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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Houston VA Doctor refused to see me with my Service Dog

The letter and the response from Jim Strickland you are about to read was originally published on Jim's Mailbag on March 22, 2012.  On March 20, 2012, I went to the Houston VA Hospital expecting to be treated with dignity and respect.  Isn't that what we should all expect?  What happened to me was disastrous.  Read on.

Dear Jim;

I'm Wendi Goodman. I'm a retired SSG and I served my country honorably. I'm also an MST survivor and I suffer severe physical and mental health issues. The VA has rated me as 100% permanently and totally disabled.

You know me through my blog One Weary Soldier and our advocacy work together. You've known of my dream to get back to Texas...that's home to me. I recently accomplished that. My wife and I (yes, I'm lesbian and legally married) have moved into a delightful home and I have been settling in well.

Settling in well, that is, until I needed health care. A few weeks ago I was impressed with the beauty and seeming efficiency of the VA Medical Center in Houston. Yesterday I needed a refill of a narcotic pain medicine that I've taken for many years. My appointment with a new primary care physician isn't yet on the radar although I was told weeks ago that would happen soon.

In need of my prescription refill, I went to the VAMC in hopes I could see a physician who would help me. Surely people transfer in all the time so they'd know what to do. Right? Wrong. After being shuffled around (my anxiety level rising every second) I was finally told that I would see Niloufar Ghadiri, MD but that I couldn't bring my service dog in the room with me. My service dog is my lifeline to sanity. I've never been refused like this before. I was near panic but I agreed that I'd leave the dog with my wife if I could have a female escort who would accompany me throughout the journey.

I saw the doctor. She instantly decided that I was just another drug seeking dirtbag and sent me directly to a substance abuse clinic. She didn't look at my record to see my narcotics contract, my prescription history, nor did she bother looking at anything else. It was readily apparent she didn't care for me.

Was it my status as a married lesbian or that I'm an honorably retired soldier? I'll never know but it was apparent that she wasn't interested in seeing me as a veteran patient...I was just a problem, not a veteran.

I had an anxiety attack. I was seen by a psychiatrist who reviewed my records and he concluded that I'm one of those who takes a narcotic drug because I have to, not because I want to.

To try and make this long tale shorter...I went home with a supply of the medicine I needed. But my wife was looking over my paperwork and calming me down...she noticed the wrong Social Security number on some papers. The appointments didn't seem to match what I remember being told.

They had given me another woman's paperwork. I had her name, SSN, appointment history and a lot more very personal information in my hands.

The Houston VAMC refused me the proper use of my dog. The doctor accused me of being a drug seeker and refused to treat me. The medication I walked out with was about 1/2 of what I'll need to get me to the appointment that is supposed to be set up for me. I'm not sure if I have an appointment now because they mixed me up with another veteran and I have her documents. My wife is a basket case and questioning why we ever came here. I haven't been able to get control of my emotions for the last 24 hours. This has been absolutely devastating to me.

Jim, what now?


Settling in to a new health care routine is often a challenge. Any veteran who asks for a refill of any narcotic medicine today is suspected of being an abuser, not a user. The witch hunt perpetrated by the "War On Drugs" is particularly high profile at your VHA. All veterans should have a look at their VHA lab work to see how often they're screened for illicit drugs without being informed. You'll be shocked at what you find there. Your VHA often screens you for drugs without your knowledge or consent.

Your choices for a response are limited. The doctor will probably never feel any heat from how she treated you. No matter what you say, everyone in the system will defer to that caregivers judgement and you'll be viewed as the troublemaker.

If I were you, I'd first place a complaint to a patient advocate. That won't resolve anything but it's a necessary step. Then I'd contact the VA OIG. To refuse your service dog is a clear violation of the rules. VA promotes such therapy as service dogs on one hand and then denies that benefit on the other. The privacy violation that occurred when they gave you another veterans paperwork should also be of interest to OIG. Ultimately, I have to wonder if you weren't a case of mistaken identity from the beginning of all this? Did they identify you as a veteran who is known to them already?

It's reasonable to ask the OIG to investigate why the service dog as well as privacy policies aren't enforced.

No actions are going to be taken unless and until you put it all in writing. I say it every day...a well written letter, delivered by certified mail, is the best weapon you have in your arsenal. Your telephone call to the advocate is likely to be forgotten by the weekend. Your certified mail will demand attention.

I'd first write to the director of the medical center where the event occurred. Then I'd address that same letter to the boss at the VHA, Robert A. Petzel, M.D. You can write to Dr. Petzel in Washington, D.C. at,

Robert A. Petzel, M.D.
Under Secretary for Health in the Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420

Read more about how to write an effective letter to VA by clicking here.

