I have real hermit tendencies. If it were not for my job and my husband, I would happily spend my days at home curled up, reading a book. This time of year can be both joyful and very isolating simultaneously. For those who are homebodies like me, or who are isolated, for whatever reason, this time of year can be downright deadly. It’s not a very far step from reading a book at home to feeling left out by the world.

The feelings of isolation can happen anywhere, even in crowds. I have a thing about crowds. I don’t like them. When I was a kid, I loved big holiday crowds, stores full of smiling people, lines to go see Santa. Nowadays, crowded malls and stores give me a headache and, at best, make me irritable and feeling trapped from potential exit points. Sometimes it can feel like one is literally an island amid the sea of people surging by in their holiday rush. These feelings are often intensified for those who have served in combat or who are on deployment.

We all know the holidays can be a stressful time. We also know there are lots of folks out there who can feel alone even among a crowd of people. This season, if you’re a Veteran, a service member or a family member, you can talk to a VA counselor. Please call 1-800-273-talk (8255) or go to the chat room–both available 24/7. If you’re in danger of becoming homeless or are already homeless, call us at 1-877-4AID-VET (1-877-424-3838) or, again, try our chat room.

It takes strength to ask for help. I know all of our warriors have that strength–sometimes you just have to dig deep for it. Please reach out to us. Your VA is ready to listen.

L. Tammy Duckworth is VA’s Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs. She served in Iraq as a Blackhawk pilot and is currently a member of the Illinois Army National Guard.

Share this story

Published on Dec. 21, 2010

Estimated reading time is 1.7 min.

Views to date: 155


  1. Phil Dobner March 21, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    Chicago VA is a BIG problem. I am on my third claim for PTSD, seizures, migraines, psychological disorders, memory loss and sleep disorders. I am in DRO appeal and had a C&P exam back in September and the psychiatrist and neurologist could not believe that I didnt have a rating. The psych diagnosed me with PTSD and the neurologist service connected my seizures, memory loss and migraines. A couple of months after that I start getting letters about the opening of a new claim, which I never started, that has a whole bunch of ailments which I dont have and one of which is menstrual disorder (I am a MAN, not funny). So after crabbing about it for a while they finally cancelled the bogus claim and my appeal with it. I flipped out! I finally have the appeal reinstated but have a feeling that it will be another 2 years. Chicago VA is the DEVIL!

  2. Brendan Kearney January 13, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    Dear Tammy,
    I’m a 31 year Marine Veteran who is involved in a number of efforts, primarily non-profit, all aimed at improving the communications exchange between the VA and the Vet and his/her family.
    Quite frankly this has proved to be the single most frustrating effort I have been involved in as there is virtually no way to begin a dialogue with the VA. I firmly believe that GEN Shinseki and the VA do want to accomplish the right thing in meeting their legislative mandates, but until you make it easier for the individual to reach out and engage, that mandate will remain unfulfilled.

  3. Craig A. Nystrom Jr. January 2, 2011 at 5:03 am

    Dear Tammy Duckworth,

    How about becoming willing to help another fellow Illinois veteran? I served nearly eight years active duty and although I was never injured in battle such as yourself, however, decades ago I was asked to work with asbestos while onboard a Navy ship. To this I and other Navy personnel did so without questions asked, end of story right? Well in 2001 I was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 36, this is where my doctor’s say that handling this asbestos came back to haunt me and ruin my life. I had a reoccurrence of the cancer in 2006 and as a result will never be able to work again for the remainder of my life according to both VA doctors and civilian doctors.
    I filed a claim with the Chicago VA Regional Office to which they have misplaced, outsourced and lost my claim and countless other things. This as well as failure to use evidence that I have submitted that was signed for and in the VA Regional Office’s possession. My recent appeal a VA Decision Review Officer Coach said that there clearly was a “disconnect” concerning my evidence not being matched up with my file.
    On my most recent SSOC, the DRO stated that my four doctor’s opinions that I had submitted medical nexus statements or letters from, the DRO said that these opinions were “unfounded” as they did not include my Navy medical records. Well Ms. Duckworth I have requested in writing year after year to receive a copy of my military medical records, the Chicago VA Regional Office would occasionally send me a form letter saying that they were working on it first come first serve in the order that they were received, I requested these records every year since 2005. The VA was kind enough to finally send me a copy of these records this past October of 2010.
    Can you see the dilemma here? The VA says that my doctors opinions do not count since their statements do not include or the doctors were not given the opportunity to review medical records that the VA refused to release as they were in the VA’s possession all along. Can you see the dirty tricks being played here?
    In addition, the same DRO ruled that my “asbestos exposure has not yet been established”. Well Ma’am, this same Chicago VA Regional Office did not even list or utilize as evidence lay testimony from a witness that has been in there possession since 2005. They finally referenced this on the most recent SSOC ruling, however, they also have another witness statement as lay evidence in their possession and yet this was not utilized as well.
    Additionally, I have also been diagnosed by my civilian doctors with asbestosis this past April, which as you may or may not know is another fatal disease. The Chicago VA Regional Office just practices dirty tricks, delay tactics by outsourcing, loosing evidence, picking and choosing which evidence and when to use it, all in the denial of benefits.
    I have only ever come into contact with asbestos while I was in the Navy and have provided the VA with a list of every place and every job that I have worked my entire life. I have four doctors that say that my cancer and now asbestosis was caused by my asbestos exposure while in the Navy. I have two witnesses that personally watched me and other Navy personnel handling and working with lagging that contained asbestos. Yet the Chicago VA Regional Office from your home state just picks and chooses, denies and delays claims. Meanwhile cancer patients like myself are forced to go to food banks and receive zero help from both the VA and the state because I make just above the poverty level with my Social Security Disability and other income.
    How about backing up what you write and help a veteran from your very own state before it is too late for me and my family? I can write for pages and pages about the horror stories that my wife and I have encountered with the VA, how about helping us and changing our opinions?
    Sincerely, Craig A. Nystrom Jr.

