Loyalty and Love Led me to VA. (Guest Post by Dr. Steve Temerlin)

(Steve, a VA Physician and six-tour Navy Doc, has twice commented on our criticism of the VA, where he works. This comment, occasioned by the Secretary Bob McDonald’s brain-dead comparison of VA waiting lines to those at Disney attractions, moved us and deserved wider readership, so we plucked it out and shared it with you. He’ll get to the picture in a minute. We made one punctuation change, and inserted paragraph breaks. At the end we’ll link to both his comments. -Ed.)

NOW ZAD, AFGHANISTAN - APRIL 02: U.S. Marine Sgt. Jasen Wrubel drags his foot while patroling with his squad on April 2, 2009 in Now Zad in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Marines follow behind a land mine sweeper while on patrol, dragging their feet to create a safe path for other Marines to follow safely in single file. Taliban fighters have buried IEDs throughout the city to kill U.S. forces on patrol. The military says the remaining civilian population left the city in 2007. It is now a battleground between Taliban fighters and Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

NOW ZAD, AFGHANISTAN – APRIL 02: U.S. Marine Sgt. Jasen Wrubel drags his foot while patroling with his squad on April 2, 2009 in Now Zad in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Marines follow behind a land mine sweeper while on patrol, dragging their feet to create a safe path for other Marines to follow safely in single file. Taliban fighters have buried IEDs throughout the city to kill U.S. forces on patrol. The military says the remaining civilian population left the city in 2007. It is now a battleground between Taliban fighters and Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

I’ve written a couple of times sort of semi-defending my fellow actual patient care providers of the VA, so I thought I’d share my reaction to Secretary McDonald’s statement.

It made my left hand hurt.

I few years ago I was in a FOB in Nowzad in Helmand Province Afghanistan.  We had had a rough 48 hours after two EOD Sgt’s were killed trying to disarm an IED. I went out with the Marines to recover the bodies and was caught in an ambush for an hour before we could break free. We spent another day trying to recover as much of the body parts as we could.

At the end of the second day I was going through their recovered gear trying to separate all the remains before we turned the gear in. I found a palm sized piece of skull in one of the plate carriers and had to walk across the FOB back to medical hiding it in my hand. Several Marines came up to talk to me and I remember almost cutting my hand as I involuntarily squeezed the bone. All week I’ve been imagining walking up to Secretary McDonald and handing him the bone, saying “Here, you put this in the body bag.”

I don’t know why. I have 6 deployments worth of other memories, but that’s the one I’ve been having.

I don’t want to shut down the VA, I just want to see the Ruling Class experience the same pain and loss that we’ve had. I doubt it would change anything though.

The image I attached was taken by a Wall Street Journal photographer from the last month of our deployment. He wrote about Marines wearing out the soles of their right boots dragging them behind them on patrol. He thought it was to mark a path to walk in through the IED fields. That’s close but he didn’t understand. It’s easy enough to walk in the footprints in front of you. They were dragging their feet to try to deliberately detonate any IED’s the engineer in front with the metal detector missed, so they would die instead of their brothers. That’s what loyalty and love really is.

That’s why I took the VA job when I left the Navy, because I can never repay the debt of that kind of loyalty. Some days I hate the VA as much as any other Veteran, but what else can I do?

(Ed. again: Steve’s previous comments are here and here, and this comment was placed here. Please read his comments for an insider’s view of the VA and compare that to its current notoriety in the press — including in this blog).

13 thoughts on “Loyalty and Love Led me to VA. (Guest Post by Dr. Steve Temerlin)

  1. Keith

    All honor to the Marine’s and the other services in the rock pile and the sand box. Who are we that they should sacrifice for us? How can we possible ever deserve that coin? I agree with the post that putting the Ivory Tower types, the Tranzi’s/Cosmos/Progressives/SJW’s through that would not change anything in there minds and hearts.

  2. Running man

    Bless you Dr. Steve for doing what you do and having done what you’ve done. A heartfelt thanks.

