Category Archives: coming home

Excerpt from “Heirs of Honor”


During the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army regularly sent Special Forces sniper teams into Laos and Cambodia, two countries their Government denied entering.  Their assignments took them deep into enemy territory.  Military policy forbade airborne evacuation across an International border, so they were left to rely on each other, and their training and endurance, to get back to South Vietnam.  Many teams never returned.

Although presented as fiction, this book is based on truth, long ago buried by the “official version” of Government and Media, documenting the intensity of that war, and the difficulty for soldiers to simply slip back into civilian life after surviving the chaos of combat.  “Heirs of Honor” documents the lives of men that by virtue of their assignments, were required to swear an oath of silence, and though highly decorated for their actions, they leave no public record of their deeds, or existence.  Their records have been sealed to avoid embarrassment to their government, or contradiction of official policies.  They gave their lives, without hesitation.  They deserve to have their story told, if only in fiction.  It is the only way I know how to honor them.  “Heirs of Honor” is a story of men enduring the horror of war, and their struggle to retain their sanity, as they come of age.

Unlike the soldiers of today’s wars, who are honored and praised by a grateful population; the soldiers of our war in Southeast Asia came home to a population that, for the most part, hated and shunned them, blaming them for losing the war, indeed, for the war itself.  Many combat vets took their own lives, unable to survive ‘back in the world’.  By 1985, more than 80,000 Vietnam veterans had committed suicide.

Even though the veterans of today’s wars come home to a population that professes to appreciate them, today’s veterans encounter the same sense of alienation as the Vietnam veteran.  They still have to fight for their benefits.  To America’s shame, very little seems to have changed.

 

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Excerpt from Heirs of Honor – Forward


It is a law of nature that opposites attract, and I am living proof of that statement.  As an idealistic ‘flower child’ in the late 60’s, the great love of my life turned out to be a soldier, come home after three tours in Special Forces.  His five man team operated out of the Laotian/Cambodian border camps, dropped into countries we never went to, and told pickup would only be possible if they could make it back across the border.  As with most combat veterans, surviving the jungles of Southeast Asia was far easier than coming home.  The wife of every combat vet knows all too well the torture of her husband’s ‘survivor’s guilt’, as well as his sense of alienation from everything; only feeling safety in the company of other vets, able to share the dark humor developed by all for survival’s sake.  I learned about war from the men who lived it, and shared their pain with each other on my living room floor.

“Heirs of Honor” is based on their lives, and is presented as a fictional account of the ‘all too real’ war they lived through.  Most died in Vietnam, and those who came home were never the same.  All are gone, now.  This book is meant to honor them, and to free them from the oath of silence forced upon them by their government, if only for their own protection.
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STRANGER IN THE MIRROR


A friend sent me this article last week showing ‘before, during, and after’ pictures of combat soldiers that have survived their tour of duty.  If it is true that ‘the eyes are the windows to the soul’, the photographs depicted in this article give a clear visual record of that fact.

My husband is a survivor of three combat tours during the Vietnam War.  Although the war was physically over for him almost forty years ago, he remains haunted by it to this day.  I can see it in his eyes and hear it while he sleeps.  The war will never end for him.  He still runs through those jungles, every night.  He still hears his dead team mates call to him in his dreams.  When he leaves the peace and safety of home and goes out into the world, he is on constant alert.  His eyes are always darting about as he scans his surroundings, always looking for possible threats and escape routes… always on guard and always ready for battle.

I have seen, first hand, how combat affects the human soul and permanently changes the soldiers that live it.  Innocence, once lost, can never be recovered.  My husband is still the same soul that went to war to fight for his country, but he is forever changed, hardened. At times he is seemingly inexplicably both filled with rage, and saddened.  He will never overcome his survivor’s guilt, he can never go back to the young man he was before his soul was forever scarred by war.

There was a time in this country when it was against the law to teach slaves to read and write.  The reason for this was that slave owners feared educated slaves.  They knew that once someone learned to read and write, they could not ‘unlearn’ it.  They knew an uneducated slave was easier to keep docile, while an educated slave could be downright dangerous.

The lyrics, “How you gonna keep em’ down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree” are from a popular World War I song and gives another example of that simple fact.   Once you ‘know’ something, you are forever changed by that information.

