I have a friend that served in the Korean War, he had enlisted and was serving his country the year I was born – I am a baby boomer and he was a depression baby. He was injured and received care stateside after the incident, however, years later his condition caused him pain and caused further damage to his ankles, knees and lower back. He had his paperwork in order but his VA rep told him that they couldn’t locate their copies of the same paperwork which was required to process his claim and begin treatment. The reason the paperwork couldn’t be located, they claimed with regret, was because the warehouse in which my friend’s records were stored had burned and all the records were lost. They were sorry but there was nothing they could do unless they had their collaborating paperwork – perhaps the paperwork could be located or pieced together one day. They would let him know …
After checking regularly and routinely for 40 years, he was continually told his records were burned to a crisp. He lost heart and resigned himself to the fact that, as a vet, he wasn’t eligible to receive VA care. But it ate at him. Around 9 or 10 years ago, after contacting a DAV rep who inquired on my friend’s behalf about the ‘lost’ records, the burnt records were declared found! When my friend told me I said he should ask to see the charred manila folder. My father’s best friend and best man, was also told that his VA records had been lost/damaged in the same fire. Another friend and fellow vet confirmed the fire/lost records story; his records were suddenly found but way too late to be completely helpful.
My friend just turned 80 in April 2014, and most of his life has been lived dealing with constant pain. The VA has a long history of not responding with appropriate and promised care; I am sure that WWII vets heard the same stories about the fire damaged warehouse. I have always felt that the VA was attempted to cull their numbers through attrition so that only the hardy survivors would receive care, and of course by this time the vet was facing ever increasingly more expensive care because their ailments grew worst due to being ignored or misdiagnosed by civilian doctors – Agent Orange ring any bells? PTSD? Suicides in the high hundreds?
Today’s VA woes are nothing new and have spanned presidents all the way back to Woodrow Wilson and beyond! It didn’t matter what party was in power because they were all equally kept in the dark as much as the inquiring veterans! The reason why vets never complained, at least the older ones didn’t complain, was because once they did receive care and were awarded disability percentages, they were scared that by whistle-blowing they would lose their healthcare lifelines and disabilities checks, and be left totally destitute. Read about how the Bonus Army march on Washington DC was brought to a halt by firehoses and tanks ordered by President Hoover and enforced by General MacArthur in 1932.
Everyone that I spoke to within a Korea and Vietnam vet group mentioned this fear of retaliation by the VA! DAV reps have kept the secret too, VA caseworkers must have known, doctors and nurses may or may not have been in on the deception – when VA Secretary Shinseki claimed to believe that the VA horror stories were only scattered around the country, I believed him because he thought the military/civilian VA complex was made up of honest, righteous men/women incapable of playing God with war-damaged soldiers, but greed and Congress cost-cutting has cost lives and severely tarnished the VA’s reputation. This needs to be cleaned up and all veterans should be treated humanely and speedily in all VA hospitals and walk-ins around the country. When young men and women offered their lives to their country they believed their contract would be honored and it is our duty as citizens that were just made aware, to see to it that their sacrifice is deemed worthy and treatment is provided with empathy and respect in a very timely manner.