Monday, March 05, 2007

Why Not Honor the Living – Not Those Long Dead?

posted by Bill Arnett @ 4:06 PM Permalink

I did not intend to post anything today. I made the mistake of tuning in the congressional hearings about Walter Reed and, as a disabled veteran, it is very painful and depressing to watch.

I have lived this. Not the poor hospital conditions which are alone disturbing enough, but the stories of how soldiers obtain their disability ratings are symbolic of an administration that doesn't care, that actively seeks to deny disability claims, and that deliberately under-rates the level of disability in order to limit entitlements to disability pay and eligibility for future medical benefits.

My primary care physicians clearly noted in my records that I had suffered so severely from neurological damage done me by surgeries to remove two Agent Orange-caused cancers in my neck and jaw that I should receive a very high disability rating. Nerve damage that leaves me in eternal pain, nerves that were severed for being wrapped with cancer have now caused a necrotic jawbone, damage to the cartilaginous structures of my throat, killed salivary glands, and just so much apparent damage it is ridiculous were all noted in my medical records.

But every year what I called a "VA hit-doctor" would examine me for five minutes, read my records, and then say either I was not disabled at all, or finally, they admitted to my being 30% disabled. Unbelievable. But S.O.P. I appealed.

It wasn't until I suffered a complete mental breakdown from the stress of my injuries and waiting/fighting for six years for help that I was finally referred to one of the true angels of the VA system, a trained mental health professional with real compassion who helped me tremendously. In fact, I believe that she and my primary care doctor saved my life, for I had given up and was ready to lay down and die. Had it not been for my wife of, then, 26 years, I am sure I would have done just that.

They helped me re-file my claims, this time with irrefutable evidence of the trouble I was in. I had to drop the appeal of six years to get my new rating, now !00%, so much back pay that would in no way have sufficed to restore even a modicum of my former life, but that certainly might have helped me keep from being financially destroyed was lost to me.

So it was very hurtful reliving those memories and heartbreaking to find out that instead of improving, under the bush administration everything has become much, much worse.

Then the camera left the hearing and turned to the floor of congress and without exception I did not hear ANY congressperson/s discussing veterans and their needs, but speaker after speaker with "important" bills to create a civil war memorial in St Louis, a WWI memorial somewhere else, and another memorial to a general officer from the past, and then all the words all started running together, my mind clouded over, and as I gradually managed to bring my emotions under control I kept thinking and thinking:

"It is a good thing to honor the dead, but why is congress passing and funding all these memorials to the long, long dead when it is we, the living, that need the facilities and the funding, not people so long dead and so obscure that these memorials are for naught but 'bringing home the dollars' to a very narrow constituency, and does nothing to restore honor to a country that hides their current war dead, sneaking the coffins in out of sight, mostly in the dead of night, and worse yet abusing and casting aside those who paid a very steep price indeed for their patriotism? Why?"

I am going to cross post this at Edgeing, as well.

UPDATE: I had to change the last paragraph slightly to more accurately reflect my thoughts, as when I wrote this yesterday I was still trapped somewhere between rage and despair. I am just sick of a congress and Senate too busy with "busy work" and in-fighting to actually do something.

UPDATE: Lest anyone think that I am so angry at the VA and the military because of the treatment meted out to me, I want to correct that impression. Oh, I remain angry about the way I was treated, but what makes me so angry that it hurts is that my story is not exceptional or unusual: It is a story repeated thousands of times a day, with thousands of suffering veterans, and thousands of families that suffer with their soldiers and heroes. It is THAT fact that so disturbs and upsets me and that causes so much mental anguish.


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