During the first week of October, 2013, I was kicking around ideas for what was going to be my first “major” home video. I was fifty-eight, had been unemployed for two years while trying, unsuccessfully, to earn money as a screenwriter, and had decided to buy some basic video recording equipment so I could try my hand at digital film making next.

One afternoon I was walking around my house while having a phone conversation with my eighty-four year old mother – who lives in Kingsport, Tennessee – and I asked her for ideas. She commented that she always enjoyed seeing the Veterans walking the beautiful grounds of the nearby military home in Johnson City, Tennessee. “Why don’t you make something about them, about Veterans?” she said.

So I thought about her idea for a few days, which led to thinking about the VA. Since I was a patient registered with the White River Junction VAMC, I had a little familiarity with the facility.

I researched the history of Americans caring for injured soldiers and sailors, and found a good amount of usable information.

And the message is one that’s been at the core of who I am since I was in grade school: I’m grateful I’m an American. I could have been born anywhere else, any other nation, but I’m here, and I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful for all the things I’ve always wanted America to be an example of: fairness, honesty, intelligence, decency. I’m grateful for all the good things America does for its people and its land, like libraries and schools and airports and safe roads and police and firemen and hospitals and park rangers and a bunch of stuff, including, of course, the Armed Forces of the United States.

I know things are wrong in many government organizations or how they are run. It always upsets and saddens me when higher-ups or lower-downs, corporations or individuals, haves or have-nots, behave in ways that are not fair, honest, intelligent or decent. Corruption and selfishness is very “un-American” to me, and I know that is naive. Maybe I was influenced at a young age by JFK: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” So it’s truly discouraging to hear about incompetence, greed, and corruption, in the ranks of American society, everywhere. I have always wanted us (Americans) to represent good.

But one thing that’s always ironic is that we hear a whole lot about what is going wrong, but we seldom hear about what is going right. By the time the news is done, it seems like everyone and everything is evil and deserves to be prosecuted. But that’s not really the case. Often, the “bad” – those things that we hear the most about – is a small percentage of the overall; meaning, there are a whole lot of things that are “right”, and maybe we shouldn’t lose sight of that.

Which brings me to the White River Junction Veterans Affairs Medical Center. When I’m here and I look around, I see happy employees and happy patients. I see smiling caregivers who spend time with their patients. I see a reasonably modernized facility with a proud and helpful staff. The service I’ve received has been good, and my general impression is that this place is doing a good job. I decided the WRJ-VAMC would be the focal point of my next video. It was something I was grateful for. I titled it “More Than A Soldiers’ Home” because the VA has become a lot more than what it used to be a century ago.

I put the plan in motion. I had written an outline and had some character and story threads that I was hoping would come together, but nothing was cast in stone; basically, I was willing to just “wing it” figuring that I’d find a story when I started editing after the principal shoot. I made good progress on my taping and editing schedule, with the exception of having to tap dance around several inclement weather and transportation issues! I was on schedule with my “fluff” piece.

But then, history intervened, and the VA Phoenix scandal broke into the news. At first, I tried to ignore it, but the bad news was like the proverbial “elephant in the room.” I rewrote my narration dozens of times as I tried to refine and finalize my sequences, but the ever-worsening news headlines made my commentary seem trite and ignorant. I was stuck in a kind of artistic limbo where I couldn’t just ignore the major news, yet I had no desire to politicize the positive and uplifting video I had planned to make.

I continued to film interviews and events, and I released a trailer and fundraising video within a week or so of my production projections, so I wasn’t horribly behind. But I still hadn’t settled on the narration or introductory theme.

I read dozens of news articles and tried to tie together the wide-ranging information so that my film’s statements would be true to my vision, and yet honest enough to face the events that were still unfolding. Each time I rewrote the narration, I had to re-record the audio, lay it down in the editor, sequence the video, and review it several times. The next morning, I would dig into the latest news to see if anything I said was too far off the mark to be in my film. Finally, a day after the signing of Senator Bernie Sanders VA funding bill (August 7, 2014), I drew the line; I had to stop reacting to the news. The video was going out. It was ready.

Like all things in life, it could use improvement. I may revisit the film to make cuts or add footage, but for now, More Than A Soldiers’ Home is complete and viewable, and it is something I can stand behind. I hope you take a few minutes to watch it, and if you like it, please share with your friends and colleagues.

FrankDAprileFrank D’Aprile is a freelance filmmaker and aspiring screenwriter who lives in Vermont. He entered the U.S. Naval Academy in July, 1973, but resigned from the naval service in October, 1975. Since then, he has worked as a mason laborer, cook, paint salesman, computer animator, public school teacher, customer support specialist, and air traffic controller, amongst other jobs. His video production business is Star And Seegull Alternatives.

