There has been a lot of criticism in the halls of Congress and elsewhere about the VA backlog of veterans’ claims for benefits. It is a huge problem that must be addressed. It is an issue exacerbated by the VA expanding eligibility for veterans, but I’m not writing to discuss any of that now.
Instead, I want for just a moment to bring up another side – the people who work at the VA.
In particular, I want you to meet VA psychiatrist Rod Deaton who serves at the Richard L. Roudebush Veterans Administration Medical Center in Indianapolis, Indiana. He writes the blog: Paving the Road Back. He’s given me permission to share his work in the past. I do so now because it’s important for all to understand the heart of one man serving those who served in combat.
Mere hours ago, one of my patients died, not by his own hand, but suddenly, unexpectedly, far too young, far too soon.
Words fail me. Yet at the same time, I cannot let this night pass without my having typed at least a few such words onto a screen, into cyberspace, for him, whose smile I will never again see.
My God, never again.
Goodbye, my friend. For indeed we were not just “doctor and patient,” were we? It matters not that in another few hours, in the very next daylight I will see, I will write my final note in your chart, does it, for you were never just another note, never just words under federal protection.
These very words that I type, at this very moment: God, I wish you could see them. I wish I could see you seeing them. I wish we could laugh about them. I wish I could hear you say, “Jesus, Doc, lighten up, why don’t you.”
I promise, my friend, that one day I will. The memory of your smile will help me do just that.
But for now, I have to ask you to give me a few hours, a few days, as long as it will take.
May somewhere, somehow, not just my memory of you, but you—you—know: it was never just a job.
At this very moment, you cannot know how glad I am that I can write that.
But then on second thought: maybe you always did know that.
Ergo, your smile.
Goodbye, my friend. Goodbye.
You can read other entries by Rod Deaton at Paving the Road Back.