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Posts Tagged ‘veterans’

Somebody on CNN this morning asked if the situation at VA hospitals – waiting months for care and possibly being put on a secret waiting list – is a recent   development, almostCollage2 a singular incident, or if this is a systematic problem.

Oh, it’s more than systematic.  It’s endemic.  It’s embedded in the VA culture. Veterans don’t just wait months for care – they often wait years – and this has been the situation since at least Viet Nam, if not before.

Back in 2000, I started getting involved with the protests against the experimental, highly reactive, and sometimes deadly anthrax vaccine that was being forced on troops deployed to certain areas.  If they didn’t take this experimental drug they could – and usually did – receive a dishonorable discharge.  If they took the vaccine, and thousands upon thousands did, they might develop tumors and cysts, severe bone and joint pain, terrible, ongoing migraines, partial loss of vision or hearing, vertigo, grand mal seizures, sudden blood pressure spikes and drops; the women might hemorrhage and find themselves unable to bear children; the men might lose testosterone permanently.  The list is too long to repeat here.

And that would just be the beginning.  Trying to get medical-boarded out of the service with a reasonable disability rating would always be the first major bureaucratic hurdle.  In those days, the military refused to admit any connection between the vaccine and a service member’s subsequent disability; certainly military doctors didn’t understand or recognize the symptoms at the time. Too often, service members were told that their symptoms – many of which were invisible to an observer – were all in their head; they were told they had mental problems, or were depressed.  After going through months, and sometimes years, of not being believed about their illnesses, of trying to get through each day in terrible pain, I always thought it was perfectly natural for them to become depressed… that was a result of how they were treated, not a cause of their symptoms.

Once out of the service, getting treated by the VA was the next major hurdle.  The common rating for disability – if a person didn’t get in and fight it – was 10 percent.  Ten percent!!!  Almost nothing – for someone who could no longer carry out his military duties.  And the waiting period for treatment was usually two years.   — And that was if a service member lived close enough to a VA hospital to get the care needed. 

What happened in the meantime?  These disabled service members were not getting the treatment they needed, or were paying civilian doctors out of their own pockets trying to find answers.  Too often, they were unable to work.  They lost their jobs – they lost their cars – they lost their homes – and their marriages very often broke apart under the strain.  Not a few of them literally went to live in the woods, homeless and alone, and rejected by – us.  Those they serve.

What I’d like to know, Congress is this: why did it take you so damn long to notice?  Where have you been?  You say you support our troops, but after you issued the 1994 Rockefeller Report calling on the military to stop its medical experimentation on our service members – and included the anthrax vaccine in that last – you did nothing to enforce it.  We’re supposed to have civilian oversight of the military in this country, but those civilians we elect to the highest offices in the land do not seem to have spines – or eyes and ears.

So it takes a scandal like a secret list causing veterans to die while they wait before this suddenly becomes an issue.  I’ve got news for you, media people and Congress and Americans: our veterans have been dying for a long, long time waiting for the right care from the VA.  To make matters worse, some of those deaths are suicides – because nobody believed, or helped search for the right treatments.  It’s better to wait for a whole generation to die, we get that.  That’s why it’s only been in the last few years that Agent Orange was recognized as the presumptive cause of severe medical problems for the troops (http://www.banderasnews.com/1004/vl-davidlord05.htm).  Delay payment and responsibility for as long as humanly possible, then say, “Whoops.  We were wrong.”

My cynicism is hard-earned; most of it comes from the veterans themselves.  These problems didn’t just start; this is not a sudden, new development.  It’s been going on for years.  To this day, when veterans write in to us at www.mvrd.org,  we have to counsel them on how to work with, and sometimes fight with, the VA to get the disability ratings and the treatment they need.

Kick out Secretary of Veterans Affairs Shinseki? Accept Dr. Petzel’s resignation? Band-aid measures; these do nothing to address the real problems.  They inherited this mess, they didn’t cause it. The real problems have a lot more to do with how we proudly send our sons and daughters off to war, encouraging them to give all for their country – but don’t want to pay for it when they come back injured, debilitated, depressed, and permanently changed.  It’s part of the cost of war – the fact that our men and women come back disabled, sometimes with illnesses that are not visible.  It’s part of the deal, yet we seem to refuse to step up to the plate in a timely, caring manner. Meanwhile, too many veterans languish in their homes or homeless shelters – or in the woods – unable to continue to fight.

 

We think we support our troops and veterans in this country.  Not by half; not by half.

 

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June 2, 2012

This letter is in response to David Sirota’s column, “A legend of spat-upon veterans.”  I looked up your biography, Mr. Sirota, and, as I suspected, you are too young to have remembered the Vietnam War.  Let me give you a couple of personal memories:

My then-fiancé, Jack, actually enlisted in the Air Force in 1967 – contrary to the majority who were drafted.  Our families lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, and when Jack’s parents and I took him to the Oakland Induction Center, he had to walk through three solid lines of chanting, yelling picketers to get inside the building.  We were terrified for his safety.

