I consider it a “pre-paid benefit,” and I use it whenever and wherever possible.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs stands ready to assist 18 million American veterans for whatever needs arise. So with that, I will tell you that I got a phone call the other day from the VA. The automated voice informed me that I could call a number and make an appointment to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at the VA North Texas Medical Center in Dallas. I jumped all over it.
I ended the call, then phoned the number the “voice” gave me. After a lengthy wait, a human being picked up on the other end and she set up an appointment. I could come in the very next day!
And so … the demystifying of this process kicked in.
I received the Pfizer vaccine the next day. My wife and I drove from Princeton all the way through McKinney, Allen, Plano, Richardson and then through Dallas. We navigated our way through the Interstate 30/35E/45 interchange next to downtown Dallas and then arrived at the VA medical center.
We parked in a garage close to the building where I needed to wait for my shot.
I walked in, got my temperature taken and then trekked down the hall to check in with the clerks who were running the inoculation entry station. Here is where my heart began to sink. Why?
Well, when I talked to the lady on the phone the previous day, she told me that a mid-afternoon appointment was likely to mean sparse attendance at the clinic where we reported for our vaccination. What I saw upon arrival, though, was, um, vastly different from what the lady on the phone led me to believe would occur.
I walked down the hall past a long, seemingly interminable line of masked-up veterans. I turned down three more halls and found the end of the line.
My first thought when I got there – which I believe I muttered out loud under my own mask – was “holy crap! I am going to be here forever!” I phoned my wife, who was waiting outside and informed her that I was at the end of a line with at least 300 people in front of me. “I’m going to be here a while,” I told her.
Then a bloody miracle happened! At least it seemed like a miracle. It seemed as though I had been waiting for less than 30 minutes when I found myself suddenly at the desk where I had checked in. I was about to enter the room where 24 inoculation stations were set up.
Jeff Clapper, public affairs officer for the North Texas VA Health Care System, suggests it’s all according to plan. The system, he said in a statement, “has been remarkably effective at immunizing VA North Texas staff and patients, successfully delivering 11,600 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to date, with wait times consistently below 45 minutes.”
Clapper added, “The Dallas (point of distribution) is currently vaccinating both eligible veterans and VA North Texas employees by appointment only; no walk-ins allowed.” He said the North Texas VA office “contacted over 25,000 priority eligible enrolled outpatients via phone call.” He said the Dallas POD is now booking new vaccination appointments for not earlier than the first week of March.”
I have been enrolled in the Department of Veterans Affairs medical program for just a few years. I signed up when I was living in Amarillo and have found the VA level of service to be exemplary. I had nothing but smooth sailing at the Thomas Creek VA Medical Center in Amarillo. The level of service remains high at the Sam Rayburn Medical Center in Bonham, where I go these days for my regular wellness visits. That brings me to another point: I have suffered no medical emergencies, but at my age I am aware that my luck is likely to run out … eventually.
The Dallas visit to obtain my first Pfizer vaccine shot to prevent me from catching the COVID virus only enhances my good feelings toward the Department of Veterans Affairs.
I am sure I can speak for many veterans who appreciate the care they get. I understand that no massive government system is perfect. For me, though, it’s been pretty close to perfection. For now, at least.
John Kanelis, former editorial page editor for the Amarillo Globe-News and the Beaumont Enterprise, is also a former blogger for Panhandle PBS in Amarillo. He is now retired, but still writing. Kanelis can be contacted via Twitter @jkanelis, on Facebook, or his blog, www.highplainsblogger.com. Kanelis' blog for KETR, "Piece of Mind," presents his views, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of KETR, its staff, or its members.
Kanelis lives in Princeton with his wife, Kathy.