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)


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 Twitter: @tomricks1