Community Voices: An example of VA done right

  • Marty Farrell
  • For the AJC
12:00 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017 Metro Atlanta / State news
The late Lou Wojtysiak Jr. at his North Forsyth County home with his wheelchair and van provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs. CONTRIBUTED

We’ve all read the horror stories some military veterans tell when talking about the health care they receive, or should receive from Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Facilities.

On this day after Veterans Day, I want to tell you about a case in which everything went smoothly and the system worked perfectly.

It’s about a guy named Lou Wojtysiak Jr. of Cumming. He was a 73-year-old Chicago native and Navy veteran who served in Vietnam. He was active in several veterans’ organizations and had a loving, devoted wife, a daughter and grandkids he adored.

Last December, after his wife Mary Ann noticed some balance and anger issues with Lou, she took him to see a doctor at Emory Hospital. It was there he was diagnosed with the onset of ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a neurodegenerative disease with no cure. They told the couple they should see an advocate for paralyzed veterans at the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Mary Ann said she is grateful that a friend of Lou’s had urged him several years before to get into the VA system. From the moment Lou was diagnosed she said she knew he had a year at most. Mary Ann said the VA fast-tracked everything. Within a couple of weeks he had a custom-built motorized wheelchair, and soon after that Lou was provided a specially modified van.

Mrs. Wojtysiak said without those things “He would have been a shut-in.” What’s more, it allowed his family to take Lou to Washington, D.C. to see the Vietnam Wall and other things on his bucket list.

As Lou’s condition worsened, the VA stepped up again and provided in-home hospice care for Lou until his inevitable passing on Aug. 14.

Mary Ann acknowledges that many veterans have had bad experiences with the VA Health Care System. But for her and her family VA Health Care was a blessing. She sums her experience up like this, “Incredibly kind, so caring, so responsive. They couldn’t do enough for us.”

With Lou gone, Mary Ann knew right away what she had to do. At Lou’s wake she talked with the local Vietnam Veterans of America saying she wanted to find a Vietnam Vet who could use Lou’s wheelchair and handicap-accessible van.

“In my heart I felt that was what Lou would want,” she told me.

Today, a man in Florida who is also a Vietnam Veteran and who has been handicapped for years is living a better life thanks to Lou and Mary Ann, and of course, the VA that worked perfectly this time.

Mary Ann has some advice, “Every veteran needs to get into the system. We never thought this would happen to us. I’m very thankful for the VA.”

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