AN ISSUE OF CRITICAL IMPORTANCE

I am not sharing this information for the purpose of gaining your sympathy or condolences. No one can take me back to that day, giving me the opportunity to intervene in the events and change the outcome. All the lawsuits filed, won or lost, sympathy expressed, or condolences given could eliminate the pain, the tears, or the pictures I have in my mind of him lying on the floor in a pool of blood. Nor can it erase the heartbreak I still feel of sitting with him for three days and telling him everything would be OK, and then when it was apparent they would not, letting him know it was OK to let go. I assured him I would watch after Mom and take care of things. I held his hand, told him I loved him, and then watched in silence as he took his last breath at 4:37 p.m., March 8, 1998.

On the evening of March 4, 1998 when my mother told me what the VA doctors had said to them that day, I told her not to worry. “I will take care of it first thing tomorrow morning,” I said. Dad didn’t have Alzheimer’s and it was clear there had been an error. He was overmedicated and his symptoms were directly related to that, nothing more. Obviously, I never had the opportunity to make that call. However, as my father lay dying of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head I again promised that I would take care of things, only this time I’d do better.

You can help me keep that promise in several ways. One, by reevaluating your own perceptions as it relates to quality of healthcare in this country, most especially the plight of our Veterans. Carefully consider the “losses” and “statistics” as you read them next time and in a positive and proactive way proceed in such a manner as to move these systems, operating in such a reckless fashion, to change.

How often have we heard since September 11th “America is at War against Terrorism” ? How often have we heard of our military being called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice. Today we have many more just like my father during WWII that lay their lives on the line for the sake of others. Those fortunate enough to actually return home, our Veterans of tomorrow, are your sons and daughters, your brothers and sisters, your husbands and wives. Many have, and many will, continue to return with both physical and emotional illnesses. These are the very ones you are reading about each day in your local newspapers. Is the best we have to offer for their sacrifice the current standard of care at VA Medical Centers ? How tragic for this country ! How tragic for these Veterans !

I have seen no accountability for the sub-standard of care Veterans receive at these hospitals. It is appalling ! We should not allow ourselves to sit on the sidelines of this issue one-minute longer while thousands are suffering and dying needlessly every year, caught up in bureaucratic red tape designed specifically to encourage, no—worse yet, to hide this beast called VA Medical Center. Don’t take my word, don’t take the word of those Veterans fortunate enough to select healthcare outside of the Veterans Administration. Go instead and talk to the Veterans “in these hospitals,” the ones that have to go there day after day.

A positive change will only be realized once we, individually as well as collectively, take an active part and insist on nothing less than excellence from these providers. We should not only expect but also demand an accounting from those in charge of organizing and overseeing the necessary changes in the government’s healthcare systems. We should not expect anything less than qualitative, measurable results! Is the health, and in many instances lives, of ones you love worth any less?

How can anyone possibly ask another to lay their life down, risk their children growing up without a mother or father, or put themselves in a position to be exposed to harmful environmental elements and then turn their backs on this issue?

It appears more and more we have gone so far from the “human” factor in our daily lives that we have become desensitized to and have actually accepted the fact we must tolerate these losses and statistics because that’s just the way things are, it’s the government—–shame on us all!

A few years ago I spoke to a Senator in Washington about what happened. He told me he had already heard the story from other Senators and his next comment to me was that the Salem VA had simply “screwed up.” Those were his exact words to me—-they had “screwed up.” I was devastated. Yes, I know all to well they “screwed up,” now what? What is being done about it? What is being done to prevent this from happening to others? This is not how things could or should be. A thousand superior healthcare facilities, with outstanding programs and providers will never excuse one found to be equally inferior, especially one designed to provide care to Veterans.

The Honorable Lawrence M. Baskir, Chief Judge said:

The United States Court of Federal Claims has endeavored to serve our Nation and to embody the spirit of Abraham Lincoln’s message to the Congress in 1861: It is as much the duty of government to render prompt justice against itself, in favor of citizens, as it is to administer the same between private individuals.

Somehow I just don’t see that happening. That did not happen in this case, and there are hundreds just like it. The government denies private citizens the very rights and privileges that our American soldiers are this very day fighting and dying for, and we allow it to continue. How sad.

Consider this for a moment. If I were to do something that caused you or your loved one harm, would you not likely seek justice ? Justice and vindication for yourself and your family member? Of course you would. Now consider as you begin this journey of seeking justice, you are told that to do so you must allow “my mother” to sit in judgment. She will hear all the facts and render whatever punishment is deserved upon me. If you are unclear as to the definition of justice I encourage you to look it up now. Justice served? I think not.

It’s pretty staggering if you will give it a few minutes thought, and you really should. What happened to my father can happen to you or someone you love at any time. Don’t think for a moment it can’t.

Six years ago, March 5th, 1998 at approximately 7 a.m. when many of you were just starting your day, my father was making his way quietly downstairs carrying his shotgun, still in its case. He walked over to my bed and took the gun out, leaving the case lying on my quilt. He most likely loaded it there and proceeded to a little entrance area at the back door approximately 10 ft. away. Police investigators determined that he lowered himself to his knees and braced the gun against the door jam, placing the barrel to his left temple. He then pulled the trigger, all approximately 13 hours after leaving the VA Medical Center. A 100% completely avoidable and tragic end to a life that had years left to enjoy.

I encourage you to remember him the next time you have the opportunity to make a difference, and don’t. Remember him the next time you sit silently and observe injustices and deficiencies in medical care occur, whether you are directly affected or not, and fail to act. And remember, next time a medical “screw up” takes place it definitely won’t affect my father, but it very well could yours.

I urge you to pass this information along to others. One voice, my voice, heard alone will never make a difference. United however, we may be able to save other families, other Veteran’s, from experiencing the horrors of medical malpractice at VA Medical Centers.

For the sake of those fighting, and dying, on the soil of foreign countries for freedom from terrorism, for our freedom, I really hope we can. You should, too