Buses for Wounded Soldiers

In my book “It’s Not What I Know…It’s How I Learned It,” I relate several stories about my experiences in Vietnam and later my experiences as a surgeon at the Veterans Hospital. For forty-five years, I’ve said that we give our worst medicine to our best men and women.

First of all, I don’t believe that it is the physicians, nurses or the hands-on people that are the problem. It is the system that allows them to practice. Incompetent health care personnel wound not survive in the public healthcare market place.

The VA medical bureaucracy lowered the standard of care to a point that competent health care providers leave the system, leaving less competent personnel to work the system. Again, it is important to understand that the people are not bad. It is the system that perpetuates incompetence.

Over the past several months, we are hearing reports about the VA medical bureaucracy. Veterans, who are coming back from battle with a need for care, find that the care and support that was promised them is not readily available or not available at all. The government bureaucrats have denied the VA incompetence.

If the VA system is so good, then why do we need all these volunteer support organizations? Because the millions of veterans and their families who are out there, see what’s happening. They have stood shoulder to shoulder with their fight buddies. They have seen them wounded, held them in their arms, have made that final promise to “tell her that I love her.” “Take care of them for me.”

And they said, “Don’t worry, I will.”

Even though they both new the truth, the wounded soldier heard, “You’re going to be OK. We’re going to get you out of here.”

There are so many veteran support groups out there today. People reaching out to help and support. For the most part, their monies come from donations. These are veterans helping veterans. These are people who understand and care. These are people who are stepping up…just as they did when they wore the uniform. Yet, billions of dollars are going to perpetuate a broken medical bureaucracy.

My direct experience in the VA hospital system was with the returning Vietnam vets and tending to the WW2 and Korean Vets. Most of the older vets were in long-term care facilities. In my book, I relate some of those experiences. For the most part we were able to help these men and women.

Most if not all of the surgery performed at the VA hospital was by surgical residents. Even my VA chief could not do the surgical procedure that I was assigned to do. I was chief resident at the time and anything that I couldn’t handle, with a little arm-twisting, could be transferred to the University Hospital.

At that time, we were only 20 years out from WW2 and the VA was thought of as the best thing since buttermilk. It was also the only thing available at that time for veterans. Traditional medical insurance was in its infancy.

Also, as Vietnam vets, we were not very popular with a vocal portion of the public. We were ‘baby killers’, forcing our American ideas on people who didn’t want it. We couldn’t talk about our service except to our comrades and some family members. Returning vets were booed when they got on an airplane or in certain public forums.

It took nearly thirty years before we could comfortably lift our heads. We were proud to serve. We just couldn’t tell anyone that we were proud of our service. The men and women who served before 1973 were forced to serve. They were drafted. Since 1973, men and women still have to register but our military is all volunteers.

Volunteers. Volunteering to serve our country. Volunteering to postpone their education, career, family and even life for the good of our country and what it stands for. Our men and women risk limbs and life for you and me. All they ask (and what we promised we would do) is to it take care of them if they can’t take care of themselves and “tell her that I love her.”

Never forget to thank the veterans for their service. They are proud but humble. They are compassionate and strong, but their eyes may water when you shake their hand. Most will quietly just say, “Thanks.”

Make it a great day

Dr L