Random Thoughts

Random Thoughts Volume 12: Volunteering at The VA Hospital


This blog entry started as a class project during my Kirkpatrick Signature Series course, however, quickly turned into something else entirely.
Entry 1: 
I have chosen to select volunteering at the VA hospital here in Omaha, Nebraska for many reasons. My family has served in the Armed Forces generation after generation. Just in recent years, my grandfather on my mother’s side served in the Air Force as a Weapons Loader, and my grandfather and grandmother on my father’s side served in the Army during Vietnam. My father served in the Air Force during Desert Storm as a transportation commander after graduating college in North Carolina. To carry on our family’s tradition, I also served in the United States Air Force for 6 years as a Munitions Technician. I am incredibly proud of my family for our many years of service to this great country of ours.
In my years as an Airman, I was stationed at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas, Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, and Osan Air Base in South Korea. While the Veteran’s Association takes relatively good care of me now, this is usually never the case with others. I know many people who have lost limbs or who are suffering from severe mental problems such as PTSD who barely receive any disability benefits. Less than 1% of Americans serve in the Armed Forces, and unfortunately, they gain nothing but a pat on the back, and sometimes not even that. The time it takes to receive benefits or even make an appointment with a doctor at the VA is ridiculous and unjust. Every time I go to the VA for an appointment, I stay for a few hours and talk to the men and women in the waiting rooms. Most of these veterans just want someone to hear their story, and I do my best to be comforting and grateful for all they have done.
With the inspiration of this Service Learning Project, I now go to the VA hospital frequently, even when I do not have an appointment. I wish more people would see the horrible status of veteran care and those who just do not have a voice. As you walk into the hospital, you see defeated old men and women, struggling to stay alive and acknowledged. I hope to make a serious change to these heroes as I get their story out into the public as I progress in this project.
Entry 2: 
My project directly relates to the lessons taught during this course. As we learn about how our great nation was formed, how it attempts to make a “good society” a reality and the many teachings of people such as Martin Luther King Jr., military service is a major part of all of this. Through the military, we are able to stand up for those who can’t defend themselves. Although so far in this course, many statements and articles are proclaiming that America is a bully and offensive to others; it is our military that allows those statements to even exist. Freedom of speech and other rights were not simply handed to us, we had to fight for it with blood and tears. Nothing is ever free; freedom is won through the efforts of those willing to stand against tyranny and racism. In Mortimer J. Adler’s article, “The Domain of Justice,” Adler states, “we do not have a natural right to the things we want; only to the things we need” (Addler, 1981).
 We must individually work for the pleasures of life, and not just demand them to be given to us. As my class consists of mainly foreign students from China, I have learned how poorly they think of the American military. The teachings in this class so far only strengthen these negative beliefs. Mainstream media does a terrific job at shedding light on what we as a country do wrong, and not what we do right. Yes, our nation seems to always get involved with things that we shouldn’t, however, we must do this. With great power comes great responsibility, and our nation has one of the biggest military forces this world has to offer. It is highly illogical that we would mind our business as we see such hatred and violence in this world occurring. If we do nothing to help those who can’t help themselves, then we as a country are just as bad as those who are committing these terrible acts.
By volunteering at the Veteran’s Hospital, one can see what it takes to make the world a better place. The man slumped in the corner of an office, tired and hungry, patiently waiting to see his doctor, even after hours go by without notice. The woman limping towards the pharmacy to receive a medication that does more harm than good. The young man in a wheelchair that looks like a child, missing both of his limbs. These are the images that one sees at the VA. These are the forgotten heroes who allow us to sit safely in our homes and write about celebrity nonsense online. These are the heroes who bled and are still suffering for African American and female rights. These are the men and women who helped both build and defend our great country. It is these forgotten soldiers who need our help, now more than ever. The article, “Individualism and the “Crisis of Civic Membership,” by Robert N. Bellah, states that “civic membership points to that critical intersection of personal identity with social identity. If we face a crisis of civic identity, it is not just a social crisis; it is a personal crisis as well” (Bellah, 1986).
Entry 3:
Today during my volunteer time at the Veteran’s Hospital, I had the chance to talk to a combat veteran about what he thinks about the duties and obligations that citizenship asks of Americans. First, he talked about his experience during the war. While he could not give specific details as to where he was stationed, he admitted to seeing and committing numerous actions that would be deemed as unjust. When he talked about these horrible acts he had tears in his eyes, however, spoke with confidence as he knew that what had to be done. When I asked him why he chose to enlist in the Army, he replied, “so somebody who is less of a man wouldn’t have to.” I initially wanted to laugh due to my love of military humor, but I completely understood the serious nature of his statement.
