It wasn't the prospect of future benefits that prompted me to join the military. In that long-ago time, it was just what young men my age were obliged to do.
Nor was money the attraction. Although, in truth, the monthly check, including a small bonus for parachute duty, was larger than the one I’d received as a novice newspaper reporter.
But intangible benefits there surely were.
The immediate propulsion into adulthood. Also the self-discipline and confidence acquired through the rigors of infantry training and acceptance of responsibility for the welfare of others beside oneself.
What I did not anticipate was an actual enduring benefit that today, more than 50 years after my Army duty ended, I still receive.
Complaints are heard, from time to time, about the medical support afforded our country’s veterans. Often the issue is the distance some must travel to get care — a particular problem for those living far from a VA hospital.
I remember a time a decade or so ago when the Kansas City VA Medical Center was a target of complaints about everything from cleanliness to treatment outcomes — carping I thought largely unjustified.
There’s been nothing in my 15-year-or-longer experience there to support such criticism. My most recent visit to the center was typical.
I received in the mail a notice to get blood drawn in advance of my scheduled annual evaluation.
Every seat in the waiting area was occupied. But with adequate staff on duty, I was in and out in no more than a quarter hour.
Then, on a morning last month, I returned for my appointment. Check-in took at most two minutes, and I’d just gotten seated in the reception area when my name was called.
A friendly, capable nurse checked my blood pressure, temperature and pulse, then walked me briskly to the office of my assigned practitioner, who listened to my heart, reviewed my medications and explained the lab results, pronouncing them excellent.
One prescription needed changing. She did that in a moment on her computer and said to stop at the pharmacy on my way out.
From the time I walked into the hospital until I was in the car driving home, it had been a half hour, no more.
In a matter of days, the new prescription arrived in the mail, along with my regular supply of the other drugs I take, ordered by phone and delivered at a price a fraction of that from commercial drugstores.
Mine was peacetime military service. I know that if I’d seen combat, been terribly wounded and sent home severely impaired, my needs would have been more elaborate, the visit less routine.
But mine is the experience of one veteran, grateful to a splendid institution and its staff for the care and support that, as a youngster, he never thought he’d need or even imagined he’d be qualified to receive.