Becky Says...

November 2004

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November 11

Today would have been my mother's 93rd birthday. Of course, it's also Veterans Day. Since Mother was a little girl turning age 7 when World War I ended on November 11, 1918, her first thought was that they had stopped the war to celebrate her birthday. And she was always glad to share the day.

Some posts at The Usual Suspects inspired me to want to comment on Veterans Day. Parts of my post are incorporated into this entry.

Among other things I said there, I noted that I wanted to take time to give kudos to the Department of Veterans Affairs (formerly called the Veterans Administration), based on my own experiences. The DVA has done some pretty wonderful things for my family. Our home loan was through them, for instance, and my mother's graduate schooling. Both my parents were veterans of World War II.

I was ignorant of what the DVA would do for veterans in terms of medical care, until I needed to know. I had been under the mistaken impression that care was only offered to veterans whose injuries or illnesses began during their time of service. In 1995, after Mother's second stroke, I learned that was not the case.

I got in touch with the local veterans affairs group, then got in touch with the people at the Durham (North Carolina) Veterans Affairs Medical Center. And they were wonderful. They were happy to provide me with the necessary application forms, and to answer any questions I had in the process of getting her admitted to their care.

With the help of two of my friends, I brought Mother to this part of the state in April 1995. In what turned out to be her last year, the VA Medical Center was just a magnificent place for her health care and my peace of mind. They had recently opened a clinic specifically for women, and much of Mother's care was coordinated by its staff. When I first arrived with her, the clinic's administrative person was the first person I met. He looked up from his desk, said to me, "You must be Rebecca (MyLastName). Welcome." And I knew at that moment that I was no longer going to be battling for my mother's health care needs; someone else was paying attention.

From that day until after her death, those wonderful people did everything they could to make sure her needs were met, and that mine were, too, insofar as they could. No question went unanswered, and I was made to know in no uncertain terms that my opinions on how Mother was doing mattered to those caring for her. (This was also the case with the local rest home where she lived until her third stroke, but that was a private facility and is a story for another day).

When Mother's third stroke required more intense care, the VAMC moved several mountains to get her transferred to their hospital, and assured me there would be a place for her in their extended care facility if she got well enough to need less than full hospitalization (which, unfortunately, she did not). They were wonderfully kind to me during the last days of her life, and even after her death. They have an Office of Decedent Affairs, and when I asked questions that would be more appropriately answered through that office, one of the nurses offered to have them contact me. That contact (which had to be initiated at my request because Mother was not dead) was a blessing to me. The man with whom I spoke in that office gave me information that saved me a lot of stress just after Mother's death, and I am truly grateful for it.

After Mother died, the nurse practitioner who had been most involved with her care through the clinic wrote me a lovely note. I also got a letter from the head of the facility. His was a form letter, but it was well written and expressed the condolences of the organization in a fitting manner.

Closing thoughts on this: one of the things that impressed me most about my experiences with the VAMC was the tremendous amount of respect shown to everyone --- veterans and their families --- by all who worked there, from the head of the facility on down the line. I saw this, with many veterans and families, every time I was in the building. I know some people have had bad experiences in VA facilities, but this one was a shining example of how to do it right.

Text copyright 2000-2004 Becky