In 1970, Jack came home from a tour of duty – a year – in Southeast Asia.  He’d been stationed up on the Thailand-Laos border at a base that few people knew existed.  During the year he was gone I’d given birth to our first child, our daughter Diana.  Jack’s parents and I, with our baby, drove out to Travis AFB in the valley to greet him on his return home that June.  Again, we drove through picketers at the front entrance to the base.  When we got to the families’ waiting area, there was only one other couple there.  Throughout the terminal, there was complete silence.

The huge C-130 landed, and out of it stepped 200 skeletal memories of the men who once had been.  At 6 feet tall, Jack now weighed 120 pounds.  I could not even recognize him at first.  Finally he came, and we hugged and kissed in joy that he was even alive.  The other soldiers and airmen got off that plane in complete silence – coming home to no one, and no cheers, and no welcome signs.  Just silence.

I don’t know if being spat upon is worse than absence and silence; you’d have to ask the veterans.  I do know that they served during a time of incredible protest against them personally as well as against the war; I clearly remember one instance where a friend of ours was called a baby-killer.  As much as I have always hated war – and don’t even begin to understand it – for me to have protested the war in those days would have been seen as protesting something my husband chose to do.  I stayed home.

Fast forward about 26 years, and my son, John, is getting off a plane in Salt Lake City, returning from a deployment to Saudi Arabia; he had been stationed at Dhahran when the bomb exploded at the housing complex, and had spent 18 hours helping out in rescue and recovery efforts. The airport was crowded with people waiting to welcome home these returning airmen and soldiers, with families holding balloons and signs and cheering.  It was an incredibly welcome difference.

But because things have changed for the better doesn’t mean we should forget what happened years ago.  The scene at Travis AFB is forever burned into my mind, because we let a generation of service members come home with silence instead of a welcome; with insults instead of understanding; with a casual, cynical attitude instead of compassion.  We do need to remember.  Research reports and books don’t always cut it; sometimes you just had to be there.

Sincerely,

Kathryn D. Hubbell

 

 

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Collage2Got in last night from a wonderful week in San Diego at the PRSA International Conference, feeling saturated with new information, new friends, reunions with old friends, and thoughts about my last conference as a sitting member of the board of directors.  I rotate off the board in December, and have to say that it’s been one of the best experiences I’ve had in my professional life.  Those who have given even a brief moment’s thought toward taking on a national leadership role in PRSA – do it.  You’ won’t regret it.

I’ll write more about the conference later, no doubt – but for now, my mind and heart are with our veterans.  Some of you know I’ve worked for the past nine years with active-duty service members and veterans concerning the mandatory, yet still experimental, anthrax vaccine.  The web site I run in support of that is http://www.mvrd.org – the Military Vaccine Resource Directory.  I’m behind on updating it as usual, but will be working on it today.  What I really want to say, which still astonishes and amazes me, is that those veterans whom I know personally, who have suffered incredibly from the effects of the anthrax vaccine – everything from grand mal seizures to loss of testosterone; from tumors and cysts to years of severe bone and joint pain; from continual migraine headaches to uncontrollable hemorrhaging and loss of the ability to bear children; from short-term memory loss to extreme weakness and fatigue – to a person, they say that if they could somehow be well once again, and if the military would stop demanding they take experimental bioterror vaccines and pills, they would still go back and serve our country.

For a moment there I paused at the end of that sentence, and thought “I don’t know that anything more needs to be said about the quality and devotion of our veterans.”

But something more does need saying.  These men and women, often medical-boarded out of the service with a too-low disability rating for what they have gone through, have had to wait up to two years and more to be seen by the VA.  In the meantime, they have to pay their own medical bills – if they can; if they don’t have to sell their cars in order to do so; if they don’t have to sell their homes in order to do so; if the can still somehow hold down a job, though many can’t; if their marriages can survive under the strain, though many don’t. 

When you see a veteran out on the street in your town, think about this.  He or she may not have been able to get proper medical care in time, and his or her once-familiar world fell apart, one piece at a time.  This is how we treat our veterans when they come home, when they become ill from a service-related action.  They’ve done their jobs; now they are disposable to us. 

Outrageous barely begins to cover it.  Don’t run around with a magnetic yellow ribbon on your car.  Run, don’t walk, to your nearest veterans center or VA hospital, and ask what is needed.  You’ll gain far more than you give.

Thanks, veterans; thanks volunteers.  I hear from the DoD that there are huge efforts at work to enable a 120-day handoff between the active-duty medical system and the VA; that is still too long, but is certainly better than the years veterans have to wait now.  We need – we need desperately – to deal with the consequences of war.

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The last few weeks seem to have been filled with a tumult of activity and voices and Yachats beckoned once again.  Here on the Central Oregon Coast, life is quieter and slower; Yachats is one of the most undeveloped parts of the coast (the amazing restaurants here not withstanding), and the minute I am within view of the ocean, I start relaxing.

