PAUL ERRERA DIES, UNNOTICED BY MOST, RENEGADE FIGHTER FOR VETERANS RIGHTS
By Tom Horvath for VT
Paul Errera MD has died on April 14th. Most people will say “who?” and wonder “why” this news is of interest to veterans, other than that he was a proud veteran himself.
But for those of us who were his comrades in the fight within the VA for better services for the homeless, for the combat stressed, the brain injured and for the severely mentally ill, his passing signals the end of an era. As we move to the 21stCentury VA, I wonder if the good General Shinseki was even briefed on Paul’s passing, and whether he knows what giant shoulders he stands on when he declares the end of veterans homelessness in five years.
Paul started that struggle 30 years ago when he moved to the Directorship of Mental Health in VACO after a brilliant career as the chief of psychiatry at West Haven VAMC. It was a dangerous struggle, the “Powers that Be” tried to fire him twice, and sighed in relief when he went back to Yale in 8 years. But their relief was short lived: his students and close collaborators held his position for another 12 years, and his ideas of empowerment, veteran advocacy, and accountability prevail even today, even when broken in practice from time to time.
Paul came from a prominent Belgian family of Portuguese origin who barely escaped the Nazis. He served in the Cold War Army that held back the Communists. He loved veterans and reserved his greatest compassion for those who paid the greatest price: not the dead, but the severely maimed. He was strong on accountability and on telling Truth to Power.
But he was also a brilliant tactician, who taught that “truth unaided will not win”. He learnt in the Army that good, honest strategies must be followed by effective tactics, and daring operational plans. So he was able to establish the homeless programs, the National Center for PTSD, the hospital based PTSD programs, and later supported the Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Centers which continue to reform mental health in the VA.
That his successors were able to bring about further reforms was due to Paul’s inspiration. The VHA mental Health programs on the whole are more effective than any other public mental health system in the country, even while in need of further energetic reforms. He had the support of the VSO’s that cared about PTSD, Homelessness, and Substance Use Disorders, but not those that just wanted to play power politics. He had the support of all the good Secretaries, both GOP and Democrat, but he had little respect mere for ciphers or cynical power players: yet he was able to influence even these to some extent through his numerous contacts well after his “retirement”.
Paul developed bad Parkinson’s Disease late in his life, and became a patient in a day hospital himself. When he found problems there in some aspects of administration, he organized a patient self government to right the perceived wrongs, even though he could barely speak or swallow. That’s how we will remember Paul: always a fighter for the veteran, for the disabled, and always a proud veteran himself, to the last.
Tom Horvath MD
A retired VA physician and Army reservist who now volunteers some of his time for PTSD/TBI research and clinical care for Iraq/Afghanistan veterans.
Gordon Duff posted articles on VT from 2008 to 2022. He is a Marine combat veteran of the Vietnam War. A disabled veteran, he worked on veterans and POW issues for decades.
Gordon is an accredited diplomat and is generally accepted as one of the top global intelligence specialists. He manages the world’s largest private intelligence organization and regularly consults with governments challenged by security issues.
Duff has traveled extensively, is published around the world, and is a regular guest on TV and radio in more than “several” countries. He is also a trained chef, wine enthusiast, avid motorcyclist, and gunsmith specializing in historical weapons and restoration. Business experience and interests are in energy and defense technology.
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