By Dawn Pearson
A simple heart-felt thank-you is all it takes to warm the hearts of Carmel’s veterans.
With our country’s 238th birthday upon us don’t forget to give thanks to the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces for their service to our country, fighting for our safety and protecting people throughout the world.
Far too often, veterans say that many feel lost and forgotten, struggle re-assimilating back into society or have trouble coming home.
So with widespread reports of misconduct at several VA medical centers nationally the Current in Carmel set out to talk to several veterans about local medical care, what can we do as a country to serve these men and women when they get home from the war fronts and other service questions.
Hoosier VA care
The closest medical facility for Hamilton County veterans is the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis, and all of the veterans Current in Carmel spoke with said they had absolutely no problems with Roudebush – some even felt it was the best VA hospital in the country.
Retired U.S. Army veteran Rock Effron, who served two tours in Vietnan, is the former commander of American Legion Post 155 in Carmel and a member of the Post’s executive board, said he’s never, ever had a problem with thr VA hospital.
“People are going to have to wait, once I got in it was fabulous,” Effron said. “I was treated with respect and honor, they were on time. But what we do for vets is help them understand and navigate through the system. We have a representative and we tell them how to do what they need to do to get the treatments they need.”
Effron began radiation treatments last July 2013 to treat his prostate cancer, wrapping up 43 treatments and appointments in November.
“They were nothing but wonderful. They gave me appointment cards, phone calls, letters and emails to remind me and to keep their appointments or notify me of issues,” he said.
Paul Stankovich, a retired U.S. Marine who did two tours in Vietnam, said he feels the same way about Roudebush as Effron.
“I love it,” Stankovich said. “You receive much better treatment then most doctors offices, just fabulous.”
Chuck Duke, a retired U.S. Army veteran who also served in Vietnam, seconded those comments.
“Our local hospital and services are great – best in the country,” Duke said. “There is a waiting list, but it’s not too bad. Most people can get in within two-three weeks.”
What it means to serve
Rich Howard retired from the U.S. Army in 2012 after 26 years of service. He was in Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan and is a service officer for the American Legion helping veterans with the directions and contacts they need to receive benefits.
But the men and women that join our armed forces don’t to it for the health benefits.
Howard said he went down to the local recruiting office when he was 17 years old and has been asked every single day of his career, why.
“I an honestly proud to serve my country,” he said. “It surprised everyone when I enlisted, I was only 17 and my parents had to sign, but just ask anyone that knows me and they will tell you that I am absolutely proud to be part of this country.”
Michelle Chapman, a 2nd Vice Commander in the Army Reserves, said she enlisted for direction and purpose.
“I wanted to serve my country,” she said. “My dad was a Marine, so I was a military brat. I left college and needed some direction so I continued my dad’s and grandad’s legacy about service to my country.”
And Chapman said more then the just the waiting times vets face when they come home need to be addressed.
“Vets are a proud group, and don’t want to ask anyone for help, especially men, they are taught not to ask for help and it’s what the military teaches,” Chapman said. “It’s what the military is about, so we have to change the vets minds as well.”
Connie DePadilla, A retired U.S. Army veteran, served her country overseas in Germany as well as here at Fort Bliss. She wanted the independence and to do good things for the country.
“Serving made me feel better about myself and more independent,” she said. “Doing your country right makes you feel good and makes for a better life.”
How to fix the problem
A complete overhaul of the entire system is the consensus of these veterans and they said it needs to start in Washington.
“We’ve had absolutely no issues with our local VA in getting help our vets,” Howard said. “We are here to serve the veterans, to help them fill out forms, get paid, or even get burial benefits for one woman’s dad.”
Don Hudson, A retired Navy veteran, agrees that our local VA hospital is very good, but at the national level, most other hospitals treat veterans “pretty bad in general.”
“Any improvements needs to start at the top and work it’s way down,” Hudson said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Effron said that veterans need to reach out to their American Legions or VFWs and ask them for help figuring out the system.
“This is what we are here for, to help vets, but they need to keep their appointments and ask for the help,” he said. “We are not just a bunch of old people sitting around telling war stories. We help children, homeless vets, and do so much more. It’s who we are and it’s just what we do.”
Bill Sanders of Noblesville said he thinks a complete overall could help fix the problem.
“Actually we don’t need a VA hospital, we should roll their needs into our current healthcare system, and let our veterans get treated where they want, and then send the VA a bill and the VA pays it,” Sanders said. “Which could be very hard to accomplish because vets with serious injuries have to stay in the VA hospital, but they certainly shouldn’t have to wait, they should go to the top of the list, not the bottom of the list.”
But the only thing that can fix the system is funding, and through budget cuts, there in lies the problem, according to Duke.
“The problem is simply a lack of funds, and budget cuts,” Duke said. “Very rarely do they get to see actual doctors at the national level, because they use med students, due to the lack of funds.”
The only way for us as a nation to help correct this problem is to use your voice, the veterans said.
“Contact your representatives in Congress,” Duke said. “Let them know what the local VA needs are and if they get enough people they may do something about it, especially this year being an election year.”