By Patric Hedlund
David Hicks of Frazier Park was a one-man 4th of July parade last week. An American flag flies from his bright red Tundra pickup; his license plates say 66VNVT; his cell phone ringtone trumpets the Marines’ Hymn; and last Friday, Hicks was on a mission. He deployed at 6:45 a.m. on a trip to Bakersfield to meet with U.S. Congressman Kevin McCarthy. Hick’s objective: to open a dialogue about opportunities for Mountain Community veterans.
Back in Washington, D.C., everyone from the President of the United States to D.C. security guards to coffee house baristas to passengers on commuter flights and both houses of Congress were all talking about reforms needed in the V.A. hospital system when this reporter was in Washington last month.
The continuing troubles at the Veterans Administration was the lead story in national news, along with the surprising loss by Virginia Representative Eric Cantor in his June primary election. That became local news in Kern County, because Cantor’s nosedive on his home turf led to his resignation as House majority leader, followed by election of House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy to be the new House majority leader.
“My boy Kevin,” is the way many residents of Kern County—including local veterans—refer to their congressman, no matter what their political affiliation may be. Even with his laser focus on ascending the national political ladder, McCarthy has been careful to nurture his local roots.
He is a Bakersfield homeboy who introduced his charming wife to us on July 4 as being from the Mountain Communities. He married Judy Wages of Lebec in 1992.
McCarthy was groomed for Congress by legendary Congressional power broker Bill Thomas. The former Thomas aide and two-term state Assemblyman went to Washington in 2007 and is now the last of the three self-defined Republican “Young Guns” in the House who is not yet bruised and bloodied by tough political battles on the national stage (the other ‘guns’ were Cantor and Paul Ryan—Mitt Romney’s vice presidential pick in the ill-fated 2012 presidential campaign).
At age 49, facing no opponent for all but one of his runs for Congress, McCarthy now has the ability to help set national policy priorities.
Hicks knows this is occurring at the same time that reform of what is called ‘a culture of deception’ at the Veterans Administration is being demanded. Secret lists at many V.A. hospitals have been revealed, allegedly an attempt to cover up the failure to provide timely medical treatment for tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of American veterans.
Former U.S. Army General Eric Shinseki—who was originally appointed to serve as a V.A. reformer—resigned from his position as Secretary of Veterans Affairs at about the same time that McCarthy was being elected House majority leader.
It was to pursue aspects of this story about the V.A. that I went to Washington last month. While there, I asked Congressman McCarthy’s staff to arrange a meeting for David Hicks and I with the Congressman back in Bakersfield when he returned to California for the 4th of July.
During my visit in D.C., the American Legion’s Deputy Director, National Legislative Commission, Ian C. de Planque, told me in an interview about Shinseki: “He is a great patriot who has done a lot for this country, but he had to go.”
We spoke on June 24 at a symposium on new treatments for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) at the National Academy of Medicine in D.C. De Planque seemed like a crisp military officer when we started talking, but he quickly began to lace his comments with colorful jokes and then he told his own story of having PTSD, and of what had helped him the most. He responded to my question about Shinseki’s leadership like this:
“Shinseki told the truth to Congress about the real estimate of [the magnitude of American troops] that would be needed to invade Iraq, but he was not willing to say the hard things that needed to be said to correct the V.A.’s problems.”
“Problems didn’t get addressed for six years,”
de Planque said, “[Shinseki] had time to work on it, and it wasn’t solved. Insisting on his resignation was a message to everyone else in the system: ‘Do we have your attention now?’”
The American Legion took a leadership role in seeking the resignation. De Planque is proud that most of the effort saw Congress respond with a rare spirit of bipartisan teamwork.
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During all the time that Shinseki was in his position struggling with a bureaucracy too entrenched for leadership to change, Dave Hicks and his wife Jill have been running a support group for Mountain Community veterans. What began as a gathering for vets battling PTSD is now providing other kinds of services.
Hicks himself served in the U.S Marine Corp for eight years. He was in Vietnam near the DMZ. He said he started having symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 1967.
When he returned from Vietnam, Hicks said he loved to fight, and he found ample opportunity to do that in the bars around Camp Pendleton.
“I wouldn’t start things,” he says with a nostalgic grin, “but I would always finish them.”
After leaving the service, Hicks knocked around. He was employed as a night manager at a Bob’s Big Boy and as a tow truck driver. He tells a story with obvious relish about a colorful stint driving a carpet cleaning truck for an ambitious 21-year-old fraudster (who ended up in prison, then became a San Diego born-again minister).
Hicks finally went to Los Angeles City College for medical training. He found his calling. When he retired, it was after 20 years serving as a nurse. He moved to Frazier Park in 1992.
