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Retirees swap stories, get care at appreciation day on JBLM

Northwest Guardian

Published: 04:41PM May 22nd, 2014

Paul Christofferson was 100 pounds and 17 years old when he joined the Navy in 1943. He was so small that he only qualified for submarine torpedo boat duty and almost died serving during World War II.

He retired after 23 years, also serving in Vietnam and Korea. He said civilians in the past were not always supportive of veterans.

“We came back to the states and there were demonstrators in the airport calling us baby killers, hollering and throwing things,” Christofferson said. “They treated us like that and I almost lost my life when two torpedoes hit our submarine.”

He said his memory of those who treated vets terribly makes him glad when someone takes the time to appreciate what he and hundreds of others went through.

Fifty-six specialty clinics from Madigan Army medical Center and 61 other military agencies came together to take care of those vets May 16 during Retiree Appreciation Day at the American Lake Conference Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

“Today is about retirees and giving back to them, their spouses and their widows,” said Alex Silva, retirement services officer at JBLM. “They gave everything they could give; we want to give something back to them. We can never give them enough.”

Silva is a Vietnam veteran and said he knows how many retirees feel.

“I think they appreciate things like this a lot,” Silva said. “They can see how the world treats veterans today, and they can’t appreciate that enough.”

At Retiree Day, veterans got many of their needs met. From medical booths to legal services, hundreds filled the lines throughout the day.

“Veterans are able to get everything in one place,” Silva said. “For example, we have all levels of the VA.”

Silva said normally a veteran might see one person in the VA and then might have to go to a different office for another matter. At this event, veterans walk down the hall to see the next-level VA representative right away. This was especially helpful for veterans who needed to see multiple medical specialty clinics.

Medical booths included dental for oral cancer screenings, occupational therapy for on-site prostate exams, dermatology for full-body skin-cancer exams and cardiovascular for ultrasounds looking for clots in carotid arteries.

“Many veterans come here for their annual checkup because it’s convenient, and they know they’ll be seen,” Silva said.

Action was taken on the spot when needed. Retirees who learned of serious medical conditions during the event can attest to that. One veteran learned of an aneurism. A dermatologist found probable melanoma skin cancer in two vets, and another found two with probable oral cancer.

Once doctors detected cancer or another serious condition, staff members immediately arranged appointments for rapid treatment.

“It’s scary to see these things when many may not have gotten the latest care they need,” said Capt. James Leale, a doctor of dental surgery at Madigan. “It feels good to help these vets. It only takes a few minutes, but it could make a huge difference.”

Retirees also attended classes and visited booths for organizations that assist them, like The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

One class was on the topic of managing diabetes. Susan Smith, a diabetes clinical nurse specialist on McChord Field, said most veterans in her class were misinformed about their condition.

The legal services booth was popular, crowded with vets updating their wills, getting powers of attorney and asking legal questions.

“I’ve been coming to this event for five or six years,” said Aecha Christofferson, Paul’s wife. “It’s always really good, and I like it because there is a lot of information.”

The Christoffersons are already planning to return next year. They said they hope more people treat veterans as they were treated at Retiree Appreciation Day.