Robert A. Hayden, DC. PhD, FICC
I began my first career, critical care nursing, in the Veterans Administration in Jackson, Mississippi. It was an exciting and invaluable learning experience for me. Things I learned then are part of my daily practice and approach to patient care to this day. We treated our vets as heroes. Nothing we could give them would be enough to balance what they did for us. So it distresses me when I hear of the VA scandals. They are not so much in the news now, but our vets’ plight remains.
Steve served in Viet Nam, a war in which returning veterans were vilified instead of honored as they deserved. He is accumulating health problems with maturity like my black coat attracts gray cat hair. The worst of these is his diabetes. Though only diagnosed three years ago, the signs of advanced neuropathy and vascular complications suggest it has been with him for much longer.
There are no palpable pulses in his feet. The lack of circulation has already caused obvious, significant and irreversible tissue damage in several toes and the bunion of his right foot. There is a danger he may lose his feet. Anticipatory grief is evident in his words, but his non-verbal expression would make you cry, too. He can’t get an appointment in the VA clinic for at least several weeks.
Mark is also a Viet Nam vet. His life was altered when he came into contact with Agent Orange. The VA at first tried to deny that it was harmful. The volume of evidence eventually became overwhelming until action was forced. Every joint and muscle aches. He has numerous related health issues. We are making great progress in alleviating his pain with chiropractic care and helping him rest at night. He also had problems getting the VA to help him.
We have a long history of mistreating our heroes. I have a 145-year old letter at our clinic written by the State of Alabama to one of her own veterans following the more recent American Revolution (vs. Lincoln). It explains that all benefits, back pay, and his pension would be denied because they could not locate his records.
Congress relegated support for veterans of the first American Revolution (vs. King George III) to the states, so very little was ever paid to any of the citizen soldiers who made us an independent nation. Congress created the Veterans Bureau in 1921, but it devolved into scandal and corruption. It was replaced by the Veterans Administration in 1930, but two years later federal troops were used to forcibly disperse World War I vets whose promised war bonuses did not materialize. Imagine the shame of that scene—active duty soldiers versus veterans in the streets!
President Truman dealt with scandals of shoddy care in 1945. The American Legion even revolted the next year to dump General Omar Bradley, a hero of World War II, but a goat in the VA as hundreds of thousands of vets could not get care they needed.
In 1984, Congressional investigators found that the VA had misappropriated $40 million designated to help Viet Nam vets in adjustment problems. Two years later, another scandal broke in which 93 physicians in the VA were unlicensed, under sanction or suspension. The North Chicago VA in 1991 was found to have ignored diagnostic tests, lab results, etc., and performed unnecessary surgeries. Eight deaths were reported.
A 2003 commission appointed by President Bush found that 236,000 veterans waited six months or longer for appointments. Inefficiency was found to be rampant in the system—again.
Fast forwarding a bit, multiple deaths due to neglect in the VA that have come to light more recently resulted in the departure of Secretary Eric Shinseki. Among other issues, VA defenders cited a lack of resources despite a budget for FY2015 of $163.9 billion, $68.4 billion in discretionary resources and $95.6 billion in mandatory funding. The discretionary budget request represents an increase of $2.0 billion, or 3%, over 2014.
A century of neglect, scandal, corruption, and mistreatment on such a scale prompted someone to compare efforts at reforms to turning an aircraft carrier. Momentum does not favor sudden changes.
Steve and Mark deserve better than the care they have received for serving their country. They will be VIPs in our clinic, as all veterans are, but the care promised by the VA was part of the contract they signed when they enlisted. It’s not right for them to get anything but our best.
Our vets return now from Iraq and Afghanistan with musculoskeletal injuries as the most frequent complaint outside of wounds from enemy fire. The 50-60 pounds of weapons, heavy equipment and body armor take their tolls. The American Chiropractic Association wants to secure access to chiropractic care for these injuries, as there is no treatment that is safer or more effective for them.
Next week I will go back to Washington, DC to talk to Congressmen and Senators specifically about the VA and the plight of our vets. Steve and Mark will be in my thoughts as I speak with our elected leaders. I’ll let you know what happens.