Each time I am here, the hours for quiet reflection and thought bring me to a deeper understanding of whatever has been driving me just before I came.  Today, walking on the beach with Bear as the tide receded, I realized that I feel greatly privileged to be teaching, and I feel greatly privileged to still work with veterans who are sick from the anthrax vaccine. 

The teaching end of the deal was something I decided just about six years ago, when I made up my mind to go back to school and get a Master’s degree so that I could make the career switch.  I feel lucky that I was able to tell Mom about the decision in August of that year, just two months before she passed away. I wasn’t totally sure what I would do yet, only that I wanted to go back on the ship (www.semesteratsea.org) and that I wanted to go back to school with the goal of teaching in mind.  She was thrilled about both ideas.  I did go back on the ship, briefly, for an alumni reunion cruise to the Bahamas a few years ago.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu was on board, and that alone made the trip an incredible experience.  But I also found out that, contrary to my experiences at 19 on my first voyage, by now it was entirely possible for me to get seasick.  Our first night out at sea after leaving Fort Lauderdale was “a wild and stormy night,” and the ship was tossed around pretty strongly.  I had to leave a meeting in the student union and go outside for some air, and got very little sleep.  I’m not sure that a four-month semester at sea is any longer in my best interest, though I’m certainly going to look at some of the shorter educational voyages that are held every year.

Back to teaching: I’m enjoying it three times more than I ever anticipated.  I love the interaction with students, even though it’s primarily online.  I love the thoughts and creativity that come my way across the keyboard.  I love our live chats, and the SKYPE calls.  I’m working on putting a video component into our online classes, but that might have to evolve a little bit more.  Nevertheless, teaching is an enormous pleasure and privilege.

Working with veterans and active-duty service members – something I’ve done for over nine years now – is also a wonderful privilege.  I spent the early years not knowing how to handle things emotionally; the knowledge that our government has conducted more than one medical experiment on the troops over the years, usually without their knowledge, is appalling and tragic.  I could not believe this was my country.  But I’m also an advocate of changing a country from within, not throwing up my hands and walking off.  The anthrax vaccine was then, and is now, an unproven, dangerous drug.  Just ask the FDA where the peer-reviewed, published research studies are; they only exist for the original cutaneous anthrax vaccine, not for the re-configured vaccine that is supposed to protect against inhalational, or aerosolized, anthrax.  The years of bungling, sheer stupidity, greed and blatant attempts to save face are documented on the web site I run, www.mvrd.org– the Military Vaccine Resource Directory.  The vaccines are on my mind because while I was walking on the beach this morning, I called a vet in Michigan who wrote to me last weekend detailing his massive problems since being forced to take the anthrax vaccine, in one e-mail writing, “PLEASE HELP ME.”  The phone call this morning was the third for fourth time we’ve been in touch this week. He won’t need me constantly; I have a network of people whom I can contact who can and will reach out to help him.  It’s a good, close, caring community, but it’s a tragic one.  It’s a community that should never have to exist.

While I’m on the beach, these thoughts are in my head, but they aren’t swirling and noisy as they so often are at home.  They go deeper and quieter.  The sound of the ocean is a steady rhythm against life here; and the beach reflects the entire cycle of life and death and the tides that bring both.  I think often of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s “Gifts from the Sea,” and know what she meant.  Here – for someone who has spent a lifetime dealing with what it takes to establish those “mutually beneficial relationships” between a business or organization and its publics; who has studied and worked in public relations since 1980 – here my relationship with myself and the world around me settles into something peaceful and quiet.  Here I understand a lot more about the ties that bind.

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It’s all their fault.  When Joseph first crashed to the floor with a grand mal seizure at a restaurant in Washington D.C. where we were gathered around tables to talk and discuss the testimony given at Congressional hearings that afternoon concerning the military’s mandatory anthrax vaccine; when he lay on the floor convulsing, and we watched helplessly, unable to do anything until it was over; when memories of my son’s reactions to the anthrax vaccine were still too fresh in my mind and worries about his future ran rampant and unchecked; when I saw Tom in his wheelchair and helmet, afraid of standing up and walking too far for fear of blacking out and crashing to the ground yet again; when Vance ended up with 23 different disabilities related to the anthrax vaccine – I couldn’t stand by and ignore any of it.  My son was the instigator, of course, when he got three anthrax shots in 2000 against his will.  But long after my son was out of the military, it was Joseph, and Tom, and Vance, and Jon, and Russ, and Buzz, and Randi, and so many others – the best of the best.   They are the ones our military experiments on, and then throws away.  Think this is wild?  Uh-uh: Congress has known for years; has even come out with a formal report and protest.  The GAO office has been on it.   Please check out our web site, the Military Vaccine Resource Directory, for the full story.  Click here: http://www.mvrd.org.

 

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