Leroy Wehler. George “Pizza” Pirraglia. Most recently, Ron Guilyard. And the list of the Vietnam-era veterans who died from the effects of Agent Orange continues to get longer. It’s just one of the complications our veterans are facing following their service to our country. Getting to know some of the Vietnam veterans in the area, particularly those from the Bucktail Chapter 720, has really brought home to me a frustrating and disturbing issue that has existed for a long time in this country and affects all of our veterans, from World War II to today —the burdensome patchwork of medical care that veterans have to deal with, from routine checkups to major surgery.
The actual care people get can be excellent, but it is hard when they have to travel long distances to the nearest VA hospital or treatment center for care. For the veterans in rural counties, it can be especially difficult. Getting to DuBois is one thing, but having to go to Altoona or Pittsburgh, and sometimes beyond, to see specialists or to have surgery is daunting. It’s not just the logistics of how to get there, but it is often an all-day, tiring process, particularly for some of our older veterans or those who are not in good health.
Maybe when the Veterans Administration was created, it seemed like a good idea to have healthcare facilities tailored specifically to veterans’ needs. That is still a good idea, but coverage should be expanded so that they can see physicians in their own towns and have it covered by VA benefits. Talking heads use the word “complicated” while also saying veterans “deserve the best.” Let’s help them get it – and let’s be clear, I have no sound plan for how to do this, just that I, a fellow American, would like to see something done. When you sit down and try to figure out how this stuff works, the bureaucratic tangle and the vast amount of information can make you want to give up before you even start.
I’m equating this into going into town to buy bananas, and the store has them, but I’m not allowed to have those bananas – instead, I have to travel three hours away to get some bananas. It just doesn’t make any sense.
Veterans are used to red tape and procedures that seem to exist for no good reason-- but don’t you think they got enough of that while they were in the service? Don’t think I’m knocking our Veterans Affairs offices, either, especially the Elk County VA office. These people do a great job of advocating for veterans and helping them access benefits and services to which they are entitled. And our Rides4Vets charitable organization has been wonderful in helping get veterans of all ages and situations to appointments across the state. How fortunate for us to have them; how unfortunate that they are so badly needed.
As usual, it seems the problem lies at the federal level. It’s not a question of Republican or Democrat. This is a longstanding, bipartisan issue that cuts across all ethnicities, religious persuasions, and geographic regions. The members of Congress—who have very, very good healthcare, by the way-- need to step up and get it done. If we can spend billions of dollars every year on national and international defense, weaponry, and payouts to “friendly” nations to help us in whatever quest we’re currently undertaking, then we can damn well find the appropriate funds and makes the legislative changes necessary to see that our veterans have access to appropriate, efficient care when– and where-- they need it.
Whether you were on a troop ship, in a foxhole, a submarine, a plane, in cold lands, in sweltering countries, served stateside during your entire enlistment, got shot at, poisoned, bombed, blown up or you cut yourself with a vegetable peeler doing K.P. on base, it shouldn’t matter. The majority of veterans say they wouldn’t take back their service to their country, no matter how it has affected them afterward. That kind of loyalty and willingness to sacrifice is the backbone of our nation. It’s what keeps us strong and healthy as a country. Shouldn’t we be doing everything in our power to ensure that our veterans can say the same?
-- Victoria Stanish, Daily Press Editor