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Meet Harry Corre, a Former POW and VA WLA Patient Advocate Who Understands

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Photo of Harry Corre, Former POW and VA WLA Patient Experience Officer

Harry Corre: Former POW and VA WLA Patient Experience Officer

Friday, November 14, 2014

As a Patient Experience Officer at the VA West Los Angeles Medical Center, Harry Corre assists Veterans who are having trouble navigating the VA’s healthcare system. “I’m helping people who have problems and don’t know what to do about them. They come here for help and get frustrated because they don’t know how to go about getting that help,” Corre said. “I understand their frustrations and I understand what they are going through and I try to help them the best I can.”

Corre’s understanding is based on his own experiences as Veteran and former prisoner of war. Corre was captured by the Japanese during the Battle of Bataan 1942 when he was a 19-year-old Army corporal serving in the 59th Coast Artillery Regiment. He escaped the infamous Bataan Death March by swimming through shark infested waters, with the assistance of a hastily improvised floatation device, three and a half miles to Corregidor, Philippines where he rejoined his unit. Unfortunately, Corre soon found himself a prisoner of war once again when Corregidor fell to the Japanese within a month of his escape. He was held in the Philippines at the Cabanatuan prison camp for 2-years and then was transported to Japan on a “Junk Ship” that was used to carry livestock like horses and mules for combat. He considered himself lucky because he was put on water duty lowering buckets of water down to the men in the hole that was littered with manure and urine from the livestock. He then spent 1 ½ years in a Japanese labor camp working in a coal mine under horrendous conditions. He was only 97 pounds when he was freed at the end of the war, the result of years of malnutrition and hard labor.

“Most of us in the labor camp were severely underweight so they sent us to the Philippines to fatten up before sending us home. They set up a special kitchen that was open 24-hours a day that would serve you anything you wanted – steak, ice cream, anything.“ The first item Corre ordered from the kitchen was a big, juicy steak. “I could only eat one bite of it. My body couldn’t handle it. It was four or five months before I could eat a real meal again.”

After being released from the Army, Corre returned to his hometown of Boston. He remembers walking into a VA hospital there to see a doctor and being accused of looking for a handout by the first guy he talked. “The first thing he said is, ‘All you want is money.’ So I very efficiently gave him the finger and walked out,” Corre remembered.

Fortunately, things have improved over the years. “Today’s VA is a lot different than what I dealt with when I first got out. That was 69 years ago,” Corre acknowledged. “It is because of what I went through then that I try to let people know that I’m here to help them. I’ll help them as much as I can within my authority.”

Now 91-years-old, Corre continues to help Veterans as a patient advocate four days a week and has no plans of retiring any time soon. “I’ve already retired twice and the best thing for me to is to keep working. It keeps my mind active and gives me something to do and I’m helping veterans. I find helping veterans very fulfilling.”

If you would like to speak to a Patient Experience Officer, call (310) 268-3068 or to speak with Harry Corre directly call 478-3711 x 43225.