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.
vets – the lifers of the hospital – dominated the group sessions Evan attended. He couldn’t relate. He wanted more one-on-one care, but said he only got more drugs. (The VA won’t talk about individual patients.)
Gary didn’t know what to believe. Massachusetts’ VA hospitals were supposed to be esteemed. Then again, Evan wouldn’t lie about something like this, would he? It was frustrating. It was more frustrating to learn, months later, that during Evan’s three months in Bedford the service organizations that operate within VA hospitals and are charged with putting in disability claims failed to do so for Evan. This paperwork was critical – without it, he couldn’t receive long-term VA care.
The hospital released Evan in January 2009, and for the next year he had weekly therapy sessions – but again, among Vietnam vets with whom he felt he had little in common.
He wanted to go back to school, and this past January he got the chance. The VA referred him to the Northeast Veteran Training and Rehabilitation Center in Gardner. There, Mount Wachusett Community College offers classes, free of charge, to rehabbing veterans. But Evan wasn’t ready. He couldn’t concentrate. Within two months, he got kicked out for not doing his classwork. He moved back home.
He was anxious, depressed. The night missions started up again. Intellectually, Evan knew his behavior was bizarre, but emotionally he needed to quell his apprehension until he could be sure that Amesbury at night was not Iraq at night. His parents tried to get him back into Bedford, but were told no beds were available. When the memories of Iraq became too acute – the bombs he disarmed, the insurgents and civilians killed in one particularly intense sweep, the fellow soldiers who died in IED blasts – Evan blurred them by binging on pills. He talked of suicide. The VA saw him when his parents called again, but the appointments were short and infrequent.
This past May, the VA admitted Evan into a substance-abuse program in Bedford. It would not treat Evan’s PTSD – the real cause, Evan believed, of his drug use. Yet it was a start. Evan wanted to go back to school, become an EMT, and he knew a program like this could lead him to better days. On his third night there, he took something to help him sleep – a VA doctor had prescribed it at an earlier visit – and woke up the next day to a drug test, which he failed. Administrators kicked him out of the program.
"Fuck you," Evan told the security guards as they removed him from the building.
A few days later, and after an unsuccessful bid for admittance to another program, Evan told his parents he was done with the VA.
STORIES LIKE EVAN SMITH’S were not foreign to Tom Werner as he dug deeper into veterans’ care in 2008. "This is a massive problem," he says. "Boston is a center for excellent doctors…and I thought maybe there was enough wisdom where we could come together to address this."