Audiologist Tori Thompson checks Jim McGee's ears during McGee's visit to the Grand Junction VA Medical Center.

Photo by Scott Franz

Audiologist Tori Thompson checks Jim McGee's ears during McGee's visit to the Grand Junction VA Medical Center.

Medical mileage: Routt County veterans make the most out of tough situation

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Veterans don’t complain.

They adapt.

This is what I learned early on in my 400-mile ride-along last month with two Routt County veterans who regularly commute to the VA Medical Center in Grand Junction.

Part of me expected to find that these military veterans were frustrated at having to drive so far for something as simple as having their hearing and vision checked.

As a snowstorm severely limited visibility in Toponas, I asked the driver, Navy veteran Jim McGee, what he thought about having to make the drive.

He had no complaints.

Not once during the course of the drive did McGee or his passenger, Army veteran Tom Rossi, curse this drive or even show one ounce of discontent.

McGee had made up his mind that the drive was worth it well before the snowstorm, when he saw for the first time in his life a bald eagle soaring near Yampa.

He then spent the next five hours in a car turning what could have been a burden into something of an adventure.

“This just gives me something to do,” he told me. “I enjoy the views. I enjoy the animals. I enjoy talking to new people. It’s actually kind of fun.”

I don’t doubt that most veterans here still would love to have a hospital closer to home.

Having a service-related disability and having to travel 400 miles round trip to access military benefits must take its toll, but the veterans I’ve met who use this program refuse to show it.

These guys understand the complications of living in such a remote part of the state and the sacrifices you have to make to live here.

They adapt. They don’t complain.

When we set out from Steamboat Motors for the trip, McGee said I must have drawn a short straw at the office to have to take the trip.

This can’t be that interesting, he said.

He later told me, like many of my sources before him, he didn’t want to be the focus of any newspaper story.

But his selfless efforts to drive fellow veterans several times a year to the hospital for a measly stipend warrants some attention.

He makes these trips easier.

After spending six hours in the car with McGee and Rossi, I can say the trip was interesting.

I learned more about two men who have lived incredible lives.

I learned I should never complain about any long wait in a doctor’s office that is minutes from where I live.

I learned that the hospital these veterans go to is a remarkable and growing place that is constantly striving to treat the everlasting effects of war.

I learned veterans don’t complain.

They adapt.

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