Can our returning warriors just survive or really return to life

Published 9/24/2011
I recently had an opportunity to see, first hand, how one of the premier Veterans Administration hospitals in the U.S. treats our injured servicemen.
I found myself in the Michael E. DeBakey – Veterans Affairs Medical Center, in Houston.
For the past few years I have been afflicted with a skin disease on my legs that was extremely painful and made serious infection possible.
I had, over the past four years, been seen and studied at three different hospitals in Brownsville and San Antonio.
After an extensive search, The DeBakey Veterans Administration Hospital was recommended as the best choice and fortunately, as I had served in combat during the Vietnam War, I was found to be eligible for admittance.
Shortly after arrival, I was examined, tested, pushed, poked and looked at by all manner of machine and human. The evaluation suggested that they would be able to help me.
I found that the place was also a teaching college associated with the Baylor College of Medicine and each evaluation was usually done by top medical specialists and a team of new doctors of different levels of experience.
The exam process started with the appropriate dermatologist staff and included members of other disciplines that could possibly be involved.
It was resolved that my legs not only could not be corrected, but were a serious danger of spreading an infection to the rest of my body that might never be able to be resolved. An amputation of both legs was recommended.
After a long and emotional family consultation, it was determined that the amputation would be authorized.
I found out that since the procedure had to be performed, I was in the right place right from the preparatory procedures through the actual surgery.
The procedure was performed by a team of brilliant specialists with considerable experience.
The facility itself seemed large enough to be able to concurrently support an astronomical number of different procedures that might be needed by the entire state.
I survived the procedure as predicted and began the in house help in learning how to deal with the new “me” not only from a technical perspective but also from an emotional one.
The rehabilitation was accomplished by skilled and compassionate professional therapists and physical trainers.
As I learned how to physically perform the skills I need to get through each day and satisfy basic needs as well as those needed to accomplish those needs that would enable me to improve the quality of life as well.
All the while this was going on I was housed in a residence at the hospital facility very much like a conventional nursing home with other veterans from a variety of past military actions as well as the more current variety.
While for the most part the licensed staff seemed well trained they also appeared to be in a short supply necessary to provide the needed services nd professional guidance needed by the trained technicians assigned to a shift.
Further, it was unclear to me which of the licensed staff were assigned leadership duties, and which had other responsibilities entailed during a particular shift. Nevertheless, it often seemed that the evening and night shifts were understaffed and call lights went unanswered, more than rarely, for inordinately long periods. In just two weeks I witnessed on more than two occasions circumstances where residents were required to remain as much as an hour in their own feces because there were too few workers.
While discussing management difficulties with other leaders a comment was made that the unionized public service employees made the jobs more difficult, a perception that would seem to indicate the need for more specific leadership training.
A big plus is that the hospital management has demonstrated that they perceive the veteran clients as “facility” owners and held “owners meetings” to identify and resolve difficulties. I was able to attend one of these meetings that were chaired by a “nurse manager”. If the suggestions are taken seriously many if not most issues could be resolved smoothly.
Also while I was at the hospital facility, different professionals were assigned to advise me of appropriate federal benefits and assistance available to me as a combat veteran and another was available to determine what level of benefit I was entitled to, based on the definition of “service connection” that I qualified for.
In my case, though I served in combat and was awarded tax exempt combat pay at the time, I still may not have met the criteria for certain benefits because I was not associated with “agent orange”, though I might still qualify for others based on diabetes. The assistance was certainly needed to help me return to “a life after hospital”!
Over all, the veteran has all the best that current medicine has to offer at the DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center and as a result the best opportunity possible to return to civilian life after any type of injury or health problem.