A cliche will likely prove right in two weeks

We have all heard the old cliche about how things being worse before they get better. Perhaps that is what will be soon happening to me.

By no means am I saying I want my situation worse so I suppose I should explain.

For several months now, I have been a virtual prisoner in my own abode. The pinnacle of these months have been taking a trip, mostly by Greyhound, to Houston to see a doctor at the VA Hospital. I mentioned one such trip yesterday. Fortunately, most were better than this week’s trip.

I have been on light duty, phone duty mostly, at work. I spent about six months doing that last year with a torn meniscus and surgery to repair it. Then came physical therapy for a month. Hopefully, this episode won’t going to take that long. I hope.

What has had me tied down for a short time this year has been — ta da — my left, second toe. Is that not appropriate for a blog named eightfeetdeep?

As I have mentioned before I have Type II diabetes. Some time ago I found a sore on the bottom of that toe. It, the toe, and the two adjacent ones are afflicted with hammertoe. You can read all about it in the link. As a result, the toe keeps being hammered when walking. With diabetes, such ulcerations tend to heal very slowly, if not ever.

I have been seeing a podiatrist for a couple of months now. He suggested, and I tend to agree, that hammertoe surgery is called for. This is a rather long and technical look at the operation written by a podiatrist. If you know a little of the basics of medical terminology, then it isn’t all that difficult. But basically, I will have some bones cut on in the toe and they should heal within a couple of weeks. I will probably need a week off after being “surged.” Isn’t that a better term than operated upon? No? Who cares what you think?

My podiatrist said he has done “thousands” of these surgeries and that they only take 10-to-15 minutes. Of course, there is the waiting around all morning, plus recovery, then figuring out how the hell I am getting home from Houston. I will figure that out and I better do so pretty damn quick because my surgery is in two weeks.

Oh my. Well, like I said. It will be worse before it gets better. Damned cliche!

People yell. Who cares?

These days I am still not running on all cylinders. Well, my truck isn’t. Perhaps I am not doing so as well.

I went for a routine, more or less, appointment yesterday with the neurologist at the Houston VA Hospital. I have developed a routine of traveling to the hospital by Greyhound bus rather than in my own vehicle. It can get expensive.

Luckily, the Houston Metro Rail runs near the Texas Medical Center. I can stop at one of the transit centers and catch the 1 bus to the VA Hospital. And vice versa.

The trip went okay, I made it back home in time to watch “Justified.” I did have one of those flashes of anger that kind upset my day.

I was at the Downtown Transit Center in Houston, just about a block from the Greyhound station. I was walking on the platform, going nowhere in particular, “just waitin’ on a train,” as Jimmie (the Yodeling Brakeman) Rodgers wrote and sang. All of a sudden, this loud voice boomed in my ear.

“HEY,” It was if this guy with the loud voice had a bullhorn in his hand.

When I turned around I saw this muscular black guy in his 30s or 40s — I will explain why I make that distinction in a moment. I must have had a puzzled look on my face because I was certainly puzzled.

“You were in my way and I hollered ’cause I wanted you to move,” said the guy, walking with a woman, not at all a beauty queen.

“You didn’t need to yell, I’m not deaf,” I said, yelling, not nearly as loudly as he.

I have no idea why this guy felt he needed to holler at me. His face couldn’t have been no more than a foot behind my ear. Catching a glance at this guy who was then standing on the platform with his companion, it seemed as if he was either angry or was perhaps just an angry guy.

Some guys are just mad or get mad at the drop of a hat. I was like that once, a whole lot like that, for a good while. It was a manifestation of depression, a psychiatrist told me, when I realized after spinal surgery that I was seriously depressed. “Depression is anger turned inside out,” the doctor said. Maybe so, but what is an umbrella turned inside out? Uh, don’t know that one either.

The wandering loud guy may have just had a bad day. Or a bad life. Maybe he just doesn’t like white people.

Race relations is a rather complicated matter in my case. I grew up in East Texas which is more like the Old South than the West. Hell, my great-grandfather fought in the Confederate Army. If you think about it, that’s pretty recent, relatively speaking. As I grew up, went to the Navy and worked with and became friends with people of all colors and ethnic groups, race became a bit less complicated.

