by Cindy Hasz
American Reporter Correspondent
San Diego, Calif.
May 26, 2002
HONORING OUR LIVING HEROES
SAN DIEGO -- His mates on the Deny Bolia just called him "Freddie." He'd cooked for many a sailor and not a few admirals during World War II. A 22-year career in the Navy as a chef, and many years since retirement brought him to his final port-of-call: living with his daughter, Vitta and her two children in the back country east of San Diego.
Juan Pedrico, now a 92 year-old man in a fishing hat, sat before me dozing in the morning sun as I spoke with his daughter, who was leaning out the driver's side of her red pickup.
They sorely need help. Daily he becomes more unsteady on his feet and is falling frequently. He's up a lot at night and it's hard for Vitta to get any decent sleep for worrying about him. She tries her best to be all he needs while mothering two children and holding down several jobs, but she has realized it's more than she can handle. Still, she refuses to have him go to a nursing home. A concerned friend suggested she call me.
After the phone call, I was browsing though grant information online when I came across one for "Veteran Home-Based Care" and printed it out. I'd known that there was money available for "respite care," or relief care, but knew nothing of help available to take care of aged veterans in their own homes. I was anxious to tell her about it.
That morning in the parking lot I handed the paperwork to Vitta to bring to the physician's assistant at the VA and wished her luck. The little Filipino fighter still had his chin on his chest as they drove off. Vida waved to me in her white cowboy hat as they left to see what a reticent Uncle Sam could do to help them.
I called ahead to get a feel of the situation and talked to two social workers who were obviously overworked (one said she was doing three people's jobs) and short-fused. They told me that he probably didn't qualify for the program because there was no service-related injury. "Besides," the irritated, staccato voice said at the other end of the phone, "he's out of the service area." They didn't take too kindly to my attempts at redefining reality to include vets like Freddie.
When I asked to talk to the big boss, I was told she was out of town till the 10th and that was that. I made a note to call the head honcho on her return. Maybe, I thought, she'd be more receptive to my creative conjuring. Could happen I thought; why not try?
I called Vitta the next day to find out how she'd made out at the VA; it seemed she'd gotten a warmer response than I had. Her physician's assistant told her that her dad probably qualified and that she'd submit the needed paperwork. Vitta wondered, Why had no one ever mentioned it to her before? Answers like that deserve questions, but sometimes the right question, the one just-right question that turns the key in the lock, isn't around when you need to ask it.
There's no knowing at this point whether Vitta and her Dad will get the help they need through the VA. Unquestionably, she needs it to keep him home. Unquestionably, he deserves it. Unquestionably, there's a high probability that it would save the government money in the long run, by keeping him out of the emergency room for care of an acute, preventable crisis and later rehabilitation.
But then, it's always easier to honor the dead than the living.
This country, despite the rah-rah of Memorial Day and Veterans Day, never seems to come through very well for those who've served her faithfully. Why can't we cut through the pomp and circumstance of such mawkish hypocrisy and actually deliver services - especially elder care - to the veterans who've served this country so well?
Home care, not onlyfor service-related injuries but age-disabled veterans as well, is one of those answers whose question must be asked. Cindy Hasz is a nurse and writer living in San Diego. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org