I interviewed for six jobs in 2007. One was in a palatial facility which hadn’t yet opened. The recruiter said I could have any equipment I wanted - the department would be mine to build.
The next day I interviewed at the Veteran’s Hospital, a facility built in the sixties. Like most med students I’d worked rotations at a couple of VA’s and heard much mocking.
The day of my interview, I arrived early and walked the halls. Displays of fallen soldiers, of uniforms, of flags and weaponry caught my eye. The glass cases, in an empty corner of the hospital, seemed forgotten. Walking on I saw a man in a wheelchair, buzzing toward the end of a long empty hall. Outside, two more men in wheelchairs, chatting in the shade of a smokestack, surrounded by cement and cigarette butts. Forgotten, I thought.
My interviewers asked the important question: Why are you interested in working at the VA? As if perhaps I’d never visited one, or heard the word on the street.
I have great respect for military service, I answered. I feel grateful and indebted to those who’ve served. My father and grandfather served, and I’ve never served - military or in any other way that I can think of.
I got the job. Kept it four years before my family moved east.
One day in clinic I was examining a quiet nineteen-year-old man with a bothersome cyst. His gaze was odd and he looked young for nineteen. I notice a scar on his neck and cheekbone.
Roadside bomb. I’m blind in this eye, he explained.
Thank you for your service to our country, I said.