Nationally, our veterans' medical treatment system is under intense scrutiny and criticism. My experience at the Boise Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) has been overwhelmingly positive, and I have observed none of the negative behaviors described in other facilities.
Allow me to share my experience as a U.S. Navy veteran and a volunteer visitation specialist at the VA hospital.
The Boise VAMC is the best VA hospital in the Northwest, and one of the best in America. That's the opinion of the thousands of fellow vets I've seen during my estimated 8,000 visits to the hospital since 1989. They all express their sincere thanks for the very special care they receive from the dedicated VA employees - not just the doctors and nurses, but the entire staff, including food preparers and servers, custodial and maintenance workers and many others. They all go the extra mile in their efforts to cure the veterans and restore them to the best health possible.
Following my professional retirement in 1989, my volunteer efforts focused on the Boise VAMC. As the Masonic Service Association (MSA) field representative, I logged one visit per week, four to five hours per visit, for over 22 years. I would go from ward to ward, talking to patients and ask if there was anything I could do. I would run errands, make phone calls and man an occasional wheelchair through the halls. On rare occasions, I assisted nurses in nonmedical chores. My MSA sponsor provided care items, which I distributed, including toothbrushes, combs, pens and pencils.
Providing care items was secondary to this more important aspect of my visits: supplying an ear to a patient who needed to talk. Many of the vets had very little: no family, money or home. We discussed hometowns, military units, family, service time and many other interests. Some topics remain taboo, typically politics and faith. Archy and Todd are the VA chaplains, and I often found myself recommending a patient-chaplain visit. My volunteer role is one of "good cheer," and an important aspect of visiting is a contagious positive attitude. I would reflect on our conversations, and constantly encourage a positive approach to both ailments and life. Our conversations would often become quite involved. When asked for advice, I would provide sincere and thoughtful alternatives and suggestions.
In 2011, at the mature age of 82, it was time for a change. My two very capable assistants and Masonic Brothers, Steve Siebers and Flocencio Jimenez, both retired vets, agreed to continue the service.
All-in-all, visiting our veterans has been a humbling and enlightening experience. In leaving the hospital each week, I would offer my silent prayers of thanks to these exceptional people who currently serve and have served, in order that we may continue to experience the freedoms that we, as a nation, so often take for granted. And at the same time, I saluted those underpaid and dedicated VA employees, who continue to give our sick and wounded veterans the loving care they so richly deserve.
Wolfe is the Masonic Service Association State Coordinator, Idaho.