Our Forgotten Wounded
Sun Apr 17, 2005
When I turned on the tube last week, I flipped to CSPAN for some reason and low and behold there was Senator Larry Craig - (R - ID) followed by Kay Bailey Hutchison - (R - TX) speaking against the Murray amendment for a $1.9 billion emergency supplimental increase in the VA's budget. This was diaried that day by Ioo Screw the Vets, Let them Eat Cake. I contributed a shot of the cover of Life magazine from May 22, 1970 "Our Forgotten Wounded".. I had received a copy of that issue the week before while volunteering at the American Friends Service Committee traveling exhibit "Eyes Wide Open. Between now and then I have scanned the article and converted to a PDF file which I will be printing and taking to my High School counter recruitment presentations. The file is too big for download (54 megs) so I would like to share the results with you in a diary. The pictures are downsized (still kinda big) and I have included the text of the article and captioned the pictures as they were in the magazine.
The Article was written by Charles Child, photographed by Co Rentmeester.
Where are the journalist today?


"Less than half way through the current fiscal year, Veterans Affairs medical facilities across the country have already run out of money and face huge deficits, an emergency situation if there ever was one,"
--Disabled American Veterans National Commander James E. Sursely

The Administration has proposed one of the most tight-fisted, miserly budgets for veterans programs in recent memory, said the 1.2 million member Disabled American Veterans (DAV). Instead of providing adequate funds for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical system, the budget proposes to shift the cost burden onto the backs of veterans, making health care more expensive and even less accessible for millions of America's defenders. "The VA medical system has been strained to the breaking point over the years because its appropriation has failed to keep pace with the skyrocketing costs of health care and increased patient loads," said National Commander James E. Sursely. "As a result VA facilities across the country are cutting staff and limiting services even as the number of veterans seeking care is on the rise."
--DAV Press release, February 8, 2005

PVA is disappointed, and I'm highly upset, by the Senate's failure to provide health care funding to sick and disabled veterans, as well as the new veterans returning from overseas. I can't believe that the Senate would do something like this. Taking care of veterans is an ongoing cost of our national defense and our fight against terrorism.
Veterans are being constantly assured by the VA and those in Congress that the VA has the money it needs to meet its responsibilities, but every day we see reports that veterans are being turned away, other veterans are facing unconscionable delays, and entire health care networks are running deficits as a result of attempting to provide health care. Unfortunately, the Senate's vote against veterans sends a clear message to the men and women serving in the military and those contemplating service - we will send you off to fight our wars and defend America, but we don't want to care for you properly when you come home.
--PVA President Randy L. Pleva, Sr

"The administration's budget is troubling in many ways because it's an obvious attempt to balance part of the nation's deficit on the backs of a disabled and aging military veteran population," "It was the blood and sweat of the American military man and woman that ultimately created this country, saved our Union, and helped free the world from tyranny," he said. "In return, the only thing we ever asked for, as Teddy Roosevelt said, 'was to be given a square deal afterwards.'
--John Furgess VFW National Commander testifing before a joint meeting of the House and Senate Committees on Veterans Affairs.

Caption reads "U.S. troops on the Cambodian front (top), and in a stateside VA hospital (below)

