Monthly Archives: May 2014

AN ONGOING BETRAYAL


When I read Senator Richard Burr’s open letter to veterans, released in time for Memorial Day, I must admit to being surprised that a United States Senator would attack Veterans Service Organizations (VSO). Six, of the seven VSO groups that testified before the Senate Committee on Veteran’s Affairs (i.e. Veterans of Foreign Wars, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Disabled Veterans of America, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Student Veterans of America, and Vietnam Veterans of America) were attacked in Burr’s letter, in which Burr questioned their motives and accused their leadership of not caring about the health and well being of their members, since they failed to call for a leadership change at the VA (as if that would fix all the problems veterans encounter in dealing with the VA). The seventh group, the American Legion, did call for the resignation of Eric Shinseki, the current Veterans Affairs Secretary (and available fall guy), agreeing with Burr,  who had nothing but praise for that group in his letter.

According to an article posted on the Huffington Post by Jen Bendery on Sunday morning (the day before Memorial Day), Candy Crowley of CNN’s ‘State of the Union’ interviewed Representative Jeff Miller (R- Florida.) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I- Vermont). Both agreed that between the House and Senate, over 90 hearings were held on VA matters since 2013, including 10 joint committees. Ms. Crowley suggested to them both that the current problems veterans encounter with the VA are the responsibility of lawmakers for failing to provide oversight of VA hospitals, given that they’ve held dozens of hearings on VA matters. Miller claimed that his committee has been aware of the problems of long wait times at VA facilities for more than a year, and that his panel has held “more than 70 oversight hearings on issues ranging from disability claims to the backlog in access to care.” Miller conceded “Sure, everybody is probably culpable in this” and said “We’re doing what we’ve been asked to do. That is to find out the information.” According to Sanders “The Veterans and Veterans Groups overwhelmingly say that people receive good, to excellent care within the VA system. The problem is that two million new veterans have flooded an already crowded system, which means there needs to be funding to support them. They are treating 6.5 million people a year, 230,000 people every single day.”

Neither man called for Shinseki to step down. Senator Richard Burr (R- NC) never went to war. He never even put on a uniform and served in any branch of the U.S. Military. Per Sam Stein’s article on the Huffington  Post, what was particularly upsetting to the VSO groups was that Burr sent the letter after “sparsely attending the hearings he found so offensive” and “failing to raise concerns about the group’s positions while he was there.”

It seems fairly obvious that Senator Richard Burr only cares about milking his time in the spotlight in order to gain political points by insulting the veterans of this country, casting blame onto the VA leadership for all things wrong with the system, and accepting none of the responsibility himself (even though he is a ranking member of the Veteran’s Affairs Committee). If, as Senator Burr so adamantly insists, Eric Shenseki should be forced to step down for his failures, then Senator Burr should step down for his own failures to do his job in overseeing the VA, in all the time he has served on that committee.

The problems veterans encounter dealing with the VA are not new. They are not only since 2013. They have been going on since I served in the Vietnam War, and not all the hearings in Congress has done anything to make it any better for the veterans that need help. Not then, and not today. What has not seemed to change is that politicians keep sending Americans to fight wars, yet those veterans coming home must fight for their earned benefits (if they are lucky enough to receive them at all)….and that politicians will hold hearings, cast blame, deny  responsibility, wave the flag, and campaign….

Just a thought….perhaps it should be a requirement that every lawmaker serving on committees pertaining to veterans actually BE a veteran. Then they will, like Mr. Shinseki today, face the end of their careers for failing to deliver.

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[refbox]
Resources:
* ref 5/25/2014 “Veterans Groups Rip Into Sen. Richard Burr For Questioning Their Priorities”

* ref 5/25/2014 “Dozens Of Hearings Later, Lawmakers Pressed On Where They’ve Been On VA Dysfunction”

* ref 5/30/2014 “VA Chief Eric Shinseki Resigns Post, Obama Announces”

* ref 5/30/2014 “VA Chief Eric Shinseki Resigns Post, Obama Announces”  [/refbox]

Pete’s Story


In 1977, I had a friend that was opening a new business in Los Angeles. He needed signs made, so he asked his best friend to fly in from Anchorage, Alaska, to do the work. That was how I met Pete, a Vietnam veteran, who served four tours as a paratrooper. I only knew this because my friend told me.

