Friday's Weekend Column
Saint Cloud Veterans Medical Center

by James Glaser
January 16, 2004

The Saint Cloud VA is like no other. It has 200 acres of woods and sits on the bank of the Sauk River in about the middle of the state. It is old and has lots of big brick buildings that look like they are kept up very well. The grounds are like a park.

I started going there forty years ago with my dad. Back then the hospital housed hundreds of severely wounded vets from WW II and Korea. My dad had a friend that fell on a grenade to save his friends over in France and he would stop to visit him. I never got to go in that ward as my dad said they didn't let kids in. I have seen what war can do to bodies and I guess it was best not to have me in there back then.

Today there are still a few hundred long term residents at the hospital, plus the 391 medical beds, a Domiciliary, and a Psychiatry Unit. This is a big place and they see over 20,000 patients every year.

If you are Veteran living in Northern Minnesota, chances are you have used these facilities. I think because of all the long term patients the whole hospital makes you feel like you are part of a family. Staff remembers you and always asks how things are going. Not just the doctors and nurses, but everyone that works there makes you feel like they want to help you any way they can.

I was down there on the 15th and sat in the cafeteria with a Gulf War Veteran who had lost both of his arms. We got talking and I found that he wasn't there for treatment, no, he was there to volunteer helping other wounded vets. He made a joke about his wounds and said it did him good to see others worse off than him. Later on I saw him pushing a wheel chair for a guy with no legs.

You see a guy like that, maybe he is thirty years old and you might expect that he would be bitter about what happened to him and there he is making light of it and helping others. You see that and it makes you feel good. I noticed that he was wearing a Veterans for Peace button.

I spent a couple of hours talking to some of the veterans that make this hospital their home. Some are in their eighties and some are very young. I never push them about moving out and living in the community. After talking to these guys many times over the years I have found that most had tried that at one time or another.

Some of these guys look pretty bad and have had so many operations to save their lives, they really don't want any more in hopes of some cosmetic change. They have their friends, some have family that still come by, and to tell you the truth I think they are happy. Maybe happy to be alive, or happy to live in such a serene setting. We never talk of war except for the ones going on now. These guys are up to date on whatever is happening and I look forward to seeing them next time I go back down there. It is always like I never left and we pick up our conversation right where it left off. I always think that I am talking to real American heroes, because these guys gave their lives to their country.

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