Besides the dead, there are the wounded: 275,000 of them to date. A man hit in Vietnam has twice as good a chance of surviving as he did in Korea and World War II-heli­copter teams evacuate the wounded faster, often within min­utes, support hospitals perform miraculous repairs on in­juries that tend to be more devastating than ever before. But having been saved by the best field medicine in his­tory and given initial treatment in first-rate military facil­ities, one out of every seven U.S. servicemen wounded in Vietnam is fated to pass into the bleak backwaters of our Veterans Administration hospitals.
With 166 separate institutions, the VA hospital system is the biggest in the world. The 800,000 patients it treats in a year, mainly men wounded in earlier wars, range from car­diac to psychiatric cases. It is disgracefully understaffed, with standards far below those of an average community hospital. Many wards remain closed for want of personnel and the rest are strained with overcrowding. Facilities for long-term treatment and rehabilitation, indispensable for the kind of paralytic injuries especially common in this war of land mines and boobytraps, are generally inferior. At Mi­ami's VA hospital, while sophisticated new equipment sits idle for lack of trained personnel, patients may wait hours for needed blood transfusions. At the VA's showplace hos­pital in Washington, D.C. a single registered nurse may min­ister to as many as 80 patients at a time. At the Wadsworth VA Hospital in Los Angeles, doctors who work there de­scribe ward conditions as "medieval" and "filthy."
Veterans Administration Director Donald E. Johnson in­sists publicly that veterans receive "care second to none." The evidence is overwhelmingly against him. A five-month inquiry by a Senate subcommittee chaired by California's Alan Cranston has documented gross inadequacies and laid the main blame directly on a series of cutbacks in the VA medical budget. This sum presently amounts to roughly $1.6 billion a year, somewhat less than the cost of one month's fighting in Vietnam. Additional appropriations of $122 million for next year await probable congressional ap­proval and could help ease the immediate crisis. But within the next 12 months 16,000 more men from Vietnam are expected to come under the Veterans Administration's care.

In an enema room of the Bronx VA Hospital, disabled spinal injury patients wait up to four hours to be attended by a single aide.

Conditions at Wadsworth VA Hospital in Los Angeles were documented by doctors for a Senate subcommittee. Above, a doctor giving a spinal tap braces his patient against a breadbox. In a cardiology ward, on the top floor of a 40-year-old brick building (below), a hand-lettered sign is posted imploringly over a patient's bed

"It's like you've been put in jail or been punished forsomething"

'The siege at Khesanh had been lifted and Marine Marke Dumpert had gone back to Quangtri not feeling much other than the choking sensation of knowing he had been incredibly lucky. He had been in one of the toughest battles of the war and he had sur­vived it. Hardened and immunized by the experience, Dumpert, then a private, vol­unteered to accompany a corporal and a lance corporal on a routine check of the front lines. He had been in Vietnam for three months. That was the day he was hit.
"As we headed out from the camp," Marke remembers, "I was seated up front by the door, the lance corporal beside me and the corporal driving. I heard a crack, a sound I'd heard a lot at Khesanh. You start to sweat when that happens because you get so you can tell how close a shell is. I could tell it was one of those six-foot Rus­sian-made rockets because they sound like a freight train crashing. Just when I took a breath ... it happened."
Blasted off the road, Dumpert was thrown into coiled barbed wire. After him came the truck, rolling over him and grinding him into the barbed wire. The pain was terrible. He felt a sensation of white heat, like a light bulb exploding in his eyes. His neck was al­ready broken but in some miraculous way he remained conscious.
Luckily the truck was not far from the camp when it was hit, so help soon arrived. Dragged out and freed from the tangle of barbed wire, Dumpert was rushed to a near­by field hospital and immobilized with sand­bags on each side of his head. A Medevac helicopter removed him to a hospital ship that was cruising in the South China Sea. The whole episode, from injury to hospital ship, had taken only 75 minutes. Four days later, Medevac surgeons operated to fuse Dumpert's broken neck back in place. Then they told him: he would survive but he would be paralyzed for the rest of his life from the neck downwards.
After surgery on the medical ship, Marke was flown to the Philadelphia Naval Hos­pital. There they helped him to learn how to breathe all over again, and he began phys­ical therapy. "They did a great job," Marke says. "The volunteers and the USO people were terrific. Even among the in-service corpsmen there's discipline. If you don't get attended to by one of these corpsmen, a complaint might just mean somebody's weekend pass.

In September of 1968, the time came for transfer to a Veterans Administration hospital. For Dumpert, as for other wounded, it meant that his condition had been improved and stabilized to the point where extended care could begin. But, as it turned out, the Bronx VA Hospital was nothing to look forward to.

