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Either Save the VA or Stop Making Veterans
By Jim Wohlgemuth
I retired from the Federal Government and then taught school in North Carolina, keeping my Federal Health Care and picking up NC public servant health care. I was more than covered, I did not need the VA. Then in 2012 melanoma caught me off guard. Thankfully I found Dr. John Stewart at Wake Forest Hospital. First of all, he calmed me down. Then he gave me options. The final protocol was lymph dissection. So all in all, I became cancer free but not without the chaos of the for-profit health care system. When the doctor sewed me up, he put a special dressing on the incision to reduce infection. After a day I was ready to go home and all packed and dressed when Dr. Stewart and the other doctors told me that Blue Cross/Shield had not approved the silver dressing. It was hard for me to understand, but they had to take the dressing off, put a regular dressing on, which required spending another night in the hospital. Dr. Stewart at Wake Forest clearly knew what was needed, but Blue Cross said no and then spent the extra money to keep me in the hospital another day.
So let's just say that history showed that Dr. Stewart knew what he was doing because without lymph glands you become subject to infections and lymphedema and I was. Three more trips to the hospital over the next two years; if only Blue Cross/Shield would have approved the silver dressing who knows.
Well we moved to Nashville to take care of the grandkids, and so I had to relinquish Dr. Stewart and Wake Forest, but there was a big well-known hospital in Nashville. So my records were transferred, and I start making appointments. The big hospital in Nashville clearly did not have the feel of Wake Forest. Doctors and nurses did not seem to have the time to talk, exams were less than Wake Forest thorough, and I just felt pushed along. I talked to a vet friend, and he said to check the VA. The VA medical center was in the vicinity of that big hospital, so I checked. After some questions, they said I was eligible, and they got me going. The first thing that shocked me was they were setting up appointments for me, not me having to set them up. Seriously, what medical facility does that? Then they arranged for what I needed based on my melanoma history, they also made me get all my shots and a colonoscopy. They cared about me; I was not a period-of-time during the day to just check off the list.
I have now been with the VA for three years or so, and since then I have had thorough exams by the dermatologist, released from the oncologist, my eye issues checked and analyzed (I have floaters and a new set of glasses), a laparoscopic appendectomy (meaning I was home the same day with just a couple of holes in my stomach, no incision), and when I went in to get some relief to a cough and cold, they took a chest X-ray just to make sure. I go there and come out feeling better.
Listen, I am no one special. I happened to find myself tied up in the Vietnam conflict some 50 years ago, not by choice, but it happened, and it sticks with me. I am just a retired old grandpa who now depends on the quality medical service I get at the VA to keep me vertical. I look at what this Trump administration, the Republican party, and Wilkie are doing and have done and it hurts. I see the unfunded Mission Act expanding a flawed choice program by pushing Veterans into the private sector while bleeding the VA Medical Centers slowly dry. I talk to people who know that the VA has some 40,000 vacant positions but still provides medical care at the same level or better than that big production line hospital next door, but for how long. I see how any little issue from a VA Medical Center makes front page of USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, while the private sector hospital problems that exceed the VA are rarely mentioned. I see congressmen, especially on the Republican side (but not always) wrapping themselves in the flag and yet following the lead of the Koch brothers and their front group Concerned Veterans of America to undermine VA Medical Care. Thank goodness for Suzanne Gordon and her books about VA Care. I appreciate the Veterans Health Care Policy Institute (VeteransPolicy.org), VVAW, and Veterans for Peace for all the work they are doing to try to save our VA.
But you know what disappoints me? I am so disappointed and disheartened when I talk to my fellow Vets who say they depend on the VA and it should not be privatized, and then they will turn around and vote against people who want to save the VA for veterans. And the reason: the media or the Republican'ts call them a socialist. We need to fix fund and staff the VA, or we better stop making veterans, we better stop making war.
Jim Wohlgemuth is a member of VVAW who lives in Nashville, Tennessee. He served on the Westchester County from 1969 to 1971. He then served on the Pt Defiance LSD 31 until discharge in 1972. He came home, went to college got married had kids and now grandkids.