Across the land the bells are tolling: for marines from Camp Pendleton, California, helicopter pilots from Ft. Rucker Alabama, the 101st Airborne from Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Our National Guard are needed at home. Our armed forces are stretched thin and the bells keep tolling.
But where were the congressmen and congresswomen and senators-democrats and republicans-and White House Administration officials when Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Veterans Administration (VA) medical centers were allowing their facilities to rot into vermin infested rat holes in which severely wounded American veterans are housed? One general said the vets were leaving food in their rooms, which attracted the little critters. Excuse me, but how is a man with no legs, or half his mind blown away, supposed to dispose of his trash? The only reason a few heads are rolling now is because two Pulitzer Prize-worthy Washington Post reporters blew the lid off "a grateful nation's" dirty little secret.
It has been my experience that when the American people are told the truth, they stand up and make their voices heard. The Administration asks a befuddled congress for billions to put more men and women into a nightmare civil war between barbarians whose reasons to fight most Americans do not understand or give a rat's ass. And yet, when it comes to caring for these brave kids who are severely wounded inside and out, maimed and disfigured for the rest of their lives: Show Me The Money!
ABC newsman Bob Woodruff has made a miraculous recovery from his brain injuries suffered in Iraq. Miraculous doesn't describe it. He has said that he received the absolute best treatment anyone could want from day one in Iraq, to Germany, to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland. Apparently ABC paid for trips for his family to visit, and many other expenses. Concurrently, he has an extremely supportive wife and family. Anyone who has seen Woodruff's amazing documentary has to be deeply affected by it. But Woodruff almost died, or had died briefly. In the documentary he relates that after first being hit, he opened his eyes, there was light and he was looking down on his own body.
Lots of people recall these types of phenomena, termed near death experiences (NDE). Whatever they are, I like to think that Mr. Woodruff lived for good reason. He has something very important to do and he is one who can do it. He has been chosen, with his wife Lee, to bring to the attention of as many Americans as possible, the dismal neglect of our wounded veterans. There are hundreds of thousands of these veterans, from World War II to the present that are languishing in VA hospitals around the country, or desperately trying to find their way through the labyrinth of indifference within the greatest bureaucracy ever created-the American Military.
Woodruff is very careful to point out, as are countless others who have been under direct military care, that we have the finest and the bravest doctors and nurses in the world. In fact, as an embassy civilian in Vietnam, I was in a military hospital for a while and I can attest to that. But once these wounded soldiers leave their doctors and therapists, and enter a military or VA medical facility in the United States, there is a breakdown between patient and patient care. The Administration is contracting out for employees to care for patients. What a disgrace. These "employees" are cheaper to hire and sub-standard. I would not hire them to sweep my driveway.
In the 1990s I wrote a series of stories on veterans from the Vietnam era for VFW Magazine. One story was about women veterans that suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I visited VA facilities around the country to see how these women were coping in their recoveries. Because women typically made themselves invisible by blending in to private life, marrying and having families, I called the story "America's Invisible Veterans." Conditioned to being the caregivers, to recognizing the needs of others and ignoring their own, these women tended to bury their nightmares in a trunk in the basement.
Dr. Jessica Wolfe, then assistant professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine, had first worked with returning Vietnam male veterans with symptoms of PTSD. I worked closely with Dr. Wolfe who had just started a new program at the Boston VA Medical Center to treat former women officers that had served in Vietnam as nurses. I interviewed some of these nurses; they had witnessed the most horrific battles and treated the most horrendous casualties. Afflicted with marked anxiety and elements of panic disorder, the women asked to meet on the first floor to avoid elevators where they might encounter patients in wheelchairs.
Like war photographers, some nurses were able to distance themselves from the blood and gore of the battlefield through the lens of a camera. One former nurse had stored her slides in trunk, away from her children, and not looked at them in 25 years. After considerable group therapy with Dr. Wolfe she was able to look at the color slides dispassionately, and admit it was a part of her life that was over. My purpose in relating this is to emphasize what is possible for our recovering veterans. We have excellent medical practitioners in this country. If anybody is entitled to them, it's our veterans. That the Veterans Administration has suffered a loss in funding over the years is no secret. It's just that nobody talks about it. That present facilities are unacceptable and a bloated bureaucracy is indifferent is disgraceful. And the bells keep tolling.