"The day they moved me into that gloomy 3-C ward, I knew I was back at the battle­field," Dumpert says. "It was the misery of Khesanh all over again. I spent over a month and a half in an 8x21-foot bunker in Khesanh. I remember the smell of four other guys plus myself, when we had to use water to drink, not to wash with, when we lived with gar­bage rather than dump it and get hit by a sniper. But at least in Khesanh, you could joke and be lighthearted. Death was around you but there was still the possibility of get­ting out. Here in this ward, living with the misery of six neglected guys who can't wash themselves, can't even get a glass of water for themselves, who are left unattended for hours . . . it's sickening.

"Nobody should have to live in these con­ditions," Dumpert insists. "We're all hooked up to urine bags, and without enough at­tendants to empty them, they spill over the floor. It smells and cakes something awful. The aides don't commit themselves whole­heartedly, but with what they earn a year why should they? I've laid in bed on one side from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., without getting moved or washed. When and if you do get a shower, you come back and you're put into bed on the same sweaty sheets you started with. It's like you've been put in jail, or you've been punished for something."
The rats were worst. "I had been sleep­ing on my stomach," Dumpert recalls. "It wasn't 11 o'clock, but I had closed my eyes. I suddenly awoke to find a rat on my hand. I can't move my hand, so I tried to jerk my shoulders. I screamed and the rat jumped slowly off my bed. When the aide arrived, I told him. He said, 'Aw, you must be drunk.' Nobody has done anything to this day, so some of the amputees who are not totally disabled have taken to setting traps, to protect us ­. If you're a nervous-system injury you can't feel anything, and you could get bitten in the night and not know it."

Escape from his predicament seems altogether impossible. Dumpert hopes to finish high school and has a dream of be­coming a lawyer, despite his disability. But his will to struggle has been seriously im­paired by neglect and frustration. "I feel that the way we Vietnam veterans are being treated," he says, "is abnormal. I regret having to say this, but now I have nothing but disgust for my country. I used to hate the guys who ran off to Canada to avoid the draft. Now I don't hate them. I don't like them, but I respect them for what they did. If I had known what I know now, I would never have enlisted. I don't mean just my injury, but the insensitivity and lack of care. They would have had to drag me into the service kicking. It makes me wonder about Vietnam-about whether the people I saw die, and people like me who are half dead, fought for nothing.

.At above and below, hospital aides strap him into a brace so he can stand. He is so helpless that he needs almost constant care, but the hospital can't give it.

The VA hospital in the Bronx is more antiquated than most. Its two main buildings date back to the turn of the century and eight quonset huts are left over from World War II. But the conditions inside are typical of many facilities in the VA system. There is inadequate space for clinical labs, storage and day rooms. Visitors and other traffic must pass through active operating areas. Kitchens are ill kept and littered. Personnel shortages are so severe that during the night shift one registered nurse must watch over three wards containing 140 patients. The hospital's frustrated director, Dr. Abraham M. Kleinman, can only plead helplessness. "We're just not being funded in a way that we can adequately give and fulfill our services. We can't take care of patients as we would like."

In a partitionless ward of the Bronx VA Hospital a disarray of dirty linen is allowed to pile up around a quadriplegic's bed while the patient himself lies naked, unable to clothe himself after a shower.

The Bronx hospital is so full of rodents that a trap set on any given evening usually produces a mouse or rat by morning. Marine veteran Parcel Wheeler of Scranton, Pa., above, a paraplegic who saw combat at Ducphu, hasn't yet awakened to see the trapped mouse next to his bed. But the hospital's most desperate problem is for more attending personnel.

In the paraplegic wards above,, a totally crippled patient must depend on a buddy who still has the use of his arms to get a sheet thrown over him. Staff shortages are just as severe in the surgery, general medicine and psychiatric wards at the Bronx VA, as well as in technical departments. In fact, there are 1,100 fewer staff in VA medical programs today than in 1965.

At the Bronx VA Hospital Marine veteran Frnk Stoppiello, wounded in the Ashau Valley in Vietnam, gives a cigarette to quadripegic Andrew Kmetz, an Army Veteran, as they wait for treatment. Because of overcrowding, they must share a corner with trash cans.