I served about 22 years in the military before deciding my time was up. I found a job overseas and needed to start quickly. So, instead of doing my VA physicals and other minutiae in the U.S., I ended up attending appointments at various locations in Germany. For the first several months of my time overseas, my attention was focused on the VA satellite office at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, near Frankfurt, Germany, and about six hours away from my workplace.
Service via the office was top-notch. The VA employees were helpful, attended to me personally and helped me get a copy of my military medical records. After an initial visit with a German general physician just north of Frankfurt, I had a handful of other appointments that followed. VA contracts with a number of doctors in the region. I found them to be competent and attentive, and, in one case, to go above and beyond. VA handed me my rating within a year and I found the rating to be fair.
That said, I’ve had almost no contact with a VA representative since then. And I suppose that’s where the gap lies. In the U.S., I would probably be attending more appointments and receiving more correspondence. However, my job puts me at something of a frontier outpost for the Department of Defense, and feasible medical care is done on the economy. The nearest American or military medical care provider is three hours away.
Also, my experience differs from the stories I heard from other retirees who arrived in theater soon after, who encountered verbally challenging and nonresponsive employees, and struggled to meet the appointments they needed in order to get an accurate rating.
There are still about 50,000-plus Servicemembers serving in the region. There is a smaller number of retirees, who may or may not be covered by a Status of Forces Agreement, and there are many who will retire in the coming years. My experience may different from other Veterans, but it may be worth looking at.
I’m proud of the benefits I’ve earned. I’m aware that VA serves millions rather than hundreds, which means there are hurdles to overcome and challenges to be conquered. Still, VA needs to ensure the level of service remains high for every Veteran who has earned benefits. And while those few moments I have to interact with VA are usually positive, I remain concerned for the Veterans VA cannot assist, and even more deeply concerned for those homeless veterans who get little or no service at all. I look forward to VA meeting the secretary’s goal of ending homelessness by the end of 2015.
As the war in Afghanistan winds down, this will become a busy, fruitful time for VA – one in which it can innovate and better attend to the myriad physical and mental challenges Servicemembers like me will battle for the rest of their lives. Hope is not a plan, but I do offer that we need at least a bit of hope for VA leadership to act decisively and quickly to meet the coming post-war need.
Jason Tudor is a DoD civil servant who retired from the United States Air Force following 22 years of service. He serves at the Marshall Center in Germany.