A Lone Bullet’s Long Toll

A decade-long journey from Iraq to the operating table.

Comments: 82

  1. How sad and outrageous that the Navy medic had to rely on donated medical and dental expertise and charity and an on line fund raiser to get him the reconstructive surgery of what should have been rightfully his in the first place. He gave his all in selfless service, only to endure suffering for years. Somehow, somewhere, I hope that the VA decision makers who denied the dental and medical attention he needed will be held accountable. I doubt it. That Doc sacrificed so much , only to be sidelined by the VA, is, frighteningly , believable. Of note is that his treatment by compassionate surgeons who were made aware of his plight came from the private sector, not VA. That his mother had to lobby for his new reconstructive surgery is admirable yet profoundly sad. Was there no one in government service who could have helped him? Our veterans deserve better. Respect and admiration to Doc's surgical team and his mom and all others who helped him. Not least, gratitude to Doc. I am pleased the Times chose to highlight Doc's painful ordeal, but weepy eyed that he had to endure so much until he got the attention he deserved. Lest we forget, we all owe Doc and his fellow vets Big Time.

  2. Wounded soldiers, like Doc have stood in the fire so you and I didn't have to. To them we owe more than just respect. Because of what they did, we owe them a lifetime of care, compassion, and comfort. A simple thing, but somehow, we, the protected don't manage it as well as we should. If we personally contact our representative and clearly express our concern or outrage then maybe things will change. If we don't, they won't. Do your part, they did theirs.

  3. As a military recruiter told me when I protested that the MOS I was being forced into wasn't what I'd been promised: You serve your country; you country doesn't serve you. It's a cold hard fact.

  4. An extreme example of the VA's status quo. Thank you for this important article.

  5. Thank you so much for reporting this story.

  6. A deeply touching story, I wish Dusty well.

  7. Inspiring story and I pray the operations are a success for this brave man. But this poor soul suffered for way too long. It pains me when I see that his family had to us a GoFundMe campaign. It means medical attention once again had a price tag on it that the average American (and in Doc's case, American VETERAN) can't afford. Something has been very wrong with our health care system and continues to be wrong.

  8. A terrific tale. Unfortunately, the stories of our broken soldiers usually don't end this happily.

  9. Ditto for all the innocent civilians on the other side that our soldiers maim.

  10. Chris, you've done it again. Another wonderful story, wonderfully told. Thanks. Semper Fidelis.

  11. This made me cry.

  12. Ditto.

  13. Me too. Right here on the train crying

  14. Why aren't veterans like Doc getting state-of-the-art care at the V.A.? Our veterans deserve the absolute best we have to offer as a country. Not being told to have more teeth extracted. I wish Doc the very best recovery possible, and the doctors who proffered their services pro bono are to be commended. But we need better health care for our veterans, especially those with life changing injuries.

  15. YES! They deserve the greatest care in the world. Rather than arguing over who gets what tax break, why can't our "leaders" provide for our vets. Answer: they don't care...the vets aren't wealthy donors.

  16. "Support Our Troops" should be more than a bumper sticker.

  17. I agree. The VA was founded with this type of Veteran in mind. They are supposed to treat service members who are injured in the line of duty. Why did the former Marine have to set up a GoFundMe account when the VA should be doing this surgery or funding this? Part of the problems with the VA is that they are an overblown bureaucracy that has expanded it's mission to treat Veterans who were not injured in the field of battle. There are vets being seen at VA's who are getting free treatments and medications who never served in battle and who's condition is not service related. These people clog up the VA and make it hard pay for and provide care for vets who are truly eligible. It's time to scale down the VA and force it to focus on the vets that the VA was established to serve like this Marine.

  18. Please... hoping for followup article(s). Thank you.

  19. Mr. Chivers, thank you for telling Doc's story.
    Please, folks, the next time you hear one of our war hawk congressman talk about getting us into (or keeping us in) another war, remember that this is what war does to your fellow Americans. What did we gain from Doc's pain and suffering? Was it worth it?

