45 Years Using the VA
by James Glaser
June 17, 2018
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A fact that you learn right away when you use the Veterans Administration for your health care is that you are going to spend a lot of time in waiting rooms, and no matter which facility you use, eventually you will have walked every hallway getting to and from the different clinics.

One thing which takes you by surprise early on, is how helpful the staff and other patients are when you are searching for that clinic you have never been to.

Yes, the VA can be totally frustrating with canceled appointments, crowed parking lots, and long waits in crowed waiting rooms, but there are many good things you find at the VA, too.

I was sitting next to a WWII vet at the Tallahassee VA Clinic, and in walked a young vet who had horrible scars on his face from burns. That vet took a seat next to me and sat down not saying anything. I tried to get him in a conversation, and he wasn’t very talkative. But that old vet next to me leaned out and said to him, “Have they started any skin grafts yet? Man are they a bitch.” Well, that young guy looked over, and said, “You get burnt?” The old guy pulled up his pant leg showing terrible scars and said his Tin Can (destroyer) was filled with burning oil, and he had to walk/run through it to jump into the sea. I switched seats with the old guy and in no time the two of them started talking about burns. It was like that old guy became 20 some years old again, and the two of them talked on and on.

One time I was at the urology clinic at VA Hospital in Gainesville and had just been told that I had bladder cancer. They sent me out to the waiting room where I had conversations with several other vets who were in some stage of treatment for bladder cancer. Some of them told me they had been coming there for decades for treatment, which actually took out some of the fear I had from my new diagnosis. Five years later, I was in that same clinic waiting room trying to let a guy who was just told he had bladder cancer know that his life was not over.

I have met veterans from every war we have had since about 1935 until now at the VA, and it doesn’t take long to find out that your branch of service or the rank you had or even your race means nothing there. You are all in the same boat, and guys and now women, are ready to talk to you about, well, about anything: your time in the service, your family, sports, what to expect from the doctor you are about to see, or what the different treatments are like.

The VA really is nothing like a civilian hospital or clinic waiting room. At the VA you have a bond with just about everyone in there, and if your wife is along, she has a special bond with the wives of other vets.

No, I am not saying that the VA is one happy place to visit, but I am saying that it is a place that you do not have to feel alone. If you want to talk to pass time or find out what to expect with your treatment, there are plenty of people ready to talk, and if you don’t want to talk, people are ready to leave you alone.

After years of using the VA, you know the chances of getting there and finding out you can’t have that test, or your doctor in is surgery and can’t see you, or that the appointment you have a letter for is not scheduled for the day it says are all pretty high. You end up walking away saying, well saying a lot of bad things.

I was at the Tomah VA hospital and met a veteran who had been shot in the face, and he looked very bad. It took a few weeks before he started to talk to me, but soon we had long conversations. I asked if he ever went home. He said he tried it, but he couldn’t handle how he frightened the children, so he thought the VA was the best place for him. There were men there who were medevac’d from the beach of Pacific Islands during WWII, and this was 50 years later.

Yes, there are veterans in every war we have who make it back to the states from their war, but never make it back home. A VA facility becomes their home for life. Every facility like that has many Veterans organizations doing whatever they can for those vets. Yes, there is a bond.

So, the VA can be oh so frustrating and, yes, I do rant and rave about the care I and other vets get. But all in all, I believe the VA is the best place for veterans to receive their medical care. Yes, it could be augmented with civilian hospitals for some treatments, but to lose the VA for veteran health care would be a real loss for our veterans.

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