When I asked him about the duties and obligations of American citizenship, he explained that every single man and women have to stand up for those who can’t speak for themselves. He further explained that our nation was created by those who saw tyranny and evil and decided to do something about it. When he enlisted in the Army, the attacks on the World Trade Center had just occurred. Fueled by what he describes as “burning anger,” he marched down to the recruiter to sign his life away for a cause he believed in with all his heart, even though his parents thought otherwise. As an African American man, he said he was inspired by great American heroes such as Martin Luther King. Although Martin Luther King practiced and preached about using non-violent methods to support his cause, the Army veteran I interviewed said, “in a world such as this, sometimes one must get his hands a little dirty, to keep other’s hands clean.” When I first heard this statement, I was shocked at the level of intelligence of this man. I mentioned that I was studying Dr. Martin Luther King and his discussion of social contracts in his article, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” This veteran shared King’s vision that everyone must act against an unjust government; elaborating that “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws” (King, 1963).
 Having been in the Air Force, many often regard the Army as lower-class citizens. I never believed this, and the man sitting in front of me was anything but lower-class. His words were bold and enlightening and often sent shivers down my spine as you could see the patriotism in his eyes. After talking for close to an hour while he quickly gulped down his black coffee as if he was under gunfire, he asked if he could help me locate his doctor for his appointment. I then learned he was suffering from PTSD, and it was quite a serious case. When asked what he thought of those who view America as bullies or tyrants, he replied, “call us what you want, but in the end, when your country or people need assistance in the form of ass-kickers, we will be here waiting.” I honestly could not have said this better myself.
 I decided to wait for him to be finished with his appointment due to having thought of a few other questions regarding this week’s articles. However, he apparently had a difficult time with his new doctor. He walked back into the waiting room, apparently sweating and breathing hard. I knew to back off at this point and simply offered to show him back to the hospital’s entrance. It is these American heroes in our everyday life that make reading about the American heroes of the past outlined in this course. I don’t know if I helped him at all. However, I am sure next time I see him I will be able to get more information regarding what it takes to be an American.
Entry 4:
Earlier this week I spent a few hours at the Omaha Veteran’s Hospital and got to talk to numerous veterans. Due to this week’s assignment involving rights, I made sure to get these veteran’s points of views on the topic. Among the men and women I talked to, they all signed up for the military to protect these rights that we all enjoy. They had many interesting things to say about how rights are handled in America. Politics seemed to be the theme of the day as many of the veterans ranted about how President Trump and other political leaders are infringing on our rights. Gun ownership and our freedoms kept being discussed. I couldn’t help but agree with many of their statements regarding the Internet Freedom Act. Having what we access online be available for the government to see is a direct violation of the freedoms that these veterans and myself have fought for. Interesting enough, I found opposing viewpoints on these topics.
Many would believe that most veterans would share a common stance on these topics. However, I was often surprised by many of the answers to these issues. Gun control, for example, was a topic that created a lot of tension between these men and women. However, I found at least three veterans who all have used guns in the line of duty, all who believe that gun control should be extensive and made to limit the sale and ownership of firearms. An older lady who served in the Army told me how a firearm had saved her life, however, taken the lives of her friends as well. She shed a tear as she told me her heroic story. Under intense gunfire, she and her squad were losing ground while attempting to secure a vehicle depot that was controlled by terrorists. She told me how invaluable the depot was and that her superior officer doubted the decision from his superiors to take it. After three hours of constant battle, they took the depot, although lost two of her close friends in the process. She remembered pulling one of her squad members out of an overturned car and noted how light the person was. She kept dragging the fallen soldier to a safe area, and it was then that she noticed that more than half of the body was missing. As she said this, she started to cry. I paused for a second to let her regain her composure, and asked, “are defending the rights and freedoms of your fellow Americans worth what you endured in the line of duty?” She straightened up in her chair, held her chin high, smiled, and said in the most patriotic voice I have ever heard, “hell yeah, I would do it again in a heartbeat.” I couldn’t help but get choked up at this moment and thanked her for what she did.
 Rights are what makes America free, free to do what we want, and free to choose to defend them as well. As our military is composed of people who voluntarily joined, it is this aspect that makes it so intimidating. John Locke’s “Second Treatise of Government” outlines the concept of just power. He states, “being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions” (Locke, 2002). Although when you serve in the armed forces, sometimes one must go against Locke’s teachings in response to the evil of others.
