Service and Suffering Plus Redemption and Forgiveness at the VA Hospital

Duff McKagan is the founder of Seattle band Loaded, and the former bassist in Guns N' Roses. His Reverb column runs every Monday and Thursday. (Or maybe Friday).
My Loaded bandmates--Mike Squires and Jeff Rouse--and I were invited on Monday to go to the Seattle VA Hospital and visit some of the patients. It was much less a "celebrity" thing than simply an "interaction with someone other than hospital staff" thing.

Through this column, I have become acquainted with Ken LeBlond, the public-relations guy at our Puget Sound VA Hospital. Here is a guy who does all he can either to raise money or pump up awareness for the plight of our fallen and often forgotten veterans. He had reached out to me and my band to see if we could and would make a visit.

I was kind of left scratching my head a bit. It is in situations like this that I find myself feeling a little embarrassed, maybe. I know for a fact that Loaded is not a household name and therefore not a band that most patients up at the VA would know about or recognize. I voiced my concern to Ken, and he calmly stated that this was not the point. But more on that in a minute.

We had written a song this past summer for our new record (which comes out in February) called "Fight On." The song was inspired by personal stories I heard about the plight of some of our returning vets. So here at least was somewhat of a tie-in between Loaded and the VA.

A sobering thing to think about is that with all the new-technology armor and immediate and high-caliber medical attention that our soldiers are getting on the battlefield, we are seeing a much higher survival rate than ever before. In other words, and to put it bluntly, guys and gals who would have certainly died in Vietnam from terminal wounds and injuries are now not dying.

But we have now more and more kids coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan with missing limbs, disfigured bodies, and spinal-cord injuries. Also, with all this armor, more kids are surviving as witnesses to their buddies' deaths. Post-traumatic stress disorder is almost rampant now among our returning soldiers. Think about that.

What we noticed on our visit to the VA was an overwhelming sense that these soldiers just really believe that they have been forgotten and that no one cares about them anymore. I suddenly realized that Ken did not necessarily ask our band to visit so much because of our celebrity. No, he was just simply and hopefully seeing if we'd come as human beings that would maybe talk to the guys we saw. To show that someone gave a shit. I guess through this column and what I had written about in the past, Ken surmised that we would be likely candidates to do just that--give a shit. That's all. It was that simple.

With the pain issues from injury and the rising onslaught of Vicodin, Oxycontin, and the rest, the addiction wing at the VA is a bustling hub. Alcohol abuse seems to be the only cure, too, for others suffering from PTSD. When Mike, Jeff, and I visited there, I finally felt at home. Let's just say that I qualify for entry. We had a really deep and inspiring visit with some of those suffering right now. Suffering from withdrawal. Suffering from guilt. People trying to find an answer for why and how the fuck they got themselves into a place like this! It's simple at the end of the day. We are after all, human; and as humans, we are all fallible. We are also, though, capable of redemption and forgiveness to ourselves.

I am a semi-learned student of history with an open mind to all sides of different stories. I have a healthy skepticism of our government, of those that govern other countries, and of religious sects and factions. I have the freedom, though, to express my thoughts publicly without fear of prosecution. I have traveled far and wide, and know from my travels that we indeed have it good here in the United States. I'm not some pro-American nutcase, just a guy who appreciates the difference between the haves and the have-nots.

I want to wish all of our veterans a very happy belated Veterans Day. I want to thank you for your service. I am awed by some of your stories. I care.

I hope through the writing of this that some of you readers will stop by next time you are in the neighborhood of the VA. Tell your friends and family. Write a card to a patient there. I found out too that dirty jokes are appreciated up there. Thanks for reading.

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