  20. Great story, with hopefully, a happy ending. Why the VA does not have the funding to take care of our wounded vets, is beyond comprehension! Plenty of free and extraordinary healthcare for Congress! To add insult to injury, we have the "Wounded Warrior" project begging for funds through massive TV ads, and being revealed as a giant scam, enriching the principals of this fraud, rather than helping our Vets. But Donald Trump, our 4 deferment Vietnam War era candidate, will make sure our vets are taken care of, while expanding and rebuilding our military, for the next political "military intervention" somewhere. He will be the perfect military leader, given his "wartime experience" avoiding the draft. What a disgrace!

  21. This could have just as easily happened in Detroit. He deserves our praise and compassion but not your political soapbox.

  22. We sent them, we should pay for all.

  23. it's a shame this true hero was failed by the government he fought for, but what a great story about the good in our society helping him recover.

  24. It is utterly infuriating that this brave, dedicated and proud Marine has had to endure this lack of care, and loss of quality of life for so long.
    As a nation, we have much, much soul-searching to do.
    And after watching "60 Minutes" Sunday, where it was well documented that all elected officials are spending as much as 30 hours a week FUNDRAISING, instead of representing their constituents ... well, what in the heck??? Do your jobs, and help people like Mr. Kirby.

  25. What a horror story. And now he is a father?

  26. Has Hillary visited him yet?

    This is why *I apologized for my vote* thirteen years later really doesn't wash. And why airing anti-gun commercials starring a daughter of a Sandy Hook victim is the most cynically shameful sort of politicking.

    This man, here, and so many of his fellow vets are paying forever because of the cowardice of so many of our elected officials.

    This is why I loathe Hillary. Not because I somehow was force-fed Republican drivel. But because of this, and what she never learned from tragedies like this, because they do not touch anyone in her circle.

    Shame on anyone who votes for her.

  27. It is so hard to understand how those claim to honor freedom, those who send men and women to defend that freedom can callously refuse to deal with the realities of protecting that so called freedom.
    For what 'freedom', what shreds of his citizenship as an American, an American soldier wounded in service did this young man retain?
    One realizes of course this young man's storied happy ending is unfortunately unique, and cannot be claimed by many of his compatriots- brave men and women who have returned to be ignored, their sacrifices forgotten.
    We always seem to find the money to fund wars, but never the means to heal the consequences.

  28. Please, PLEASE, do a follow-up article.

  29. Between homeless vets and men like Dustin E. (Doc) Kirby I am ashamed as an American that our military men and women basically have to beg for quality care in this country!!

    If we wont make sure these men and women get the top care they will need then we need to NOT send them into harms way to begin with.

    Please do an ongoing follow up one this young man progress.

  30. I'm so happy that Doc was able to get this surgery and hopefully whatever else he needs but I'm disgusted that the US gov't is not doing everything in it's power to help these men and women out. The gov't should stand up and support them the same way these soldiers went to war for this country.

  31. I was very touched by Dustin Kirby's poignant story, and also disheartened and repulsed by the knowledge that so many of our fellow Americans are suffering from severe battle wounds (physical and psychic), and yet having to grovel to get the help they deserve (and have earned).

    How is it possible that our government can ask these brave men and women to risk their well being and lives in service to our nation, and then fail to provide them with the support they so desperately need to transition back into their civilian lives? We should all be ashamed.

    The worst part of this continuing nightmare is that these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have done virtually nothing to make us more secure. In fact, there is a strong argument that the destabilization we have caused has sown a degree of conflict and chaos throughout the world that has made us less secure. And yet, we keep spending billions prosecuting these wars -- throwing good money after bad -- because we can't admit that we've made grave errors.

    Reminds me of the way we dealt with Cuba for decades when any sane person could easily see that that little island nation posed virtually no threat to our security or stability. But we kept telling ourselves the lie that we had to stay tough on Cuba or communism would overrun us, and subsequent congresses and presidents willingly pretended it was so.

    And then one president decided to stop believing the lie and everything changed overnight.

    I fear Hillary will continue the lies.

  32. It enrages me that a veteran is treated like a disposable commodity. And worse, Dustin was a corpsman- ready to always be on the front lines.

    It enrages me that health care in our country is not considered part of the infrastructure of a civilized society. We invest in a modicum of education. Why can't we invest in clinics for all people, even the hairdressers, sheet-rock hangers and mechanics of the world, and give veterans their due respect?

  33. I am very happy for Doc!

    Any veteran who has been wounded while in the service should receive this level of care, free. Shame on the US for not providing it.

