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By Patricia Kime – Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Oct 6, 2011 9:34:50 EDT
 Someone at the Veterans Affairs Department Medical Center in Washington, D.C., has an odd sense of humor.

On Wednesday, outpatient Tom McCuin, an Afghanistan war veteran, snapped a photo of a hat emblazoned with the phrase: “Warning: This Vet is Medicated for your Protection,” available for sale in the lobby gift shop at the hospital.

He then posted it on Facebook and Twitter.

“My first reaction was, ‘Oh, that’s pretty funny,’ because I have a tendency to laugh at inappropriate things,” McCuin, an Army Reserve officer, said in a telephone interview. “My wife, who has much less a sense of humor about these things, thought it was awful.”

McCuin said that instead of purchasing the hat for his car’s dashboard as a joke, he shot VA’s social media department the photo he had taken, along with a tweet: “Nice message, guys,” he wrote.

VA officials quickly responded with their own message. “This does nothing except perpetuate stereotypes. Unacceptable anywhere near a VA Medical Center.”

That morning, VA had posted on its Vantage Point blog an article about post-traumatic stress disorder, urging veterans to seek treatment. “Don’t let stigmas about PTSD and TBI get in the way of treatment,” the VA social media sites urged.

The hat, McCuin said, definitely conflicts with that message. “Certainly this doesn’t go along with the strategic message they’re trying to send out,” he said.

Many of the stores at VA health centers are managed by the Veterans Canteen Service, responsible for retail and food operations at VA facilities. But the hat in question was sold by a new contract vendor at a small kiosk in the center’s atrium, said VA spokesman Gary Tallman.

Tallman said as soon as VA officials heard about the hats, they were pulled from the shelves.

McCuin said he is delighted with the department’s swift response.

“I’m really happy VA did not drown in bureaucratic handwringing and someone is stepping up to do the right thing quickly,” he said.

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