The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

Shinseki is out. But are the vets in?

Recently, I needed a prescription. My doctor called it in and later I went to the drug store to pick it up.

I am old enough to be on Medicare, but I didn’t buy the extra part that pays for prescriptions. I also am retired from the U.S. Navy and therefore covered by TriCare For Life, the current version of continued medical benefits for military veterans. It pays, except when it doesn’t.

TriCare covers what remains after the primary payer, in this case Medicare, pays its share. Unless the primary payer pays nothing, in which case Tricare will match it.

It’s an example of the hurdles placed in front of veterans attempting to get the care they were promised. Like having them work around jet engines for 20 years or so, and then telling them their hearing loss is not service related. Or – this one should grab notice from the “choice in doctors” folks – telling a young almost-mother she cannot see a civilian doctor near her home if she lives within 25 miles of a Navy hospital. The rule at the Navy hospital was you stand in line and take the next doctor available.

Those experiences do not measure up to current needs for mental care and missing-limb prosthetics and therapy, but they are indicators of a problem older than the current decade.
You say you were sprayed with Agent Orange while fighting in Vietnam more than 40 years ago? We apologize for the inconvenience, but there was no proof that stuff, sprayed as a defoliant so helicopter gunship pilots could see bad guys through the denuded trees, might be harmful to human life. Decades passed before we admitted the spray may have caused cancer in the boys who happened to be searching on foot for bad guys in the same forests.

Those who have received VA care mostly have been happy with it, but not with the wait periods required and the red tape they had to gnaw through to get it.

When I was too young to join the military, my parents had friends who would drive 90 minutes or more to the nearest Veterans Administration hospital, only to wait all day to see someone who would give them an appointment to come back and be seen by someone who would screen them and tell them to come back and be seen by …

In truth, we all have been part of the problem, voting for lawmakers who say “thanks for your service” to returning and still-out-there vets, then leaving them to lie dying, or at least badly hurting, on the shoulders of the road to the next campaign stop.

I feel a little sorry for Gen. Erik Shinseki. He didn’t create the problem, though it appears he didn’t exactly work overtime to fix it. I am not surprised at his apparent inaction; there clearly has been little will in the public or Congress to fund the improvements needed in the Veterans Administration. There is a mood across the nation that anyone getting “free” medical care is on the dole and Congress – especially those members who have run on No New Taxes pledges – has shown a willingness only to cut funding.

Does that let the general off the hook? Nope. It just makes him one of the boys.
Shinseki might still have his job had he waited another week – for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl to be traded out of Taliban captivity, or for ISIS to invade Iraq. The VA is now at least two news stories into history.

What remains to be seen is whether we will remember our Wounded Warriors, or whether we will just tie another yellow ribbon around an oak tree and call it good.

1 Comment

  1. Well done, John. Keep poking them with your words.

    Many of the vets I know go to the nearest military doctors/hospital or to a local hospital and hope Tri-Care for Life pays.

    Back when, if you lived anywhere between northwest Indiana and the entire state of Wisconsin that meant driving to Great Lakes Naval Station. My supervisors would get peeved because it took me a whole day to take the kids for an eye exam. Of course, we’d fill the van with groceries from the commissary on the same trip. My daughters became great shoppers from that experience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.