But I also have realized some folks don’t like you because of your color. Wow! It took me a good part of my life, to discover a truth that millions others grew up knowing first hand. Stupid ass honky!

I don’t go around thinking about whether this person or that likes me or detests me. Well, maybe with some people. I have definitely been wrong about what people think. But here I am near 60. So I think: Why should I care?

It’s like the expression on a coffee cup my sister-in-law, Barbara, gave me upon graduating college some 35 years ago. I loved the sentiment then and still love it. It said: “Excuse me. You have obviously mistaken me for someone who gives a shit.”

There it is.

 

Thoughts from inside the noise maker

Yesterday I took that long, noisy trip inside the MRI machine at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston. The best I can recall it was the seventh MRI I have had. All but two of those tests were for my problematic cervical spine. I was just reviewing my 60 pages of radiological reports on the “premium” VA website. Not all those pages deal with MRI reports. There are a ton of X-rays of knees, chest and feet. These results did give notice of previous bilateral C-spine problems that were treated by different surgeons on two different occasions and who worked from the back and front of the neck. The latter MRI picture exhibited:

 “Evidence of status post ACDF with bone graft and anterior fusion with endplate and screws from C5 through C7.”

That is to say the results of my last surgery was seen by the radiologist and it showed what is known as a “Anterior Cervical Diskectomy with Fusion (ACDF). That procedure was accomplished by removing a sliver of hip bone and using it to fuse with a titanium strip fastened with an endplate and screws from the fifth to the seventh cervical vertebrae.

The test is pretty simple. You are stuck inside a tube as an electromagnetic machine presents its cacophony of loud, erratic-sounding noises while it slowly pictures different levels of your inner-workings.

YouTube Preview Image

A word of warning: If you experience a mental flameout while listening to all 33 minutes of this video, don’t blame me.

I couldn’t help but wonder, as I imagine most others do as well at some point in time, just why this damn machine is so loud. Never mind that one might picture the different noises, which can sound like anything from a washing machine about to spin out of control to an alarm warning a nuclear meltdown. Rather than try to explain, I found an excellent article from Caltech than lays out the MRI mechanics as well as the why of the loud noises. This column from the American TInnitus Association goes more into the noise aspect and how there are some not-so-loud MRIs out there.

This trip into the tube is to look for possible reasons why I have developed a subset of new pain from my ol’ C-spine. Hopefully,  the radiology report might explain why I also suffer occasional tingling in my right bicep. I also hope that whatever it is causing the problems isn’t something too terribly dramatic. These days I would rather look for drama in a novel or on TV.

Happy 40 and 30: Celebrating the old, the older and the odd.

This year marks my 40th anniversary for graduating from high school. I could say the same for marking 40 years ago that I joined the Navy. On the other hand, I received my bachelor of arts in communication 30 years ago this year. That’s a lot of anniversaries for one year.

In a year that saw physical difficulty with a ba for a major portion of 2014, it sadly also saw two of my four brothers pass away within two months of each other. That is the way it goes sometimes, triumph and tragedy, or vice versa. The last time I saw my Dad was at my college graduation. I suppose that if there is a time when it is right for someone to last see one another, perhaps that time should be on the upswing.

But I sit here not to sound a melancholy note. Nor do I write here to praise one milestone as opposed to another.

The fact is I have been a bit more involved in the planning for my high school reunion than for that of my college reunion. The reasons include simple arithmetic. There were between 80-to-100 students in my high school graduating class. I wouldn’t venture a guess for the numbers who graduated with my college class. I do know that that during the spring semester of 1984, when I graduated from college, saw a record enrollment that has since been broken once or twice. About 11,800 enrolled during that semester at Stephen F. Austin State University. The college is tucked away among the “pine curtain” of East Texas. “Home of virgin pines and tall women,” we would joke.

I have a fairly simple role in my high school reunion next month. It is our entry in the parade. Yes, parade. Survivors of my class get to ride on a trailer of some sort pulled by some mean machine. My friends involved in the locomotion aspects are in the forest products industry and so the ride itself doesn’t seem like a difficult part to pull off. The hard part is to find out where we should meet our chariot and how should it be decorated. Oh well, it’s a small town. We will likely figure that all out by the time the parade actually takes place.