  4. Ron Nesler December 30, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    Tammy, I just found a link on Jim Strickland’s VAWatchDogToday to your NPR interview. As one who has long been terrified and disgusted by the VA, I will have to admit that your words gave me some hope that there is honest effort being made to turn the VA into a more veteran friendly organization.

    I believe that President Obama is pro veteran, and I do believe that General Shinseki is pro troops. My fear, and the fear of many other veterans, is that the reform efforts by the President and the Secretary will be derailed by entrenched career bureaucrats, who are really the ones with the long term power, and who are determined to keep their own nests and the nests of their corporate friends feathered. Those bureaucrats will, as they always have done, be in power long after you and President Obama and General Shinseki are gone.

    Please go on NPR for another call in event. You were much more honest than I expected and I am encouraged. And, tell the big shots up there in Washington that telling the simple truth will win over the good will of more veterans than all of the PR money in the world. To most veterans who distrust the VA the biggest issues have always been the delay, distortion, secrecy and obfuscation used to grind veterans down. We will accept and respect the truth, even when we don’t like it.

    Give me hope. Make it better.

  5. Cindy Quivey December 27, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    I am the daughter of a prisoner of war, during WWII, who was captured for 3 1/2 yrs. I watched my father as he dealt with his ordeals and it took him over 20 years before he would share with his family some of the horrors. I would like to assist with trauma and have 10 years experience and a master’s degree, but since my degree is in counseling psychology I cannot even get into the VA to help the veterans who desperately need someone who knows what they have gone throught and will be going through. All the positions require a degree in social work. I have done 10 years of social work and can counsel but still cannot qualify.

  6. Stephen R Lynch Sr December 27, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    OK. Let me share this… The VA has unfortunately turned into a group of beaurocrats. They say that they will help all vets(NOT TRUE). YOU have to be in poverty to get them to help. YOU have to fight and claw your way through their system. We as vets gave our country our service proudly and then they slap us in the face because of our supposed income level being too high? Sorry, we did not put conditions on our service. If you do not believe this, Go visit Arlinton or Ft. MOrgan or any one of the other National cemetaries. I was told that I “make too much” to qualify for VA services. How can this be? My wife had 2 strokes in 2009, and was placed on Disability retirement in 2010. WHen she did, I lost my health insurance, and she only gets about 50-60% of her pay. We are now in forclosure on our home, living from paycheck to paycheck, and we make too much? BULL!!! I am on anti depressants (or was) and was told that I can’t use the VA to get my meds. I can’t qualify for public assistance to get my meds, but can’t afford to go to the doctor. The military started me off with valium, and both the VA and the private insurance that I used to have continued to prescribe anti depressants for my condition, and now I am cut off from it. Not saying life is fair, but this condition should have been attached to my service connected disabilities and was not. Filed paperwork to get it included, and they ignore me. I ask for re-evaluation, and they ignore me. SOrry, but until you serve ALL vets, you don’t deserve OUR service OR new facilities. We SERVED OUR COUNTRY, NOW IT IS TIME FOR OUR COUNTRY TO RETURN THE SERVICE!!!!!!!!!!

    • Craig A. Nystrom Jr. January 2, 2011 at 1:03 am

      Dear Mr. Stephen R Lynch Sr,

      My heart weeps for you and your wife and family, although I cannot walk in your shoes nor even begin to even comprehend the hell that you and your family has and is being put through. I unfortunately am a veteran who also has sought help from the VA and has been given lip service, has had my claim misplaced, outsourced, you name it its happened. My prayers go out to you and your family to give you strength and may God help you in both your struggles with the VA as well as your daily battle just to survive and make a life for yourself, your wife and family. Please read my story below and know that there are others who are suffering as well and support you and those like you if only in silence and prayers.
      Sincerely, Craig A Nystrom Jr.

