Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

D.J.’s open letter to the VA

Sporting a fresh hole in his stomach, a veteran is informed the VA will not pay for his feeding tube liquid.

The author, pictured near the Golden Gate Bridge. (D.J. Skelton)
The author, pictured near the Golden Gate Bridge. (D.J. Skelton)
The author, pictured near the Golden Gate Bridge. (D.J. Skelton)

 

Here’s a letter to the VA written by my friend, Army Maj. D.J. Skelton, who was grazed in the head by an RPG in Iraq. —Tom

Dear VA,

 

Here’s a letter to the VA written by my friend, Army Maj. D.J. Skelton, who was grazed in the head by an RPG in Iraq. —Tom

Dear VA,

On Saturday you had me go to the emergency room at my local hospital to place a feeding tube in my stomach because, with my shot-up palate deteriorating, it is getting dangerous again for me to eat or drink through the mouth.

I hear nothing afterwards about when you might be shipping cans of Ensure, Jevity or something etc. to my house so I can have something to eat through said tube. But it is the same system as last time and the same process as we discussed right before going into surgery. Except this time you have decided that there is a better brand of feeding tube liquid than Jevity (from last time) and you persuaded me to switch to Diabetisource brand.

So today, six days post-surgery, I received a letter from you informing me that the brand you recommended to me, Diabetisource, is actually not covered by the VA and I need to go find and pay for my own feeding tube liquid on my own.

So when the Secretary of the VA’s front office called me last week to inquire if any of my current problems were in any way the fault of the VA — the answer is YES!

I am fully aware of the fact that one can survive for two weeks without food, but come on! (Btw, thanks to Price Floyd for letting me use your turkey baster when I was in D.C. this week.)

I see this as a teaching moment for both the VA and my friends. But please, we don’t need to use my case to shed light on everything that is wrong with the system. Just throw one or two problems at me at a time, OK? Thank you.

Ironically I’m writing this on a train as I travel to West Point to help write a chapter on “resilience” for their new Psychology textbook. And now I’m giggling, which is extremely painful since I have a fresh hole in my stomach.

Your pal,

D.J. Skelton

Major D.J. Skelton is a U.S. Army Foreign Area Officer at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. He led an infantry platoon at Second Fallujah and later commanded an infantry company in Afghanistan. This article reflects the views of his palate and stomach, which are not necessarily the official views of the U.S. Army or the Department of Defense.

 

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

More from Foreign Policy

Soldiers of the P18 Gotland Regiment of the Swedish Army camouflage an armoured vehicle during a field exercise near Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland on May 17.
Soldiers of the P18 Gotland Regiment of the Swedish Army camouflage an armoured vehicle during a field exercise near Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland on May 17.

What Are Sweden and Finland Thinking?

European leaders have reassessed Russia’s intentions and are balancing against the threat that Putin poses to the territorial status quo. 

Ukrainian infantry take part in a training exercise with tanks near Dnipropetrovsk oblast, Ukraine, less than 50 miles from the front lines, on May 9.
Ukrainian infantry take part in a training exercise with tanks near Dnipropetrovsk oblast, Ukraine, less than 50 miles from the front lines, on May 9.

The Window To Expel Russia From Ukraine Is Now

Russia is digging in across the southeast.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken participate in a virtual summit with the leaders of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue countries at the White House in Washington on March 12.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken participate in a virtual summit with the leaders of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue countries at the White House in Washington on March 12.

Why China Is Paranoid About the Quad

Beijing has long lived with U.S. alliances in Asia, but a realigned India would change the game.

Members of the National Defence Training Association of Finland attend a training.
Members of the National Defence Training Association of Finland attend a training.

Finns Show Up for Conscription. Russians Dodge It.

Two seemingly similar systems produce very different militaries.