Even if they survive combat without physical wounds, the horror of combat and survivor’s guilt leave veteran’s permanently scarred.  They can never be the same as they were.  Their new personas are unrecognizable to everyone they knew, and far too often, to themselves as well.  The person they used to be is dead, buried under the burden of knowledge and experience they now carry.  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.

I have met enough combat veterans to know that it is the same for each and every one of them.  They are all like my husband.  They all suffer permanently from the damage done to them by their experiences with War.  They all need help to return to the world.  They need the patience and understanding of people that love them.  More than that, they need the acceptance of those people to be unconditional.  The veterans who have been damaged by exposure to combat require acceptance for who they are now. For the most part, they are unable to cope with demands that they return to who they were, before they left home.  That is as impossible as unlearning to read.  The people that love a combat veteran must love them enough to accept the person they have become if they ever hope to help that veteran to heal. They must accept the fact that the person they knew before the war, is a casualty of that war, and will never return.

That is the only hope a combat veteran has of surviving their return to the world.  Our veterans have sacrificed so much for us.  We must not abandon our soldiers.  We must accept them, love them, and do everything within our power to help them as they struggle to survive their homecoming.   Returning veterans may not be the same people we remember them as, but they are still our husbands, fathers, sons and daughters, neighbors, and friends.  They have put their lives on the line, and they deserve our support.

If you want to get a better understanding of what I am talking about, I suggest you take the time to read “Heirs of Honor”. The author, my husband, lived the Vietnam War. He still lives it. His experiences will help you understand YOUR veteran better.

THE BOTTOM LINE…


According to Greg Zoroya’s article “Report: VA Scandal Probe Targets Potential Obstruction of Justice”, published 8-26-2014 in USA Today, “The Inspector General report focused largely on problems at the VA Hospital in Phoenix, the epicenter of the scandal. Reports of deaths of veterans awaiting care first surfaced there, but investigators said they have not found conclusive evidence linking the deaths to delayed care… Investigators found thousands of veterans in Phoenix hospital who were not being seen by doctors and whose names were kept on secret lists to hide them from official records that might reflect scheduling delays… legislators said hospital executives and senior clinical staff were aware that false scheduling practices were being used.”

Zoroya goes on to report that Sharon Helman, the hospital director (currently on administrative leave) along with two senior colleagues, falsified data in order to gain substantial raises in pay and bonuses, since rescinded by the VA.

Prior to releasing the report, VA officials prepared “…a full court public relations response”, ranging from granting selective media interviews with “…Top VA officials”, and culminating with remarks delivered by President Obama before the American Legion “…heralding steps to correct failings.”

In addition, the article quotes Sam Foote, a retired former VA (Phoenix) physician and “whistle blower” as saying that “…up to 63 veterans died while awaiting care at the hospital”. Yet, according to the report, there is no “….conclusive evidence linking the deaths to delayed care”. Also, the new VA Secretary, Robert McDonald, claimed “the number of veterans waiting for appointments has declined since May by 57%.” That may be due to a large number of veterans just not even trying, due to disgust or lack of faith in the VA.

According to an article “When a Veteran is Injured by the VA: The Federal Torts Claims Act, You Can Sue the VA For Medical Malpractice Through the Federal Torts Claims Act” published on the website Nolo.com, “You can file a lawsuit under the Federal Torts Claims Act (FTCA) when any employee of the VA acts negligently and causes you an injury…..Under the FTCA, a negligent act by any agent of the VA (for example, even a janitor leaving a wet floor on which you slip and get hurt) can be the basis of a medical malpractice lawsuit. This means that the FTCA covers many more negligent acts than Section 1151 benefits do… Unlike the VA rating system for service connected disabilities… money damages you could win are calculated based on your suffering and the economic loss that has resulted from your injury. And unlike disability compensation, which is paid monthly over a number of years, you receive a payment in one lump sum if you win an FTCA lawsuit.

I wonder just how expensive it would be for the VA if they had to deal with FTCA lawsuits for the 63 veterans that suffered the injury of death, not to mention the thousands of veterans whose conditions were worsened by delayed care. Could that be the reason the official report claims investigators “have not found conclusive evidence linking the deaths to delayed care”? Maybe that is the real ‘bottom line’.

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]

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.