As VA hospitals struggle to meet rising demands, the Red Sox Foundation and Mass General have found a way to shore up care for local vets.
slamming. He got out of bed and went to a window that overlooked his expansive yard in Amesbury and the woods beyond. At first he noticed nothing. Then, squinting, he saw the red embers of a cigarette bobbing within the darkness. A moment more and he saw the outline of a man. A young man. His son, Evan.
But what was he doing out there? Since his return from Iraq several weeks earlier, Evan, 22, had been sleeping poorly, but his behavior hadn’t alarmed Gary, until now. By the glow of the moon he could see Evan crouching in the woods – in full combat gear, holding a BB gun.
"What are you doing?" Gary asked when Evan returned to the house.
"Walking," Evan said.
Gary told Evan to go back to bed. He tried to do the same. He hoped that whatever tonight was, it would pass.
It didn’t. Night after night, Evan put on his sand-colored fatigues, laced up his boots, strapped on his 90-pound rucksack, grabbed his BB gun or his Army knife, lit a cigarette, and stepped out into the North Shore quiet. Bang went the back door. Evan’s parents heard it every night now. Sometimes Evan would be out there for hours. When he returned, exhausted, he slept with knives near his bed and under his mattress.
Gary was a retired masonry superintendent who had never served in the military, but he knew some of the details of Evan’s tour in Iraq – the nighttime patrols for IEDs and the insurgents who planted them – and he knew about PTSD. He called the VA hospital in Jamaica Plain, which deals with PTSD cases on an outpatient basis. When he took Evan there for an appointment, the doctors referred him to the VA Medical Center in Bedford.
Days later, father and son waited at the registration desk in Bedford for Evan to be admitted for inpatient PTSD treatment. They must have looked like tourists gaping at the unfamiliar, because soon enough another father approached. The man told Gary about his son’s tour of duty, about the OxyContin painkiller the VA prescribed when his son returned from Iraq, and about the addiction his son now battled. As Evan was led away for an evaluation, this other father grabbed Gary by the arm and said his son still wasn’t receiving the help he needed. "If you think this is going to be the only time you’ll be here, prepare yourself," he said. "Because it’s the fourth time I’m here. The fourth time my son has been admitted."
Evan stayed in Bedford for three months. On weekends Gary drove the hour from Amesbury to take him out to eat. Evan always seemed to get angry when they returned to the hospital. "They don’t do shit for me," he told his dad. He said the VA was warehousing him: keeping him in a semiconscious state and on a trifecta of drugs so he wouldn’t harm himself or trouble the staff. The Vietnam