Pete never talked about the war. He was uncomfortable around people, and had moved to Anchorage within a year of coming back to the world. He lived a quiet life as a sign painter, and spent his time off in the woods, hunting, fishing, and guiding others. Mostly, he spent his time alone. He liked to sit in a tree blind. When I met him, he had long since stopped killing the bears, but he loved to just sit and watch them. It gave him peace.

Coming to L.A. to do those signs was very difficult for Pete, but he could not refuse his friend, so he suffered the noise, the congestion, the people and their questions, with good nature, for the sake of his friend. He drank, and smoked a lot of pot, for survival’s sake. My friend never noticed Pete’s pain, and sense of alienation, being just so happy to have him there. But I noticed. Pete and I spent a lot of time together. He felt more comfortable in my presence, especially when forced into social situations. I never questioned him, and I never judged him. Pete finished the work in a few days and went home, but he and I remained friends.

In May of 1979, he invited me to visit him for a couple of weeks. We had a great time. It was my first trip to Alaska, and I could not have had a better guide. He showed me his world, tutored me in survival in the Alaskan wilderness, and took me up into his tree blind. I never forgot the advice he gave me,”….never come out here without a 44 magnum, these bears ain’t Smokey”….”never wear your hip waders into deep water, you’ll drown,” and “….mosquitos are the Alaskan state bird, so wear netting.” He was a passionate environmentalist, before it was fashionable, and hated all that did harm to the planet, but he cared very little for people.

The day before I left, he talked about the war, his pain and survivor’s guilt. Even though the life he created for himself was peaceful and isolated, life back in the world was very hard for Pete, and he told me that he often thought of just leaving it all behind.

My friend called me, a few months later. He was crying. Pete had been guiding someone and setting up a ‘fish camp’, when there was a flash flood. Without taking off his hip waders, Pete walked into the water, and drowned. I knew that he finally had enough, and decided to end his life. I knew him well enough to understand and respect his choice, but to this day, I still miss him.

By 1985, more than 80,000 Vietnam veterans had committed suicide. It is happening all over again, right now, right here in America. If we, as Americans, want to stop seeing this history repeated, we must do a much better job helping our veteran’s return to the world.

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COMING HOME


A post submitted by E. F. Grossman’s Wife:

The horror of combat and survivor’s guilt, leaves veteran’s permanently wounded, even if they survived battle without a physical wound. They can never come home, at least, not as the people they were when they last saw their family and friends. They are unrecognizable to everyone they left behind, and far too often, to themselves, as well. That person they used to be is dead. The person that returns to the world has experienced sights, sounds, and horrors that loved ones cannot even begin to imagine, let alone understand, or relate to… so even though the veteran looks like the same person, they are not, and can never be, again.

My husband had a friend that was a former Navy Seal. Like most that served in the various branches of Special Forces, he had given years of service to his country, and had dedicated his entire life to that service. Since Seal operations are often ‘top secret’, and he took an oath to remain silent (like all special ops soldiers),. As a result, he was forced to swallow his rage and pain, and memories.

He began his service in his youth. The Seals became his only family. When one of his teammates, his closest friend through many missions, and many years, died in his arms, it hit him harder than anything else he had ever experienced. The trauma was so great, that he could no longer function. He was hospitalized, and eventually ‘retired’ from the Navy.

He came home to a world he could not recognize, and tried to blend in. He took a job as a mechanic, but could not hold it. He had a small pension that allowed him to live, but he could not work, or go to school, even though his benefits would have provided an education, he could not keep the focus required for college. Mind you, this was a highly intelligent man. The Seals don’t take dummies. He was just lost in wounds, so permanent that they would never stop bleeding.

His mother could not understand him, even though his father had been a military man. His brother, who had served twenty years in the Army on a base in California, had never seen combat, and could not relate to him at all. He had no friends in the outside world, having joined the Navy at eighteen. He felt most comfortable in that underworld of society, often referred to as ‘outlaw’; because so many in that world were fellow veterans whose experiences were close to his own. They provided him with a foundation of family that he could relate to, since his own family, and society in general, had driven him away. Even when he found a lady and fell in love, she told him to “…just get over it!”

He could not. None of them can.

If you love a combat veteran, you must love them enough to accept them as they are, if you are ever to be able to help them learn to cope back in the world.