I dreaded the paperwork, but she made it easy for me. I was late coming into VA’s health care system in 2002, but now I’m very glad I did. I’d heard the horror stories from other Vets and wondered if VA was just another government bureaucracy, but when the clerk (herself a Veteran) sat down with me, it was painless. I was amazed to find out that as the holder of a Purple Heart, all of my medical needs would be covered. 

She also got tired of hearing me say “Excuse me” and “Huh?” too many times during the interview. The first thing she did after the paperwork was complete was arrange to have my hearing checked. I remember being processed out of the Army in 1970 in Oakland and being given a hearing exam. As I stepped out of the booth, the technician said “You were a grunt, weren’t you?”

“Yeah, I was,” I said, “but how did you know?” And he replied that all of us grunts had high frequency hearing loss. For years, I struggled with hearing ordinary conversations, especially in crowded places and with people with high voices. It was impossible for me to hold a conversation inside a car – too much road noise. Today, I am fine. VA fitted me with state-of-the-art hearing aids, and even provides batteries.

One of the things I’m glad to see change from my days after coming home from Vietnam is the way VA handles mental health issues. During a recent visit to my doctor, I was talking to a VA nurse and said something about being in a bad mood and that I got angry easily. Within 30 minutes, I was in a conversation with a psychiatrist, talking about anger issues. After a few sessions, I realized I was just having a “bad hair day” and was fine, but I was struck by how well VA was reacting to Veteran suicides and violence. I didn’t even ask to see a doctor, but was given the care anyway. 

There is a wonderful irony coming from the benefits I get for my hearing loss. I’m a little unusual in that I’m married to a Vietnam Vet. My wife was a nurse over there, and we met at her hospital in 1969. In 2002, we decided – with a lot of nervousness and hesitation – to return to Vietnam as a part of a medical team working in the slums of Danang. As it turned out, we fell in love with Vietnam and its people. For them, the war is truly over and forgotten. We loved it so much that we actually quit our jobs in the US and went to live in Vietnam, where we taught English at the University of Hue. 

After doing that for a year and a half, we returned home but couldn’t forget the great students we had there. They worked so hard and were so appreciative to be able to learn English from a native speaker. Cindy and I stayed in touch with some of them by email. In 2008, we brought the first one here to the US for more study. We sponsored two Vietnamese students, and three others came over as a result of those two. My VA benefits went a long way towards being able to support these two young ladies, who have become the daughters Cindy and I never had.

Is VA perfect? Hell no – the vendor who fitted me with my hearing aids still has not been paid and will probably drop VA. That will cause a lot of problems for other hearing-impaired Vets as the audiologist is the only provider in our area. I got billed for a week-long hospital stay a year ago, but got it straightened out with some phone calls. I try to keep in mind that VA is a huge organization, with all the problems any big organization has. All I can say is that for me – VA has been great.

Doug Young served two tours in Vietnam as an infantryman and is married to another Vietnam Veteran who served as a nurse there. Doug is retired and lives in South Texas where he helps support young Vietnamese students in their studies in the United States. He is the author of Same River, Different Water: A Veteran’s Journey from Vietnam to Việt Nam

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7 Comments

  1. Paul Tabone August 29, 2013 at 7:13 am

    I have a hearing loss that had been attributed to being in a mechanized unit in the Nam. However, I was also told that my hearing wasn’t bad enough to do anything about and I left the VA in 1972-73 or thereabouts figuring that I was never going to see anything. I recently attempted to reconnect with the VA by going online but was shot down because, according to the VA, “our records indicate you were placed in Priority Group 8g due to your gross household income exceeding current VA national income thresholds”. Funny how my income level didn’t matter in 1969/1970 when my young body was needed to hunt for the VC, but now my income is too high to get what is rightly due me as a combat veteran. I have had to purchase hearing aides out of pocket with an outside possibility that my PHC will give me partial reimbursement. While I am happy for Doug Young’s story and its outcome, I harbor ill feelings toward a system that is full of excuses and foolish logic that essentially tells those of us who were DRAFTED into combat that were ineligible for coverage while offering todays VOLUNTEERS almost anything they want.

  2. Earl Allen Boek August 28, 2013 at 9:50 pm

    Appreciate your comments. Yes, it’s true, VA services can be a mixed bag, at
    times. They’ve been a blessing to me, and I really appreciate the medical
    attention and meds I’ve been given over the years. Recently, my direct deposit
    bank merged with another bank. This caused my July 1st check to go back to
    the VA, this caused the VA to suspend my account. Figured I died, I’m guessing.
    Anyway, since May, I’ve contacted them about 10 times. Lately, they just tell
    you by recording their too busy to take your call. I’ve sent 2 faxes with updated
    deposit info. Called to follow up the faxes and just called out of desperation since.

    At this point, I pretty much have given up. The last fellow I spoke with two days ago
    says he’s copying my records and taking them to his supervisor so she can call
    Oakland (my district.) I just keep praying.

  3. Dennis E. Smith August 22, 2013 at 8:29 am

    Thank you, for I’m still trying to get help for my sleeping disorders

  4. William A.McCoy August 15, 2013 at 10:50 pm

    I have been to the Fayetteville VA Hospital several times, and got hearing aids, but have not been screened for agent orange (Vietnam Vet). They said Joel clinic had to do it, Joel clinic said the VA had to do it, nothing is being done. I have had my photo taken for a VA ID card three or four times and there are at least three photos in their computer now,…..they never sent me a ID card. I was stationed at Ft McClellan for two assignments and I understand that they are looking at McClellan for some reason as well. Question is, what about agent orange screening and an ID card??

  5. Tom August 15, 2013 at 7:51 pm

    Doug is a great example of the success of Viet Nam veterans. His book Same River, Different Water: A Veteran’s Journey from Vietnam to Viet Nam is a must read for both veterans and others interested in the beauty of Viet Nam. The book is available on Amazon.com.

  6. Wilson Ramirez August 15, 2013 at 6:36 pm

    As a Viet vet. I will never complaint against the VA Medics and Services I have received.
    They are great. I have the same condition as Doug, problems with high freq sounds and just a few days back, had a hearing test. Also will have the hearing aid soon.

  7. michael springer August 15, 2013 at 6:21 pm

    I have went to the VA for numerous problems since 1971. I am disappointed with the letter I received last week stating I can only go to the VA for service connected problems. In 1996 they passed a law letting veteran’s go through the “VA system for total health care. Now it is all changed again. I have always got my eyes checked and received glasses through the VA. After reading the above story, I am glad someone is happy with the VA. Why can’t the VA system get medicare certified.

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