feelings that stay with you…

natchez trace parkway bridge 2

It was the end of February, almost two years ago. Zach was in Afghanistan. I had been having a lot of problems with my cell phone service. Because of the nature and location of this particular deployment, Zach and I weren’t able to talk with the regularity of the past. We had a brief conversation, brief because of my frustration over the poor connection. The next day Zach called in the very early morning, I think it was still dark outside. He called to say he wasn’t going to be able to call for a while. I knew what he meant. I was half asleep and crank, I’m not a morning person.

I was in school so my days were busy but the nights were always long. It was nearing midnight and I was getting ready for bed. I went to the bathroom, brushed my teeth, washed my hair and just had a feeling. This feeling was compounded by how short I was during my last phone call with Zach. I regretted it. I tried calling him, maybe a dozen times. His phone was off. There was a Pashtun recording on the other end I could never understand. I’m sure it was something along the lines of “This subscriber is unavailable…” I went to sleep. The next morning came and I still hasn’t heard anything from Zach, not even an email. I tried calling him again but there was still no answer. I tried keeping busy but after lunch I called again, and again, no answer.

A little after 3 o’clock that afternoon the company commander emailed the family members to the company to inform us that one of Zach’s soldiers had been shot several times and had to be medevaced (airlifted) to Bagram. I knew it must have been very bad. But what she had failed to mention was whether or not the rest of the people on the team were alright, if Zach was okay. My mind immediately went to the worst case scenario. I knew that if Zach was dead the commander wouldn’t be allowed to say anything until they Army made an in person notification. I imagined that because the injured soldier fell directly under Zach’s supervision so they must have been in close proximity to each other. I thought they were going to knock on my door. At the time I lived in a gated complex and wondered how they would get in.

I tried calling Zach again, but still there was no answer. Every car door slamming shut in the parking lot was piercing. I sat on the couch, looking out the window, waiting, but then it got dark and I couldn’t see anything anymore. Ten hours after I received that email from the commander I got an email from Zach. He was okay. After his soldier had been injured they had to continue on with their mission. By the time they were done he was too tired to do anything but sleep, understandably.

A little over a week ago I was working at my computer with the local news on in the background. The anchor said an unidentified soldier on post was killed that morning at one of the ranges. I immediately realized I hadn’t heard from Zach all day, my stomach dropped, again. I texted him but this time he texted back right away. He was fine.

here…

dark sunset on the cumberland

As The Sparrow

To give life you must take life,
and as our grief falls flat and hollow
upon the billion-blooded sea
I pass upon serious inward-breaking shoals rimmed
with white-legged, white-bellied rotting creatures
lengthily dead and rioting against surrounding scenes.
Dear child, I only did to you what the sparrow
did to you; I am old when it is fashionable to be
young; I cry when it is fashionable to laugh.
I hated you when it would have taken less courage
to love.

Charles Bukowski

summer comes…

cairo public library

If you follow mainstream national news you’ve probably heard that Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned this morning. When he met in front of legislators last week he told them he thought the problems were isolated. That alone has shed light on how out of touch the Secretary was from what has been going on with the health care side of the VA. I don’t think there is one pivotal instance that was a failure on his part, it was all of the little things building up and sticking together. His resignation was met with mixed reactions, many of his supporters have taken it personal, but I think many of them have confused criticisms of system flaws and his leadership as attacks against him as a human being, veteran, and friend. I believe wholeheartedly that he is a good person and always had the best of intentions, but you can’t unring a bell. His resignation alone won’t be enough to fix everything, but I hope the new secretary will be able to implement new standards and change the climate at the VA and move forward with providing veterans the best care available. We can stop bickering about which political party did this or what veteran service organization didn’t do that, it doesn’t matter. The veterans that continue to wait for necessary medical attention matter the most. Additionally, let us not forget the suffering inflicted on veterans and their families that were not fortunate enough to get timely appointments and medical attention and weren’t able to live long enough to see changes to the system.

i don’t want to change the world…

Cairo IL Regime

For the past several weeks there have been countless stories, articles, news segments, tweets and so on regarding the “new” Veterans Affairs scandal that started at the Phoenix VA medical center. The media, various veterans service organizations, and the House VA Committee have asserted that due to secret wait lists and failed leadership some veterans may have died waiting for care. At this time the acting Inspector General has said that the IG has been unable to find a correlation between patients deaths and secret waiting lists at the VA medical center in Phoenix. Since the Phoenix story broke there have been many other allegations made about delayed and denied care at other VA medical facilities. This controversy has renewed calls for VA Secretary Shinseki to resign or be fired.

The emotions this conjures up has made it very difficult for me to articulate my feelings about it all. It’s a double edged sword. It’s hard to say this but I take pleasure in the fact that delays in care at the VA have been brought to light but it reminds me of what my father lost, what I lost, and countless other families, too. People are already pointing and wagging their fingers but no one is standing up to take responsibility for what has happened. I cannot stress this enough, this isn’t a Republican problem or a Democrat problem. It’s a people problem, it’s life and death. It’s also not unfair for the families of the veterans that died because of delayed care to want answers and to have what happened to them acknowledged.

It’s naive to think that the IG will be truly unbiased or independent, it is after all a government agency investigating a government agency. (The IRS wouldn’t let my neighbor/friend audit me even if she was a CPA, right?) Like any government agency (ex. Army unit, County Municipality, IRS, etc…) at any and all levels when possible professional courtesies are extended and covering down happens in order to take care of things at the quietest and lowest levels possible. It is not in the interest of the government to find fault with the VA because of the potential for litigation and the financial burden it could impose.

It doesn’t matter how many veterans the VA puts through college or job training, or how many home loans they process, it doesn’t even matter how many veterans receive great medical care if even one veteran gets left behind.

It’s not just a problem for veterans or their families to carry: Why we need to be shareholders of the VA