VA Boss and My Daughter Speak: Warmest Thanksgiving and Please Pass The Praise...

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VA Boss and My Daughter Speak: Warmest Thanksgiving Greetings and Please Pass The Praise...

First, A Thanksgiving message from Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki, and then my daughter's article.

November 25, 2009 - Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki

Thanksgiving is that uniquely American holiday acknowledging our colonial roots. Vital in that history was the sharing of the harvest by Native Americans, enabling our early settlers to survive those first winters in the New World. Sharing one s blessings and giving thanks for the bounties of this great, new land became part of our Thanksgiving celebration. As our Nation grew, this cherished tradition endured and grew, as well.

Equally cherished in our Nation s 234-year history is our military s role as both servant and savior of the Nation. It has sustained, protected, and preserved our way of life and the hopes and dreams we hold as Americans.

We, at VA, are indebted to the men and women of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard for answering the Nation s call to duty. We thank them for their service and sacrifice, and we wish them and their families a blessed Thanksgiving celebration.

We are indebted, as well, to our Nation s 23 million living Veterans. They held liberty s torch high in every conflict during the 20th and 21st centuries. Their courage and sacrifice inspire us, their character enhances our own, and their sacrifices humble us.

To all of our Veterans and their families, I extend VA s warmest Thanksgiving greetings. We are privileged to fulfill the obligation of caring for those who have borne the battle on behalf of our grateful Nation.

To everyone at VA, thank you for caring for our Veterans. Let us recommit ourselves to advocating on behalf of the men and women, who visit our hospitals, our benefits offices, and the countless other places where we serve Veterans.

In celebrating Thanksgiving 2009, let us remember the first Thanksgiving s lessons about sharing and giving thanks, and the men and women who preserved those traditions for us.

This Thanksgiving, Please Pass The Praise... -- Katie Schmidt

This Thanksgiving, my father will open his electric garage door on the ground floor of my parents' split-level home and ride his motorized wheelchair up the ramp in the backyard and into the second-floor dining room, where he will join us at the table.

Without the health care he receives from the VA, or Veterans Health Administration, there would be no wheelchair, no garage door, no wheelchair ramp and no Thanksgiving dinner with family around the table.

I was 10 years old when my father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. After dinner one night in our Long Island home, he told me and my three older brothers about his illness. The symptoms came on slowly. First, he walked with a slight limp. A decade later, he was forced to rely on a wheelchair.

My father, who served during the Vietnam War, began his relationship with the VA in 2002, three decades after being separated from active duty. He served three tours in the Navy as a communications specialist, and it was not until the early 1990s that he felt the full impact of his service when he was diagnosed with MS, believed to be a result of his exposure to the powerful herbicide Agent Orange. My dad has partial use of one arm and only limited feeling in his other arm and legs. In VA terms, he is catastrophically disabled.

Before the VA, my father received limited care for his condition. In the '90s, he left his career as an accountant to launch a business. When his investment partner died suddenly of a heart attack, the business went with him. For some time, my father was unemployed. My mother worked full-time at an orthodontist's office, and she had basic health coverage. With three sons in college and a teenage daughter immersed in extracurriculars, my parents put their kids' needs first.

It was my great uncle Abe, with decades-long experience in working the system, who finally persuaded my dad to take a trip to the VA office. While others let the bureaucracy of the VA intimidate them, my father dedicated himself to learning policy minutiae. Arriving at the VA office for an early morning appointment, he would spend the afternoon roaming the hallways, seeking insight from every social worker, nurse, administrator and veteran he encountered.

Eventually, the VA recognized a connection between my father's condition and his time in combat. Then, his entitled benefits - discounted medication, a wheelchair - trickled in.

My father served his country, and now his country is helping him stay well. The government is by no means giving him a free ride; he has worked hard to navigate this new life and find stability. Like VA care, President Obama's public option is just that, an option. Government-sponsored programs will never be perfect, but they can provide a choice for people like my dad who, otherwise, have few choices. And it's my hope that like my father, the American people will be patient and steadfast in using this opportunity for a better health care system to find wellness in their own lives.

When we sit around the table and enjoy our government-sponsored Thanksgiving, we will clink our glasses to good health. Or at least a fighting chance.

--- Regards, Walt Schmidt