Entry 5:
This morning I spent 2 hours at the Omaha Veteran’s Hospital. I had an appointment earlier and decided to stay so I could help some fellow veterans. I had the chance to help a young man apply for education benefits; this process can be very stressful, so I was glad to help. This week in class, we discussed the detainment of Japanese-Americans in WWII, so I decided to talk to him about his stance on the event. He agreed with me in that this was an unjust and unlawful event. However, he further stated that he believed it was a necessary evil.
Per Abraham Lincoln’s, “The Gettysburg Address,” he states, “four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” (Lincoln, 1863). During this time, America was on high alert due to the actions at Pearl Harbor, and we all know what fear can do to even the strongest individuals. Due to the nature of the attack on Pearl Harbor, we were all afraid that many of the Japanese-Americans were working with the Japanese government and military. Due to this, we thought it was best to detain these men and women in internment camps.
The man I interviewed told me how many people confuse internment camps with concentration camps. He explained that the Japanese in these American camps were treated well and shared very few similarities with the horrible concentration camps that many countries had which tortured, starved, killed, and subjected their inmates to labor-intensive work. I also had the chance to tell him about my grandmother’s experience living near the internment camps here in Nebraska. I remember her telling me about how she and her friends would dress up in revealing outfits when they did their laundry, and the foreign imprisoned soldiers would flirt with them. I do not believe they were Japanese however they would get weekend leave to go on dates and would willingly go back to the camp. Their treatment was very satisfactory. Many other countries treated their American prisoners horribly; putting them to work, starving them, and even killing them if they deemed no information could be retrieved. I think it is safe to say that the Japanese probably were treated with equally satisfactory conditions, not at all like the Japanese treated their American prisoners of war in Japan.
 Is it morally right what we did, capturing and imprisoning Japanese-Americans during WWII? I think not. However, the man I interviewed and I both feel it was a necessary evil that had to be done to safeguard America during a time of fear. Furthermore, he believed that this action protected these Japanese-Americans from hate crimes here in America. After Pearl Harbor, tensions were very high, and Americans were filled with anger. Regardless of what one thinks, I believe we should still remember these events and use the memories to ensure that nothing like that happens again. For instance, many Americans are scared of Muslims due to a handful of extremists. We must remember that the actions of a few do not apply to the majority. After all, there is a huge number of Muslims in the world, and the terrorists make up a very small fraction of them. Americans need to realize this and act accordingly.
Although I agreed with this veteran’s thoughts on this subject, I reminded him that he might have thought differently if he was subject to what the Japanese went through in America during that time. After all, in “The Ballot or the Bullet,” Malcolm X states, “understand that whenever you are going after something that is yours, you are within your legal rights to lay claim to it. And anyone who puts forth any effort to deprive you of that which is yours, is breaking the law, is a criminal” (Malcom, 1964). By Malcolm X’s words, the Japanese in those camps were definitely being deprived of many freedoms, and no matter what the case, that is wrong. I was happy to have helped this veteran understand how to view things from a different perspective, as well as how to apply for educational benefits using the G.I. Bill. I hope he enjoys going to college as much as I do currently.
Entry 6:
Since the theme of the week is racial and gender equality, I decided to talk to female veterans during my volunteer hours. I had the opportunity to converse with a mother of two who had recently retired from the United States Army. She had served in Afghanistan for many years during the war and had suffered from multiple injuries in the line of duty. When I asked her about her opinions on gender equality in the United States, she first thanked me for even acknowledging the fact that this was an important issue that affects us all. She explained to me how the gender pay gap is still an ongoing occurrence and that it might always be a factor. In the army, she did receive equal pay as her male counterparts however at the time, she was limited to certain jobs.
 As a female, there are a few jobs that can create tension among their male soldiers. In the heat of battle, men often find themselves treating women differently. They often grow attached to them, do not think they can keep up, or have problems with sexual attraction. While this is usually the men’s fault and not the women’s, the problem still exists. Currently, many positions in the Army, including the usually male exclusive Army Rangers, are being changed to allow women to join; this is a great step. I then asked her why she thinks the gender pay gap exists in the civilian world. She responded with around a 15-minute speech as we casually sipped our coffee, with the main theme revolving around the slow pace of change in America. Women have been proven to be often more intelligent than men, better suited for leadership positions, and more apt to changes and stress. Unfortunately, we live in a society that slowly adjusts to new variations in our everyday lives.