 

 

 

 

 

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15 Comments

  1. Bill Callahan October 22, 2014 at 8:47 pm

    I spent several months last summer visiting family in Vermont I developed an infection in my leg and needed medical attention. I went to White River Junction VA and was immediately scheduled and successfully treated with surgery and follow up. I can’t say enough about the wonderful care I received. My primary caregiver was Dr.Forbush and He and all his staff were terrific. Wish I lived closer the rest of the year. Thanks to all.

    Bill Callahan

    • Frank October 23, 2014 at 10:38 am

      Bill,
      That is a wonderful bit of news! It is especially valid since you have lived elsewhere and can compare services at WRJ with services you’ve received at other places.

      I hope all continues to be well for you. Best of health and happiness.
      Regards,
      Frank

  2. Anthony Pen-Darvis October 21, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    As a veteran and a cancer survivor, I have received excellent care at several VA Medical Centers(VAMC) (Hospitals). As a VAMC user, the doctors and nurses have taught me a great deal about my own physiology while providing me with excellent care.

    I am an active member of my heath care team. I thank the tax payers for providing veterans with the VA Medical Facilities.

  3. Anthony Pen-Darvis October 21, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    As a veteran and a cancer survivor, I have received excellent care at several VA Medical Centers(VAMC) (Hospitals). As a VAMC user, the doctors and nurses have taught me a great deal about my own physiology while providing me with excellent care.

    I an active member of my heath care team. I thank the tax payers for providing veterans with the VA Medical Facilities.

    • Frank October 23, 2014 at 10:32 am

      I am glad you are getting good care and I hope your health situation continues to stay positive! Good luck to you and yours.
      Regards,
      Frank

  4. alan sykes October 21, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    I have and continue to receive all my medical needs met by the VA! I thank all of America for providing me with this service!

    • Frank D'Aprile October 29, 2014 at 2:56 pm

      I agree!

  5. stephanie mcmahon October 21, 2014 at 11:26 am

    Over the last ten years plus, we have seen our VA system going from WWII, buildings, and programs, to what we offer today, for the many who served, their families, and programs for the future of military organizations. Unfortunately, despite the changes, due to the hot seat we have been under after Iraq, and Afghanistan, we are finding other areas to put our attentions, and the VA, is now being put second again. We are limited on funds to pay for the many programs we have available, but we must clean up what we started, and it is vital to the progress of building military forces, and the support they need from their families and community by taking care of the past business.
    I am looking forward to seeing another video, with a real view, not tainted from our feelings or circumstances that are obviously in our face with the VA system.
    amen brother.. keep it coming

    • Frank D'Aprile October 28, 2014 at 9:18 pm

      Stephanie,
      Thank you for watching the movie and for your keen observations on the VA and society in general. I agree that we (Americans) have much to do to keep America strong and truly moving forward.
      Best of luck to you and yours.
      Regards,
      Frank

  6. Danny October 20, 2014 at 10:35 pm

    Mr. D’April’s, Our country is the greatest in the world! Knowing how you feel, I would be proud to stand beside you during the Pledge of Allegiance, and willing to join you in a foxhole.

    • Frank October 21, 2014 at 4:07 pm

      Danny,
      I am deeply touched by your comment, and I want to thank you for your support.
      Good luck and happiness to you.
      Frank

  7. patrick jahnke October 20, 2014 at 4:15 pm

    U know what that2013 , 2014 shit hit fan. Dr retired ,veteran got worse care and va didn’t care.

    • Frank October 21, 2014 at 4:05 pm

      Patrick,
      Sorry to hear about your VA not caring and not helping you. I hope they respond to your requests and get you the proper service. Good luck and best of health. Frank

  8. Mar Kichman October 20, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    God Bless you brother. That was a heartwarming video.
    As a Retired Sailor who is now 100% disabled, although per
    VA’s haphazard disability physical they never finished 11 years ago
    I have some resentment and disdain for the VA Hospital
    in Miami and the paper pushers who were less that helpful but it’s
    nice to be reminded, there are many dedicated VA employees
    and groups, like you showed in your film, who selflessly help
    our brother and sister Vets.
    God Bless,
    Kind regards,
    Mark

    • Frank October 21, 2014 at 4:04 pm

      Thank you, Mark, for your kind words about the video, and I wish you good luck with your health. I hope the VA near you gets you the care you need. Best of luck to you.
      Frank

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