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Seeing red because of Agent Orange and the Mpls. VA Medical Center
April 27, 2009
by Jen Bakken

This is a Tiny Tales first – I began writing this column at midnight on a sleepless night.

Honestly, I didn’t think I had any words in me that I could actually put on this page, but unable to sleep – there I was, typing away.

Tiny Tales, for the most part, I’d call a cutesy little column, something to maybe bring a smile to a face or two; however this week, for me, that is a challenge.

You see, I’m frustrated, well . . . much stronger words come to mind, but none of which can be printed in the paper.

My dad, a Vietnam veteran, was exposed to Agent Orange while serving his country. Those wonderful chemicals (major sarcasm used there) gave him cancer, and it is terminal.

It seems that, in itself, would be enough; however, the treatment he is receiving from the Minneapolis VA Medical Center (VA) is what has me feeling more anger than I can put into words.

I’m sure there are veterans out there who are getting wonderful care from the VA, and to them, I say thank God, because that is far from the experience my dad is having.

The frustration begins in the parking lot, where there aren’t enough handicap parking spaces, and those who have difficulty walking are forced to do just that for blocks.

At Ridgeview Hospital in Waconia, they have a driver who will drive you from the parking lot to the door in a golf cart. How hard would it be to arrange this same service for our veterans?

From the ridiculous number of extensive forms and paperwork (which seems to get repeatedly lost), to the appointments, and tests, a patient has to wait weeks or months to be scheduled and it’s more than frustrating.

I could go on and on – the long lines waiting for medications or mileage reimbursement, and the fact that a phone call to the VA to ask a simple question can take six transfers before one is actually speaking to a human being. They say they will call you back, but this doesn’t always happen.

Don’t get me wrong; there are many nice and caring doctors and nurses at the VA, but not enough.

And there are definitely some who are rude, callus, and should not be working with people at all (I would like to personally assist them in losing their jobs).

If one becomes callus and cold, shouldn’t they be human enough to change professions?

Luckily, my mom was able to take a leave of absence from her full-time job as a nurse to help care for my dad. Without her as his advocate, I’m convinced my dad would be lost and forgotten somewhere in the VA system.

System? Can it be called that?

Even my mom is beside herself with the VA chaos, and she is the most organized, on-top-of-it person I have ever known.

Personally, I feel our veterans deserve the best care possible. These men and women served our country. Why should they deserve any less?

Sure, my dad is considered 200 percent disabled, and therefore gets free medical care from the VA, but what good is it when this is the way he is treated?

Why should he be forced to spend what time he has left, in pain, and lost in the chaos of the VA, not to mention under incredible stress because of it all?

All of the Vietnam veterans I have talked to mention how awful they were treated when they came home. Many of them ended up with post traumatic stress disorder, other illnesses or disorders, and a staggering number are suffering the effects of Agent Orange.

My dad proudly wears a baseball cap that says, “Disabled Vietnam Veteran,” and recently, he was approached by a man, a stranger, who shook his hand and thanked him for serving our country.

This was the first time my dad was thanked. How unacceptable and sad is that?

It seems to me that something has to change – our veterans deserve it.

According to Wikipedia, Agent Orange is the code name for a powerful herbicide and defoliant used by the U.S. military in its Herbicidal Warfare program during the Vietnam War. During the war, an estimated 21,136,000 gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed across South Vietnam.

From 1961 to 1971, Agent Orange was by far, the most widely used of the so-called “rainbow herbicides” employed in the herbicidal warfare program. During the production of Agent Orange (as well as Agents Purple, Pink, and Green) dioxins were produced as a contaminant, which have caused health problems for those exposed during the Vietnam War.

Association between exposure to Agent Orange/Dioxin and certain conditions has been proven.

The list of “presumptive” conditions has grown since 1991, and currently the US Department of Veterans Affairs has listed a surprisingly large number of them.

One could spend hours researching Agent Orange statistics and facts on the Internet, information guaranteed to shock and surely make one angry.

What has to happen to make the much-needed changes within the VA ‘system,’ I’m not exactly sure, but we can’t just sit back and allow this to happen to our veterans.

My fear is that my dad is not alone in his frustration with the VA.

If you are unsatisfied with the care you or a loved one are receiving, contact the VA patient safety manager at (612) 467-3022, a patient representative at (612) 467-2106, or send an e-mail to complaint@jointcommission.org.

I apologize for deviating from my typically fluffy, feel-good column. I’m sure the children will give me another story to tell soon, but for now – I’m too busy seeing red because of Agent Orange and the VA.