George Claggett was a personal friend of mine..Here is his story.
George Claggett was a Marine who lived by his own definition of karma.
The Vietnam veteran believed that treating others well wasn't about reciprocation; rather, it was a belief that his goodness would show up elsewhere, even if he wasn't the one reaping the benefit.
It's a good thing that Claggett wasn't expecting anything in return for his actions toward others, or for fighting in a war of which many wanted no part, because karma wasn't there for him during the last months of his life — much of which was spent in frustration over his dealings with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"It was hell, absolute hell," said Michael O'Brien, a close friend and Claggett's power of attorney, when asked what it was like dealing with the VA system.
According to O'Brien, Claggett would spend several weeks just trying to schedule an appointment to see a doctor at the VA hospital in Denver. When he would finally obtain appointments, he would sometimes have to wait for hours to see a doctor.
Claggett, of Denver, also waited several weeks to receive lab results of a tumor that contributed to his death on May 2. He was 66.
"It just seemed like all he was doing was waiting," O'Brien said.
Claggett's story is one of many that have surfaced in recent weeks regarding systematic failures and corruption within the VA department.
"I am absolutely stunned, particularly as a combat veteran, that this agency that's entrusted to meet our obligations for those who served in uniform can be so incredibly incompetent... and be so corrupt," said 6th Congressional District Rep. Mike Coffman, a Republican who served in the Iraq War.
Last week, Coffman joined every other member of the House in voting for a bill that aims to address some of the issues that have caused veterans like Claggett to receive substandard care from their government.
The legislation is a start, say members of Congress, to restructuring a government-run entity that has been failing its soldiers for a very long time.
"I am so angry and disappointed," said Rep. Ed Perlmutter, a Democrat who represents Colorado's 7th Congressional District. "There are too many stories like that."
Seeking better options for vets
Last week, the House gave unanimous approval to the Veterans Access to Care Act. The bill requires that the VA send veterans to private health providers when the department is unable to provide care within 14 days.
The legislation would also ban bonuses for VA employees and puts in place greater oversight over the department's operations.
The bill comes on the heels of a federal audit that shows that more than 57,000 veterans have waited at least three months to see a doctor, while others who asked for appointments never received one.
Other findings have shown that VA employees — whose bonuses are tied to wait time reductions — falsified reports to hide information about long wait times. Reports have also shown that veterans died awaiting treatment.
The scandal led to the resignation of department director Eric Shinseki.
Coffman and Perlmutter believe that the legislation will go a long way in helping veterans receive better care, without having to deal with unreasonable — and sometimes life threatening — waits.
"At the end of the day, it will allow the VA to have a much better system to allow vets options they don't have now," Coffman said.
Coffman, who is the chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, added an amendment to the bill that sets aside money to pay for court costs that could come as investigations into the scandal continue.
Coffman said that employees who were falsifying reports out of motivation for bonus pay could end up facing criminal charges.
"There are veterans who have died as a result of manipulating these appointment wait times for financial gain," Coffman said. "To me, that's not just a matter of firing people. (It includes) the possibility of criminal charges."
The bill is one of several efforts to change the VA system. Acting VA Director Sloan Gibson has also spelled out a list of reforms that he would like to see made.
Perlmutter said the VA's "arteries have hardened" over the years, due to a culture that has preferred to sweep problems under the rug while hoping that no one notices.
"There's more of a 'protect your turf, protect your fanny' mentality," Perlmutter said. "There's so many good people, but there's others who are protecting their reputation. That's really a problem within the system."
The Senate passed a similar bill the same week. It's likely that the two chambers will come to a consensus on a singular piece of legislation in the coming weeks.
The wounded warrior
O'Brien said that the last year of Claggett's life was spent in grave sickness. He was too sick to work. He often had blood in his urine, lost an unhealthy amount of weight and was also suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that often brought on flashbacks.
O'Brien said that he tried to set up appointments for weeks and when he was finally successful in obtaining one, Claggett waited for more than an hour to see a doctor — who never showed up.
Claggett's peace finally came during the early morning hours of May 2.
"I gave him some morphine the night before and woke up at three in the morning and I saw immediately that he was gone," he said. "And the son of a bitch had a smile on his face."
Claggett left O'Brien the little amount of money he had at the time of his death to give to the Wounded Warriors Project, an organization that provides services to wounded veterans.
O'Brien said it wasn't in Claggett's nature to "advocate for himself" that he was a Vietnam veteran who deserved better treatment for serving his country.
"My question is, why does a Marine have to advocate for care so he can die with a little dignity?" O'Brien said. "Why does he have to push a system to get him aid that we should be bending over backwards to give?"
The government has always treated veterans like crap. Going back as far as the Revolutionary War there is evidence of mistreatment. With the Revolutionary War, it was getting paid for their service. As I remember it took over 15 years for those soldiers and veterans to get compensated for their service.
I get so disgusted watching our politicians posturing and strutting about in front of the camera, wearing their little lapel flag pins, talking like they care and respect our veterans, while doing nothing substantial to really help. Congress has never funded the VA properly and over the years, certainly since the Vietnam War, more and more benefits have been cut. It has always been ridiculous the hoops a veteran has had to go through in order to get a service disability and even when they do manage to qualify, about every year or two, they must go in to show they still qualify. This even includes disability benefits for a missing body part, such as a finger, hand or leg; like there is some expectation that the body part might grow back. (This is at least how it was in the 70s, 80s, and 90s and I'm just assuming it didn't change.) Yes, our veterans have always been put through the ringer by the government. What's going on now is not new.
Remember when Bush was in office and the father of a veteran, visiting his son at Walter Reid, shined a light on the peeling paint and the rodentia infestation, and other horrors? Nothing was ever done to correct those problems. Maybe a little whitewashing was done at Walter Reid while the story was hot and being covered by the news media, but those same problems were and still are rampant throughout the VA system.
Even when our troops went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, they weren't given what they needed to protect themselves personally, such as body armor. Yes, the government is more than happy to spend money on more bullets, guns, tanks, jets, etc. to kill the enemy, but our troops have always been and still are expendable. No politician in the House or the Senate would ever admit to it, but their appropriations speak louder than any of their words or lies can.
There will be a new law or act passed that is supposed to take care of the VA problems. I believe the House and the Senate both have managed to pass something, but the final bills have yet to make it to conference committee, where the idiots will mark it up, while making every attempt to attach some bullshit language that has nothing to do with veterans that will keep the final bill from passing. It would be awesome if they didn't do that, but they just don't seem to be able to help themselves. And even if they do manage to pass something, I'm betting it will, at best, be a bandaid to cover up the ugly wound that our VA system has become.
So sorry for the loss.This should never happen.