  34. Please remember that this story is not typical and most wounded military individuals do not end up at Lenox Hill Hospital. In some regard the story misleads young people who might be encouraged to become a hero in the military. The VA Hospital system is not prepared to handle these heroic cases and do not have Lenox Hill Hospital on speed dial. Young people who join carry substantial personal risk and needs to understand that no healthcare system is designed to repair war injury and mamined bodies.

  35. How can we help Dusty and his family now, if they aren't getting the help they need? What about others like him who didn't get stories in the Times written about them?

  36. This article should be required reading for every Presidential candidate. And for every voter as well.

  37. What the f is wrong with the VA that this man did not the care he needed and deserved? This country is broken.

  38. Part of the problem is funding. The VA is working with the same funding levels it did 15 years ago, but has had an additional 2.5 million veterans come into the system. Congress needs to adequately fund the VA. It would help if there were more veterans in Congress.

  39. Thank you for this story and please follow up with Doc. My deepest gratitude to him and the doctors who made this happen.

  40. Great story, but what if it had been a poor kid from Chicago who had been accidentally shot in the crossfire of a gang war? Who would ever fund his facial reconstructive surgery?

    One more reason why we need universal, full-coverage health care constitutionally guaranteed for EVERYONE. Whether veterans or ordinary citizens. Period.

  41. I can rationalize the lack of conventional options offered (the new operation is state of the art), the private funding required to deal with it (the VA doesn't do well coordinating care delivered outside it), and the requirement to get extremely well-networked people to deliver any of this.

    But what I can't rationalize is how nobody in his community besides Petty Officer Kirby's immediate family stepped up once he got his medical in 2012 and lost the structure in his life that sent him into the downward spiral he's been in until now. Did he just blend anonymously into the background of his community with nobody caring that the structure and mission that had kept his sanity vanished and he self-medicated with alcohol? Does it require a relative killed during 9/11 to get civilians to go beyond the empty platitudes of 'hero' (veterans have a far higher standard of what that word implies) and even worse, the now-cringeworthy, 'thank you for your service'?

    It's easy to cheer on social media or at a stadium, to show respect to a coffin, or to expect the VA to invisibly care for wounded veterans. It's not as easy to try to incorporate them back into our communities and involve ourselves to see if we can help. Doesn't take a medical degree or investment management background to do so.

  42. I served with Doc Kirby and was on that deployment with him. For years now I've tried to track him down to see how he has been doin. This article has brought tears to my eyes both from remembering when this happened and seeing him at our units memorial for our fallen also of joy that he is FINALLY being taken care of. I don't know if is possible but if the author or anyone involved could help get me in touch with him it would mean the world to me. Semper Fidelis

  43. What's up bro?

  44. Trevor,
    Thank you for your service and thank you for caring about my son. You can go to my Facebook and it will be my pleasure to reconnect you and Doc. He would love to hear from you.
    Take care of yourself and hope to hear from you soon.

  45. So everybody calls this fellow Doc except for the Docs. To them he is Dusty. Revealing. As if they would be granting him equal status undeserved in their eyes. More than a bit jerky.

  46. It is a tradition within military units to give medics the nickname of "Doc" as a sign of respect and honor. It is not expected that those outside the military would give him that honorific.

    Actually, I think it's admirable that his surgeons call him by name during the procedure. Sadly, there are surgeons who don't even know the first names of their patients, and sometimes not even their names at all, referring to them by their particular trauma or disease.

  47. How can someone who served so bravely suffer for so long? What is wrong with our society when such heroes are treated so callously? Thanks to JD and his colleagues - and to Chris for telling the story. But, if our veterans were getting the care they deserved (and I say this as a pacifist), there would be no story here. Doc, I'm sorry on behalf of all of us.

  48. This man was injured in a meaningless war that has done nothing but arouse greater conflict. There was massive public democratic resistance to creation of this war by the USA and the so-called allies (UK etc). Look up! Look at the world! Is the pointlessness of the struggle in which he was injured not more important than the failings of the V.A. or the shortcomings of philanthropy? This article is not a story well told, it is a story told by a horse with blinkers on that sees in only one direction.

