It was just a small, simple, green address book that my mom had pre-populated with addresses of family and close friends.
Marine Corps duty included Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting, Rescue Swimmer and Helicopter Search and Rescue.
At 4:00 in the morning, I didn’t think much of it when my dad handed it to me. He told me that my mother had filled it with people I should write to while away.
Of course, I didn’t have to be at the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) until 5:00 a.m., but my dad, being a Marine himself almost four decades earlier, was never late to anything.
The trip from a small town outside of Topeka to Kansas City was quiet, but purposeful. I could tell my dad was proud of what I was about to accomplish. I didn’t speak much, but I listened intently to the short stories my dad shared with me about boot camp and about his time in the Marine Corps.
That cool May morning was the day I was reporting to Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego. I knew it would be a long day, and after hearing the stories of the yellow footprints from my dad, I knew that the first 48 hours would be a true test.
As a young man at that time, I really didn’t know what it meant to be a service member or a future American Veteran.
“America must continue its promise to Veterans.”
Fast forward 25 years. I am filled with gratitude at the opportunity to care for American Veterans as an employee of the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System.
I find myself in an occupation that is a privilege and one that brings me great professional satisfaction. Having served and now knowing what it means to be a service member, I work for VA because America must continue its promise to Veterans. And I believe that the best and only place I can fulfill that promise is with VA.
It’s easy to talk about all the amazing contributions that VA has given back to America… the modern electronic medical record, nicotine patch, artificial limbs, first successful liver transplant. There’s also the implantable cardiac pacemaker, bar-code software for administering medications, and three Nobel prizes.
All Americans, not just Veterans, benefit from VA. Each year, VA trains, educates and provides practical experience for 62,000 medical students and residents, 23,000 nurses and 33,000 trainees in other health fields. No single institution trains more doctors or nurses than VA. These professionals go on to provide health care to Americans throughout communities across this country.
Impact VA pillars provide for Veteran care
The foundational pillars of the VA health care system:
- Enable holistic health care for our patients
- Research that leads to advances in medical care
- Training that’s essential to build, and maintain proficiency of care
- Delivery of clinical care to help those in need
These are easy things to rattle off and certainly essential to recognize the impact, not only with care provided to Veterans, but also to American medicine in general.
David Isaacks and his dad, John Isaacks.
However, what I think is the most important thing to acknowledge is how VA enables America to keep the promise.
After a couple weeks into Marine Corps boot camp, I finally had some time to write home to family and, even though I knew my parents’ address, I cracked open that small, green address book.
As revealed by my dad, my mom had diligently filled in several addresses in alphabetical order. Familiar names were easy to find and, even though I only had enough time to write one letter, it felt good to know that all those people were placed in that book for me.
Found dad’s note in the back of mom’s family address book
As I flipped through the family address book, I quickly came to the end and noticed something that has since always stuck with me. In my dad’s handwriting, he left me an important note.
It read, “Son, I am proud of you, and I want you to remember one thing. No matter what, you should always protect those who cannot protect themselves.”
To me, this is something I constantly think about while caring for Veterans, and it is why I continue to serve. Oftentimes, when our lives intersect with health care needs, we are at our most vulnerable.
The health care needs of Veterans are unique and complex as a result of their military service. This population is also vulnerable to homelessness, poverty and mental health issues. VA stands to protect them, especially when they cannot protect themselves.
VA is purposeful in ensuring and advocating for Veterans who cannot advocate for themselves. VA health care is set up to care for the whole person without regard to insurance plan, payment ability, location or unique need.
The delivery of health care is integrated with research and education to complete the full circle of innovation and advancement of medicine.
VA health care continues to lead the way
VA has set the bar for care coordination among public and private providers. No other organization, health care system or enterprise is in a better position to keep the American promise to Veterans.
From prosthetics to mental health to home-based primary care to family support of Veterans through caregiving, VA health care continues to lead the way. The future of a strong nation is inevitably linked to its ability to fulfill its promises to future generations of Veterans.
To me, this requires a strong and viable VA.
I look forward to working to ensure we keep our promise to our American heroes.