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I grew up in the shadows of this lovely building: the Veterans Administration Hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. As kids, we jumped over the fence and played sandlot baseball on their groomed grass infield ballpark. It was spooky to know that hospitalized Veterans were watching. They seemed odd and scary.
Yesterday I returned to the VA for another visit. No fence-jumping this time…but it took more courage than 35 years ago. My father has bi-polar depression — a significant mental illness that causes people to constantly walk on egg shells. Especially him. My sister, mother, father and I were within the care of the VA to develop a mutual understanding of how to remain a ‘family’. It hurt some, but I think it helped.
The unexpected surprise was the overwhelming sense of gratitude that surged through me for the Veterans Hospital. The building is an Octopus of hallways; a significant hike to our destination. Along the way, we encountered a very specific slice of humanity. Every patient was strikingly unique; an unfamiliar mix of characters. Each is a ‘patient’ because at one point in their lives they put themselves on the line for our freedom.
Irony swelled in my throat: one of my Dad’s dreams for me was that I wouldn’t have to serve in the military like him. That dream came true. And yet, yesterday I felt especially suburban soft. Significantly out of place. Overdressed and unworthy.
Our counselor is an angel in civilian clothes. She is a tough, gentle master at her craft. She serves an endless stream of clients whose struggles are more difficult than ours. Only the Lord knows hows much she helps mankind. She could make a lot more money and work with a lot more ‘normal’ people in private enterprise…
As I think about the future of my aging father, I’m grateful knowing this part of our society is functioning. But in this country, we promise to take care of the people who took care of us. Thank heavens for the VA.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]