  49. For this story and the thousands like it and for those who came back from Iraq in bodybags we can all thank George W. Bush (coward), Dick Cheney (cowardly psychopath), and Donald Rumsfeld (stupid coward) and all the cowardly neocons like Paul Wolfowitz who sent our men to fight an unnecessary war.

  50. If our country cannot give our military veterans superb medical care and ongoing support when they come home wounded and disabled (physically, psychologically, and/or spiritually), then we should not send them into harm's way in the first place.

  51. Our troops are the true heroes.

    Your "movements", about whose lives matter, pale in comparison to the service these men and women provide.

  52. Dusty-
    Thank you for your tremendous courage and incredible sacrifices.

  53. Having one's teeth extracted to address dental problems and pain is the level of care that is typically provided in prisons. Regardless of the political and economic reasons for that situation, surely there should be the collective political will to provide ongoing high level care for veterans, particularly those wounded during their service.

  54. Thank you, Dustin, for your service and sacrifice.

    The least we can do for these soldiers is ensure we elect competent and committed leaders who will give them the best care and reception possible. That was a very important story, Mr. Chivers.

  55. A wonderful story! Thank you most sincerely to the professionals who were willing to go where the VA did not seem to be able to.The result is win, win, win, the professionals have gained knowledge..though presumably at their cost, the protagonist has taken a giant forward step from the nightmare of his modern war and it's effects on his life going forward and his mother feels totally relieved to see her son with better prospects...SUPER!! thank you NYT

  56. I'm in tears. Please keep us posted as to Doc's progress.

  57. All I can say is thoughts and prayers of a speedy and well deserved recovery! Anyone know when this surgery took place? Also I do hope there will be follow ups, I am greatly interested in following this story as a fellow vet.

  58. It is a very sad story. Very sad because this young man had to wait years to get the necessary medical help. In a country that medicine has so many technological advances. A war veteran should not go through all this suffering. Medical care should be free, especially in his case. Any of us could be going through the same suffering, accidents also happen to civilians. I wish you well and a quick recovery.

  59. Brave man who deserved better than years of suffering. Great story. Here's hoping that upcoming years are easier on him.

  60. I worked in the operating rooms of several hospitals in my 30 year career. There are stories like this of real heroics as well as real tragedies. As a Ph.D. cognitive psychologist in the OR the reality I observed is striking. Surgeons and anesthesiologists and nurses and technicians perform a choreographed process that can be astounding and creative.
    But VA funding comes from Congress and Republicans do not like to do everything possible for our noble soldiers and warriors. Let's instead have an open account for all veterans. Let there be no limit on their expenses to provide the complete healing they deserve from battle.

  61. Amazing story. Whomever the next president will be...make one campaign promise....take more of our already insanely high taxes and re-direct it to Veterans affairs and medical care. There is no excuse, whatsoever, for our veterans to receive anything less than the absolute best, state of the art medical and psychiatric care.

  62. Unfortunately, this is a story that is repeated day in and day out in this, the "richest country in the world." As the mother of an adult child with disabilities, I can tell you that nearly every service my daughter received was the result of a fight on my part, to the point where I had to stop working full-time for 15 years just to ensure that she got the care she needed. I was fortunate to be able to do that; many parents are not. I was not asking for anything special, just what the insurance company claimed to cover. It is not very different from this man's situation: The VA should have bent over backwards to ensure that he received the best care that medical technology could offer, rather than making him fight for every scrap they threw him. Thankfully he had his mother there to fight for him. What about the veterans and millions of others with disabilities who do not have a strong advocate? Shouldn't we, as a society, take care of them as a matter of course?

  63. Same here--our own adult daughter, disabled from a genetic disorder, has survived--even thrived now and then--thanks to our own efforts to secure disability benefits and the services she desperately needs... and to fight once again when they were mistakenly removed for a year.

    I nearly wrote "tireless" efforts, but that's not true. We're tired. Tired and old and quite fearful about what will happen when my husband and I are finally incompetent or dead.

    Our greatest fear is that Republicans will succeed in destroying social services of all kinds, and not enough Americans will fight back. People never realize how vital such services are until they, themselves, or a loved one needs them.

  64. We spend much more on disabled children than we do on wounded vets. And for far less reward.

  65. What a beautiful story! How I feel for these soldiers- they should have the very best care there is. God bless the soldier and those doctors!

