In Esquibel’s debut novel, a psychiatrist critiques the Department of Veteran Affairs’ approach to the psychological care of veterans.
Through the experiences of Dr. Arthur Lyles, Esquibel explores how the VA system works, its shortcomings and ideas for reform. As Lyle’s career unfolds, it shows how giving monetary compensation to veterans because of combat-induced psychological problems can do more harm than the good—monthly stipends contingent on continued mental duress provide no motivation for veterans to improve their condition and re-enter society, especially as the money received from the VA is typically greater than what a veteran would earn if employed. In many of Lyles’ cases, veterans become addicted to psychiatric drugs that are prescribed and paid for by the VA. As long as a veteran can meet simple criteria to qualify for such benefits, they have unlimited access to money, drugs and a “pardon” from leading a normal life, according to the book. The veterans remain dependent and trapped in the VA system indefinitely, negating the therapeutic benefits the organization was established to foster. Esquibel intersperses these succinct points with less relevant material that unfortunately leaves the reader directionless and confused. He spends excessive portions of the book relaying anecdotes from his fictional protagonist’s life as well as including wordy discourses on unrelated philosophical ideas that draw the reader away from the book’s chief purpose. The author succeeds in addressing the importance of the inherent problems with the VA and how badly it needs attention and reform, but he states many of his ideas repetitively and with excessive elaboration. Further adding to the disarray of the prose and detracting from the book’s credibility is the use of fictional characters and circumstances to convey dependable information.
Though a passionate rendering of an often overlooked issue, the book’s style hinders its effectiveness.