No Laughing Matter: Vets and the VA

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: a duck walks into the VA…

Sometimes exaggerating to the point of absurdity is a way to draw attention to something. And sometimes a story needs no exaggeration at all.  It’s absurd all on its own.

Jack Kennedy, a West Point graduate from a three-generation military family, was injured early in his military career and given a medical discharge.  He’s lived with chronic pain since his late 20’s. Over the years his injury has worsened.  Although he’s only in his 40’s, he needs a hip replacement.  His VA doctor agreed, but said that wouldn’t happen.  Why not?  Because Jack’s too young. The reasoning goes like this: If we replace that hip now we’ll just have to do it again later.  All the doctor can offer him is pain medication, although he recommended that Jack get off the pain medication. Pills: not a real treatment to address the problem, just a go-away-and-wait strategy until Jack is 60 or so.

The logic of consigning someone to maybe 20 more years of chronic pain so as not to have to repeat a needed procedure escapes me.  Where’s the “do no harm” part?  Does it seem humane to disregard quality of life for costs?  Not to me, and not, I’m sure to Jack Kennedy.

Here’s another case for you. Michael Sulsona, a Vietnam vet, stepped on a landmine in 1971.  He lost both legs above the knee.  He’s waited two years for the VA to replace a worn-out wheelchair.  So worn out that it collapsed in a Lowe’s store in New York, spilling him out onto the floor.

Three Lowe’s employees fixed it on the spot.  They brought a chair for Mike and examined the broken wheelchair. A bolt had snapped.  According to Mike, this was not the first time the bolt had snapped.  It’s Lowe’s: they have bolts!  These good men found the necessary parts and repaired the wheelchair while Mike looked on.

Mike’s story shows what can happen when people, good people, address a problem.  Those three employees tackled the job and got it done.  I say hooray for them. That’s kind of the American way, isn’t it?  You see something that needs doing and you do it.

The present size and structure of the VA prohibits this kind of swift action…but it needn’t keep people like you and me from stepping in to help where there’s a need.  Imagine what we could do if American businesses stepped up to the plate on veterans issues. Would it be good PR for them? You bet.  But think of what a little bit from companies large and small could accomplish. I’d be willing to support those businesses, wouldn’t you? As for Jack Kennedy and vets like him caught in the system, here’s what we can do for them: demand better; keep the pressure on our representatives to change the way we deliver medical care to them.  I’m in.  Are you?

Read the original blog post at the Huffington Post

Shad Meshad

As a U.S. Army Medical Service Officer in Vietnam in 1970, Shad Meshad began pioneering treatment techniques for what would later become known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He is the founder of the National Veterans Foundation and founder and co-author of the VA’s Vet Center Program.

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