18 April 2010

The angry veteran. You know the one.

Once, when I was at a VA hospital, I saw a veteran there who was unhappy. He let the person he was talking to know about it. He wanted his medication, he wanted to see his doctor, the paperwork was screwed up, the g-damn VA this and the g-damn VA that. "You F'n civilians don't care. F this place. F the VA. And F you," he said, waiting for an answer from the person behind the desk. The person behind the desk took a really deep breath, and looked the veteran in the eye. She took one more deep breath, and replied "Sir, I need your name and the last four digits of your social."


Let's talk about that angry, pissed off veteran. I've seen him over and over again-- not the same guy, but the same character. It is easy to blame the VA when you're hurting. You shuffle from one office to another, you can't get immediate appointments, there's always paperwork. Sometimes, it's so frustrating that you just don't want to deal with it. The very problem that you need the VA's help in treating makes you so nervous, anxious, and uncomfortable that you'd rather stay home and be miserable for the rest of your life. Asking for help is hard enough. Having to wait for it, even for a short time, can be unbearable.

A veteran committed suicide on the steps of a VA hospital in Dayton (h/t GI Kate) on Friday. (Source article)

He'd gone to the hospital for something, didn't receive it, and came back later and shot himself twice in front of the hospital. I don't know what he was looking for, what he needed from the VA, or what he hoped to find there. (If you've never been to one: the emergency room at a VA hospital at 0100 isn't like the one on ER. There's only so much staff there, and only so many resources. It's likely he had to wait, that the person or help he needed wasn't immediately available, or both.)

I cannot tell you why Jesse Huff chose to commit suicide. I cannot tell you why many other veterans, young and old, make that choice. (To this day, I cannot tell you why I didn't make the same choice when I had the chance. There was no shining light, no angel, and no hallelujah chorus telling my that I needed to go on living.)

There is no magic pill, no spell to cast, no one thing that can make a veteran's life perfect. We all have some issue or another, some more serious and some less. It is painful to see a brother or sister lose his or her life. It is more painful when it is by suicide, because we want to believe that we can all make it. When a brother or sister gives up, it makes us realize that we're not indestructible.

It could be us. We don't ever want to admit that.

So we become the angry veteran, the one that administers grief upon anyone from the VA who will listen, for even the slightest of infractions or mistakes. The one who believes that the VA is hopelessly broken and will never be fixed because no one at the VA cares.

Brothers and sisters, believe me when I say that the people at the VA do care.
They are why I'm alive to write this today.

It's one thing to have a sore back and want it taken care of, for the pain to go away. It's frustrating as hell.

It's quite another to feel so frustrated that you're thinking about putting two bullets through your brain. If you're feeling that frustrated, that pissed off, that close to the end of your rope-- then for God's sake say so! Tell the triage nurse in the emergency room that you're feeling depressed and thinking about taking your life. Tell your social worker. Tell your doctor. Tell the vet sitting next to you, tell your cousin, tell the fucking janitor at the VA if no one else will listen, but damn it, don't just complain about your back pain, don't try to make a statement. Tell someone you're thinking about suicide!

1-800-273-TALK, press 1 for veterans.
If you're not sure if you need to call, do it anyway.


  1. Wow, there's so much I want to say but given this incident is so fresh and not enough details are out there yet i will just confine my comments to agreeing with you that "If you're at the end of your rope - then for God's sake say so!"


If you'd like your comment to stay private, please let me know in your comment. Anonymous comments are also allowed.