The Butcher's Bill Is Going Up, and We'll Be Paying It For Decades
by James Glaser
February 12, 2008

I had two appointments at the VA today. The first was at the Gainesville, Florida VA Hospital which is a hundred and fifty miles from my home in Tallahassee. That meant getting up at 4 am so I could get on the road and down there in time in time for an 8 am check in. The second appointment was at the Lake City VA Hospital (50 miles from Gainesville) in the early afternoon. I caught that one on the way home.

What you learn after decades of dealing with the VA, is that you make the appointment no matter where or when it is, because if you miss the first one, it might be a year or more before you get another one.

I would have thought that they could have scheduled my appointment a little later in the day when they realized that I was driving so far, but that never seems to fit into their equation. I got to the hospital about 15 minutes early and found the parking lot was filling right up. It took a bit to find the office where I was to check in, and wouldn't you know there was a line that went down the hall and around the corner.

I've been to other VA hospitals, and lines are nothing new, and the jokes about them are always the same, "Hurry up and Wait" There have been some changes over the last few years now. At one time, I was one of the young guys, and it stayed that way for quiet awhile. The WW II veterans were the old guys, and we, the Vietnam Vets, were the young guys. Now, it is the Korean War veterans who took over as the old guys, with a spattering of very old WW II vets still standing in line with me.

Sometime in the 90's the Gulf War Vets started showing up, but never in any large numbers; today that has changed. Today, we have a lot of young guys from Afghanistan and Iraq in line with us, and something totally new for the VA — that is women veterans, and women veterans in numbers.

So, there I am in line with young and old guys in wheel chairs, and they have old and young wives pushing them around. There are always people there who are in a good mood, ready to talk to pass the time as the line moves along, and then there are those who are so sick or crippled up, that your heart goes out to them. In Gainesville, I saw amputees from every war we have had, although there was no way of telling if the young ones were from Afghanistan or Iraq or both.

I needed to see a doctor about my Peripheral Neuropathy, and weakening of my muscles from Agent Orange exposure. The doctor was very nice; she told me that she wasn't really the one to see about my problem. What I needed was the test that was scheduled up in Lake City, and if she had those results, she could look for changes, as I had the test several times in the past, so they had a "base line" on me. Now she knew, and I knew, that even if these appointments were reversed, there would be no way for her to get the results from Lake City right away, so she said she would see me again in 3 or 4 months.

Well, wouldn't you know it, after racing the 50 miles up to Lake City VA Hospital for my next appointment, I found out that the doctor I was to see wasn't there, and they somehow forgot to inform me that my appointment had been canceled. Now I know that sounds bad, but I am more than used to that kind of treatment from the VA. Last year I would bet I had half a dozen appointments canceled, and two of them they never told me about until I got to the clinic.

Now, before I go any further, I have to tell you that the people who work at the VA are just out and out wonderful people, and that is not political — I really mean that. They want to help veterans, heck, many of them are vets, but they are swamped. Too many veterans, too few staff to do the job as it should be done. Like everything else, it boils down to money, and President Bush, and most politicians in Congress have never been a patient at the VA. Those in Congress, who are vets, probably use their Cadillac of a Congressional health plan instead of the VA. I know I would.

For awhile there, things were getting better at the VA. WW II vets were dying at a rate of a thousand a day, and there were no wars going on. George Bush changed that. Now we have traumatic brain injury, amputee, and Post Traumatic Stress veterans from both of his wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These injuries all take a lot of long term care. A lot of the brain injuries will take around the clock care until the veteran dies, which with modern medicine could be many years. Amputees need new prosthetic devices as old ones wear out or with infection, more of a limb must be removed. PTSD, requires a life-time of Mental Health care, and we don't even know what depleted uranium munitions might do to our troops in the future. There are thousands of sick veterans from the first Gulf War, and I am sure something will come up with this new batch of veterans.

We will be paying for George Bush's wars for at least the next seven decades. As I was standing in line at the VA waiting to check in, there was an 80 some year old Vet being pushed by his elderly daughter, and a very young veteran being pushed by his equally young wife or girl friend. It just kind of hit home that we sure haven't learned much about our foreign policy in the last sixty some years.

Think about this, Germany, Japan, and Italy never went to war again after WW II. In fact, most countries haven't. America is pretty much the world's warmonger.

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