Keep us posted. Your brothers and sisters care!

I have done as Jim advised.  I took the first step yesterday afternoon, March 21, 2012, 1330, and I spoke with Lupe the Patient Advocate.  I told her everything that happened to me from the time I walked in the door until the late hour when we discovered I had another Veterans name and social security number.  Twenty-four hours later I still have not heard back from the Patient Advocate.  So far it looks like Jim has hit the nail on the head.  I can hear him laughing and telling me, "Don't I always, Kid?"  Yes, Jim.  You do.  That's why you are my friend and mentor.

I will keep you all posted, my friends.  Until the next time ......



  1. Wendi...I've read your writings before and you are always whinning about your sexual preference or your dog or the way the VA treats you. How about you start to take charge of your life and realize that you are not oppressed or that people are not out to get you. Mistakes are made. Deal with it. Drama must be a daily occurrence in your life. Get a grip.

  2. The only way we drew attention to the terrible treatment here in Prescott Arizona was to write Washington DC and the president. We wrote every single time they abused or used us and finally we got some action with many Federal Investigations Oh almost forgot we wrote to our local apaper too.

  3. Hi Larry,

    Thank you for reading my stuff. That you've read my writings and continue to read is a plus for me and I appreciate having you on board.

    You're right. Drama is a daily occurrence in my life. I don't see that as surprising because I have mental health issues and that's a big part of my 100% rating. I wish that weren't true. I wish that I hadn't been sexually assaulted while I served my country. I wish that my physical injuries had never happened. The things that happened to me have shaped the way I think. If I could, I'd make it all go away and then I could be like you...a man with no drama, no problems to deal with.

    It's too bad that I can't "get a grip", as you advise. If it were that easy I would.

    Yes, I am always "whinning" (sic) as you say. That's part of being a blogger with a very public web site. I speak my feelings and my mind for others to read. And others (just like you) do read my writings so I
    may be doing something right. If I didn't say what I feel, the blog would be a blank page.

    Beyond that, this isn't a work of fiction. I don't make this stuff up. That "mistakes are made" wasn't what happened here. A mistake is when a cashier gives me the wrong amount of change when I check out at the grocery store. What happened to me was that I was singled out for a pattern of mistreatment that had a significant effect on my already fragile psyche. To refuse my service dog was no mistake...and, that's
    against the existing rules. To accuse me of being a drug seeker and treating me as an abuser was not a mistake, it was an intentional act by a person who is paid to be professional.

    I wish I had your strength and courage so I could deal with it, just as you suggest. I don't. Much of that was stolen from me many years ago in a circumstance I can't go into now.

    I hope that you'll return and keep reading. I hope you'll put yourself in my shoes and try to see this from my perspective. In any case, I do appreciate you stopping by often to read my blog. If you disagree with
    me, I hope you'll keep voicing your opinion. That's what this is all about.


  4. I had the same experience at the Martinsburg, WV VAMC they asked me to leave my dog in the hallway or in my car even after I said this is a service dog and ADA states I may have her in here they told me they didn't care and I should not have her in there. Also the director refused to see me and the advocates blew me off like it shouldn't of been a problem

  5. I'm very sorry you had such a bad experience. I can honestly say that I know how you feel. It was horrible for me when I was told I could not bring my service dog into the exam room. I never leave home without Strudel. She helps me with mobility issues and she's trained as a medical alert assistance dog.

    I learned from a dear friend, Jim Strickland, that as Veterans we are our own best advocates. At times it's up to US to educate the staff at the VA Hospital. I will provide you with a link to the VA's own policy regarding Service Dogs in VA Facilities. Print it out and carry it with you. The next time someone refuses to see you with your service dog, pull out a copy of that policy and have them read it. If that doesn't work, go back to the Patient Advocate with the policy in your hand. They won't ignore you with their own policy in front of their face.

    Best of luck to you. Please keep me posted. You can reach me directly at

    That URL is

  6. Debra,
    You are absolutely correct! I also have back problems and have had Doctors tell me I'm lying about the pain just to get drugs. I even asked them to give me a different weaker drug (vicodyn instead of oxycodone) because I was afraid of becoming addicted. That Doctor immediately sent me for a urinalasys and then told me they were cutting me off completely because I didn't have vicodyn in my system. She told me I had said I was taking it, when I told her I would be willing to take it. It was not in my system because she had not given it to me yet. She sent me home with nothing. Home was 2 hours away. It was not a pleasent ride. I found that if you go on Facebook and tell your problem publicly it will get results. Hopefully the VA will get some people that care about their patients. Good luck to you and Wendi.

    Todd Shene


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