  3. Sabrina Chase

    There are, thankfully, some good people in the VA system. A few years ago I volunteered with a service organization at the local VA hospital. My official job title was “Friendly Visitor”. The nurses always knew who might like some conversation that did not involve pills or pain, and respected their patients’ wishes and privacy. They made sure I knew who was under MRSA watch and how to gown up so I could still visit them without endangering anyone. Since I made repeated visits, I could see the level of care was consistent. It’s not all horror shows. But how I wish there were NO horror shows connected to the VA…

  4. Gray

    Maybe I am being too simplistic, but I cannot see a reason for the existence of the VA medical system.

    Would it not be easier for the patients (and considerably less expensive all the way around by eliminating the huge Death Star bureaucracy) by just giving each eligible veteran an insurance card and fund the insurance plan as a commercial group policy through a private enterprise insurance (Blue Cross, etc)?

    The veteran goes where he wants and it is entirely portable.

    1. archy

      ***Maybe I am being too simplistic, but I cannot see a reason for the existence of the VA medical system.***

      Because we take care of our own. [Repeat as needed.]

      The best solution I can come up with? Put the VA staff and personnel- administrators and clerks in particular- under the UCMJ. The good ones should have no great problems; the bad apples can go to Leavenworth or Portsmouth Naval Prison in Maine [yeah, I know *Alcatraz East* was closed down; great reason to reopen it and uphold the well-established traditions]

      Oh well, there’s always Dachau [oops, that one’s gone now, too!] and Guantanamo. A couple of other choice locales come to mind as well. Veterans preference hiring for guards, naturally!

  5. Steve Temerlin

    “Would it not be easier for the patients (and considerably less expensive all the way around by eliminating the huge Death Star bureaucracy) by just giving each eligible veteran an insurance card and fund the insurance plan as a commercial group policy through a private enterprise insurance (Blue Cross, etc)?

    The veteran goes where he wants and it is entirely portable.”

    Beyond the fact that the practice of Medicine is being ground down to dust at all levels by government control and the current cultural insanity, the reason the answer is no is this:

    It’s the same reason that before I could take care of Naval Aviators I had to go to the Naval Flight Surgeon school and Basic Flight School to learn to fly and understand the environment of aviation. It’s the same reason that before I could take care of Naval Special Warfare and EOD and submariners I had to go to Undersea Medical Officer School and become a Navy Diver. In both cases I had to prove that I understood what was expected of the warriors I served, and that they could trust me.

    A few months ago in the middle of a night shift a young woman brought her husband in to my VA Emergency Department. He initially wouldn’t speak, but she said I had to help him or she was going to have to take their children and leave. She said he wouldn’t speak to them other than yelling at them every morning when he awakened. He was withdrawn and sullen and constantly angry. At first he would only answer my questions monosyllabically, with a look that expressed both hopelessness and resentment. He finally told me he had been an Army Blackhawk medevac crew chief. For four one year tours in Iraq. He got out of the Army because he knew his wife and two children needed him to be home. He had hoped to go to Nursing School to stay in the medical field, but he couldn’t support his family financially with a full time job and keep his grades up in night school at the same time. So now he works as a diesel engine mechanic. After he told me that he gave me “Fuck You” look and said I couldn’t possibly understand. I told him that of course I understood completely. For more than four years he was a God. He got to drop out of the sky while assholes tried to kill him and keep him from saving his brothers. A lot of the Soldiers died but every time he brought them home. Now he was away from that and surrounded by people who had no idea who he was, and he was doing a job that meant nothing to him. And I also told him I imagined he was very angry at himself for resenting his family for taking him away from that. I told him I understood because I had flown the same missions and felt the same way. He opened up after that and we talked for hours. In the end I told him when he flew those missions he had been given a gift, but that it wasn’t his to keep. His obligation now was to raise his children so that if they were ever given the same gift, they would be able to accept it. His wife told me later that things were getting better.

    One more story: I was with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment in Nowzad for 8 months. We were in a small FOB with about 220 Marines and Sailors, on the worst days surrounded by several thousand Taliban. We had 7 deaths and overall about 20% casualties. Normally such a small group wouldn’t have an Emergency Medicine physician there, but the threat of IED’s and constant fighting was very high, with difficult and delayed medevacs that often took hours just to get the wounded to the LZ. So each of the three Marine companies that did an 8 month tour there during the fighting from the summer of 2008 until early 2010 had an ER doc and two critical care nurses and an extra dozen Navy Corpsmen.

