Go spend a day at a Veteran’s Hospital visiting injured military.

Ask to visit a soldier who hasn’t had any visitors in a while.  How about talking to someone who intentionally put their life at risk serving their country (and you by extension)? (A)

I have mixed feelings about the military conflicts that the United States is involved in. Sometimes I think it is justified when we are trying to protect people who can’t protect themselves or of course when we are defending ourselves.  Other times, it seems much more like the people with the money sending other people who don’t have money out to fight and die for their special interests or things that they want.  Why are the suffering people in Iraq more of a concern to us than the suffering people in Rwanda?

But this post is not about which military actions are just, this is about the people who have dangerous, difficult, dirty work to do and try to the best of their abilities to accomplish what needs to be done at the risk of life and limb.  This is about men and women in the prime of their lives who are injured in the line of duty. They come back wounded, then need to figure out how to get back to work and society as well as they can.

Both of my grandfathers and all of my uncles have been in the military.  My grandfathers were in Europe for World War II.  My mother’s father suffered a leg injury in Europe just days after the war ended that would eventually be the cause of his death. (I believe a case of shells fell on him when he was riding in a truck with supplies – but I might have the details wrong).  In any case, before he shipped off to Europe, he was a poor farm kid who had made it to college on a football scholarship and became a heavyweight boxer.  When he returned from the war, his days as an athlete were over.  My mom said that while he worked hard to feed the family by running a restaurant and driving a bread truck, he was in constant pain from his wound.  I don’t know the exact details of his injury, just that the leg was severely ulcerated. As a child, I remember that it was always wrapped in bandages and he had a very difficult time walking.   He had to go to the VA Hospital at least 50 times (!) throughout the years and as he got older, his stays were longer.  Eventually, his leg had to be amputated and he died not long after that.

One spring day, a year or so later, I was driving by the VA Hospital in my hometown and I saw a squirrel get hit by a car.  It made me sad and then when I looked up from the street, I found myself staring at the hospital.  I started thinking about my grandfather and how sad it would be if he had sacrificed his health defending the place where I live and all of the people he cared about, and then no one ever came to see him. I know he had to have gotten extremely bored and lonely all those times he had to stay in the hospital.

So, I felt compelled to visit, but I didn’t know anyone there.  I went to the visitor’s desk and told the nurse that I wanted to see someone who didn’t get any visitors. It seemed strange even as I tried to explain it and she gave me one of those quizzical looks you give someone when you are trying to determine if they are joking. But then she smiled and said, “We have someone here who has never had a visitor”.

The man I talked to that day was not a cheerful person, but nonetheless he welcomed me in after my garbled explanation of why I was visiting him.  We talked for about an hour. He had been in Vietnam and had been chemically poisoned (by the U.S., by the Viet Cong – I don’t know if even he knew who was responsible) and had health issues ever since.  He was hoping to be released soon but figured sooner or later he would be back.  He was quite bitter about being a soldier because he felt that after all the trauma he had been through, no one really cared. He told me a couple of stories about some of the terrible things he had seen. I told him about my grandfathers and he said he appreciated the visit, even though he didn’t really understand why I was talking to him. When I asked him if I should visit him again, he actually smiled a little bit and said no, because he was leaving soon and hoped he would not be back for a long time. I never saw him again, but I hope my surprise visit helped break up the monotony. It was good to see him smile, even if it was just briefly.

I pray that I personally do not have to fight in any wars, but if that ever happens and I am injured, I certainly want someone to appreciate my sacrifice and efforts. Since the United States continues to send men and women off to war, with the risk of death or life-changing injury, the VA Hospitals are never going to lack for patients.  I hope that not only do these soldiers receive quality care but that no matter what our personal views on whether wars are just or not, that we respect that these are people just like us with hopes and dreams and goals. 

So if you have some extra time and you happen to be passing a Veteran’s Hospital, stop in and say hello to someone who just may someday protect you, and in the meantime is doing the best they can in a rough world. Or send flowers or cards. As long as there are wars, there will always be injured soldiers.

In the words of my friend, songwriter Matthew Morgan (see Links page for more of his work)
Be good to your soldiers
Be kind to your friends
You never know how much you need them
Until the fighting never ends.

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