Dan Gallagher Commentary: “Veteran’s Viewpoint”

To begin with, I apologize for missing my last regular commentary turn, but I was visiting a surgeon at St. Patrick’s Hospital that whole week.
You see, my stomach took up residence in my diaphragm, turning upside down there just to be close to my heart and lungs. The surgeon returned it to the spot where God had originally put it.
It can be said, after three weeks of recovery, that the effort was successful.
And incidentally, I have nothing but praise for the professional and skill and demeanor of everyone at St. Pat’s: doctors, technical people, nurses; in fact, the whole hospital staff.
Now, I’m telling you about my recent medical history not because I think it should be of interest–or, even, that lengthy discussion of illnesses is remotely intriguing–fact is, I find it rather mundane and a little bothersome.
No, I’m tilling you of my situation because it actually ties in to my experience as a veteran of Vietnam.
The ailment that I just had treated stems from, and is related to, a condition known as GERD–gastro-esophageal reflux disorder. And it just happens that GERD is considered by the Veterans Administration as potentially service-connected, That is, it is considered to be a “presumptive” disorder that can result from exposure to the dioxin Agent Orange.
Because my problem reached its critical stage in a manner that required emergency care at a non-VA hospital, my hospitalization and care did not come from VA personnel. But that’s not why I’m telling you about it.
See, I had filed a VA claim for recognition of my ongoing, long term GERD problem a few years ago. The VA adjudicators determined–with typical VA logic–that because I didn’t suffer from or report the problem while still in the service forty years ago,
the connection–or ‘nexus’, as it is called–between my later-life medical issue and my exposure to Agent Orange was not strong enough for it to be considered a war-related problem.
I don’t understand that either; like what part of the word “presumptive” is unclear to them? ‘Presumptive’, as it is applied by the VA, means that if you have medical problem x (in this case, GERD), and if medical problem y is ‘presumed’ to be a natural result of war condition y (in this case, Agent Orange), the medical
condition will be ‘presumed’ to be caused by that exposure.
I have a problem with GERD, and I was verifiably exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam. By the VA’s own standards, my medical problem must be ‘presumed’ to be, to some considerable degree, a result of spending time in an Agent Orange-sprayed jungle. But, in their inimitable wisdom, VA adjudicators have denied my claim and have sat on my appeal for well over a year now. Mind you, this isn’t simply Dan Gallagher’s story–in fact,
my experience is less heinous than that of many vets that I know. Rather, this is a tale that could be told by a disgustingly large percentage of American veterans filing a VA medical claim.
Why can’t the VA simply live up to, not only the larger pledge made to veterans by this country, but to their own guidelines? Why doesn’t “presumptive” mean “presumptive” to the VA’s adjudicators?
I occasionally question the overall quality of the adjudicative organ of the VA, but the bigger fault–’Dear Brutus’–is, I believe, to be found in the larger bureaucratic system, in an agency that has to dance with the twin devils of politics and budgetary restraints. And, whether overt or not, whether by design or merely part of a mechanical system, the VA still gives value, not to the generous number of veterans if favorably adjudicates, but to the amount of savings it can show and the denials or delays it imposes on its veteran-claimants. I’m sorry, but I truly believe that’s the way it is.
To conclude this discussion on a more positive note, I want to make it clear that I find the medical personnel at the VA exceptional–professional and personable and efficient. My Dr. Murney at the Missoula VA clinic, who has treated me for GERD symptoms for some time is stellar, as is the entire staff there. Now, if only the organizational procedures were of the same level of quality and compassion. But now let me tell you a bit about some things that veterans organizations do–aside from the emphasis on veterans’ well-being. I spent the better part of today as a member of American Legion Post #101, hiding Easter eggs for kindergartners through second-graders at St. Joseph’s school–and it was great! Even the blue skies and warm temperatures turned out to make it special.
Post #101, exercising its role as part of the larger American Legion organization has, since 1983, conducted this program, which is one of several for the community–especially for children and youth. We purchase the eggs (this year, 14 dozen) and the egg dye, we boil the eggs, and take them to the selected schools so the kids have the fun of coloring them. Then on the last day of school before Easter, we hide the eggs at a park and help conduct the hunt. It is impossible to feel down or depressed when watching several groups of dozens each of five-, six-, and seven-year-olds set out in search of the perfect Easter egg. The energy, the joy, the light in their eyes is therapeutic–is healing for aging veterans, in fact, for anyone with a heart. Thanks, kids, for giving me a day of smiles.
And finally, today, a World War II veteran, Meyer ‘Mike’ Chessin, has been awarded this year’s ‘Peacemaker of the Year’ award by the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center and the Missoula Peace Quilters. Congratulations, Mike. You were there for your country when called to war, you had the depth and the decency to feel what war does to humanity, and you have served for another half century as a voice for the cause of a war-free world.

Thank you for what you represent.