As for my college reunion, I have no immediate plans. The reasons for that is that my college friends seldom were in the same graduating classes. Most of these friends were younger than I was. I doubt many of my friends will attend festivities at SFA. There are varying reasons for that as well including wives, kids, and/or living in far away places like Tokyo.

My college days were not what you called traditional, to be honest. The fact that I was in the Navy for four years before going to college is a big factor. It wasn’t so much I was “an older guy.” I also got a job before starting school as a firefighter. All but two of my final semesters were spent working. I also didn’t worry much, if any, about finances. That was fairly odd for most of my college friends. Tuition was cheap back then. I received a stipend of around $200 a month from the GI Bill for those semesters I was enrolled. I didn’t do much in the way of summer semesters. It would have been too difficult to manage working and going to school every day, which basically entailed one’s day in summer school all five days of the week. I wasn’t a typical firefighter either, for that matter. Most guys got off work and would go to a second or perhaps even a third job. I worked one summer off-duty, before school had even started. It involved moving mobile homes and getting dirty, not exactly in that order. When I decided to take a week’s vacation, I recruited my best friend, Waldo. I finally left this part-time mess. Waldo, who wasn’t exactly working in his master’s in speech field, stayed on for a little while.

Even the days moving mobile homes was something to look back upon with, while not exactly fondness, amused memories.

All in all, I could not have asked for a better college experience. Oh, my final semester was sheer hedonism. I wasn’t working and we, as was the saying back then, partied like the proverbial big dog! There are lots of differences between looking backward at high school and taking the same long look at college. Especially when you come from a small town, school is literally growing up. It’s tribal. Although I haven’t seen some of my high school friends since we graduated 40 years ago, we are bonded by years, age and place.

But for college, it will always be about walking out into the field on a hazy, warm December morning and hearing Canned Tuna playing on the gigantic Klipsch stereo speakers a friend brought over for the weekend-long party. Or that girl who, no matter what happened between us, will always be your friend. And of course, throw in a couple of fires some that were to be celebrated and others to be extinguished …

Giving blogging the finger and my sleeping health

Live from tablet world! I don’t yet have a wireless keyboard to, hopefully, make this more blog-like. I have also not figured out how to get my WordPress platform–if that is the correct terminology–working on this particular Android operating system. It is a real pain in the ass to train my opposable thumbs to work on this quote-unquote “virtual keyboard.”

So what does a quote-unquote blogger do? Hellafino. I have to later shower, eat and drive uptown to a private medical facility for a sleep study. It has been about 14 years after I covered my own sleep study at a VA-DOD center out near Fort Hood and discovered that, yeah, I indeed have sleep apnea. My picture was on PI above the fold and everything.

A look at the computer chip in my head CPAP machine by the VA revealed I wasn’t getting as much sleep as was thought during the pregnant pauses in my breathing during night-night. An echocardiogram recently showed I have a slightly enlarged heart. The heart doc at the VA said it can be a byproduct of sleep apnea. So we will look and see eventually. If you see me writing about a stress test some later, you too will know. I kind of wonder about the VA sending me to a local private mini-hospital and that happening PDQ. Is it me or the scandal nationwide that this sudden burst of medicine is about?

My fingers or finger, one, index, right, is about to give out. So it”s off to hopefully a good night’s sleep, with a touch of weird science.

 

Rainy day tales from a pissed-off semi-retired journalist

Ann Coulter, the attention-seeking missile, has managed to finagle her way into the American conversation once again with her rant against soccer and the World Cup. Pttttewwwie. That is my spelling of a spit that comes from me. I know that spit is not good for my computer so I will just spell it, and not spit it. What I will not do is give that, well, I can’t use the word I would like, but I will not give her any more of my attention.

So it’s a rainy Friday afternoon. CNN is on my screen but the volume is not engaged. Wolf Blitzer is on TV talking to a Republican House Ways and Means Committee member about some missing IRS emails. “GOP outrage at missing e-mails,” is the “Developing Story” headline. This, in these days where every little happenstance is a “Breaking News” story.  Boy, they set the bar so low.

