Dear Veterans Administration:

I am at the end of my rope dealing with a series of medical conditions brought about by my military service. Clearly the government is facing budget shortages, and I acknowledge that I have enjoyed the benefits of surgical treatments that cost upward of $6 million (1974 dollars). But after decades of serving my country, I don’t feel that it’s too much to ask that the VA provide a minimal level of comfort in my retirement, which I presently do not have.

While on active duty in the Air Force, I was involved in a crash that caused the loss of both legs, an arm, and one eye. Had I been given the choice, I would have preferred to not continue living, or at the very least go on disability from the service and pursue my interest in social work. However, I was instead pressed into receiving an array of “high tech” (by the standards of the time) prosthetics.

For several years, these did allow me to enjoy a better-than-average degree of mobility. Unfortunately, I was coerced into serving in a governmental operation that placed me in hazardous environments on a weekly basis. As the years passed, my electronic prosthetics became obsolete or, in some cases, completely nonfunctional. My eye implant rusted and locked into place, and the vision is only clear for objects at 6,800 feet; anything closer appears blurry.

A faint mechanical sound that emitted from the legs while I was running during the years early after the surgery became distractingly loud once I reached my late 40s. Eventually, the computer interface between my lower spine and the legs failed, and I have needed a wheelchair since 1996. Occasionally my legs will come to life if I pass close to wireless internet hotspots, but the motions are completely random.

In addition, the skin on my artificial arm has peeled away, exposing a large and primitive button underneath. Whenever the button is bumped, the hand will crush anything in its grasp, and I have destroyed several dozen wheels on my wheelchair over the years in this manner (as well as injuring many small pets). Also, I have suffered countless soft-tissue tears from the shearing forces that obviously result when powerful hydraulics are anchored to muscle and bone.

Given that the original parts were supplied by Bionix Corp., which long ago became a subsidiary of Texas Instruments (which in turn shifted the company’s focus to fax machines), replacing the parts is no longer an option.

All I’m asking the VA to do is approve me for:

  • a motorized wheelchair, or at the very least a Hoveround scooter
  • an assistive animal, preferably a large, sturdy dog of a non-aggressive breed
  • a home-health nurse for at least 20 hours a week

I beg of you as a 71-year-old man whose wife died last year after her prosthetic implants failed her in the same way: Please turn your timely attention to these modest requests, given my many valuable contributions in protecting this country’s safety.

Col. Stephen Austin (ret.)