas would be giving veterans a safe place to take time-outs by themselves, meditation classes, music seminars, actual healthy food—these would be helpful for everyone.

Is the unfairness, unequal and inadequate medical treatment the same out there? Has the indifference of society at large to the struggles of her warrior class given way to outright hostility and dismissiveness? I feel like I’ve been sent away into exile—the Prosecutor at my trial suggested that we should be rounded up into concentration camps—and this is the opposite of all that is righteous.

Thanks for reading this.