Corner Column

Posted 2/23/23

East Texas is pretty well insulated from issues which can be at the center of discussions in other areas of the country. That is a positive thing. 

And then, on the rare occasion, the world of ‘wokeness’ intrudes.

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Corner Column


East Texas is pretty well insulated from issues which can be at the center of discussions in other areas of the country. That is a positive thing. 

It can be argued that the insulation is good and protects our lives and our families in the supportive and nurturing environment built by families, churches, schools and communities.   

And then, on the rare occasion, the world of ‘wokeness’ intrudes.

There was a moment like that last week. Preparing for a bi-annual doctor’s visit with the Veterans Administration (VA) clinic in Tyler, a call was received to confirm the appointment and preliminary patient information. 

By way of a disclaimer, the VA has served this veteran well, providing quality and timely care. The brand-new state-of-the-art clinic in Tyler is a busy place for the large veteran population East Texas. 

Anyone who has experience with the government understands how these preliminary phone calls work. One’s name, date of birth, ‘last four’ and other identifiable information is confirmed, to ensure that ‘you are who you say you are,’ and that the VA has the right guy or gal.

This, however, was different. After the first few questions confirming identification, the representative on the phone paused, took an audible breath and stated, “We have a few new questions which we must ask you in preparation for your appointment.”

Assent was given without any further thought.

Then it began (I am not making this up).

“What is your sexual orientation?”

In shock, I answered, “I am a man, heterosexual.”

“Are you active in your relationships?”

“I am married.”

At this point my brain kicked in and I took issue with what any of this information has to do with the Veterans Administration or my upcoming annual medical appointment. Only on my first cup of coffee, I did not yet have the normal full array of Navy language available to express myself, but was still able to strongly voice my displeasure at what was happening. 

The VA representative advised me, in a very empathetic tone, that they do not know why they are required to ask those questions, nor are they given any background or justification. They are just the messengers. 

The questions continued:

“Are you presently in a relationship?”

“If so, have you had sexual relations within the past 12 months?”

“Are you under threat of sexual violence or in any way threatened by your relationships to force sexual activity?”

“Are you under threat of physical violence or in any way threatened by your relationships with physical violence?”

“Have you taken a flu shot in the past 12 months?”

And, lastly, and perhaps at the most important question: “Have you in your service ever been exposed to toxic materials while in the U.S. military to include radiation, asbestos, agent orange and burn pit exposure?” 

It is a loaded question. Practically everyone who has served in the U.S. military has had exposure to toxic materials in the course of their service. I answered honestly, “Of course, but no more than in the normal course of business.”

I found out that only “yes” or “no” answers were available as the representative declared that my answer would qualify as a “no.”  “That would be a ‘no’ then,” she stated exactly.

Now several days removed from that phone call, it was time to determine what all this meant.

If the front-loaded questions were designed to get one flustered and to more readily react “no” to the last question regarding toxic exposure – then it probably worked as designed. 

More likely, the question regarding toxic exposure was a data-gathering effort to understand better the scope of potential government liability under the recently enacted Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act. 

According to the VA, the PACT Act which was codified into law in 2022 will expand and extend eligibility for VA health care for veterans with toxic exposures and veterans of the Vietnam, Gulf War and post-9/11 eras; add 20+ more presumptive conditions for burn pits, Agent Orange and other toxic exposures; add more presumptive-exposure locations for Agent Orange and radiation; require VA to provide a toxic exposure screening to every veteran enrolled in VA health care; and help to improve research, staff education and treatment related to toxic exposures. 

It is a measure long overdue, and one which will go a long way in treating veterans suffering from toxic exposure.

Confident that there was rationale in the questions regarding toxic exposure, attention returned to the bureaucracy’s seeming infatuation with the sexual habits of our veterans. Most troubling is the use of the term orientation. 

Orientation is not a factual matter. By definition it is an aligning of something with respect to some guide. Had they asked, “What is your sex?” it would have been a factual exchange. 

The whole concept of introducing subjectivity into government care is troubling – as are the questions that followed, for they are not primary medical care questions (except for the flu shot query). 

However, since data is being gathered on these questions – as ridiculous as that might seem – the data will be used at some point down the road to make decisions about health care for our veterans. 

Those decisions, if based on the above questions, will not be based on fact, but on subjectivity and interpretations.  

It is to be considered that the VA has provided a ‘shot across our bow’ of the type of data-gathering and research which government bureaucracies will soon be using in other areas. Yes, in those very areas we cherish: families, churches, schools and communities. 

Let’s be forewarned.