Veterans' Champions: Dr. Tom Hardy
Army veteran Tom Hardy is the Chief of Staff at the Dayton VA Medical Center and he’s got a reputation for being approachable knowing how to listen. Hardy served in the Vietnam war where he learned how a doctor can have an impact on people’s lives. He talked with Dr. Seth Gordon of the Veteran and Military Center at Wright State.
"I'm a family practice Doc and I retired from the Army in 1998. I started my career in 1966. I went to college and took ROTC and I didn't know what it was, all I knew is that I didn't want to take physical education. When I graduated in 1966, there was a war going on and I ended up getting commissioned as an Infantry Officer and had two tours in Vietnam. My job as an Infantry Officer was to clear the village first and secure it. On this day, there was a dentist. There was a line, I mean, 100 feet long with Vietnamese there getting their teeth pulled. I just stood there and marveled at what this guy was doing because I'd been trying, you know, to do some good things over there, but it wasn't working out like this. The look of appreciation on the faces of the Vietnamese after they got their tooth out was just incredible. It has stuck with me. 55 years later, I can still see that guy standing there, that dentist taking those teeth out and how much the Vietnamese appreciated it. I thought, hmm, maybe there's something out there. I didn't want to be a dentist, but that really got me thinking about something other than being an Infantry Officer."
"So, I tell all the veterans, I have two lives: I could dig a foxhole as good as any of you and I can set up an ambush that you can't escape from, but I'm also your Doc. So, it really has been fun talking to them and just being in my role as Chief of Staff."
"There's a book called 'The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.' One of the seven habits is: first seek to understand. So, when I got to the VA, that was the first thing I tried to do. I went to each one of my eleven Service Chiefs, medicine, surgery, mental health, primary care and tried to understand their organization. In many ways, it's hierarchical just like the Army, so I got it. Then I just started talking to veterans. I have this lanyard I wear that says Vietnam Veteran on it, and it's as if that give me some credibility. So, I really had a great time just trying to understand. I gave out a box of business cards. I’ve never done that in my life. I gave out a whole box of business cards in the first year or two. I don't know how many were in there. "
"I said, 'If you have a problem with the V.A., you call me, and I'll take care of it.' A number of them have followed up. So, I give them my Mick Jagger philosophy that: I can't always get you what you want, but I know I can get you what you need. So, for example, if you want a motorized wheelchair, I might not be able to get you that because you don't qualify for it, but I can get you the mobility that you need. If someone needs to come to your house, we have home health aides and skilled nursing and caregiver support groups. There is no end to the things that we can do for veterans out there if we can just identify them."
"It's a big organization. There are some things that don't go as well as they should. I called and nobody called me back, or I tried to get my medication changed and nobody would change it, or I don't know how to use the computer. If anybody has any questions you, come up to the ninth floor and say, 'Hey, I want to see Dr. Hardy,' and I will guide you through it. We do that every week. We have people who drift up there and we take care of them. So, the door is open to any veteran who wants to come and see me or talk to me or has a question. That's what we're in the business of doing, and I look forward to it."
Veterans Voices is produced at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices by Will Davis and Tony Holloway, with support from Seth Gordon Ph.D. at the Wright State Veteran and Military Center. Financial support comes from Wright-Patt Credit Union.