I once received a corporation-wide monetary award that I shared with another reporter. Both of us are gone from the paper and in the government sector. Well, I’m just part-time. Here is what happened:

I wasn’t Cops reporter anymore but I got to the paper an hour early so I could, usually, leave an hour early. I was the only one in the newsroom. I heard a call on the police scanner, a sheriff’s department dispatcher said there had been a helicopter crash. I called the sheriff’s department and got what information I could. An Army Black Hawk, on a foggy morning, crashed into a TV tower out in the countryside. It turned out bad, all seven on board including a brigadier general were killed.

The editor came in pretty soon and I told him what was going on. Best I can recall, he sent the other reporter at the scene and told me to “rewrite.” The latter term is now sort of a dinosaur. In the olden days — before I was even a reporter — a newspaper would have reporters in the field calling in their stories or pieces of story by land-line phones and the rewrite men (and women) would craft the story together. I only did it a couple of times and both times I just saw what was happening and took off from there, figuratively speaking, after a few seconds of direction from the editor. The other story was about a fatal charter bus crash out on the interstate. We had three or four reporters on that.

This rewriting of breaking news, or deadline reporting as it is called in the business, was not something I really trained for but rather something I seemed to take on instinctively. I knew about the award before I left the paper — I don’t know if my confidential agreement is still in effect, maybe some day I may tell the story, there isn’t much to tell anyway — I collected my share after I began freelancing. I think maybe it was only $50. That is more than the average newspaper award.

You’ve no doubt heard the term “award-winning journalists.” Well, in some ways, journalism awards can be a dime a dozen. There is something really wrong with you if you haven’t won awards. I had collected, jeez, I don’t know how many awards from regional and one state press association in my first two years as a journalist. And I pretty much learned about running a small weekly on my own.

Awards are nice to have. I won a couple of Texas Associated Press Managing Editors Assn. awards, first places for my size of daily newspaper, which was below a major metro. I won environmental writer of the year from the statewide Sierra Club. I did okay in my job, in other words. The latter and the company award meant more to me personally. Regional and state press clubs are, while nice to have personally (like on a resume), more a bigger deal to the newspapers and its managers.

Back to Vulfenzblitzer, as I like to call him, I detest CNN making every other story “Breaking News.” Technically, they are correct but it cheapens the really big stories that reporters write or broadcast every day in different cities around the world. A Facebook friend of mine, a network radio reporter, is traveling around the East with Secretary of State John Kerry.  She and I met covering the court-martial of former Army Spc. Charles Graner, the alleged “ringleader” of the Abu Ghraib saga. Those are real stories and, of course, I have my Gee Dubya stories from interviewing him alone by ourselves when he was campaigning for his “Poppy” to I don’t know how many press conferences as governor and a few as president.

Really, I am not bragging as there really isn’t much to brag about. I just spent some incredible years as a journalist who was just doing his job, and then some as a freelancer. CNN’s repeated versions of “Breaking News” kind of cheapens my personal history. And I don’t like it very much, see?

Oh, “Breaking News” now about the VA. The Department of Veterans Affairs? I’ve written about it for years. I’ll save that for another day.

–30–

Shinseki gone. It’s time for the VA to heal itself.

My high hopes for Gen. Eric Shinseki taking an already overburdened and poorly-managed Department of Veterans Affairs were dashed early. Oh, I suppose I gave him more time than was warranted. But just because I continued to see the VA healthcare system imploding from the ground up didn’t mean that a total collapse had yet made it to the top of the food chain. Regardless of my poor vision of the cluster f**k of a bureaucracy that is the VA, the situation has progressed even beyond that state expressed in the old military acronym SNFAU. For those of you unfamiliar with the term — for those of you returning visitors from Zimbawe — it means “Situation Normal All F**ked Up.” Shinseki resigned today and many talking heads were a bit too timid to bury the retired four-star in their disgust. The general did, after all, have half of his foot blown off in the Vietnam War. And from the political and pundit class who might call their target of opportunity a “sonofabitch” they are sure to add “But we thank him for his service.” Such is similar to the way veterans are treated by the VA these days. Oh, not all of them, for sure. Not even the majority of them. One may be certain, though, when more than a thousand, who knows for certain even how many, maybe tens of thousands, are used in a numerical shell game when all they seek is medical treatment there remains a certainty that these veterans are not treated in the respectful manner in which even an injured dog would receive. I had erroneously believed the hiding of veterans seeking appointments was for specialty treatment. Specialists have, for at least the past 20 years I have used the VA for health care, been the scarcest of medical commodity. It is not uncommon to see residents, physician assistants or even nurse practitioners when attending specialty clinic appointments. It’s the luck of the draw. Oh, if you are sick enough or suffering from a critical injury, you’ll likely be attended to or at least overseen by a board certified specialist. It seems though, the veterans in the news are those that were seeking primary care however. That boggles my mind as bureaucratic insanity at its worst.

The Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Medical Center in Houston.

The Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Medical Center in Houston.

The VA bureaucracy is like this: Washington–>three separate administrations for Health, Benefits and Cemeteries–>Regions–>Regional benefit offices–>Regional-to-extra-regional systems called “VISNs” for Veterans Integrated Service Networks–>Health care networks based on a large VA hospital system (mine is the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Medical Center in Houston)–>Community-based outpatient centers–>Vet Centers–>The veterans. That’s not even including the National Cemeteries the VA oversees.

Now don’t you think at least one level somewhere in this wicked matrix could be eliminated? I had two dealings with the VA this week. One was concerning an appointment. The other relating to a complaint from an appointment last week. I had scheduled an appointment for a clinic for which I went almost 15 years without a follow-up. I will not say which one. I can understand long wait times because of the particular clinic and will say part of the reason for the failure was situational. Nevertheless, my appointment was Wednesday, 80 miles away in Houston. There is a toll-free phone number on which patients may hear their appointments as well as manage their prescriptions. I called the night before to make sure the time was what I was last told. The clinics usually send letters with appointment information at least a few weeks before. They also give automated calls within a week of the appointment during which one can confirm, cancel or reschedule. I did not receive a letter for this clinic. I do not remember receiving a call. This month I had an unusually high number of appointments in Houston. It was just how they happened to fall. When I called to check on this clinic, it was not listed. I called the “Telecare” staff in Houston and the notation they had on their computer indicated that I had cancelled the appointment. They didn’t know when or why. I had taken a day of leave, which have become scarce lately because of various medical and other problems. I was livid and wrote a very scathing letter to the department that oversees customer complaints. I didn’t hesitate to drop a few names either. I hate when I do that, but unfortunately one can only receive relatively quick response unless some kind of “enhancement” is employed. I received a call early the next morning saying the clinic responsible would be contacted. They were and I was called by the clinic. The person who called told me once again that I had cancelled the appointment by phone. I have seen some of these specialty clinic top people in Houston go directly into their best “Cover Your Ass” mode when such a problem happens. I told the person who called that what she said sounded like someone who was trying to “cover their rear ends.” I’m so nice. Well, I came away with a rescheduled appointment in two weeks. Later, I received a call from the VA Police Department in Houston. I thought, “OMG, they think I’m a nut and are going to give me the third degree!” Instead the officer was following up a complaint I left in a “suggestion box” regarding parking. I mentioned quite succinctly that the medical center had incessantly bragged as to how they have eased the parking problems at the hospital. Steps have been made including a free valet service. However, I am not comfortable with someone else driving my pickup, at least someone I don’t know. Parking lots have supposedly been expanded for patients and employees. But during my last visit I spent some 30 minutes trying to find a place where I would not have to walk too far to the hospital. I continue to have knee problems, especially when walking for a distance. Well, the officer was quite thorough explaining where parking has been increased and it was mostly on the side that I didn’t want to park. However, she said there now are shuttle vans that drive through the parking lots which will pick up patients and take them to the lobby. Apparently, these vans aren’t well advertised but if I can indeed flag one down to get it to drive me to a close entrance then this entire exercise will have been worth it. This is just one small example of how the VA can fix things when they put their minds to it. It looks as if now is the time for great minds to converge and not at just one medical center. The whole system has needed help for years. It is time to fix the VA.

VA-Shinseki thoughts drafted. For now I think about knees and trees.

My thoughts on the resignation of Gen. Eric Shinseki as Department of Veterans Affairs secretary is in draft form and in the cooler. I’ve been sitting here writing for awhile and my knee has begun to bother me as it has more and more during the last couple of days. Hopefully, I will get back to my draft and publish it tomorrow.