. . . . . . .
When I returned to The Mountain Enterprise two weeks ago, McCarthy’s staff asked if Hicks and I would like to attend a housewarming for U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Jeremiah Thein. The Wounded Heroes Fund of Bakersfield had built Thein and his family a house.
On the 4th of July, Thein, who had been in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, was coming to officially receive the keys to the home and the gratitude of his community. He is recovering from a double amputation after stepping on an IED while moving fellow Marines in his unit out of harm’s way in Afghanistan.
. . . . . . .
Hicks immediately said ‘yes’ to the invitation. He wanted to speak with McCarthy about local goals for local veterans. We met at The Mountain Enterprise office to caravan to Bakersfield. He had his service dog Eagan in the back seat and his “Blue Collar Comedy” tuned up on Sirius radio in his big truck. He was eager to go.
We arrived at the Wounded Heroes house an hour early. The group’s board members were setting up a reception. Flipping up the garage door, they had turned the garage into a theater with a podium, folding seats inside and a large tent pavilion extending down the driveway to the street, with more seats placed in the shade, plus tables for distributing refreshments. Being there early gave Hicks an opportunity to stake out a seat in a quiet corner where his golden retriever could lay out on the cool floor, well out of the way of the crowd of about 200 people, plus news media that began to assemble as we neared 9 a.m.
. . . . . . .
After a moving ceremony McCarthy and Hicks had their meeting. Hicks said he was pleased with the opportunity. He said “His eyes lit up when I asked him why they make homeless veterans live on $2,800 a month, and I asked him why it takes so long for the V.A. to pay for anything.”
“I asked him about what happened to things we learned in civics classes. There should be no ‘aisle’ dividing Congress. They should all be working together, ‘of the people, by the people and for the people.’”
When Hicks began reciting that section of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address,, McCarthy joined in, reciting it with him.
Hicks enjoyed that, but he said afterward, “He gave me a politicians answer… ‘You’re right,’ he said.”
“McCarthy’s office is great, but people only go to him for individual reasons,” Hicks observed. He said he was not seeking anything for himself. He wanted to open up a dialogue that can help other Kern County veterans.
McCarthy at first thought that Hicks was asking for assistance with timely treatment, and suggested that he was in favor of veterans being able to secure private medical aid if the wait would be too long from the V.A. Hicks said he did not have that problem, because of his retirement as a nurse. He has
Things he and Jill have done with their support group include filling out forms and addressing veterans’ needs for healthcare and compensation.
The couple also helped to develop a Veterans Food Bank for families in emergency need.
“The support group is for all veterans, whether or not they are combat vets. We serve the veteran and his family. All veterans are invited to attend. Problems can include being out of work with no health insurance…we try to get help,” Hicks wrote in a note before the meeting.
“We also attempt to determine if the veteran is in need of compensation. If the veteran meets the criteria according to Title 38 [the U.S. Code for Veterans Benefits], we will help the vet fill out the appropriate form.”
It is a good time to get that word out, because the Bakersfield Veterans Center confirmed to The Mountain Enterprise this week that they will not be making regular monthly visits anymore to the Mountain Communities Family Resource Center. Now Hicks wants to revive Simba Roberts’ Veterans Helping Veterans group on the mountain.
He also told McCarthy about his Paws for Veterans vision, which will secure therapy dogs for other PTSD veterans.
“Eagan changed my life,” he said, “and Jill’s too.”
Hicks can be reached at 661.204. 7651 and at email@example.com.
Veteran Dave Hicks went to Bakersfield with his service dog, Eagan, for a meeting with Congressman Kevin McCarthy on the 4th of July.
McCarthy aides at his D.C. office, just before the 2013 New Year’s Day fiscal cliff vote, holding a picture of Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy as the “Young Guns—A New Generation of Conservative Leaders.”
Dave Hicks, with Eagan in the cab of his truck, at 6:45 a.m. on July 4, preparing for the trip to speak with Congressman Kevin McCarthy about local veterans’ needs. He also hopes to help more vets obtain service dogs.
Dave Hicks and Eagan arrive at the Wounded Warriors home in Bakersfield on the 4th of July, before the crowds.
Dave Hicks and Congressman Kevin McCarthy discussed goals for Mountain Community Veterans.
First Sgt. Paris Mintz of the U.S. Marine Corps from Camp Pendleton presents a flag to Lance Cpl. Jeremiah Thein, then a hug at the ceremony preceding Thein and his wife and family being shown inside the house. It was a moving ceremony.
The veteran and the congressman: Congressman Kevin McCarthy and former Marine Dave Hicks
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This is part of the July 11, 2014 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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