The following story highlights the frustrations of many veterans in their interactions with the V.A.

A friend of mine who served in Vietnam, and received an honorable discharge, has just been denied his V.A. disability claim for a life threatening bone marrow disorder caused by exposure to Agent Orange.  If that wasn’t enough, the ingredient in this witch’s brew that links his rare disease to Agent Orange, benzene, is also one of the three main chemicals that compose napalm.  This is pertinent as he spent time in combat inhaling this deadly chemical.

The V.A. instructed him, per protocol, to see a doctor for an evaluation of this condition.  When he called to ask for a phone evaluation with this doctor instead of the scheduled face-to-face visit, as he had just spent ten days in the hospital due to complications from his condition, he was informed that he had to keep the appointment in person, or reschedule for God knows when.  Sensing that time was of the essence, and in need of the financial support to fight this disease, he kept the appointment.  In his weakened condition, he was shocked when the doctor stated that he was confused as to how exactly he was to evaluate my friend’s condition.  Blood pressure was taken along with a few other cursory, non-helpful and non-invasive tests.  In all, he was with the doctor for less than ten minutes.  My friend ended up feeling sorry for the doctor as he was put in an extraordinary and untenable position of trying to establish a condition that he was completely unfamiliar with.  In fact, he whispered under his breath these same sentiments.

My friend’s oncologist had previously established the life threatening condition by multiple blood tests and an unpleasant bone marrow biopsy, as had doctors at Stanford University Medical Center.  Did the V.A. really think a ten-minute exam by a doctor who was totally unfamiliar with this rare disorder could verify the medical condition?

The V.A. sent my friend correspondence, which stated that any new evidence be mailed to the address which they said was included in the attached pamphlet.  Unfortunately, no such pamphlet was attached.  Repeated phone calls failed to find anyone with such an address.  Finally, he was able to hunt down the address on his own.  And what was the nature of the evidence he wished to submit?  Two addition doctor statements, tying his condition to exposure to Agent Orange and Napalm.  Already part of his case was a statement from a V.A. doctor, stating that in all likelihood, Napalm and Agent Orange caused his condition.

Congressperson Capps’ office was finally able to submit the new evidence. Regrettably, his case was denied.  It is unknown if the new evidence was considered before the case was denied.  He is waiting for the written denial to see exactly what was considered at the time of denial.

In the meantime, bi-monthly blood transfusions are needed to keep him alive.  His bitter relationship with the V.A. keeps sliding further into a black hole.  He waits for the written denial knowing that three doctors, independent of each other, including one with the V.A., have come to the same conclusion as to the probable cause of his deadly disease.  “Welcome home.”  “Thank you for your service,” the V.A. proclaims.  These statements ring rather hallow to this man.  He is simply another veteran to be discarded once his service to his country was completed.  Somehow in his naivety, he assumed his country would have his back if and when the price of combat came due.  I guess some would say my friend was a sap to ever really believe that.  But that was what got him in trouble in the first place.  Believing his country and government, when they said the nation was facing dangers overseas and needed young men such as himself to defend our way of life.  He learned the hard way that lies were built on top of lies.  He also learned the value of the promises made so long ago by his country to take care of war related disabilities.  There was more than angry bullets in a far away land that he should have been careful about.  Broken promises at home hurt much more than the actions of the enemy.  Betrayal by citizens of one’s own community is so much crueler and has a unique pain all its own.  I’m at a loss of words as to what to tell my friend.  “Thank you for your service,” definitely won’t be part of the conversation.

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