I haven’t written a whole lot lately because I’ve gone to physical therapy several times a week around the time I usually write after work. My knee has become more painful in the last week. I was hoping surgery and some therapy would help. Something doesn’t seem right about it so my therapist said he would try to talk to my surgeon. He said it could be that I need a brace that puts less pressure on the part that is giving me trouble.

My normal routine in physical therapy has been to wire me up with a TENS-like electrical stimulus and place a heating pad on top of it. And when I say a heating pad, I mean that mother is HOT. I also have undergone some ultrasound and dry laser therapy as well as numerous leg lifts of several types and a leg lift while lying on my stomach. Usually, I have them ice down my knee for about 10 minutes before leaving. The results I have experienced have been mixed.

Now I am at a point where I wonder how long I will have to wear a brace? Is the problem I had not fixed? Will I need a knee replacement? I have already “wasted” what I consider to be four months since I first injured my knee to surgery and up to now in two weeks of physical therapy. It seems so long ago that I was hiking through the Big Thicket or the Angelina National Forest. I can’t even imagine what is in store in the future. In part, I don’t want to think about it.

If you haven’t read this blog before, then you know it is mostly for me to indulge myself in one of the main past-times I enjoy and which also has been, in the past, a living. At least I can still write. Now if only I can walk out among the pine trees again and listen to the wind whistle its song through the tree tops. That would be about all I could really ask for. That and to not end sentences with prepositions.

 

Marshall or Moon plan: Help for VA needs big fix

Each time another new scandal breaks involving shoddy health care practices at the Department of Veterans Affairs does it seem a case of deja vu arises.

That the newest VA scandal, in which patients are allegedly dying because specialty care has not come quick enough as well as the “secret lists” regarding that specialty care seems as if the scope would indicate a large-scale scandal. And since the Republican opposition is always hunting the new “Watergate” or “Benghazi,” if you will, this counts as the first major VA scandal for the Obama administration.

The truth, sad to say, is that similar albeit smaller-scale scandals have occured for years. Take for instance a personal anecdote.

From middle 2000 to the same time in 2001, I was suffering from a very painful and near disabling episode of a couple of ruptured cervical discs. I was taking several pain-numbing opiates which left me in a cloud, all the while my neck and arm pain was not abating and my left hand had nearly gone numb. I had a job with insurance then although my meds were more affordable at the time with the VA than through civilian doctors.

I later would be diagnosed with depression but at this time, the pain and the opiates were leading me down the path to Crazyville. I finally asked to see a VA neurosurgeon, though that was much more easier said than done. I was told that the Dallas area VA system — I had to ask there because the Temple (Texas) VA hospital that was my hospital said they didn’t have a neurosurgeon at the time– had but one neurosurgeon. I found that incredible to say the least. I knew for fact that Dallas, like most large VA hospitals, operate in conjunction with big medical centers and medical schools. In the case of Dallas it is the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. The Temple VA Hospital is the clinical campus for the Texas A & M University medical school. Nevertheless, I ended up going to the Dallas VA hospital where I was told it would be six months until I would get to see a neurosurgeon.

Eventually, I relented after the pressure from my boss. I saw a civilian neurosurgeon in Waco and I was able to give this doctor all the test information including a MRI, that was done by the VA. About a month after first seeing the neurosurgeon, I received a call from Dallas VA saying an spot had opened so I could see a VA neurosurgeon early. Could I possibly come to Dallas on Aug. 9? As it so happened, I was scheduled for neurosurgery in Waco on that date.

My major concern with having surgery performed by a non-VA doctor was the price. I had already wrecked my personal finances with an initial cervical spine surgery. I was not sure how I could keep from going into another fiscal black hole with what would probably be an even more expensive surgery. But I was pleasantly surprised in the financial sense at least. With the VA paying for all my expensive tests and a co-insurance taking care of added expenses, I probably spent no more than $1,000 out of pocket for my operation. That was astonishing. It was also probably the only bright light of this dismal experience. Well, that and the fact the surgery gave me a couple of years without pain and my hand no longer was numb.

