Justice, Justice Part Two

September 21, 2012
Unidentified Korean War veteran, Freeport, New...

Unidentified Korean War veteran, 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Justice, justice you shall pursue. – Deuteronomy 16:20

 

This past month I helped out a friend and his parents, Joe and Hideko. He needed to be out of town, and his elderly parents, who live on their own, needed someone to watch over them and do grocery shopping. August is my least busy time of year, and I genuinely like his parents: no problem!

 

The day after Dave (I’ve changed all the names) left town, his dad took three falls and complained of dizziness and a headache.  I bundled the couple into my car and off we went to the emergency room nearest their home, as instructed on Dave’s “In case of emergency” instructions.  Good news: no injuries, and no stroke in progress (my big fear.) The doc said, casually, “Be sure and get him an appointment with his VA doc this coming week.”

 

It seemed so simple: I had a number to call for his doc, and I called it. The person answering the phone said they’d call me back with an appointment.

 

Days passed.  Three days.  I began to get nervous. Joe began to fret. I called again.

 

We had the same conversation, and I was told they’d call back.  “Ahh, wait a minute!” I said, “That’s what they told us last time.  WHEN are you going to call back?” “Oh, sorry that happened, ma’am, within an hour.”

 

Two hours pass. My blood pressure is rising.  I phoned back.

 

This routine continued during office hours for a WEEK. I talked with a different person each time. Some of them lectured me on “procedure” and got downright nasty when I suggested that I no longer believed in callbacks. One seemed sympathetic, and assured me that “the doctor will call tomorrow.” Whew!

 

No callback.

 

Then, out of the blue, we got a call from the VA, a doctor’s office, no less, but it was an office calling to set up in-home visits (which my friend had been trying to set up for Joe before he left town.) The nurse (a nurse!) on the other end of the line was very apologetic, but also VERY FIRM that I had to get Joe to the doc soon. I assured her I’d love to, but how?

 

She said we could just go to the walk-in outpatient clinic in Oakland.  No one else had mentioned it.

 

So, the next business day, I bundle the couple into the car (this time with my partner in tow, because I’d learned that these two intrepid elders tended to wander in opposite directions in public places.) We got to the second floor of the building in Oakland and walked into a mob scene.

 

Lines and lines of men (mostly men) waiting to talk to someone. There was a line for people with appointments (I wanted to ask them all, how DID you get those?) and a line for people with no appointments. Joe and I got in that line. Hideko and Linda sat in the chairs.  We were only the second in line; I figured we’d gotten our first break.

 

This eighty-something gentleman, veteran of three wars — WWII, Korea, and Vietname — and I stood in the line for thirty minutes.  This gave me time to observe the room. The person handling our line seemed to spend most of his time staring at a computer screen and shaking his head. All around us there were vets, many of them elderly, and most of them, judging from their clothing, not well off financially. They  interviewed one another about the wars they’d been in (WWII? Korea? Nam? Desert Storm? Iraq? Afghanistan?). They waited, patiently.

 

Finally we got to the head of our line. At Joe’s request (his hearing is so poor that communication is difficult,) I explained to the guy behind the counter what the nurse had said: Joe needs to see a doc, and soon. He shook his head.

 

“No can do. You need to call for an appointment.” I explained that we’d already tried that, that the nurse said he could come to the outpatient clinic.

 

“This is an outpatient clinic,” he said, talking slowly, as if I were perhaps not quite bright, “For a post-hospital-discharge visit, you need an appointment.”  Then because I continued standing there, silent, trying to keep a grip on my temper, he said, “Why don’t you go over to the guy in the other line and talk with him?” He pointed us to the line that was marked clearly, “Only enter this line if you have an appointment.”

 

I looked at Joe.  Joe looked at me. We walked over to the other desk. That fellow immediately waved us off. “This is for people with appointments.”

 

“Have some mercy!” I said, loudly, “We’ve been phoning for a week!”  I marched up to the counter, past the line of guys waiting and stood at that counter. Joe stood next to me. I riveted my gaze on the guy behind the desk.  “I have to get this veteran to Dr. Marcetti. The nurse said so.  A doctor said so. And I don’t know what else to do, so I’m just going to stand here.”

 

There was a little silence.  He typed at his computer some more. He tore something off the printer.

 

“Here’s an appointment for next Monday.”

 

 

Now, what I want to know is, why do we treat veterans this way? Joe was trembling from standing so long (I was trembling from holding my temper.) This is a man who spent most of his eighty two years serving this country. He’s the veteran of multiple wars. His wife followed him around the globe; they’d lived the peripatetic life of military people. THIS is their reward?

 

I hear from Dave that things have actually gotten better in the last few years. The Obama Administration has reinstated some veteran services that were eliminated or curtailed during the Bush years.  That fact left me speechless.  This is better?

 

Justice, justice shall you pursue. 

 

I ask you, where is the justice for men and women who come home broken and hurt? Where is the justice for those who devote their lives to our protection and care? If you call the VA asking for justice, well, just know that no one ever calls back.

 

 


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