The Doctor Will See You Now*

If you’re a veteran, “now” means a 273-day to 2-yr wait to process a disability claim. I will never forget the night I got a deeper sense of what this means. It was a round-table discussion with the local VA (Veterans Affairs), “to tell them what you think.” I assumed my invitation was a mistake because I’m a civilian. But the host felt my perspective might add something. The event was in December 2012 but news reports in the past week made me relive it.

The group 

Attending this discussion was myself, a gentleman from the VA, and the following retired service members: 1 Marine, 1 Sailor, 1 Airman, and 2 Soldiers. Only one of the vets was female. We started going around the room sharing stories. Each one had a red-tape ordeal. Then it was the female vet’s turn, “No one here is going to like my story.” She told me to speak before her and she’d go last.

My 2 cents

“These delays can influence whether a family thrives or even survives.”

I told him about a family I had helped. The dad came home from Afghanistan with TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) He could not hold down a job without medication and therapy. While waiting for his claim, the family burned through their savings. Finally, his benefits kicked in. But by this point, they couldn’t afford the gas to get to the doctor’s appointments located more than an hour’s drive away. After they pawned their wedding rings, they approached one of the charities I volunteer with to ask for donations to pay for gas.

“After all their service and sacrifice, why are our veterans turning to people like me? They should not have to rely on the kindness of strangers.”  I wondered how many families were torn apart the by emotional, financial and physical stress.

I also told him I suspect he’ll be getting more vets than he thinks in the coming years. One of my troops was given sleeping pills for a few days after his buddy committed suicide. That’s it. Many troops fear that going to therapy will negatively impact their careers. I was told once, “If you’ve got to choose between two guys with equal credentials and one can handle things and one has been in therapy, who you gonna pick?” So if troops that need help don’t get it during their service, what kind of shape do you think they’ll be in coming out?

The female vet

She had been raped while deployed. Her attempts to get help through the VA were not positive experiences. So she walked away and never went back.

When she started speaking, I think we collectively held our breath for a moment. Her story was hard to hear. But she told it with grace and courage to this group of mostly men. Sometimes her voice or body trembled, but she had a fierce determination to not be defined by or ruled by this event or it’s aftermath.

As you would hope, the response from all was respectful, supportive and caring. The VA administrator was very moved and felt terrible that she was not able to get help at the VA. He clearly wanted to make things right.

Under the lights

The meeting ended and we all left. Outside, the female vet was waiting at the crosswalk for the light to change. Two of the other vets and myself were walking past and we all paused for a moment to chat about the meeting. I said to her, “You know what you did back there, right?” She shook her head no.

I told her, “You braved the pain to share your story with someone who has the power to change things. He’ll go back to the VA and tell others who can affect change as well. That means that any woman who has had this horrible experience will never go through what you did. She will be treated better. She will get what she needs to heal. And on behalf of those women and the families who love them, I thank you. Thank you for your courage.

We both got teary, she opened her arms and we hugged good-bye. Then we went our separate ways into that December night surrounded by the brightly colored lights and happy wishes of the holiday decorations all around us.

© Gina left the mall, 2013

14 thoughts on “The Doctor Will See You Now*

  1. Part of the session work that I do lately with Veterans has been assisting them in the processing of their paperwork. As a mental health professional, but also a Clinical social worker, I don’t feel like I’m doing my job as their therapist if I don’t discuss and assist them with finding resources owed to them. Sort of a WE’LL TACKLE IT TOGETHER session. If a Veteran says to me “I don’t think I can go through all of this again”. I simply reply “If you were walking in the park, and you saw a few dollars tied to a rock that had the following tag on it AIRMAN JOHN SMITH’S MONEY, THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE would you just leave it there in the park?” The reply is usually, “thanks ma’am, I’ll bring the paperwork next session”.

    • I am sure the vets you assist are very grateful. The red-tape and lengthly delay is enough to make anyone throw up their hands in frustration and walk away. Even if they are walking away hurting. Sometimes just knowing you are not in it alone is what makes all difference.

      I sincerely hope something changes soon. Or I suspect you are going to be very very busy! Thank you for looking out for them in every way.

  2. This is a great post. The young lady showed tremendous strength and bravery in telling her story in a room full of her male counterparts. It is a shame that these things happen in Afghanistan with our young servicewomen. The least we can do for failing to protect them is to take care of them when they come home!

  3. Gina,
    Very thought provoking!!!!! It is so easy to live your life and not think about how many military people really need so much, There is so much this country owes them! Not only because they deserve it but because they were promised these things in exchange for their service. Let us all pray that things will change and they won’t have to depend on strangers for help! HUGS TO ALL OF YOU WHO DO SO MUCH!! Gina, that means you!

    • Nana,
      I was unaware what our troops endured before I started this journey. But once I learned what the words “service” and “sacrifice” entail for our service members and their families, I saw clearly what we owe them. At the very least, we owe them promises kept.

  4. Gina, what a powerful post. It’s disgraceful the way vets are treated, and it’s a reflection of society-at-large’s disposable mentality. I am fighting the same kind of fight with our health insurance right now, filing an appeal to reverse a $600/month/person co-payment on one of my sons’ essential pulmonary medications. How big pharma gets away with this crap is beyond me. How our government slides by with such disregard for its volunteer military is unconscionable.

    • Helena, it’s an absolute disgrace that our vets suffer this treatment. And I am so sorry you are caught in an unfair fight of your own. These things are beyond comprehension.

      And while our government “slides by,” our troops never do. There is only one standard of service and they all do whatever they are asked. This treatment is more than insult to injury, it is injurious itself.

  5. An horrendous situation, Gina. The callousness and neglect toward our returning military is a national disgrace. I saw a documentary recently about rape in the armed forces. It was deeply disturbing. Rape victims are punished and treated as provocateurs for reporting any incident.

    • NP, there is simply no excuse for any of it. The disregard and neglect of those that have done all that we asked…anything that was needed to protect us, is beyond wrong. And there is no excuse for rape. Or blaming the victim. It took a lot for this young woman to seek help. Her failed attempts added to her pain. I can only hope that by sharing her story and helping others, it gave her some measure of control and peace.

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