Along this walk, lots of people have shared their stories with us. As we’ve said many times, it is one of the greatest aspects of this walk. From time to time, the stories we hear are absolutely heartbreaking. More often than not, they are inspiring. The people telling us their stories have overcome many hardships, some self imposed, others imposed from outside. Regardless, they don’t give up despite the discouragement.
When I write these blogs, my main goal is to include as much as I can to give everyone who follows us a chance to know us and, in some ways, experience this walk, too. We’ve always appreciated the support we’ve received. It is all of you making it happen. Yes, we have walked a lot of miles, but you’re the ones doing the hard work.
I’d like to take a chance to answer some of the messages we’ve received about one of the topics, the VA. Neither Tom nor I are anti VA. Both Tom and I have used services from the VA. I’ve gone for primary care, talked to a counselor, used VA and government benefits for school and buying a home. I appreciate the hardworking care providers at the VA. In countless interviews, including with the VA, I’ve said that. In my work with Veterans, I have encouraged them to go and have worked very closely with several people at the VA who I trust are there for the right reasons. When I haven’t been able to find help from community resources, I have encouraged VA intervention.
It isn’t the people of the VA that I take issue with. It is the system in which they operate that is frustrating. When I say Veteran to Veteran is the only way things will happen, I am coming from a place where I think, “Who could better provide aid than someone who has been there?” Recently, to meet that need, the VA has been hiring more and more Veterans to support a peer to peer effort. This is a great step that answers the demand from the Veteran community. Daily, Veterans receive needed care and assistance for medical, psychological, housing, and employment needs. These are all great things. With any organization, there will always be problems.
But acknowledging problems will happen is not an excuse for their continued existence. Simply saying shit happens isn’t a valid reason for allowing the issue to perpetuate or grow.
Lately, we’ve received many messages from people raising concerns that our message about the VA was too harsh, too critical and that offering the criticism without some concrete solutions does nothing but discourage people from seeking help, especially when the VA may be the closest or only resource around.
I cannot help if you take it that way. All I can do is try to clarify my point. Simply put, Veterans in this country are struggling and I don’t believe enough is being done at the community, state, or federal levels. This is a feeling stated by me, but built on my experience working with Veterans, talking with Veterans, and listening to Veterans and their families.
The VA is the biggest bat in the game. You may think it’s unfair to single them out, but they lead the way as the arm of government dedicated solely to Veteran care. As such, they are poised to do the most, offer the most, help the most. The Secretary of the VA is a cabinet level position in government. He oversees an agency that spends billions of dollars on care for Veterans. The VA can do great things. Despite all of these facts illustrating their authority, abilities, means, and desires all of the problems still remain.
My call for a community based approach is not an Us vs. Them mentality. Rather, it’s a call to answer the claims that the VA makes themselves of an overwhelming workload and an increasing Veteran population and a need to work more closely with community agencies. If you’re unable or unwilling to seek care at the VA, the community level is where it has to be. When the VA is overwhelmed and you need help, you turn to an entity that can help, be they organization or individual. The need doesn’t go away.
Working together, VA, organizations, and individuals can influence real change. However, frustration with one or more should not motivate you to quit the search for help.
All that said, I stand firm in what I said before: Political leadership is failing the Veteran and the families. Providing money for programs doesn’t educate or raise the collective consciousness. People learn from the time they’re babies from models. We learn how to do a number of tasks, learn manners, work ethic, etc from our models. Our government leaders should be our strongest models. My claim that because they rarely serve or have children who serve leads to indifference of Veteran needs is my opinion. But, I don’t see them modeling anything genuine for Veteran care, that’s all. That indifference can and will be duplicated just like good attitudes being contagious.
So, hopefully, I’ve answered some concerns and set the record straight. I’m not apologizing for failures. I’m not telling anyone not to go to the VA. I am saying that in the military, regardless of rank or branch or Guard or Reserve status, you are held to the highest standards of conduct and job performance. Hell, I remember being told in Iraq that we were ambassadors for our Nation and that everything we did would be scrutinized by leaders and citizens at home, as well as the Iraqi people. Given the standards that we met and exceeded, it is not unreasonable that those charged with this phase of the Veteran experience meet and exceed the highest standards, too. That’s reciprocity and not being a weak link. That’s the charge.
With that, Tom and I will continue to make our way down the road. This section has been especially frustrating with the roadblocks we’ve faced. We’ve had to take rides to get us into positions where we could safely continue. Our goal of reaching LA is coming closer to reality. Our goal of raising 100,000 for Dryhootch is currently around 64,000. Remember, what we raise helps a community based agency who works with the VA, but has needs in order to achieve its goal of helping Veterans at the community level through peer to peer help.
Soon, Christmas will be upon us. I spent 1 Christmas in Iraq and another home on leave from Iraq. This one, however, will be my first away from my daughter– she turns 2 in January. It’ll be tough to be away, but not as tough as those who will be in Afghanistan or other bases around the world. The separation one feels at this time can be amplified by the emotion of missing special holiday moments. That said, if you live near a family influenced by military separation right now, please reach out to them. They may need nothing, but it can’t hurt to ask. They’ll appreciate it and the service member can rest easier knowing people in his or her community are acting as agents of help, not just advocates for it.
See you on the trail,
Anthony and Tom