Darisse Smith served in the U.S. Army for seven years as a commissioned officer and OH-58 D "Kiowa Warrior" helicopter pilot. She served in Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2005-2006 at Camp Zaytun in Irbil where she served as a liaison officer to the S. Korean Army and Iraqi Kurds. She was featured in a stand up comedy documentary called "Comedy Warriors: Healing Through Humor" and advocates for injured veterans. She has a bachelor's degree in English from Davidson College and is a freelance writer living in Yucaipa, California.
I stared at the bare rock face, harnessed up with ropes and carabiners, wondering where to start my climb. I had become overweight and inflexible since my separation from the Army in 2007, yet I was determined to climb up to the top of this short cliff. All of the other veterans who were watching cheered me on and shouted out pointers: “There is a hold to the right of your hand! Put your foot on that ledge!”
The 2014 scandal involving the Phoenix Veterans Health Administration infuriated the nation, but produced at least one positive effect. As more details emerge about the systemic ways waiting times were manipulated for big executive bonuses, Americans agree that radical reform is needed throughout the VHA. According to a Gallup poll conducted in June 2014, 87% of Americans thought that reform of veteran’s health care was extremely or very important. Of course, how to reform the VHA remains up for extensive debate. Following the resignation Of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, Bob McDonald took the helm and implemented several changes. After replacing Shinseki, McDonald immediately increased pay for VA physicians, put 1,000 employees on administrative leave for cheating the system, and hired thousands of new health-care workers into the VHA. The 2014 Veterans Access Choice and Accountability Act was also passed in order to temporarily alleviate waiting times for some eligible veterans.
Anyone who has ruck marched with a heavy pack, performed a parachute landing fall out of a C-130 or worn body armor all day knows that the military lifestyle is rough on the body. Due to the physical requirements of the military, veterans experience a much higher rate of chronic pain than the civilian population. The recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have led to more advanced body armor, saving the lives of thousands of soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen. These advances in equipment, though lifesaving, mean that troops survive with devastating injuries such as limb amputations and traumatic brain injury that require advanced, coordinated treatment.