Men, for a quite long time in this country, have been the head of the household, main financial provider, and the backbone of the workforce. However, we are seeing the rise of women in careers and stay at home dads, and the increasing strength of women all over America. After we talked for a while, she asked if I could help her find her optometry appointment for obtaining her new glasses. She laughed and said she was blind as a bat at the moment. While we walked to the elevator, I asked her how the VA was treating her, specifically her disability payments. It was no surprise that she was rated at a much lower disability rating than she deserved and so I offered to advise her on how to fight for a higher rating after her appointment. She agreed however as she walked away from me, stated that, “and it’s not just because I am a woman!”
In the words of Malcolm X, “we want freedom now, but we’re not going to get it saying “We Shall Overcome.” We’ve got to fight until we overcome” (Malcom X, 1964). The battle for the rights of all living in America must be exactly that, a battle. No longer can we sit idle while our fellow citizens do not receive the same treatment as us. Overall, the few hours I spent at the VA this week was very fulfilling and helped me gain valuable knowledge that I will use for this week’s paper. Even more important is how I had the opportunity to help a fellow veteran not only be able to see again, but also fight for higher disability payments that she more than deserves.
Entry 7:
This week’s volunteer hours at the VA Hospital were extremely fun. Since the theme of the week was the changing American family, I chose to interview mothers and fathers in the service. I had my morning coffee, as I always do right when I get there; veterans love their coffee at the VA. While I was there, they were giving out free popcorn as well, so I had the chance to talk to a father of two who was standing in line. I asked him about what he believes are the main reasons why the American family is changing, as well as if the changes are beneficial or have negative aspects. The man I talked to was a 42-year old Marine combat veteran who has children in high-school. He discussed with me how the rise of LGBT rights is a common discussion held at his dinner table, as his daughter is a lesbian. I admit when I first heard him say this, I figured a Marine would not tolerate that sort of behavior; I was so wrong.
He told me how proud he is of his daughter, not only for coming out but for staying true to who she was, even against oppression. He did say that she gets bullied quite often. However, he tried to help her by instructing her to stand up for herself, as well as the other kids. I then asked about his younger son and his opinions of his older sister. He told me that not only does he accept her for what she is, he also defends her at school; he even got into a couple fights because of it. I then asked what other areas he believes influence the changing American family. He replied that race is a very important one. He is a white man, however, married a Korean during his time in South Korea. He added that his daughter looks more like her mother than him, and that adds to the problems at school. He further explained that it is common for families in America to be bi-racial and that it is a beautiful thing.
Having been in the military myself, I understand how interesting it is and educational to meet people from other countries and see their way of life. I helped the second person I talked to with some tax problems he was having. After about an hour before his appointment, we finished what he had to do and then talked to me about this week’s paper. He thinks that although the American family is quite different than when he grew up, (he was much older) he thinks it is going in the right direction. Most of what he said involved politics, however, he admitted that politics shouldn’t influence a family too much, although, with the current Trump administration, this probably happens more often than not. With Trump, he said, immigrant parents, both legal and illegal are scared, and this fear, unfortunately, gets applied to their children as well. He said that no child in America should be afraid like that and that he suffered on the battlefield to prevent that same thing from happening. With his time facing fear as a profession, he said that he did so a kid would not have to defend themselves someday in an equal manner.
He also talked about women’s roles in society.  Per the Pew Research Center’s article, “The Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families,” “about six-in-ten wives work today, nearly double the share in 1960” (Pew Research Center, 2010). His thoughts on the matter were very positive. He explained that women have always held a pivotal role in society, they have just have not received recognition for it; he is glad that it is changing. Overall, it was a good day volunteering. As always at the VA, it can be depressing seeing those who gave so much for their country, gain so little in return. However, I always feel better having the chance to help.
Entry 8:
            This week’s assessment question asks how much importance government has in our society. As my volunteer work deals with the military, I felt that I would get some great insight at the VA hospital. Yesterday, I had the chance to interview a few individuals, and the general consensus was that the government does, in fact, have too much power. More so, the power that the government has is used unwisely. The United States, as W.E. Williams describes in his article, “The Entrepreneur as American Hero,” is a form of free society. Williams states, “in a free economy, the pursuit of profits and serving people are one and the same” (Williams, n.d.).
