The trauma experienced by so many veterans at the Veterans Administration becomes at once more poignant and more outrageous when it blindsides someone you know. Raphael fought in Afghanistan and was twice injured. He made me promise to disguise his identity before giving permission to tell his story; his benefits could be eliminated by a vengeful bureaucrat. He knows others who complained and paid.
Raphael’s story contains classified information. Among other things, he needs psychotherapy for his PTSD – post traumatic stress disorder. Each time he requests therapy, he is assigned a doctor who is not cleared to hear classified material. The VA explains that it cannot afford enough docs with the requisite clearance to hear his story; if he talks to someone without clearance, he risks life in prison.
Raphael is 90% medically retired from the Service because of the injuries he sustained. He worries that he is losing whatever muscle tone he still has; but if he works out – and is caught by VA authorities – he can lose all medical and financial benefits. It is okay for him to be employed – as long as he does not work out or do anything else to put himself into physical condition for work and play. His VA doc prescribes weekly chiropractic care because of the injuries to his back. VA policy is one trip to the chiropractor every three months. It is called Catch 22.
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He lives about two hours from the nearest VA clinic; yet he can only get his medication at such a facility. That means by the time he drives two hours, waits in line for two hours – picking up meds is not considered urgent – and drives home another two hours, his day – whether working or off – is shot. And sometimes, the ordered meds have not yet arrived; and he must return another day. This is the price he pays for risking his life for his country on a foreign battlefield. His country talks of honoring his sacrifice; plenty of Americans want to shake his hand and thank him for his service. But this is the reality with which he and hundreds of thousands of vets live every day.
Promises were made when the scandal broke months ago; vets would be given vouchers for care VA clinics could not provide. Despite launching of the “new” VA on Veterans’ Day, not one vet has received a card. Nothing in the re-organization mentions changing the policies that penalize Raphael.
I could blame the Administration. There is no question things have gotten worse on Obama’s watch; his disdain for the military of which he is commander in chief is legendary. But this dysfunction for which Raphael and his brothers and sisters pay every day goes back a long way. I know a clinic director who was hounded from his job during the Bush Administration in retaliation for his constant complaints to higher ups in Washington. And the nature of his belly aching? He wanted adequate medical supplies – in stock – to serve those who depended on him and on his staff, and a mobile clinic for vets living in the rural areas of his region. George Bush loved the members of our armed forces, and they loved him. But he did not love them enough to crack down on the incompetent and the bean counters – and not enough to carry the horrific truth to the American public.
It is not too late. What if we demanded of leaders a workable plan to overhaul the VA – beginning with the termination of every employee who has been part of the problem from the top down? What if we demanded that plan include sufficient funding to pay the debt we owe our vets – from all wars? What if we said “Nuts!” to promises made by the leaders who break promises already made to vets? And what if we voted only for leaders who are honest enough to admit there is not enough money for all things (and that the illegals who want drivers’ licenses and a college degree can go to the back of the line)? What if we hound those we place in office until they deliver – even if they did not promise? The vets were here first, and they deserve whatever they need.
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Jesus said there are none more blessed than those who lay down their lives for their friends. He refers literally to those who die in sacrifice; but every vet has sacrificed health and wealth, and many have damaged hearts and minds. Americans have an opportunity to right a great injustice and bless as Jesus blesses. Let’s stand tall and do it now.
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