OUR VIEW: Our veterans deserve to be helped

By Observer editorial June 23, 2014 07:35 am

With the recent Veterans Affairs scandal taking up so much of the news cycle nationally the last few weeks, the front page story in the June 16 La Grande Observer regarding Vietnam veteran Donald Remick was significant in a number of ways.

Last November, Remick was on his way from Colorado to Portland, where he planned to look for a new job and start a new life. But along the way, near Ontario on the Idaho-Oregon border, he had a flat tire. Things went from good, to bad, to worse.

He changed the flat and continued west on Interstate 84. Near Baker City he discovered he’d lost his wallet, probably while fixing the car. With the wallet went all his identification, and all his money.

Remick had been paying for his medications, so losing his wallet provided a myriad of issues. Remick’s health problems include heart trouble and respiratory illness he said is caused by exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. When he got off the freeway in La Grande, he followed signs to the Department of Veterans Affairs Community Based Outpatient Clinic.

There he told his story. 

The clinic took care of his immediate medical needs, and phoned Byron Whipple, Union County’s veteran service officer who at that time was focusing some of his efforts on the problem of homeless veterans.

“The clinic calls me up and says we have a vet in need,” Whipple said in the story. “We had the resources to help, the American Legion military support fund, the VFW food bank, and certain benevolent veterans who provided cards that got him meals and transportation. When I got the call, the whole organization was there. We planned for him to weather the storm until we figured out the next step.”

The next step, ultimately, involved Remick landing a job working for Aramark at Eastern Oregon University, bringing a happy ending to what could have been a tragic story.

Remick’s ordeal highlights the good that can come when a community and organizations come together to help a veteran who has hit hard times, and it should serve as a reminder that this nation as a whole and communities like ours cannot ever forget the service these men and women performed for us. Not forgetting, though, means honoring people like Remick, but also making sure our veterans have access to all the help they deserve.

That means holding the federal government accountable for the care of these veterans, and it will probably mean funneling more money into agencies like the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Either way, though, our veterans, such as Remick, deserve to be helped, and not forgotten.