How good is the VA?

As with all such personal stories, your mileage will vary. If you know a veteran give them a call and prepare for an earful. If you are a veteran, bless you for your service.

T Bass 2008 closeupThe Best Care Anywhere.

That's the headline the Washington Monthly gave its 2005 feature on the Veterans Administration, in a story written by Phillip Longman.

Much of the controversy generated by my first posts on this subject involved that question.

Just how good is the VA?

I don't have the answers. It is not my honor to be a veteran. I came up at the end of Vietnam, my draft number was 55 and no one was called, so I didn't volunteer.

To get some answers, I chatted up my friend Tommy Bass (above). Tommy joined the Marines in 1963. He was at Parris Island doing basic when President Kennedy was killed.

As with all such personal stories, your mileage will vary. If you know a veteran give them a call and prepare for an earful. If you are a veteran, bless you for your service. Like the Park Service guy told Tommy on his first visit to the Wall, "This is for you."

Tommy spent about a year in-country, and his unit was wiped out three different times. He was thrown back in and got only Purple Hearts because, he was told, that's a Marine's job. Semper Fi.

Tommy has been on 100% disability for over a decade now, and writes that the quality of care he sees depends a lot on the facility. "I have found some really excellent healthcare providers on the staff at the VA Medical Centers," he says.

But it depends. "Some VA Medical facilities are great and wonderful with really excellent health care, but others are less than stellar."

Critics also need to understand the new demands placed on the agency, due to a constrained budget and increased demand through Iraq and Afghanistan.

Downsizing staff while increasing  the number of "customers," as the VA likes to refer to us these days (unless they have changed the languaging again), is, of course, a process that creates problems in scheduling and quality of services provided.

Tommy turns 64 this year. I pray we'll have him around for many years.

But military veterans are a bit like ex-football players. Age turns small aches into major projects. You can get old fast. And each turn of the wheel increases the load on your health provider.

Heroes like Tommy are who this question is all about. As he notes we have more of these heroes every day, and their care will last a lifetime.

And don't call it a burden. He is, in the best sense of the word, my brother.