OSKALOOSA, Iowa — Richard Crook of Oskaloosa has seen battles. He served three tours in the jungles and on ship serving in the Navy during Vietnam.
“He was in Vietnam from 1962 to 1966, Dick was on the USS Elkhorn AOG7, it’s a gasoline tanker,” said Diana Crook, his wife. “The fuel lines to come off the USS Elkhorn was run through the jungles, Dick had to walk through the very dense jungle because the Viet Cong would pop couplers and on the fuel lines, Dick’s job was to go ashore and reconnect all the fuel lines.”
Now Crook is fighting another battle. He is being treated for dementia at the VA Hospital in Iowa City. Those jungles he walked though were sprayed with Agent Orange, trying to clear out the foliage.
“He did three tours in Vietnam was happy to do it, but in 2005 he began to have severe neurogenic conditions due to the neurotoxin of the Agent Orange,” said Diana. “So he was sprayed with it, he ended up swimming in it in the ocean, and he drank it because all they did was take the saltwater out of drinking water not the Agent Orange.”
When Dick became ill, the Crook family realized his illness was most likely connected to his exposure to Agent Orange. They went before an administrative law judge in Washington. A year ago Crook’s illness was ruled 100% connected to his Agent Orange exposure.
“I believe our path is to not only help veterans like my husband but to help other veterans there’s many of them out there across the country who need help, to have better care, or have facilities that are equipped to care for patients like that,” said Diana.
The family is now also on a campaign to try to get Dick moved closer to home. In Iowa City, they don’t get over there often enough, due to the distance.
“There are three contracted facilities in the state of Iowa and the closest one is 100 miles away,” said Crook. “But they have proper staffing to care for what we will Dick needs and the rest of the places are Wisconsin, and Minnesota, over 250-300 miles per one way trip, it would be very hard for all of us to do.”
“Any time a Veteran or family member has a concern, we reach out to them directly, just as we have done with the family member in this case,” said Bryan P. Clark, Public Affairs Officer for the Iowa City VA. “It’s important to note that when choosing nursing homes, we must match patient care needs with nursing homes that offer specialized services to meet those needs, and in order for VA to be able to pay for care at a nursing home, it must have a contract with VA.”
It’s that contract rule, which Diana Crook is campaigning to get changed.
“We would like to find a closer contract in facility,” said Crook. “Contracted facility means the government pays for their care, Dick is 100% service-connected, his care should be paid for in any institution, not just contracted facilities.”
The family hopes to get the attention of someone who can change the current rule.
“We can’t have him so far away to travel to, so we’re trying to get attention to whether it’s President Trump, whether it’s the Secretary of the Veterans Affairs, we will keep trying to cut through red tape to allow our veterans to be closer,” said Crook. “It has been a struggle, I’ve been a nurse for 41 years, I worked at the Pella Regional Health Center, they instill patient rights, respect of our patients, Christian compassion and I feel that that is what drives me and I have God in my life our whole family does.”