An open letter on VA health care

Stopping the war against veterans’ minds and bodies

By Jodi Rawson
Reader Contributor

Dear President Joe Biden,

There are more than two parties, let’s face it. There is another major party — something like a C.E.O.cracy. Led by billionaires and hyper-lobbyist-minions, this party often wins. I had high hopes that President Barack Obama would bring major change to our military situation, but it was just a fantasy.

Perhaps it had something to do with the blocks that Obama faced with not having enough people in his party to vote for his interests, and perhaps this will be different and more advantageous for you. But truthfully I have no hope of Democrats voting to end war any more than Republicans because of how this third party profits. It is the same reason that more efficient science has taken a backseat to petro. The Simpsons’ Mr. Burns character is a good mascot for this third party.

It is no secret that our taxes pay for war in areas of flowing oil and other resources. Most of us can agree that World War II made sense: free the oppressed. But what are we doing now? How are our drone strikes on impoverished brown people heroic? 

Our team spirit is down and more than 20 veterans are killing themselves each day. What are you going to do about it? It is time to offer restitution for the shattered homelands around the world attacked by U.S. bombs, guns and drones. It is time to bring our troops home and offer them top quality physical and psychological healing.

For more than a decade after I was medically discharged I had no medical insurance. I often landed in local emergencies, with symptoms related to the brain injury and neck fracture I suffered in basic training, and I found myself indebted to their services as a result of being uninsured. And being uninsured ensures that judgement and discontinuity are a part of the emergency experience. My injury was so minor compared to death though, and vets are trained to offer the ultimate sacrifice, so it took me a decade of migraines and compromised immunity to desperately seek help.

The VA sent a letter explaining that they could not locate my medical records and “any further attempt would be futile.” This made me go a little insane. I questioned if I hit my head somewhere else or if I was even in the military. One has to be very mentally sound to navigate the VA system, but thankfully I had a lot of help and was encouraged to keep fighting for what I earned as a veteran. 

Thankfully, a lowly office worker located my records when I called her directly in Fort Jackson, South Carolina — then that angel sent my records directly to me. Thirteen years later I was  covered medically. Today the VA is paying for my regular therapy and I am grateful, but I cannot forget the insane neglect that I faced. Currently countless veterans and worldwide victims of war are hopelessly invisible.

If I had access to an advocate who sat me down immediately after my service and asked what the military could do to help me live a balanced and healthy life, it may have eliminated more than a decade of neglect, pain and PTSD. Healing advocacy is my desire for all veterans and there is a budget for it. 

There is enough money for creating utopias for veterans to debrief in saunas and wheelchair accessible gardens. There is enough money in the military budget to offer every veteran therapy, housing and schooling. Meanwhile, we find homeless, broken people with cardboard signs imploring honestly: “Disabled Vet — Anything Helps.”

At a veteran retreat I related to the man who explained that he was “trying to get out from under the dark cloud.” The retreat was life altering for me, but I often felt like I was an imposter because I did not see heads getting blown off, like a couple of the vets, nor was I raped at gunpoint by a superior, like another vet. I was shaken up by training at the Naval Academy and then in the Army, where I was injured and honorably discharged. A Vietnam vet explained to me that the training was enough for PTSD. We are dehumanized, desensitized and ultimately taught to ignore our hearts. How else could we prepare to murder a stranger?

Do we have to spend almost $800 billion on bullying, killing, destroying communities around the world, leaving U.S. soldiers morally and physically wounded, neglected and contemplating suicide? 

You are a career politician who is said to walk the line between the parties, perhaps donning your own shade of indigo, and maybe I ought to have hope in you. Maybe you can consider those beneath you in your chain of command — vets my former Marine Corps officer sister, now psychologist, may one day meet with and plead with to stay alive. With your old-man-wisdom you may reach the hearts of all the younger leaders to vote for peace, healing, and rebuilding.

Because who wants war? Vets dive into hellish training because we are brainwashed into thinking it is a heroic service and are promised money and free education. And all too often we get out of the military physically broken with psychological scars and hopelessness about making sense of our lives again. 

Two years ago my friend was found in his chair hunched over a pistol. He was cold to the touch, his pets were frantic and he was probably dead two days. I was the one who suspected he was dead and insisted that someone check on him. His body was a toxic wasteland of hundreds of painfully aggressive tumors under his skin, most likely caused from the burn pits in Iraq. Tumors were near his spinal cord and he was passing out, hardly able to care for himself, but he took buses to get to VA appointments that exhausted him and wasted his day — there were no answers, nor assistance for his ailments. Also, after a paperwork mistake assumed he was dead and denied funds for years, his home was getting foreclosed. He was another neglected veteran who ate a gun — another statistic — but he was my friend.

The war against the minds of those who serve is one of the most poignant wars to date and it needs your focus like a pandemic. To heal those who have endured trauma for the United States of America, we need far more funding, continuity and expertise than what is currently offered by our country’s massive military budget. Billions of tax dollars can be reallocated to healing instead of hurting. As you read this, another veteran may have sacrificed their life.

While we have you ...

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