CBS’s SEAL Team has been mostly quiet this season regarding social issues. In its place, recent episodes have taken a deeper perspective into the lives of soldiers during and after deadly missions. This week's episode offers the latest example with a critical look at Veterans Affairs.
The April 24 episode “Medicate and Isolate” takes a more somber look at some of the soldiers suffering from past trauma. Clay (Max Theriot), who was injured in a recent bombing attack, has been staying with former SEAL Team member Brett Swann (Tony Curran). Sadly, Brett suffers from his own war injuries and must attend an appointment with Veterans Affairs for prescriptions. While Clay has never visited a VA hospital, he’s still disheartened to see it up close.
Brett: Little different from your Rain Man suite at the military hospital.
Clay: Yeah, they definitely leave this out of those flashy recruiting videos.
Brett: This is a soldier's reward for serving. A health care system that runs like the post office.
Actually, if it were run like the post office it might be better. The setting features overworked and understaffed members who tend to the soldiers. “My workload doesn't offer me as much time as I'd like to review your paperwork,” the one nurse who attends to Brett says. After Brett and Clay wait all day to meet with the doctor seeking treatment for Traumatic Brain Injury, they are told he has to cancel and the next available appointment is in two months. There are places that treat mail with more dignity and efficiency than our soldiers.
While the episode makes a statement at the end insistent that "the characters and incidents in this episode are fictional and do not represent the majority of Veterans or their experience with the VA," it’s not too lenient on it, admitting that "challenges faced by these men and women are all too real."
Bureaucracy and indifference plague government-run health care, something we learned all too well about from the Obama VA scandal in 2014. Just like Brett, there are real soldiers who are put through an unproductive system of waiting lists, red tape and understaffed workers. Unfortunately for them, their plight isn't always highlighted on primetime.
As Brett puts it so eloquently, “These old-timers bled on the sands of Iwo Jima to defend our right to be an inefficient nation.” Such is the description for any government-run health care: inefficient and poorly run. Keep this in mind the next time you hear someone call for "Medicare for All."
In the end, sadly, Brett’s dismay at the results (or lack thereof) from the VA center drive him to commit suicide. Even worse, his case is not an isolated one. We deserve better, and the men and women who defend our nation deserve more.