Robert “Bob” Haas, a retired U.S. Navy supply officer and Vietnam Veteran, was screaming in agony while attending the Summer Sports Clinic in San Diego, California, when he was approached by a professionally dressed man he did not recognize.
The man asked him why he was yelling. After a 45-minute conversation, the man left Haas his card and let him know that he was going to take care of him.
That man was VA’s then-Under Secretary for Health, Dr. David Shulkin. Shulkin, who is now secretary, personally helped Haas get his life back.
Haas lost his left leg above the knee due to blood clots and four years after surgery, it continued to cause extreme pain. “He diagnosed me right then and there with neuroma. He emailed me and got me in touch with the right people to help fix me,” Haas said.
Two months later, Haas underwent surgery at the Columbus VA Ambulatory Care Center to correct the neuroma in his stump.
“[Dr. Shulkin] focused on treatment and results. He restored my life,” he said. “I think David Shulkin would help any Veteran in pain. He would stop and make sure they’re taken care of. He is a doctor and right kind of leader for VA.”
Haas is now able to enjoy the events hosted by VA such as the Summer Sports Clinic. He participates as often as possible. This week, at the Winter Sports Clinic, he credited meeting Teresa Parks for his interest in winter sports.
“I met Teresa and she was so welcoming and warm. The [Winter Sports] Clinic truly is a miracle on the mountainside.”
Restoring his life and getting active again are the main priorities in Hass’ life these days. He wants other Veterans to use the adaptive sports programs offered by VA, so they can heal like he has.
“The [Winter Sports] Clinic is a safe environment for Veterans to get off the couch and onto the playing field. It is about wellness, not just sports. There are no medals for fastest racer, there are awards for most improved, but you have to get off the couch first,” Hass said.
The National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic made such an impact on his life that Haas created an adaptive sports program at home. With help from the Columbus VAMC, disabled Veterans receiving care from the VA can enjoy a variety of adaptive sports including sled hockey, yoga, swimming and rowing among others – for free. Haas feels strongly that Veterans need an outlet to get active and the VA is the right place to start.
In his not-so-spare time, Bob volunteers as a peer counselor at the Columbus VA and Amputee Coalition. He sits on the Delta Airlines Disabilities Board of Directors, as well, helping advocate for travelers with amputations.
His role in this vast amount of organizations led to a countless number of friends, especially at the Winter Sports Clinic.
“When you come to a VA event, you meet other people from the VA who the VA has helped adapt to their injury,” Haas said.
Friendships are built through participation and the friendships you make here last forever.
These days, Haas and his service dog Gracie come back to the Winter Sports Clinic every year. He meets up with old friends and skies freely down the Rocky Mountains.
“Before my amputation, I used to run marathons. Now, I am just as active,” he explained. “I consider myself a walking success of these events.”
About the author: Eve Neisen is a public affairs specialist with VA’s Office of Public Affairs.