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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

One Man Makes a Difference

An essential part of America's mythos is that one person can make a difference. We celebrate those that do and encourage others to follow their example. Today NPR ran a story about one such person, Bernie Marcus. Upset about so many of our troops returning with brain damage, he wanted to help. Funded a program to do so and pitched it to the VA, saying he would help finance it. According to the NPR story, the VA said thanks and did nothing. Bernie, a co-founder of Home Depot, went ahead on his own to set up Project Share, and the results of his philanthropy are documented in the story.

A number of years ago I worked for the VA on a biography of Dr. Michael E. DeBakey, noted heart surgeon. What I learned from that experience was that DeBakey served in WWII, learned about medical trauma, developed the concept of the MASH unit to provide immediate attention to wounded troops and successfully fought the military bureaucracy in order to institute it during the Korean War. He also helped create a system to track surgical outcomes, trained hundreds of surgeons and continued to work closely with the VA to insure quality of care. That was a time when the VA was a proud institution.

I think the NPR story is a good example of how big organizations can become tone deaf to their original mission. And in the process lose touch with the needs of the people they were set up to serve. It's a process that seems to repeat itself over and over again. Making the NPR story an excellent example of what good journalism can accomplish.

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