In an open letter to the VA published on Foreign Policy, Army Maj. Dennis “DJ” Skelton, also known by a moniker as the “most wounded commander in U.S. military history,” said he was told by the Department of Veterans Affairs that they wouldn’t be paying for his feeding tube liquid.
Skelton said he was told by the VA to go to his local hospital’s emergency room to get a feeding tube placed in his stomach due to his “shot-up palate deteriorating,” making it difficult for him to either eat or drink.
“I hear nothing afterwards about when you might be shipping cans of Ensure, Jevity or something […] to my house so I can have something to eat through said tube,” Skelton wrote to the VA. “But it is the same system as last time and the same process as we discussed right before going into surgery. Except this time you have decided that there is a better brand of feeding tube liquid than Jevity (from last time) and you persuaded me to switch to Diabetisource brand.”
Skelton said six days after the surgery, he received a letter from the VA saying that Diabetisource was not covered by the VA and that he would have to pay for it on his own.
“So when the Secretary of the VA’s front office called me last week to inquire if any of my current problems were in any way the fault of the VA — the answer is YES,” Skelton wrote.
“I see this as a teaching moment for both the VA and my friends,” Skelton wrote. “But please, we don’t need to use my case to shed light on everything that is wrong with the system. Just throw one or two problems at me at a time, OK? Thank you.”
Army Maj. Dennis “DJ” Skelton graduated from the United States Military Academy in 2003 and became the leader of a Stryker platoon while stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington, which has since been renamed Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
In Sept. 2004, Skelton deployed to Iraq and took part in the Second Battle of Fallujah. On Nov. 6, 2004, while at an intersection, Skelton and his fellow soldiers engaged the enemy located on the other side of a freeway.
Skelton was critically wounded in the firefight, getting hit by a number of rounds and a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG).
One soldier helped keep him alive by “using a spent .50-caliber round as an airway” and performing a field tracheotomy, according to an Army release.
“I was hit in that firefight … I happened to be standing beside a cement pylon and the next thing I knew, it was pitch dark,” Skelton said. “I couldn’t see anything. I couldn’t feel anything. I felt like I was floating through space. One of the last things I remember was hearing one of my Soldiers say, ‘I think the lieutenant’s dead.’ At that time, a switch flipped, and I began to feel the most intense pain of my life.”
A round pierced Skelton’s face, went through his cheek, tumbled downwards into his mouth, destroying it as well as his soft palate. After that, it exited out of his left eye socket.
He had taken an AK-47 round through his upper left arm and was struck by an RPG.
“My left arm was destroyed. My hand was intact, but everything from the wrist to the elbow was destroyed,” Skelton said in the release. “The head of the RPG broke and went through my right leg. My ammunition belt got hot and began cooking off. Those rounds, along with various enemy AK-47 rounds, went through my right arm and left shoulder.”
Less than 10 minutes after getting hit, Skelton was at a nearby combat support hospital and was later taken to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in Washington, D.C., spending months recovering from his injuries.
Skelton later worked to return to service after being subjected to a medical evaluation board. He later co-founded Paradox Sports, “a nonprofit organization that provides inspiration, opportunities, and adaptive equipment to the disabled community, empowering their pursuit of a life of excellence.”
According to Skelton’s biography on Paradox Sports:
“Since his recovery at Walter Reed, DJ dedicated himself to advancing the causes of wounded vets, authoring Our Hero Handbook, a comprehensive guide to assist wounded service members and their families in their recovery and rehabilitation. DJ also served as a military advisor to Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England on veterans’ affairs and care for wounded service members. DJ returned to Monterey, CA in 2008 to command Echo Company of the 229th MI BN at DLIFLC. He was also the Associate Dean for the Middle East School. He returned to the Pentagon in 2010 to serve as a Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ADM Mike Mullen, advising on veteran transition issues, wounded warrior policy and improving services to military families. DJ also served as a Non-Resident Military Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, leading the “silent wounds” project on post-traumatic growth for the center.
After six years of continual surgeries, rehab and recovery, DJ returned to the Infantry, completed the Infantry Captains Career Course at Ft. Benning, GA, was assigned to the 2nd Cavalry Regiment (CR) in Vilseck, Germany, and deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 as the Commander of Comanche Troop, 1st Squadron, 2nd CR in Panjway, Afghanistan. Upon redeployment, DJ was selected to serve as a China Foreign Area Officer (FAO). He completed Command and General Staff College and spent a year in Beijing, China conducting in-region training as a FAO.
DJ is fluent in Chinese, is one of the youngest graduates of Harvard’s Senior Executive Fellowship program, and is the Co-Founder of Paradox Sports, a non-profit organization that provides inspiration, opportunities, and adaptive equipment to the disabled community, empowering their pursuit of a life of excellence.
DJ currently serves on active duty and is attending the Naval Postgraduate School pursuing a Master’s in International Relations. He lives in Monterey, CA with his wife Tucker and son Dakota.”