An inconvenient awakening

Ted Ware’s luck ran out on Valentine’s Day 2004 on a road near Fallujah.

The young GI’s luck had served him well during an earlier tour in Afghanistan, but that day in Iraq a roadside bomb destroyed his vehicle, severed one arm above the elbow and left him unconscious. He wasn’t dead, however, and on today’s battlefield anyone still breathing when help arrives is likely to survive, no matter how serious their wounds.

Ted Ware’s luck ran out on Valentine’s Day 2004 on a road near Fallujah.

The young GI’s luck had served him well during an earlier tour in Afghanistan, but that day in Iraq a roadside bomb destroyed his vehicle, severed one arm above the elbow and left him unconscious. He wasn’t dead, however, and on today’s battlefield anyone still breathing when help arrives is likely to survive, no matter how serious their wounds.

Ted was flown to Germany but remained unconscious and was finally shipped to Walter Reed, where doctors concluded that the traumatic head injuries he’d suffered had left him in what they like to call a persistent vegetative state, from which he would never emerge.

So the Army discharged the young hero and sent what was left of him to a Veterans Affairs facility near his North Carolina home, where he could be cared for or warehoused at a lower cost to Uncle Sam.

So the Army was rid of Ted and moved on, but then something happened. Ted woke up, and in so doing became a problem rather than a hero in the eyes of the government bureaucrats charged with overseeing his case.

Since then, Ted, his friends and all who are trying to help him have learned that dealing with military bureaucrats is not much different from trying to get something out of those at, say, the post office.

Ted, you see, could no longer simply be warehoused. He needed services the VA facility to which he had been consigned wasn’t able to provide. Those most familiar with his needs said he would be better off back at Walter Reed, but the Army informed him that since he was now retired he would have to settle for whatever services the VA might be willing to provide.

VA officials said he would just have to live with what little they might be able to do for him in Durham because their rules prohibit them from footing the bill for travel beyond the facility closest to his home, even if a more distant facility might be better able to deal with his needs.

Ted had fallen through the cracks. Had he come out of his coma before his discharge the Army would have handled everything, or if he’d never woken up his family would presumably have been satisfied with the care available in Durham. But in waking up he discovered that his case just didn’t “fit” a system too arthritic to deal with the unusual.

Ted and his wife say the problem with the VA system is that it seems well organized to provide general medical services to retired and aging veterans and does this pretty well but isn’t up to dealing with people in his situation. They are convinced that because he woke up at the wrong time he has been forced into a system that simply isn’t designed to provide the care he needs.

But Ted remains a warrior, and his wife isn’t one to give up either, so they’ve kept after VA and the Army. They’re persistent and are convinced that eventually someone will make things right. So far they haven’t found that someone, but the Army has at least finally allowed Ted access to the services available through Walter Reed, as long as he pays for them himself.

That is what he and his wife are now doing, and Ted is not only improving but looking forward to the day when he can begin working and providing for his family. He has no desire whatever to spend his life as a ward of the government and is surprised that the nation he served would be willing to spend millions to warehouse him but nothing to help him recover.

Ted isn’t the only one surprised by the treatment he’s received. Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) have teamed up with Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Larry Craig (R-Idaho) to demand that Ted and others who sacrifice for their country be treated as the heroes they are rather than problems the solving of which might interfere with some bureaucrat’s lunch hour.

All three senators have written, called and met with Army and VA officials who claim to “feel Ted’s pain” but have shown little enthusiasm for solving his problem. In fact, all three have come away with the impression that many in both agencies are more upset that Ted and his wife have complained than that they haven’t been able to help him.

These, however, are men who don’t give up easily and have the power to actually make bureaucrats listen which gives one the feeling that Ted’s luck may be changing once again.

Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, is a managing associate with Carmen Group, a D.C.-based governmental-affairs firm (www.carmengrouplobbying.com).