Eight years on, the War On Terror and we’re still seeing that things haven’t changed as to how the US treats its returning heroes. And how the one government agency that’s meant to be there to assist them treats them. The
Veterans’ Administration (VA) or VA as it’s more commonly known has become a cumbersome bureaucratic behemoth , whose gargantuan size is too good for it to be useful. When it’s not tied up in administrative paperwork. Then its ineptitude in dealing with the men and women of the military can be best described as insulting.
Recently the story of Marine Staff Sergeant Carmelo Rodriguez became a media story that could not be ignored. Rodriguez who has served his country with honor and distinction in Iraq succumbed to skin cancer (melanoma). While the illness on the face it is very serious . In Rodriguez’s case it was something that could’ve been avoided had he been treated with due diligence from the medical staff not only in Iraq . But also here upon his return stateside in New York City. We’ve all opined on what we perceive to be wrong with the healthcare system in this country. But nowhere is also more acute than within the Veterans Administration.
The outcry of the situation at the Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington D.C should’ve provided us with enough of an insight as to underlying issues that this particular government agency has. But surely the men and women of the military past and present deserve a whole lot more than they’re being provided with at present. It seems that with each Presidential candidate all we tend to hear are promises that are made on the campaign trail. But having ascended to the highest office in the land. That promise suddenly becomes something a forgotten memory. Granted the budget provided to the agency has increased in small increments. But nowhere near the rate whereby it really makes a dent in the well being for the young men and women and older veterans who’ve served the country with distinction.
I’ll point out that the case of Staff Sergeant Rodriguez though not an usual one. It points out a severe lesson for us all. As much as we malign the healthcare industry. As a private concern it’s described ‘as second to none the best in the world’. However we’ve seen the bureaucracy there as well as the wan toned waste. In the case of the service men and women it’s placed in the hands of the federal government. And there it’s not as if it’s marginally better. One would feel that when it comes to dealing with the medical treatment of our service men and women . Then it ought to be of the highest standards possible. The sacrifices that they’ve made should ensure them of that. It’s the least that the country can do to honor the sacrifice made and the bravery.
Some of the stories that’ve come out of this agency have been horrifying to say the least. Not least of which has been the one emanating from a veterans’ hospital facility in Miami. There the staff it’s alleged were reusing instruments that’d been repeatedly used for colonoscopies . They weren’t being thrown away much less sterilized but repeatedly used on patient after patient. Now one could feel slightly aghast at these allegations. But it is indeed true and the fact that these patients were being exposed to such things as HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C. Well that leads me to believe that either we’re not as compassionate about these servicemen and merely only pay them lip service as and when we please. Or if anything the administration is greatly understaffed and not well equipped enough to deal with all of the inherent problems. I’d like to think that it’s indeed the latter , rather than the former at this juncture.
For Carmelo Rodriguez the luxury that should’ve been afforded in terms of proper health care were shortcomings. And filled with misdiagnosis and plain incompetency at varying levels within the administration and medical staff alike. But then it’d remiss to cast the dye on all of the health care professionals involved in trying to assist this soldier. As there were times when is his best interests were at the heart and soul of trying to make his situation better. Some tried in vain to assist as best they could. However for every step taken forward there were two taken back . And it is those inconsistencies that were few and far between that made his plight in the end so unbearable.
When first diagnosed some ten years ago by an army doctor. It was noted that his skin was somewhat abnormal in color. The doctor noted what he thought to be melanoma on Rodriguez’s right buttock. He was treated as prescribed for what was then felt was just a mild form of melanoma. . And it was felt with proper medication the ailment could be treated satisfactorily without any major reoccurrence of the malady. Eight years on and the now platoon leader is serving in Iraq and his very health is now at risk. Somehow having informed the medical staff there in the field . They state to Rodriguez that his ailment is nothing more than a sever rash brought on by the conditions in the field. The heat and humidity are given as the main cause for this. Rodriguez explains to them that this can’t be as he’d been diagnosed before with having a mild form of melanoma. He’s treated in the field and told basically that if there’s a reoccurrence then they’ll do a biopsy to further see what the problem may well be.
On leave to be with his family in the latter part of 2007 to be with his family in New York . Rodriguez is taken gravely ill and his health has worsened. The rash as described by medical personnel is now full-blown melanoma that has begun to spread throughout his body affecting his renal system. The cancer has affected this 5’11” 190lb individual that within a matter of months his weight has dropped to unimaginable proportions given his size. One might suggest that this coming over such a short period of time isn’t possible. But given the fact that Rodriguez continued with the prescribed medication given to him in the field. Who really knows the ravages that his body had been going through at the time. Misdiagnosis notwithstanding and the very fact that his records were somehow either mislaid or just held up within an archaic recording system. It only adds to ire of what’s now coming out concerning this situation.
His recent death and after months of painstaking care by his family hasn’t lessened the pain and suffering that was endured. At the time of his death this soldier weighed less than 75 lbs. That’s the weight we’re usually accustomed to seeing with a young child aged eight and above. Somehow there’s no justification for this but it ought to be a lesson where something can learned from all of this. The family rightfully feeling aggrieved feel that the military was negligent in the treatment of Rodriguez. Not so much from the original diagnosis but what has taken place afterwards. It is felt that they could’ve done far more to avoid this all than has been done altogether.
The family has no recourse as members of the active military cannot sue the military for malpractice or injuries suffered. Even if it is proven whereby they the military have proven to have acted improperly. This right is afforded to all branches of the military by the Feres Doctrine. A law , which came into being in 1950. It may well seem somewhat unfair but the reason behind this is to instill a sense of discipline within its ranks and ward off frivolous suits by members of the military and their family. The action while on appearance noble is filled with deficiencies. And it is this , which the family of Carmelo Rodriguez feels aggrieved by that they’re now trying to pursue whatever steps can be taken to have this law in part rescinded. A lawsuit may well be pending but one doesn’t hold out much hope that there’ll be much of a response within the Federal Court system.
They have also brought their fight to the House of Congress where they’ve received some pointed support from a number of legislators. But there’s also been a great deal of criticism of them as well in taking this action. I’d like to think however that these members who may well be indifferent to the loss and the plight that this family has suffered are able to understand why they’re taking this course of action. One vocal supporter that the family does appear to have in their corner is Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) who has addressed House Senate Sub Committee on Defense concerning this very matter is trying to gain support for a bill to be introduced that’d repeal in part some areas of the Feres Doctrine. Whether or not he can find support in both chambers of Congress is a matter of debate at present. It may well be looked upon favorably in some part. But in reality this battle may prove to be harder to win than first thought.
The death of a soldier be it on the field of battle or elsewhere is never a good thing. But one would like to now think that this soldier’s death was also not in vain. If it can avoid a repeat of another instance such as this . Then surely some good can come out of it ? This bill does need to be looked at but at the same time so do the actions and lack of action within an agency that’s in need of dire attention. Leadership and above all real funding is needed whereby they can get adequate treatment for the military and boost morale amongst the staff. This war isn’t just being fought on the fields of Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s also being fought within the facilities of the Veterans Administration in trying to give back these men and women some semblance of a normal life after the trauma of being at war on the battlefield. Surely this above all else has to count for something at the end of the day ?