  7. Ron Nesler December 25, 2010 at 10:56 am

    Tammy, you were once among the first to speak out for your fellow veterans. http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/pittsburgh/s_715194.html
    What has happened to you?

  8. Pamela Hansen December 22, 2010 at 10:57 pm

    I can understand Scott I got my nursing degree and was injured on job developed chronic pain and cant work because pain is so bad from head to toe cant get disability because of my education there has to be something i can do yeah right I am trying my best to raise a disabled daughter and 2 chronically ill grandchildren with no income per se I have been suicidal and still contemplate it everyday I feel no one wants to help i never know where I am coming up with rent day to day and feel family would be better with my insurance policy than me but somehow i go on but tomorrow is another day and now it is Christmas and I cant do nothing for my family wish I could curl up and disappear will be glad when it is all over. Thin everything would be better if i could get the money to buy my Grandmas house she died in April my grandfather adn her built the house and I only have to come up with half its appraised value but do you thnk that would happen never maybe next year

  9. Rick Wheaton December 22, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    Scott and other vets, Life sucks sometimes and all you can do is hang on for the ride.

    Just two years ago I was homeless, jobless, suicidal. I was alcoholic and trying to deal with PTSD forty years after Vietnam. The VA in Cheyenne got me off the streets and helped me get off the booze. I can’t speak about any of the other hospitals because I’ve never been to them but the staff at Cheyenne literally saved my life, got me the treatment I needed and the benefits I am entitled to, and helped me find new meaning in life ~ a chance to start over. I am forever grateful.

    Find the right people at the VA and ask for help. I think you will be pleasantly surprised just how much they care.

    Take care and welcome home.

    • brenda hayes December 22, 2010 at 11:28 pm


      Thanks for sharing your success story. I truly wish there were more success stories like yours. Maybe Cheynenne needs to train other VAMC’s how to do it.

      MCGuire VAMC in Richmond VA, IMHO, does not have its act together. They don’t have wrap around services; I was told they had no in-house program and then I was told they have a 5 person limit on their inhouse A/D “program”; that’s not an Inhouse A/D Program!!

      They expect homeless Vets to come to a OP A/D Program–never mind that their “camp” is 10 or miles away and they don’t have transportation or it can’t be coordinated with the DAV van, etc.

      After detox; they just let them walk; again no coordinated services with outside community resources, or other VAMC’s. I know– as I tried helping a homeless Vet and….I could write a book.


      There is No open door policy at that VAMC; there is NO ACCOUNTABILITY.

      Calls are not returned from Patient Affairs,or those that take complaints and say they will get back with you..…Because there is NO ACCOUNTABILITY AND NO CONSEQUENCES.

      Lauren, when I was 27, I too was quite naive.

      After a few years in dealing with these systems and being online with other Vets and family members dealing with the VA–and I mean ALL of the VA; to us; even though it is is 3 separate administrations; to us–it is the VA AND the buck stops with the Secretary;Most of us have no clue who heads up the others; we never hear from them or invited to open forums that have call ins like other Federal agencys…

      Seems like this site Team could work on that and let us know when, where and how to sign up to be a part of this “transparency”.

      There has been quite a few very Good suggestions/solutions to issues on this site.

      SUGGESTION: Have a running blog ISSUE/SOLUTIONS.

      Also, does the VA have a OE/OD/IG report on their processes that are not working in the claims arena along with suggestions? If so, can you post exactly where it might be found on the VA’s Website?


      ….Because “…Veterans and their family members deserve better; much better!”

    • Cindy Quivey December 27, 2010 at 1:30 pm

      I can feel the pain, frustration, and disappointment in your writings. Tammy said it takes strength to ask for help and even though this is true, if there isn’t anyone who cares about what you are saying, or if the facilities are not available, what is said falls on deaf ears. We expect the great people in this country to sacrifice it all for this country only to return and expected to acclimate back into the community as if nothing has happened. We(Americans) use to take pride in our assistance of “our neighbors” and have now turned into a “me” and “screw you” country. I have met many nice people who want to help, and do, but soon get overwhelmed with the numbers that need help and the lack of agencies willing to contribute. Words are just words until we internalize them and put the money behind them.

  10. Scott Rupe December 22, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    Let’s see now…still got that bachelor’s degree after being blind-sided by the Navy several years ago and medically discharged: check. Lost my teaching job in May: check. Realize that opportunities are disappearing: check. A few months away from losing it all: check.

Comments are closed.

More Stories

  • During Sickle Cell Awareness Month in September, the American Red Cross emphasizes the importance of a diverse blood supply to help meet the needs of those with sickle cell disease – the most common inherited blood disorder in the U.S.

  • CaringBridge, a free online tool to communicate health news to family and friends, is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

  • Shahpur Pazhman flew Black Hawk missions in 27 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, resupplying and relocating Afghan ground forces and evacuating casualties to safety. Thanks to Bridge My Return, he's back in the air.