Op-ed: Vietnam & Korean Vet: Veterans Are Being Left Behind
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By: Brooks Outland
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In 1980, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs categorized my disability as “permanent and total!” My injuries involve damage to my spine which occurred during a combat mission aboard the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) in the waters off North Korea in 1950. I managed to endure the constant pain of this injury, including two dangerous spinal surgeries, until my 20-year retirement date in 1973.
The care I received from the VA during the first 10 or 15 years subsequent to my retirement was outstanding; couldn’t have asked for better. However, in the past 15 or so years, the quality of care provided by the VA began its deterioration and today the care provided our Veterans is inexcusably unacceptable.
Oh, the doctors and nurses are doing a fine job, but they are being asked to treat more patients than they can possibly treat properly. And, perhaps more importantly, many administrative employees in management positions are incompetent and seem more interested in their advancement and increases in benefits and pay than they are in providing appropriate care for the Veterans!
Many VA patients, like myself, reside more than 40 or 50 miles from a full-service facility. Our disabilities make lengthy travel (100-miles, or more – roundtrip) a sometimes excruciatingly painful experience. The pain is residual and sometimes last several days before subsiding!
In my humble opinion, the VA has two choices in order to cope with the ever-increasing number of patients seeking care. They can either expand the care provided by satellite clinics, i.e. provide care for Veteran’s eyes, ears and teeth. Or they can approve an “outsource program” that would permit Veterans to go to civilian clinics/hospitals closer to their residence.
The Veterans’ Choice Program seems to be the obvious solution to this huge problem! In order to make such a program a “long-term fix,” VA must set up procedures that would allow quick reimbursements to the civilian facilities used by the Veterans. If these civilian facilities have to wait as long as the Veterans have to wait for travel reimbursement (13 to 26 weeks) they will refuse to continue participating in the Veterans’ Choice Program.
A positive side-effect of the Veterans’ Choice Program would be the obvious decrease in the amount of beneficiary travel reimbursement!
The VA and the Congress are in “creeper gear” in discussions relating to an efficient “outsource” program. Veterans feel very much “left behind” and many are resigned to the fact that they shall probably do without proper care and simply fade away. That in itself, would be a colossal, national crime!
This issue should be at the top of the list for consideration by the Congress as soon as they return from their vacations!
Brooks Outland is a Korean and Vietnam war veteran. He volunteered to serve in Vietnam because he was keen to help the people of South Vietnam keep their freedom and their country from communist takeover by the North. After retiring Brooks and his wife spent eight years volunteering aboard his old battleship, USS Missouri (BB-63), before returning to the mainland in Arkansas in 2015.