"Sharing can be a way of healing. Grief and loss can isolate,
anger even alienate. Shared with others, emotions unite
as we see we aren't alone. We realize others weep with us."
~Susan Wittig Albert

Through our writing, we walk out of the darkness into the light
together, one small step at a time, recording history, educating
America, and we are healing.
~CJ/Todd Dierdorff

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Bad Day at the VA

by David Westfall

After almost 2 years of avoiding the VA medical care system, I had to go back in. When dealing with comp and pen, it's the way they want it. I really hate going there. I don't know why, I just do. My anxiety shoots up to almost debilitating levels. Maybe it's seeing all of the veterans. So many of them have visible injuries or disabilities. Many of them wear hats indicating the branch they served in and conflicts or wars they fought in. It's almost like reading a history book.

When I see the WWII vets, I wonder how many of them were in the Pacific, how many were in Europe, how many were in Africa. Were some of these men involved in beach landings in places like Guadalcanal or Iwo Jima? Were they in the trenches in Europe, looking into the eyes of their enemies at times? Did they watch their buddies get shot, blown up, drowned or killed?

I don't see a lot of Korean War vets. There are a few, but not many. They truly are the forgotten ones. There aren't the numbers of them there were from WWII and it wasn't until the Vietnam War that the media brought the war into our homes. Just so you know, I haven't forgotten you.

A majority of the men and women I see are Vietnam Era vets. They wear their hats, jackets and tattoos with pride now. I've seen movies about Vietnam, but know I can not even begin to fathom the horrors they must have seen and lived through. And after all of that, they got to come home to a country divided. A country with some citizens that decided it was necessary to spit upon them and call them "Baby Killers". Many of them came home changed inside, and not only were the people of their country not ready to help them, but their government health care system wasn't either. 
If you came back with "battle fatigue", you were pretty much on your own. You were expected to get over it, move on. That's the way the vets from WWI and WWII did it, why couldn't these vets?

I spent a lot of time in the mental health care system of the VA as an outpatient. I attended classes for PTSD and other issues with Vets from WWII to the current conflict in the Middle East. Some of them were group settings where we could discuss what was going on in our lives, what we were feeling. A place to let it out. In one group we could almost finish each others sentences. It didn't matter what era you served in, we were all brothers. We had each other's respect and concern, genuine concern. If any one of us had a problem, the rest were there for them.

Anyway, I don't like where my mind takes me when I go to the VA hospital. Aside from the anxiety, it simply makes my heart ache.  I can't even describe what I feel when I see the young men from the current conflict. They look like babies to me. I don't think half of them even have to shave yet. Seeing "that look" in their eyes at such a young age tears me apart inside. Seeing their physical injuries makes me want to cry.

Today, I was sitting in the waiting room so I could get some blood work done. There was one vet, who judging by his age, was of the Vietnam era. He had shaggy hair and a bushy beard. His clothes were worn. I'm guessing he had some hearing loss, because he was talking loudly with another man. He walked stiffly with a severe limp. He got called into the lab right before me. He was sitting in the chair beside me as my blood filled the vials. The technician was just putting in my second vial when the technician beside me raised her voice. "Sir. Sir. Sir!" I looked over and his head was down. He was unresponsive. "Call a code blue" she yelled. My technician hit a button on the wall behind my head and the automatic system went into effect. "Code Blue in blood draw" was announced over the announcement system. Lights and sirens went off every where. After my third vial of blood was drawn, she handed me my pee cup. By this time, doctors, nurses and security personnel were rushing into the small room. I decided not to use the bathroom in the lab area and went down the hallway to another one. When I went back to drop off my sample, they were taking the man out on a gurney, covered in a sheet. Wow. I couldn't believe what had just happened. I don't know what branch you were in, what your job was or where you served, but rest in peace brother. May you have fair winds and following seas on your journey.

As I was walking down the hallway to exit the building, I ran into one of the guys from the PTSD group I was in for almost 4 years. We know a lot about each other. He was a Vietnam Vet. The last time I saw him, he was heavy. He looked gaunt and tired today. We spoke for a few minutes, trying to catch up. He has cancer. There were two tumors on his liver, which he had removed, and he also has throat cancer. Today is his first day of chemo. I can't help but wonder if his cancer is the result of agent orange or something else he came in contact with while serving his country. I wish you good luck and will be praying for you, Woody. Semper Fi Marine!

I know I take on other people's pain more than I should. I know I spend too much time in my own mind. I know I need to get back to the VA for help. But what do you do when the cure is also a trigger for your problems? I guess I'll find out when next month when I reenter the system for anger management classes. I'm glad the VA and society has finally figured out that "battle fatigue", or PTSD as it is now known, is a real illness and needs to be treated. I'm happy that most people now understand that it doesn't mean the person suffering from it is weak.

Thank you to every veteran, veteran's spouse and family member out there. We did it for you.
David J. Westfall AW2 (AW) (Civ)

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

Bookmark and Share


  1. David,
    This is a very powerful article and you've touched my soul. Please know, I share your feelings as well as the heartaches and I'm proud of you, knowing the courage it takes to face the pain and fear and write about it.

    I thank you and all of the veterans who came before, are fighting now, and to those veterans in the future for everything you did and continue to do in the name of freedom.
    Welcome Home.
    Your friend always,

  2. David,
    I would like to echo CJ's comments and to say that in your pain is a great gift of awareness that can lead you past all the pain, judgement and criticism that the ego uses to keep us trapped in time, memories and illusions. It can seem at times like we are loosing our sanity when the mind realizes it is loosing its grip and we are becoming more aware of ourselves. Guilt can be a powerful tool of the ego and mind to imprison us in the past and within time. The goal of life is awareness and the soul uses whatever is needed to bring us back home to our real selves. Their is no guilt or blame in you or others who have served, in the deep core of their natures. Only in the mind, programed by religions, cultural values and philosophies is there a form of self torture that splits you all in two and beats you up. Beyond this mind is acceptance of yourself and all that you experienced and the one thing you are all seeking: NO BLAME! Surrender to who you are and all that you experienced and realize it is perfect for the growth and healing your soul is seeking.


  3. Thank you both for your kind words and sharing of wisdom.


Feel free to comment.