One night in December 1968, SP4 Dennis E. Haines’ life changed literally in a flash.
“Our mission was to encircle a village,” his buddy John Miller recalls. “It was on this path that Dennis and I were sent to act as a listening post, waiting for darkness until the rest of the company would join us.
“There was a problem. It was too dark. Our night vision scope could not help us; too overcast, no starlight. We strained to see. Dennis thought he heard a noise to our front. I didn’t hear anything.”
Dennis said he heard the cries of a baby or small child, “Just as I looked towards this hooch,” Haines recalls, “I saw what appeared to be a door swing open and a flash.”
“In an instant,” Miller continues, “a barrage of bullets and two RPG rounds slammed into our position. The gunfire stopped in less than two seconds. I was stunned, unhurt. Dennis showed no signs of life. No sooner had I begun to retreat then Dennis came to life, began to call out and sit up. I immediately grabbed him by the collar and held him down.
“Cautiously, I called to the troops on the road. A lone soldier came forward. He was the platoon leader. He ordered the others to come forward to get Dennis, put him on my poncho and drag him back to the road.
“I cradled Dennis, held his hand and promised that he was going to be okay and return to the world back home, safe away from here.”
After arriving at the 24th Evacuation Hospital in Long Binh, Drs. John Baldwin and Floyd Robinson operated on Dennis’s brain. Baldwin, a vascular surgeon, was asked to go behind the curtain and help this desperately wounded soldier.
“How do I put this guy back together?” Baldwin thought. “How do I put him back together so he can survive and be somewhat whole?”
“After a stormy post-operative week,” Baldwin writes, “it was apparent Dennis would live.”
“I arrived at Walter Reed Hospital on Christmas Day,” Dennis recalls. “I couldn’t use my left side because my brain had been injured on my right – no peripheral vision from my eyes down to my toes. Before I was drafted in 1967, I was studying to be an architect. All that was gone, now.
“I was eventually transferred to the Lebanon VA hospital just a few miles from Hershey, Pennsylvania where I remained in rehab for two years.
“In 1970, I got a job in the print shop of the planning and construction division of the maintenance department at Hershey Medical Center at Penn State. It took me a long time to do everything with only one hand. However, in 1990 when computers came on the scene, I was able to work much more effectively. Now, I not only got to draw, but I was also going into the field to follow-up on several projects!”
In 2004, Baldwin nominated Haines for an Images of Bravery Award. In part, the nomination reads:
“For ten years, [Dennis] supported his wife and two sons at his job, studying at night to get as much education as possible in the new field of ‘computer design.’ He discovered that the computer didn’t care if he was paralyzed on the left side and using his still intact left brain and skilled right hand, Dennis became extremely proficient at drafting, planning and space-organization….
“His contributions to family, community and to fellow veterans would be impressive for any individual, but to have accomplished all of this as a hemiplegic [paralysis on one side of the body], from a wheelchair, is unbelievable.”
Nonetheless, Dennis now faced a new challenge. Haines had been diagnosed with Hepatitis C from the nearly twenty blood transfusions given him in Vietnam.
In February 2016, I wrote about the approximately 174,000 vets who contracted Hepatitis C through tainted blood while serving in Viet Nam (Shameful), who have been struggling to get treatments from the VA. Due to the extreme cost of the drug, Sofosbuvir, only about 15 percent have been treated thus far. I quickly discovered that Dennis was one of those 174,000.
Haines wrote: “Jim, I saw the infectious disease doctor not long ago, and she is trying to get me to an outside provider, but so far no one has let me know what’s going on.”
On May 2, 2016, I contacted Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey’s office and told them about Dennis’ condition and his battle with the VA system.
On Tuesday, I made a follow-up call to Toomey’s D.C. office. A constituent representative in the Philly office confirmed that they had received my e-mail request and that a representative in the Allentown office was working on the case.
In the meantime, I received word through John Baldwin that Dennis was still facing frustration without any results from the VA. I passed that message onto a reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer who said she would look at the story provided on my website and get back to me.
In the meantime, I received a call back from Senator Toomey’s representative in his Washington office explaining that they were working with the representative in the Allentown office.
“Just get Dennis the help he needs ASAP,” I told them. “He’s in stage-4 liver disease.”
I made one additional follow-up with Toomey’s office to see if they had been instrumental in getting Dennis the drug he needed. However, because I was not a relative of Dennis’, they would not release any further information.
May 13, success! Through John Baldwin, I learn that Dennis received the necessary treatment.
This past Thursday, I reached out to Haines to see how he’s been doing since and received this cheerful update:
“Jim, it’s so good to hear from you!
“This year It’ll be three years that the virus is undetectable in my body!
“The doctors at the VA Hospital had already exhausted their quota of how many prescriptions they could prescribe for the year. To get around that, I was referred to a doctor outside the VA at Hershey Medical Center. He could request the Harvoni and have it sent to the VA pharmacy.
“The normal treatment time is 3 to 6 months, but because of never achieving remission on many treatment regimens, I was kept on it for 12 months! At the end of that, my Hep C was determined to be undetectable and has stayed that way for years now!
“I do have stage two liver damage. It’s being monitored closely and hasn’t gotten worse! No more liver biopsy’s, but regular blood tests and ultrasound of the liver are all that’s needed now.
“I’m feeling much better physically and staying active!
“I hope this finds you well and having a good 2019!
“Keep in touch, Dennis.”
Dennis is just one story of many – veterans who served and sacrificed for the rest of us. Each of us has a responsibility not only to remember but help when we can.