CAPE CORAL, Fla. — Haunting dreams and battle scars. They're just some of the "souvenirs" Joseph Buytas says he brought back with him after a tour in Vietnam in the late 1960s.
"I didn't sleep for 40 years; most I would sleep was 20 minutes," he said "I'm a twice-wounded combat veteran from Vietnam. The second time I was wounded a rocket went through my right shoulder and blew my right lung out."
Over the last ten years he's found peace, splitting his time between Michigan and his "winter home" just outside of Port Charlotte.
But that peace was interrupted Friday.
"Got some dental work up in Saginaw, Michigan and they said I could follow-up in Florida."
That's when he says he called the local Lee County VA Clinic in Cape Coral.
"And they said, 'Well you're no longer have dual-enrollment, things have changed. If you need any kind of veteran's work you need to go back to Michigan," he said.
Under Veteran's Affairs rules, Joseph is what's considered a "traveling" veteran, meaning his permanent address changes. But that distinction shouldn't stop him from using his benefits and yet, he says it's happened before at the same location.
"Cape coral shunned me like two year ago. The same, thing they did the same thing and said 'No. You're not registered here anymore,'" he said.
Both times he says it took multiple calls, in-person visits and making some noise to use his benefits and he still doesn't know why it happened in the first place.
And neither does the Cape Coral VA, which said in a statement that they'd be working to contact Joseph to get to the bottom of things:
We have a robust program that facilitates safe and seamless healthcare for Veteran patients who travel or have temporary addresses. This not only includes our clinic in Cape Coral but all VHA facilities around the country. To ensure we are safely continuing the care from a provider in another location, we ask all of our Veterans, especially those with complex healthcare concerns, to notify their primary care provider 4-6 weeks prior to their departure. A Traveling Veteran Coordinator will then work with the Veteran and the Veteran’s Patient Aligned Care Teams in both destinations to ensure the transition of care between locations remains seamless to the Veteran.
Regarding the reported failure to answer phone calls, we cannot validate this without additional information, however, our Veterans Experience Office will be contacting the Veteran to find out how we can better serve him.
Regarding your questions on dental care for traveling Veterans, Veterans eligible for dental services can be seen at any VA they choose as long as they establish care at the VA they choose. Veterans who are traveling and eligible for dental care can be seen at any VA for urgent dental needs, however, if they are in the middle of a dental treatment plan, services to continue the treatment plan will be done when they return from travel.
As of Wednesday, Joseph says he was told that he now has what he needs.
"You have a primary care provider now and you will have a dentist appointment," he said.
But for Joseph the damage is already done.
"You die. You lose your blood. But I can't get a dental appointment?" he said.