Polished men and women in uniform are seen all over our country on billboards, TV and magazines. Photographs of them incites pride in Americans, and have become a symbol of patriotism and service to country. They truly are the best and brightest.
We love to see pictures of our service members bright and new. Just like we love our flag. We hang it in front of our homes with pride. We remember to take it down every night at sunset if we do not have a light on our flag.
Then, life becomes a little more hectic, and we leave the flag out one night, without a light on it. Then one night becomes two. Days become weeks, then months until all that is left is a faded cloth in shreds. This is exactly how we treat our military and veterans. We love them when they are polished, with faces full of hope and service. But when they return damaged, they aren’t shiny like we remember and our interest fades.
The infamous Shock and Awe, did not occur in 2003. It happened to veterans and their families when they returned from the war and were denied health care, or asked to wait for more than a year to be seen. There are aspects of veteran’s health care that have been improving in the past decade. The knowledge and technology exists to treat veterans and improve lives of those injured or disabled. Unfortunately, to fund what veterans need requires and act of Congress. As Senator Tom Coburn of R-Oklahoma, gave us a great example how one senator can stop a bill passed unanimously from the house in the Senate. Once again blocking funds to help veterans.
I am certain that most Americans do not want veterans to suffer, but it’s happening. As time passed, the Afghanistan War, Iraq War and the troops they claim to support, were pushed into the back of their minds. Things got busy for them. Maybe they don’t have time to find news about what’s really going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. Maybe they work more than one job, and only have time to catch their local news. With such a limit to free news, they can easily recall more about Kim, Kanyaye and Kim’s ass, than the details of the H.R.5059 Clay Hunt SAV suicide prevention bill that passed the house unanimously, but was blocked by one senator, Tom Coburn R-Oklahoma. Senator Coburn blocked it because, “.. it duplicated existing Department of Veterans Affairs programs and was not paid for by offsets elsewhere in the budget.” (Military News.com)
That’s funny, in 2002, 2003 and 2004, while sitting in a Loma Linda Veteran’s Hospitals with a minimum two hour wait for scheduled appointments, the TV’s in the waiting rooms tuned to CNN and Fox mentioned nothing about cost offsets to fund a war. In fact, their coverage of the ramp-up to both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars had an ESPN sports channel feel to it. Then, when injured service members came back wanting care for the mental and physical injuries they earned in war, suddenly cost was the problem. You see, it takes an act of congress to make any changes to VA health care. Unfortunately, members of congress have constituents and donors to answer to so the information they are lacking to understand the need for funding goes ignored. Well, ignored until something so horrific hits the news, it seeps between the Kardashian coverage and angers people with “Support our Troops” magnets on their cars. Of course, the anger is short lived. So congress can act like it’s going to do something, put a few bandages in place to give the appearance of doing something, until there’s another Kimyaye pregnancy divorce rumor. Then, while everyone’s eyes are on KimYaye, they can block something veterans need. Because like this flag, Veterans are great when they’re new and shiny, but eventually they will be left flapping in the wind, shredded and decaying. Until another war of choice comes up, and just like the owners of this flag will go out and buy a new one to replace it, congress will fund wars that will provide a blank check for shiny new Soldiers, Sailors, Guardsman, Marines and equipment. Then funds stop when they need care the most. Because that is how The United States of America supports its troops.
I have been in the Veteran’s Heath Care System since 1994. Over the last ten years, I have been hearing veterans health care providers and staff use a phrase that is turning into mantra to ‘soothe’ veterans. It’s not just one hospital, I have heard it at three. I have heard it said so many times, it almost overshadows the chaos and despair lingering in the halls.
“The Veteran’s Health Care System has a very large case load. By jumping in line like that, you are delaying the care of your brother and sister veterans. We all need to be very patient.”
It should not be a veteran’s problem the Veteran’s Administration is understaffed and under financed. But the citizens of the United States make it a veteran’s problem.
As a patient who has put aside her fear of wasting a doctor’s time in the emergency department or waited patiently in a specialty clinic waiting room for cancellations and no-shows, I do not wish anyone else’s care to be delayed. I do question the statement used to ‘calm’ veteran’s down by playing on their guilt. I know we are supposed to be nice and share, but since when has good manners trumped health? It is a well know fact that those who fight in combat, fight for their fellow warrior. A veteran will fight, but if you tell them that that speaking up on their own behalf may hurt a fellow warrior, well that’s like shooting fish in a barrel. The only thing that may stop a warrior from fighting, is if it will endanger the well being of another veteran. It’s quite brilliant. I’d like to shake the hand of the douchebag that came up with that gem, and punch them in the face.
Asking someone to wait in an overcrowded system seems like a perfectly reasonable request, but not if someone’s life or well being depends on it. In fact, many after-combat problems like amputations or infections could be prevented with early intervention. Is it the VA staff? No. I have met many who work in VA facilities that want to provide veterans with the best possible care, but often have to justify funds spent on an individual if it’s not something obvious like a heart attack. And after making requests and being denied the resources to help a veteran, eventually the goal becomes to just keep the veteran alive until the resources are available. Does that sound okay to you? Allow me to rephrase that: Would that be acceptable for your son or daughter, brother or sister, mother or father?
Americans do not support their troops no matter what their car magnets or Facebook statuses say. The truth is, we’ll shop while you’re at war, and when you come back, we’ll ask you to wait for medical care. Am I over reacting? We did allow Congress to leave for winter break without financing programs veterans and service members desperately need. If anything, I’m under-reacting.
Over the last ten years, many Veteran’s Health Care providers have been asking veterans to wait for health care. It’s nothing new. Veterans have been fighting for benefits and care my entire forty-four years on this planet. When I entered the VA health care system in 1994, it wasn’t about asking for treatment, it’s about solving the riddle of your own health to figure out how to ask the right questions to get the correct treatment.
I had to learn to set aside my fear of wasting someone’s time in n emergency department, or crash a specialty clinic like a college class and wait patiently in a waiting room to take the spot of a no-show or cancellation. You know, veterans can be seen in Veteran Hospital Emergency Departments is they need to wait months for care. It takes patience, but I have done it on many occasions and in at least one case, it has saved my life. Veteran’s must not be guilt-ed into waiting for care they need. If we really ‘support the troops’, why is the burden of sacrifice on veterans alone? The answer: Because on election day, they got in their car with a yellow ribbon magnet and flag sticker on their bumpers, drove past their polling place to get home in time to vote for their favorite contestant on American Idol. I think this flag is a great representation of how by actions, the citizens of the United States really feel about service members, veterans and their families.
Photo by Karen Vasquez taken from her car in Orange, California on Christmas Eve, 2014.
Am J Public Health. 2007 December; 97(12): 2132–2142.
WAR & Military Mental Health
The US Psychiatric Response in the 20th Century
“Herbert X. Spegal, one of the first psychiatrists to observe soldiers suffering from war neurosis in Tunisia, was convinced that soldiers were not primarily motivated by hatred for the enemy or the ideals of liberty and democracy, but by the bonds with their buddies and regard for their officers.”
He Told Us To Go Shopping, Now The Bill Is Due
By Andrew J. Bacevich
Sunday, October 5, 2008