It Happens Every Time
by James Glaser
February 26, 2008

Every time I have an appointment at a VA Hospital or VA Clinic, I see them — veterans who got really screwed up in one of our wars. Usually I see them in the hall as I am looking for the place I am to report, or maybe in the canteen eating lunch.

Some guys, and it usually is a guy, but that is changing too, are blind, some are missing an arm or a leg, maybe two legs, but every once in a while you see a guy with both legs gone and an arm too. A lot of times these guys are really upbeat and you think that they sure adjusted well to their wounds. Other times you see a guy that is down and out, and there really isn't much you can do for them.

I always remember the guy at the Minneapolis VA Hospital who was beating on the check-in counter with his prosthetic leg, and he was screaming, "What the hell do you think it did, grow back?" It seems that the VA cut off his disability check, saying that he wasn't disabled any more.

Yesterday, I was down at the Lake City VA Hospital, spending a couple of hours getting electric shocks on my arms and legs as they measured the speed my nerves would conduct an electrical charge. I have had this test many times before. It is a test to see how much damage Agent Orange has done to my body over the years. It isn't getting better, but I feel blessed as there are so many guys in way worse shape that I am in.

After I was done, I was looking for the way out, as this was only my second time there, and I was in a different section of the hospital than last time. So, I walking down this hall looking for someone to give me directions, and there was a guy in a wheel chair, about my age, with no legs and no fingers on one hand. He was pushing himself along at a good clip and I caught up with him and asked how I could get out of there. He gave me directions, and then asked me for a favor. He wanted a pop from a machine, but he couldn't reach up high enough to push the right button. I helped him out, and then asked why he didn't have any of those new-fangled legs you read about that they give to the Iraq and Afghan vets who lose theirs.

He said he had them, and that the VA was great in helping him, but his legs were hurting him and he was waiting to get fitted for new ones. He said that either he out-grew the ones he had or that something was wrong with his stumps. All of this was real matter of fact like talking about getting new tires for your car. He did say that the pop machine thing was frustrating, and that he runs into things like that from time to time, but he tries to stay as independent as he can. It didn't bother him to ask for help from a fellow vet, but he said it galled him to ask civilians for help, because he felt that they were kind of afraid of him or that they acted that way.

Like I said, this happens every time I go to a VA facility. Usually I don't have reason to talk to the guys who are so obviously injured, but some times they are they guy you are sitting next to waiting for your name to be called, so if they are talkative, you get to know them a bit. Lately, I have been seeing young guys with some horrible facial scars and burns, they tell me that they are looking at many more operations, with the hope of looking like themselves again, but then they see older guys who had a lot of operations, and they still don't look all that good. That has to be a hard one to think about.

In every war, some of our troops pay the ultimate price, and give their lives for our country. (Depending how you look at it, I could have written, "give their lives for our corporations.") Other troops spend the rest of their lives living with what they gave to our country or to our economy. Either way, war exacts a heavy price on those who fight them.

Free JavaScripts provided
by The JavaScript Source

BACK to the 2008 Politics Columns.