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Thomas Michalski
Listen to our heroes at VA facilities
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Everybody seems to be taking aim at VA facilities these days.

Even Gov. Rick Scott climbed aboard the bandwagon to harvest headlines at the expense of VA healthcare.

“With 1.5 million veterans that call Florida home, we’re committed to being the most veteran-friendly state in the nation – and reports of deaths, neglect, poor conditions and a secret waiting list in federal VA hospitals in Florida are unacceptable,” Scott was quoted as saying.

The VA operates six medical facilities in Florida, including the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center, until recently known as Bay Pines, and the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa.

Our politicians need to talk with and learn from actual veterans who benefit from places like Bay Pines.

And I’m one of them.

I qualify for VA medical benefits thanks to a U.S. Air Force stint. Bay Pines staff has provided treatment for high blood pressure, diabetes and even patched me up after a nasty fall from the attic of my home to the concrete garage floor.

Never have I received more professional medical care anywhere else. VA services, in my humble opinion, far surpass any of that offered by civilian doctors and medical facilities.

Just how good are VA facilities?

Ask Robert Royce, a World War II Army-Air Corps veteran, who clearly recollects his participation in the Normandy invasion and the Battle of the Bulge. He has absolutely nothing unpleasant to say about VA health care, even after 60 years of participating in the system. You can read his entire story by visiting

Or visit Module B at Bay Pines any hour of the working day where you can meet genuine heroes. They are veterans of all wars (they do call the Korean “police action” a war now) and other lesser conflicts. It’s a place where you can meet a 20-something, slightly-built female veteran with light brown hair and a ready smile ... who lost a leg in Iraq.

It’s a place where ex-soldiers of the Vietnam era still speak of distant locations like Dung Ha, Plei Me, Da Nang, Cam Ranh Bay and the Ho Chi Minh Trail. More than 40 years after we unceremoniously fled Saigon, these unsung heroes continue to endure nightmares from the tropical jungles of Vietnam, Cambodia and a few other places we weren’t supposed to be, but very much were.

Module B is where men and women in their 70s and 80s and even 90s reawaken their encounters against the Nazis and Japanese during World War II. Many still experience pain from physical injuries, and battle fatigue that today is called CSR, or Combat Stress Reaction, and PSD, or Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

Visit, medical terms for chronic psychological trauma.

Bay Pines is a place where old soldiers whose physical and emotional wounds never die and their much younger colleagues who fought in more recent battles have much in common. They represent generations of men and women who put their lives on the line for their country. Though eons apart on other values, they carry their heads high and would step up to the plate again if an enemy nation threatened America.

I once eavesdropped on a conversation between an elderly World War II Army veteran and a 20ish former Marine who suffered appalling mutilations in Afghanistan.

“I was with the 101st Airborne,” the aged wheelchair-bound ex-GI explained. “We fought in some of the most god-awful places you can imagine. Winter was so cold in Europe that socks froze to your feet.”

The Marine whose legs nearly were severed by an IED ... Improvised Explosive Device ... countered with his own “war stories.”

The IEDs are the weapons of choice for insurgents in Iraq, Afghanistan and even Syria. The home-made explosives are responsible for the majority of military casualties. Since the U.S. military left Iraq a few years ago violence there has reached levels not seen since the peak of that war.

So, what can our politicians do to really help our valiant veterans?


For starters, let’s get passed federal legislation to expand benefits for veterans and, more significantly, provide the VA with more money to eliminate existing case backlogs. A recent proposition imploded following a bitter bi-partisan battle between Democrats and Republicans who blamed each other for their shameful display of political idiocy.

Perhaps the most significant contribution our government leaders can make is simply to keep America out of wars. President Barack Obama wants to redeploy American troops to Iraq to quell an al-Qaida inspired insurgency in major cities.

Our veterans deserve better than being at the blunt end of political shenanigans. Unlike the Charlie Sheens, Lindsay Lohans and Kim Kardashians of this world who have become heroes to today’s young people, our military veterans are the real defenders of a nation and its people.

They deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, the lack of which is unprecedented and difficult to comprehend.

Thomas Michalski is a retired Tampa Bay Newspapers editor. He can be reached at
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