“Every morning when I wake up, a memory of what happened to me in Iraq lingers in my mind,” retired Marine Sgt. Carlos Villasenor recounts in a new PBS documentary. “They didn't really prepare us on how to feel or how to react coming home.”
And when Villasenor turned to the VA for help, the agency canceled a scheduled appointment with him and promised to call back soon to reschedule.
“I never got the call that day, or the following day. My anxiety was super high. I didn't know who to talk to,” Villasenor said. “I called the mental health clinic and ring-ring-ring, click.”
His story, of an ill-prepared and overbooked bureaucracy, is one of many highlighted in a new PBS documentary premiering Monday night at 9 p.m. EST, according to a PBS press statement.
“VA: The Human Cost of War” examines the Department of Veterans Affairs from its inception in the 1920s to the modern era.
Directed by six-time Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Ric Burns and executive produced by Lois Pope, the hour-long film chronicles the inner workings of one of the most important but beleaguered bureaucracies in American society, according to PBS.
Personal testimonies, like that of Villasenor, are interwoven with policy analysis and historical context to explore societal debt to its veterans throughout the film, according to PBS.
“From policy-makers to the average citizens, we tend to pay a lot of lip service to how much we appreciate our veterans and how they deserve our honor and respect ... but, as we have far too often seen in recent years, there has been an abundance of negligence when it comes to ensuring their care and well-being,” Pope said. “This film is meant to raise awareness and create an open, candid dialogue addressing this situation.”
The VA is the second largest government agency, training 70 percent of the doctors and the majority of the nurses in the United States and researching many of modern medicine’s most innovative new treatments, “yet few know what it is and how it works,” Burns said.
“This film is an attempt to provide the public with more background about the institution behind the headlines — the VA and its policies, work, successes and failures — and begin a dialogue about what we owe our veterans when they leave the service,” Burns said.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter whose investigations have covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.