Today, media, due to technology, has a severe impact on the way we communicate with and elect our political figures. In the past, our government’s business is usually kept behind closed doors. Former Presidents would be able to carefully deliberate policy issues and regulations with his advisors before making it public. Now, we see and hear most of everything that happens in the form of news broadcasts, magazine articles, and social network posts. I began the day talking to a man who had just retired from the Navy. He didn’t divulge too much information about his time in service however he did mention that he held a high rank.
In his opinion, the government, although potentially helpful, should be limited to the point that citizens would ask for help accomplishing things, instead of resenting the government for the things it already provides. Paying the government taxes is such a dark area. While they take wages from our small paychecks, they pay their official’s large amounts and waste money on useless projects. He said, while it is true that we need a government, we need an active population more. Instead of the fake news stories, puff pieces, and attacks on politician’s family problems and twitter posts, we should instead use our newly found methods of communication to strengthen the public’s bonds with one another and then seek our attention to making real changes. Hugh Helco, one of the authors of the required readings for this week, states that, “in the media battle over public impressions, those who seek to educate the voters by providing information, or to answer opponents’ criticisms, usually lose out to those who “frame” issues and images, shift focus and counterattack, avoid admissions of ignorance or uncertainty, and exaggerate conflict over policy for dramatic impact” (Heclo, 1999). Heclo’s vision of the American government is that it is in a desperately poor place to actually govern anyone. This Navy veteran agreed with Heclo’s statements.
During this veteran’s time in service, he had the opportunity to supervise many men and women and tried to follow a limited government approach. I asked how this was possible, as I learned first-hand how unruly servicemen and women can be without supervision. He explained, with limited supervision and regulation, it is true that some took advantage of this and would do things such as show up to work late or slack off, however, although he practiced limited government, he never ended his supervision. He would give his subordinates free range, and then watch what they do and either punish or reward them accordingly. While this might not necessarily work with the government today, it begs the question, if the government currently regulates what we do so critically, why aren’t they held to equal accountability?
Entry 9:
Overall, this project was very interesting and solidified the many lessons I have learned in my life. Having spent a large amount of time volunteering at the Omaha Veteran’s Hospital, I was able to help my fellow veterans with finding their appointments, applying for benefits, and most importantly to them, listening to their amazing stories. As many of my random thought blog posts focus on the many reasons that make America what it is, I can think of no better place to apply each week’s lessons than the VA hospital.
 Engaged citizenship is crucial in America’s beginning formation and continuous evolution. Our forefathers fought for freedom. Freedom from oppression, racism, religious prosecution, and most of all, fear. “Freedom from Fear,” an article written by Aung San Suu Kyi, outlines how fear is used in economic and political areas.Each and every one of you must make sacrifices to become a hero possessed of courage and intrepidity. Then only shall we all be able to enjoy true freedom” (Aung San, Bogyoke, 1991)? This continued fight for the freedoms in America we all enjoy is directly related to engaged citizenship. We must all fight for the freedoms we have, as well as the freedom our neighbors enjoy too. LGBT, religion, race, age, gender, as well as our backgrounds or careers we choose are all areas that can face criticism and hatred.
 Being an engaged citizen means to stand up for what is right, to always stick up for the little guy, and to never be satisfied by the performance of our government or financial system. One should always seek improvements. This week’s final assignment question discusses the many advantages and disadvantages of democracy. Per the Saylor Academy’s article “Types of Democracy,” “the democratic form of government is an institutional configuration that allows for popular participation through the electoral process” (Saylor, n.d.). A democracy, although far from perfect, is the environment we need to be able to apply our social contract and what we think a good society is, and then turn it into a reality.
With the help of our elected officials, our voice is heard and can create serious change. Although, the effectiveness of democracy depends on the engaged citizenship of its population. Per Robert D. Putnam’s article, “Bowling Alone,” Putnam states, “the norms and networks of civic engagement also powerfully affect the performance of representative government” (Putnam, 1995). It takes the effort from every citizen to be active in what is happening in their government, society, and economic system. The right to vote for our own representatives only works if we vote, and do so properly educated.
America has a long way to go to form a perfect society, and most likely, it will never be achieved. However, by being an active member of society and doing things such as performing volunteer work one can be a part of the collaborative effort it will take to make American what it once was. A land built of freedom, acceptance, and tolerance. A nation that helps its fellow man, regardless of race, religion, gender, or political views. We must all individually accomplish this; however radical individualism must be avoided as it tears at the threads of society. Just as Martin Luther King Jr. and Adler wrote, the pursuit of justice must be swift and constant. We must continue to fight for the future of our country, and we must do so, together.
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Categories: Random Thoughts

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