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