Donald Trump, President Donald Trump said that he will “take care of our veterans like they’ve never been taken care of before.” Now the question is, was that a promise of improvement, or was it a warning of things to come? Please allow me to explain with my own little story because I suspect that there are thousands of veterans in America in need of help from the Department of Veterans Affairs and that in too many cases the VA is falling short.
My first interaction with the VA happened in early 2013. It came about because in December of 2012 I dropped dead briefly from Congestive Heart Failure. My lungs filled with fluid so respiration stopped and so did my heart.
After 26 days in a hospital, not the VA, I emerged with a whole bunch of medical needs and no money with which to pay for them so I went to the VA facility nearest me, about 16 miles away. I found their bureaucracy a little annoying but overall the service I received was generally pleasant and efficient and best of all free to me.
That was a very good thing because it didn’t take long for the VA medical staff to add yet another bad disease to my growing list. This time it was prostate cancer at Gleason level 9. Ten is the highest and at that level I believe they simply start planning your funeral.
Now as it turns out it seems that prostate cancer is fairly common in men but typically not until their late 70’s or early 80’s. But there are thousands of us who served in Vietnam and in the course of that service were exposed to large amounts of Agent Orange, which they learned creates prostate cancer and other very nasty health problems.
So after being run through a process that confirmed my dates and locations of service I was determined to be in that group that was indeed spritzed heavily with Agent Orange and therefore entitled to medical assistance and even compensation from the VA.
The first order of business was to get rid of the cancer and the overwhelming body of medical opinion focused on radiation treatment, which I finally agreed to do at a local hospital in Burbank using my wife’s group health plan and sparing the VA the time and expense. Forty-two radiation treatments later I was pronounced cancer free. But there was a price not in dollars but in a whole new source of deep discomfort.
After my 42 radiation treatments came to an end what came on was a situation in which I began to feel the need to urinate about every single hour of every single day all day and ALL NIGHT meaning that I stopped having anything like a good night’s sleep — ever.
Now there are only two things so horribly painful to me that I admit I would sell out to the enemy to rid myself of the pain. One is dental pain and the other is sleep deprivation. But this sleep deprivation had taken over me and was torturing me mercilessly.
So one day I went to an Urologist at the VA. When I told him of my problem his advice was that I should “behavior modify” my bladder. In simple terms he had no real remedy.
Now allow me to address another very important issue. Sadly thousands of American men and woman have lost limbs and eye sight, have had severe brain injuries and severe psychological trauma because as General William Sherman said, “War is hell.” These unfortunate folks have abundantly obvious disabilities that the VA needs to fairly address. But then again the venerable Chinese Water Torture where water is dripped drop by drop on the forehead of a person strapped to a board is equally horrific. My sleep deprivation falls squarely into that type of scenario. Believe me when you get up every single day already tired it is brutally disabling.
Given all of that I applied for disability compensation and was eventually in 2015 deemed to be100% disabled due to my unemployability. That didn’t happen with a simply request but rather a long and detailed process which looked at every element of my particular situation. But in simple reality it came down to these facts.
I served as a Marine in Vietnam from 1966 through 1967. During that time I had been frequently spritzed with Agent Orange without my knowledge or consent. Agent Orange does indeed cause a variety of diseases including prostate cancer. The overwhelming opinion of the medical community recommended extensive radiation treatment which I submitted to doing. As a consequence of that treatment I have developed a urinary malfunction that has no known remedy and which has for five years rendered me substantially sleep deprived and thus incapable of working at anywhere near the level I once did and that fact alone is deeply depressing. At first the VA agreed with me, but then something happened.
Without any indication of any kind that I had in some significant way changed, some nameless bureaucrat in some back office of the VA somewhere decided I needed to be reexamined and reevaluated. So I was ordered to go to some contracted medical doctors office which I did. The good doctor asked me a few questions, stuck his finger up my butt, grabbed my testicles and sent me on my way. He concluded that my cancer was in remission
Then in just a few weeks I received a notice that the VA had determined that I wasn’t so bad off after all and that they were cutting my disability by about half. Zero mention was even made of my sleep deprivation. Well, of course I have started my appeal process but this experience got me to wonder. How many more veterans are to be “reexamined” and will get their compensation lowered or cut completely?
How much of this is a new VA policy? Is this what President Trump meant when he said he “take care of our veterans like they’ve never been taken care of before?” I mean seriously if tens of thousands of men and women suffering the ravages of war can have their modest pensions hacked in half there would be millions more to build a wall or pay for Air Force One to carry the Trumps to and from his Florida “White House” every weekend. I am not saying this is what is happening, only that it could be because I am so curious at how this all came about for me, out of the blue and very quick.
So here is my proposal. I would like any and all veterans who are having their disability compensation cut or even terminated, or who have a legitimate claim that has been denied to please let me know the details of your circumstances. I will look at as many as I can and where something looks amiss we can at the very least bring it to the attention of the American people.
This not a generalized slap at the overall Department of Veterans Affairs, which very often does provide excellent services to our veterans, but I sense a strong undercurrent that could be hurting many and if that has merit I very much want to lead us to a full and fair resolution.
So if you or a loved one has had their disability compensation denied, reduced or stopped unfairly please send me a summary of the situation and your contact information to email@example.com
Let’s see if together we can help our veterans live better lives. One important note though, do NOT send any information that you would consider privileged because I am NOT acting as an attorney in this matter and so if I were asked to hand over information to a proper authority I would have no choice but to do so. I just very much want to do what I can to help any comrade in arms who finds himself in need.
And for all of you nice folks who like to say “Thank you for your service” consider some monetary commitment to those who put themselves at serious risk on behalf of are far too often waring nation.
Top photo is a YouTube screenshot of U.S. Marines in Afghanistan
Ron Irwin was born in Chicago, Illinois a long time ago. He served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam, became a trial lawyer, TV and radio host, CEO of a public company and once held an Emmy. He never won an Emmy he just held one. Ron has written and published twelve books. His most important book to date is “Live, Die, Live Again” in which Ron tells of his early life and his unexpected and very temporary death in 2012. That experience dramatically refocused his life and within the pages of that book Ron reveals how he achieved a much healthier life, ridding himself of Diabetes, Cancer and Heart Failure. Now Ron enjoys writing about many things including health topics, travel [he has circled the globe several times], adventure, culinary experiences and the world of performing art. Ron’s motto is “Live better, live longer and live stronger because it feels great and annoys others.” Contact the author.