By the time of my surgery I had begun covering the VA as part of my beat as a reporter. I also wrote a weekly column on veterans issues. The column was distributed internationally through The New York Times News Service. I was once visiting one of my brothers in East Texas and I happened to see a column of mine on the op/ed page of the local daily. I called it to my brother’s attention.

“Yeah, you’re getting to be a regular Cal Thomas,” my brother wisecracked. Not the comparison I would have preferred, but it was a notice nonetheless.

I began to study what was happening nationally with the VA, not just in my local hospital — where Washington had by then threatened the shuttering of our local hospital along with some others in the nation.

I found then as now, the biggest problem facing the VA — given the past and this most recent scandal — is money. Or rather the lack of a steady funding stream and the wise deployment of funding.

No doubt, I have been disappointed with Gen. Eric Shenseki and his stewardship of the VA as secretary. The former Army Chief of Staff came at a time when firm leadership and innovative thinking was needed more than ever. Unfortunately, Shenseki did not seem to offer any such qualities.

The VA under the Bush Jr. administrations tried the tired old Republican ploy of shrinking resources as a way to manage fiscally. The wars that Bush pushed the country into — the types of war in general leading to many disfiguring amputations, brain injuries and PTSD — all began taxing the VA health care systems. By the time the wars were nearly over the VA tried to offer all the services to its expanding and an existing patient populations as if it were an everyday operation. It isn’t. A true crisis has hit the VA. Years of merely funding part of the VA’s needed dollars has finally come back to bite them in the ass. The problem of long waits for care has caused some administrators to do when they are truly backed into a corner: hide the problem.

These budget problems will continue until Congress finally comes to its senses — a truly scary wish — and makes funding for all VA programa mandatory. Currently, slightly less than half of VA expenditures comes from discretionary funds from Congress. Programs such as disability pensions and other programs are mandatory but the meat on the bones for medical care requires a mandatory funding system. Once that is accomplished, the VA needs a George Marshall Plan or a man on the moon-type program to make the VA function as it should. A seamless transition of care between the military and VA should also be established.

The problems with the VA are many but are solveable.

Complaints, I have few. I have almost none. Although, I probably ate too much today, the food being free and all.

Yes, I did take advantage of one of the several offers for a free meal from veterans. I just came back from the local Golden Corral. There was a large line as always for the chain’s traditional feed bag for Veterans Day, but these folks are pros and they run people in with military precision.

The food was good. It was plentiful. Above all it was free. So the fact that I might have chomped into a chicken foot … I am not sure it was a chicken foot. It was part of some Mongolian chicken. I didn’t say anything. And I am not taking the offending piece of whatever to an attorney. I didn’t break anything. Plus, I didn’t even know the family they sat me with even though they were nice. Thus, I was able to very ably sneak the fowl food from my mouth to the plate. But heavens to Besty, Come in Betsy, that’s a big 10-4 on that 10-10 aqui!!! I had catfish, hushpuppies, shrimp, a small chunk o’ watermelon. And not to mention, though I will, a small bowl of banana pudding.

One of my brothers was in town today for a short visit. His main purpose in driving three hours was to qualify at the gun range. He retired after 36 years as a police officer. Now he must periodically shoot to keep his special retired peace officers gun permit. He passed even though it was the first time that he had tried qualifying using his fairly new Glock semi-auto 9-mm. He packed a Smith & Wesson Model 19, which is a .357 magnum revolver, for most of his years as a cop. Old school. I would have liked to try out his new Glock, but I don’t know whether the range master would let me and I didn’t ask. I am just curious how my shooting would go some several years after developing a type of palsy. Of course, if you stand at the 1-foot line a mover and shaker like me should have the ability to hit within the target area. Or get a shotgun.

But just as good, shoot, better than shooting, my brother bought lunch at Mazzio’s. I had a salad and a small pizza as he did. It was good food, free, good to see my bro too.

So on this day we honor our veterans I ate. My brother is also a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam. My brother and I had originally intended to visit another brother, who is also a Navy veteran. But he was supposedly working somewhere in Louisiana. That means he sits there and watches his crew paint and tell them what to do. It keeps him occupied.

On this day, what I am calling Fat Monday, I am full. Happy Veterans Days to all those veterans out there I missed.