SGT. SHAFT: Delay in surgery putting troop’s life on hold

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Dear Sgt. Shaft,

A friend of mine was deployed to Iraq in 2009 with the DC National Guard and served at Joint Base Balad. While in Iraq, he injured his left leg. Since the medical unit there was overburdened and it was only a couple of months until his unit rotated home, he was given crutches and told he would be treated once he was home. He was detained there when the remainder of his unit went home in March 2010.

After a month, he was assigned to the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Meade, Md., and has been there since. He was scheduled to transition to the Community Based Warrior Transition Program at Virginia Beach and started clearing on June 14 with orders to report to the unit at the end of the week. On June 15, he was told to stop clearing and that he would continue to be held at Fort Meade.

This isn’t the first time that plans for him have abruptly changed, and it’s getting to him. There is talk that he should apply for “remote care”, but there are also rumors that that program will be disbanded shortly because of new programs for treating wounded troops.

He has had x-rays and two MRIs since returning home. He’s been told he needs surgery to correct the problem with his knee. Since he was expected to soon transition to a home-based program, he was told he should wait until he is back in his community and have the surgery under TRICARE.

One problem is that the plans to take care of his knee and to get him home keep changing. That’s hard on him and his wife and family, who live more than an hour away from Fort Meade. He is able to get around with his knee the way it is, but he has trouble standing, walking or jogging for long periods of time.

There also is a job waiting for him in Frederick, but it is not going to wait forever and, once he actually — if ever — gets home, he’ll then have to undergo the surgery and delay employment.

If there is something you can do, or you can think of something that I can do, please let me know. If there isn’t anything you can do or think of, I want you to know I appreciate that you care. — Steve G. via the internet

Dear Steve,

I have referred your friends information to the Office of the Secretary of the Army. There isn’t any reason why our warriors’ lives should be put on hold after sacrificing so much for our country.


Shaft notes

The Sarge joins the Fleet Reserve Association in their strong encouragement to all Navy and Coast Guard veterans of the Vietnam war to review an expanded list of vessels exposed to Agent Orange, recently released by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs:

The VA is continuously updating its list of offshore “blue water” vessels that conducted operations on the inland “brown water” rivers and delta areas of Vietnam, and the most recent additions include all Coast Guard vessels with hull designations of WPB (patrol boat) and WHEC (high-endurance cutter) that served in Vietnam. If a veteran’s service aboard one of these ships can be confirmed through his military records during the time frames specified, exposure to herbicide agents can be presumed without further proof, thus expediting claims for VA benefits.

“Thousands of Navy and Coast Guard veterans who served aboard ships during the Vietnam conflict experience health problems related to herbicide exposure, but their illnesses and disabilities are not automatically considered service-connected in the eyes of the VA,” said Chris Slawinski, FRA’s national veterans’ service officer. “The VA restricts this type of presumptive service connection to vets who had ‘boots on the ground’ or can prove their ship operated on inland waterways. Each addition to the VA’s list of exposed vessels will make it easier for these veterans to prove exposure and will hopefully facilitate more timely determination of benefits.”

The first iteration of the list was released earlier this year. The most recent additions are categorized by those that operated primarily or exclusively on the inland waterways of Vietnam or those that operated temporarily on the inland waterways or were moored at the shore.

• Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, DC 20035-5900; fax: 301/622-3330; call: 202/257-5446; or e-mail sgtshaft@bavf.org.

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