City Matters: Little sleep for Vietnam vet
Vietnam War veteran Warren Fisher sits in the shade at Massabesic Lake park in Manchester on Monday, with his newly acquired CPAP machine. (Mark Hayward/Union Leader)
The 62-year-old, who lives in a campground just outside Manchester, has struggled with anger issues, depression and suicidal thoughts.
Fisher said he’s been waiting 19 months — since December 2012 — for the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Manchester to provide him with a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine.
Fisher tells a story that jibes with tales of VA incompetence we’ve heard this year, stories about people dying while waiting for care, about the resignation of the Veterans Affairs secretary, and about something so bad that it prompted an unworkable Congress to actually do something and pass reform legislation.
“That’s my medicine, and I scream for medicine,” Fisher, who goes by the nickname Fish, said this week during an interview at Lake Massabesic park. He spoke on Monday, hours after the VA finally provided the machine he had asked for 1 1/2 years ago.
“Your emotions go up and down,” he said. “It affects your mood. When you’re tired, everything pisses you off; when you’re super-tired, you’re pissed off even more.
Fisher served in the Coast Guard in Vietnam. He said his gunboat often shelled enemy positions, and another problem includes hearing loss.
To review Fisher’s medical file is to understand the complex cases the VA deals with.
Recent records show three or four visits to the VA each month for the past two years.
“There could have been a breakdown in communication. We’re not saying it did (happen), we’re not saying it didn’t,” said Will Gagne, staff assistant to the director of the Manchester VA. Gagne said he could not speak about a specific patient, but he spoke in hypotheticals and generalities.
The medical information on the fax is entered into a patient’s file, but sometimes there’s no indication why the information was needed, Gagne said.
In November 2013, he was brought to the VA after he got fired and said he wanted to die. The following April, he had suicidal thoughts when his girlfriend left him.
“I was concerned about other (health) problems,” Fisher said. “I kept on waiting (for the CPAP machine).”
Although Fisher visits the VA a lot, he does not come across as someone who over-doctors and doesn’t take charge of his health. In the last two years, he’s lost nearly 80 pounds, and at 6-foot, 2-inches, he’s a muscular 210 pounds.
His life may be turning for the better.
A stepdaughter has moved to New Hampshire with her children to be close to him. He’s taking an anger management course at the VA. He went back to work recently. And on Tuesday night, he slept four to five hours — a little longer than usual, although he said the sleep was erratic.
“People at the VA, in their defense, they’re overwhelmed. It’s all about money, budget cuts,” Fisher said. And the country has changed from the late 1960s, he said, when gas was cheap and everyone pitched in to help each other.
Mark Hayward’s City Matters appears Thursday in the New Hampshire Union Leader and UnionLeader.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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