Brian Fay: Community care would have saved me from months of suffering. That’s why I fight for other veterans to have access

Had I had more choices in care, I could have saved myself years of struggling.

Transitioning out of the military was difficult for me, like it is for many veterans. The nights were especially brutal.

I’d shoot out of bed from a dead sleep, the smell of smoke from a fire that’s not there still in my nostrils, the metallic taste of blood in my mouth. I’d wipe the sweat away and tell myself it was just a dream as I’d try the grounding techniques that I had learned online.

The nightmares from my deployments over three years earlier made me feel like I was living in those moments, night after night.

When I wasn’t jostled awake at night by a dream of treating a mass casualty in a TMC in Afghanistan, I was having intrusive thoughts during the day. I would be surrounded by loved ones yet still feel very isolated, worthless and confused.

Eventually, I worked up the nerve to head to my local VA clinic, hoping to get some sort of reprieve from the thoughts and dreams constantly flooding my mind.

I was taken into an exam room and immediately greeted by someone who looked like he had just graduated college. He smiled, turned toward his computer with his back to me and said “Let’s get started …”

I left there with more questions than answers and a fistful of prescriptions that I knew were just going to numb me to barely functioning.

It was at that moment I knew I would never get the help I needed through treatment at the VA.

I immediately tried to find ways of getting private treatment from licensed therapists outside of the VA but was greeted by roadblocks. This was 2016 and the VA MISSION Act had not yet been passed, so my ability to use my benefits outside the VA at community care providers was limited.

Ultimately, I was told if I wanted to seek mental health treatment outside of the VA, I could check myself into an inpatient care clinic. That was not the type of care that I needed or that would benefit me long-term.

For a year I struggled silently, finally finding help through friends and family. A therapist offered her help pro bono, and I started to tackle my issues. After two years with that therapist, the dreams finally started to dissipate, the flashbacks quieted down, and I began to feel peace that I hadn’t felt in years.

My story is one of happiness and healing, mainly because of the support I had around me. Unfortunately, many veterans don’t have the same support system and are failing to get the treatment they need from the VA. The VA’s “one-size-fits-all” model of PTSD treatment often leaves veterans feeling like they are beyond fixing when it doesn’t work for them.

That of course isn’t true, and the reason veterans need options in their mental health care. We’re able to find care and healing that works for our individual needs and circumstances when we have choices.

As the VA continues to skirt the VA MISSION Act and dissuade veterans from using their community care options, members of Congress are pushing legislation that holds the VA accountable to serving veterans well, while also empowering veterans to make the health care choices that work for us. These options are just in time as Florida VA facilities are receiving shockingly low-quality ratings and miscalculating appointment wait times.

The Veterans True Choice Act, Veterans’ HEALTH Act, Veterans Health Improvement Act and Veterans Health Care Freedom Act each tackle a different issue plaguing veterans who use VA benefits for health care, but all with the same goal in mind – putting veterans first.

Each of those bills will help veterans access the care they need, and I hope Florida’s lawmakers will continue to lead the charge on getting them signed into law.

Had I had more choices in care, I could have saved myself years of struggling. That’s why I fight now for access to timely, quality care for my brothers and sisters. There is peace and healing on the other side, we just need the right tools and treatment to find it.


Brian Fay is strategic director for Concerned Veterans for America in Florida and a combat veteran of the United States Army.

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One comment

  • Rick Whitaker

    October 6, 2023 at 9:40 am

    i was in the veteran’s hospital during the vietnam war. it was horrible. they didn’t have the programs they have now so it was different. i just remember an antique setting that was primitive and not changed since the 1940’s. spending money on veterans care has been far behind for more than 50 years. we need a woke dem government that is willing to do the right thing without the profit that the maga cult insists on in every venture. maga means cruelty and greed along with christian racism. we need to vote them out. the maga veterans i see on tv are a mystery to me. they are helping destroy the country they once fought for.

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