Friday, November 22, 2013

The VA: Taking Care of the Troops?

Gary Fouse

Back in the 1980s, when I was stationed in Italy with DEA, our medical costs were covered by the State Department since we were working in the embassies and consulates. In Milan, we also had access to the health clinic at the American Army base at Vicenza-a 2-hour drive away. On one occasion, I saw a doctor there about a minor skin problem I was having. He told me that they couldn't handle it there, but that they could arrange to have me "medevacked" to the army hospital in Nuremberg, Germany (medically evacuated). No, that didn't mean they were going to load me on a helicopter and fly me off immediately to Nuremberg. It meant that I could travel to Nuremberg at government expense and have my problem treated there at the larger facility. Since Nuremberg was just outside my old army station at Erlangen, I jumped at the chance. Subsequently, I caught a commercial flight to Nuremberg and visited the hospital. All expenses were covered.

That story came back to my mind during my just concluded trip to Germany. During my visit, I became friends with an American army veteran who has lived in Germany for 20 years now. ( I am keeping his name anonymous for obvious reasons.) He was stationed in Germany in 1991 when his unit was called up to go to the Middle East to drive the Iraqi army from Kuwait Op. Desert Storm). Unfortunately for him, he came down with that mysterious Gulf War Syndrome that also affected thousands of other soldiers who were involved in that war.

Returning to his post in Germany, my friend married a German woman, got his discharge in Germany, had two kids (now teenagers) and has become a legal resident alien in Germany. But there has been that problem with his illness, which plagues him to this day. To control the pain, he takes two capsules of morphine a day. He describes his symptoms as being almost identical to fibro myalgia.

But here is the kicker: Since he was living in Germany, the Veterans Administration told him they couldn't do anything for him unless he traveled to the US for his medical treatments. His applications for help and treatment were denied.

Fortunately, since he is a legal resident in Germany, it is that country which is covering all of his medical expenses. The US regulations were changed in 2011, but he would have to go through the whole application process all over again with all the attendant paperwork.

Compare my minor little experience with that of my friend. I am glad that the regulations were changed in 2011, but I question why they existed in the first place. In the 1980s, I was able to get treated by military doctors in Europe, and I wasn't even in the military. Is something wrong here?

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