South Texas Veterans Health Care System (STVHCS)
South Texas' One Armed Cowboy
Ray Slone, the self titled "One Armed Cowboy" is a 65-year-old Vietnam Veteran and Purple Heart recipient, who receives his health care through the South Texas Veterans Health Care System (STVHCS). Diagnosed with skin cancer on his right hand, he underwent surgery at a civilian hospital expecting to have a finger or two removed, but when the surgeons got in, they discovered the cancer had spread and they had to amputate the lower part of his arm.
Losing part of an arm might be a devastating thing for a ranch owner and horse trainer, but to Ray Slone, it was just a small bump in the road. Having dealt with other health issues in the past, losing part of an arm was another challenge he had to rise to meet and make it work for him rather than against him.
Prior to his amputation, Slone had a successful and lucrative job with a construction company. The job provided him with his health insurance because, at that time, Slone didn’t know he qualified for VA health care. Not thinking about the financial aspect, Slone agreed to surgery. It turned out to be more expensive than expected and his insurance didn’t cover all of it. Slone had to come up with a way to pay for it on his own. “I sold my prize Appaloosa horse, Dodgers Chick, to pay for my surgery” Slone says with sadness. He goes on “My horse sold for $32,000 but my surgery cost $38,000.”
In addition to the financial stress of the surgery, Slone now had to consider how he was going to keep working his 18 acre ranch, located five miles outside Bandera, TX. Because prosthetics are expensive, two days after discharge from the hospital, Slone and his saddle maker friend sat down together and designed a prosthetic “arm” that Slone could use while tending the ranch. The homemade prosthetic is tooled leather with a burnished aluminum hook. The “arm” came in very handy while working the ranch. It allowed him to continue working with his horses and other ranch tasks.
Slone’s civilian Oncology doctor suggested he check his eligibility at VA. After working with a STVHCS social worker, he was assigned a primary care provider who referred Slone to prosthetics. The first prosthetic, a metal hook, took him "from 50% - 70%” he said. Then Slone heard about a new "bionic" arm and approached STVHCS staff expecting to be denied due to the cost involved, but was pleasantly surprised when the bionic arm was approved. This new arm would take him from 70% - 90%! He jokingly said he wanted the new arm for his birthday and, to his amazement, he received it just one day before his 65th birthday and he is only the 5th person in the country to receive this kind of arm.
Because STVHCS staff was able to work with this Veteran and provide excellent customer service, he has been able to continue doing the things that are important to him. “My plan was to retire at 70 and raise horses” he says. “Of course that plan changed when I lost my hand” he continues. But, thanks to STVHCS, he is still able to do some of the things he wants on his ranch. “I thank God for the VA," he said. "I could never say anything bad about the VA. Between bouts of cancer and other health issues, I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for the VA." Having served as a hospital administrator in the past, Slone has seen his share of hospitals and he says "Audie Murphy is as good, if not better than, any hospital I've ever observed."