  66. Way to go, this is the America I like hearing about. The America where we still are good people to each other, and selfless acts bring big rewards.

  67. Thank you Doc, for your service, fortitude and courage. And thank you to the surgeons for their generous and skillful care. I'm just a work a day Joe, I never ever seem to get anything back at tax time and usually I owe. I would really like to see those $$$$ I pay in go to the VA. All of our vets deserve whatever it takes to make them whole and healthy. And if that can't be achieved, compassionate remedial/rehab care.

  68. Look upon this George Bush and see what you have done! I'm happy, if one can use that wird in a situation like this, that this young man is being helped but I am angered that he had to go through this trauma in the first place for the arrogance and hubris of a man whose armed service career has a lot of holes in it and whose policy decisions were as damaged and as twisted as they could be.

    To those supporters of war forever and ever.....I ask you to read this story and consider if this was your son would you send him into one of thes adventures for the satisfaction of the Saudis or the profit of American weapons manufacturers or other American profiteers like Halliburton.

    I ask Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama how they can be proud of the decisions they have made that have sent our humans and our treasure to prop up violent and brutual theocrats who have been funding terrorism for decades.

    My heart goes out to this young man and his family. I wish them a good and happy life.,

  69. Mr. Chivers, thank you for your continued advocacy of veterans, and telling us about Doc's sacrifice. I have a son, and in time he will no doubt be curious about his father's service in Iraq, and about the option he will have of whether or not to serve himself. Stories such as Doc's will profoundly help explain the true human cost of service, and the care, and lack there of, for those whose sacrifice requires it. I challenge the assumption many have that we as a nation are worthy of this great American. I pray that he finds healing and piece as he continues in his journey. Please keep us posted.

  70. "His rebuilt jaw did not line up with his teeth."
    This doesn't quite make sense. The teeth are attached to the jaws.
    I think what the author was trying to convey was that the teeth in the upper jaw did not match up and align properly with the teeth in the lower jaw.

  71. It makes sense...the rebuilt jaw refers to the teeth and jaw as a whole. But yes, you're correct as in how you explained it. But because the jaw was misaligned it explains why he had the mobility and tooth loss. If the teeth are misaligned and pressure isn't placed on the right parts of the teeth it will resorb the bone and ligaments holding your teeth in the jaw and they can eventually fall out. Not fun. Poor guy, I'm so happy they helped him. I wish we could see before and after pictures from the surgery---at least of his mouth.

  72. Dusty was introduced to me by Jack Doyle. He visited our firehouse with his wife and he spoke with some of the Iraq vets assigned to the firehouse. We got to see what some of his struggles were when he attempted to eat dinner with us. This is a good man who stepped up for his country but most importantly his fellow Marines. He was their caretaker. When their world was blown apart he was there putting it back together. This standard of care should be routine for our dedicated veterans injured while serving our country. May God bless you Dusty. Best wishes from the FDNY.

  73. Beautiful story. Best wishes for Doc's recovery and many thanks to the heroes who helped this hero. <3

  74. Let's remember who set this wonderful turn of events into action: Doc's loving mother who could no longer watch his suffering. Thank you for sharing this story.

  75. Isn't his treatment the moral
    responsibility of the government and citizens that put him in harms way?

  76. My faith is mankind is restored.

  77. Thank you for this wonderful account of hope, courage, beauty and the appreciation for a life nearly sacrificed to preserve freedom. Giving Doc back hid mouth, jaw, tongue and teeth is the beginning of restoring a life-giving function that he'll thrive from every day. Courage and kudos to all the heroes involved in this wonderful story!

  78. $300,000 to repair the sacrifice this young man made for this country. Peanuts compared to the tax money the US has poured into bombs, aircraft, supplies and infrastructure. Next time anyone wants to start a war, the true cost of caring for those who serve should be fronted first.

  79. This made me cry. I remember visiting my wounded brother and seeing boys with their faces melted, no arms, no legs. No one should have to have this job and of pain. No one should have to regret being alive. Shame on the VA for making it so hard for him to get help. The government is happy to give millions to take care of people in prison, but doesn't take care of those who suffered in the name of 'liberty'.

  80. "After" photo, please!

  81. Did the V.A. fail our servicemen again?

  82. And yet we continue sending young people to futile wars.