    In 2011 I was working in the ED of a Naval Hospital when a Marine came in begging me to help him sleep. He had been awake for days. When I talked with him I found out he was in Golf company, that replaced my company in Nowzad. He was out of the Marines with a PTSD diagnosis, seeing psychiatrists that were “helping” him by prescribing 8 different psych meds at the same time. At one point he suddenly turned bright red, stiffened up against the wall, and slid down to the floor moaning, just radiating uncontrollable pain and energy. I was stunned and unable to speak for a few moments, because until that time I had thought I was the only one who had ever felt that way and done that. We talked several times over the next couple of years. I hope it helped him.

    The VA needs more military physicians; the Veterans don’t need to be palmed off on providers who have no idea who they are.

    1. Pathfinder

      Sir,

      I am a a retired Army Infantry 1SG. I deal with the VA for several things, what is not important. The care givers that I have interacted with have been good. The prior service ones are the best. It’s the damn bureaucracy that drives me up the wall.

      Thanks for what you do and what you have done.

      1. redc1c4

        what Top said.

        it only took me 13 years for the VA to admit that i’m a vet… we’ll see how long for them to admit that i’m disabled.

        i served as a medic in an Armored Cav squadron for a few years, even though the FFT scumbag wouldn’t send me back to Ft. Sam for medic school (i was 91Q), but the honor of having my troopers call me “Doc” was more gratifying to me than any of the useless awards i got over the years.

        Semper Fi Steve

    2. robroysimmons

      One thing from my perspective, I served peace time Marine Corps, and like most vets never have heard a gunshot much less suffered from anything remotely combat related, and like most vets not even remotely suffering from any malady of any type.

      If VA benefits were offered as that person suggested then perhaps the millions would flood that type of system and dilute the system even more. I’m not sure of this, but I think it would be a misplaced effort.

      A couple of years ago a retired army type suggest I tap the VA money train for my hearing loss, and frankly I was horrified and would feel no little bit of shame for pushing a truly needy person down the list.

  6. Miles

    As I’ve posted before, the people at my VA hospital in Fayetteville have always provided excellent service.
    I have no opinion on other hospital or clinic facilities and their personnel, but I do agree that the idjits at DC need to be replaced with responsible adults who know how to kick ass where and when it’s needed.

  7. Aesop

    The image I attached was taken by a Wall Street Journal photographer from the last month of our deployment. He wrote about Marines wearing out the soles of their right boots dragging them behind them on patrol. He thought it was to mark a path to walk in through the IED fields. That’s close but he didn’t understand. It’s easy enough to walk in the footprints in front of you. They were dragging their feet to try to deliberately detonate any IED’s the engineer in front with the metal detector missed, so they would die instead of their brothers. That’s what loyalty and love really is.””

    “Where do we get such men?”The Bridges At Toko-Ri

    I have no better words. Semper Fi, Doc Temerlin.

    1. Boat Guy

      A small side note. While Michener used the quote in that excellent book it was earlier ascribed to Gen H.M. Smith asking Gen Julian Smith that question after seeing the dead at Tarawa.
      Regardless it’s a good question and the answer is “The United States of America” – NOT to be confused with the Federal entity of the same name.

  8. DSM

    I’ve posted it before but after I got out and started to go to our local VA it was a night and day experience. I enlisted at 17 so MTFs were all I knew. I was literally confused when the nurses, docs and staff there actually cared. Military treatment, well, fairly said I think just has different priorities; just get you back to work and that’s it. I’d bring my day pack with books and magazines figuring for long waits like the base hospital. Never needed them.
    My PA in my assigned clinic is awesome. She’s stayed late, come in early, and skipped a lunch just for a walk-in so she could see me if I was having an issue. And no, I’ve never asked her to and argued against it. She just argues better. Heck, when I’ve had other appointments there she’s dropped by just to check in with me or coordinate with the other staff. The care providers have all been great in my experience. Yes, it’s a job and they expect to be paid for it. For the amount of crap they put up with in patient care it takes someone who truly wants to do it.

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