by Guest Blogger Andrew Rafkin
I just finished my next book Reaper 6, the true story of Staff Sergeant Larry FitzGerald, the leader of a thirty-man black ops team that was deployed to Vietnam in 1966. After three tours, and receiving eleven Purple Hearts, Larry returned to the States unable to adjust to our society, along with most of the veterans coming home from war.
What I learned about our veterans was overwhelming, and I closed the story with a short piece titled, “Our Soldiers.”
They’re only kids, eighteen or nineteen, just out of high school, volunteering or drafted, to fight for our country. They joined because they were patriotic, following their peers, an opportunity to learn a trade, make money, pushed in by their parents, or forced in by the draft.
But every soldier coming home from combat arrived crippled, some with visible life-altering injuries, which left them without limbs, crippled physically, without hope for easy integration back into society.
What’s not visible, but devastating, is what all war veterans deal with upon returning home. They suffer with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), TBI (traumatic brain injury), drug and alcohol issues, high rate of suicide, family issues, financial issues, psychological and psychosocial issues, and future employment problems.
Many veterans, although emotionally scarred for life, were later attacked by cancer caused from Agent Orange and other carcinogens they were exposed to in the jungles of Vietnam, and ended up suffering an excruciating painful death.
The negative sentiment and discrimination of Vietnam Vets was overwhelming. No one likes rejection, and to avoid it, a vet simply let his hair grow out, maybe grow a beard, and disappear into the crowd.
The current war our nation is embedded in is a war against terrorism, with no remorse and little support. We cannot forget about the war veterans coming home with life-altering injuries, previous unseen diseases, radiation sickness from depleted uranium in weapons and armor plating. And, high rates of lung cancer from exposure to “burn pits” where hundreds of tons of contaminated materials are burned partially, included sewage and various carcinogens. This is all just emerging. The military says they probably had cancer before deployment. How can the military state something like this?
These healthy, physically fit young men and women volunteered to join our Armed Forces, returning crippled with physical and psychological disorders, and we can never forget the soldiers that paid the ultimate price, dying for our country.
There are over a million veterans collecting VA disability and close to a million that are unemployed. The Veterans Administration is overloaded with cases for Vietnam Veterans, and new cases are flooding in every day.
So, America must ask itself, what is being done to help these men and women get back onto
their feet and become beneficial members of society?
Too many veterans who served our country decades ago still suffer from horrible medical problems stemming from their time in the military. Time and again, the federal government has failed to provide them with the quality care they have earned. Sometimes, it is the bureaucracy that stands in the way. Other times, it is red tape or cost-cutting measures that prevent vets from getting the care they deserve. But for the hundreds of thousands of Vietnam veterans, it is a shameful technicality in the law.
Many Vietnam veterans who were initially entitled to 100% disability were surprised to see their benefits changed to 30%, with no prior notice or examination. These veterans suffering from PTSD, and physical injuries were literally driven into poverty. They would complain to the VA, who informed them that they were re-evaluated. Evaluated by WHOM and WHEN? This travesty occurred over eighteen years ago. By whose authorization? No one in our government would ever admit to this.
Currently the media says the VA is better now in recognizing war-related ailments and disabilities, and President Obama recently ordered recognition of such maladies without the previous burden of proof from the veteran that the Iraq/Afghanistan war is responsible. They previously had to pinpoint a time and place where they were injured or contaminated or became ill.
Obama, known for his distaste of the military and the war, has a reputation of making big promises, only for political advancements, as many other presidents and their administrations have been, in the past. Veterans are not impressed with boisterous platitudes for selfish political gain. Our veterans want action. They deserve action!
Our older veterans need all the help they can get, and our Iraqi/Afghanistan men and women need assurances that they will not fall in disregard, as the vets before them.
Never forget that these men and women were only innocent teenagers when they embarked on their journey to protect the country we hold so dear. We have to make sure that they can assimilate with society, and that our government protects and provides them with medical and financial benefits, now, and in the future.
They deserve it!!
Andrew J. Rafkin, was born in 1946 in San Pedro, California, grew up in a commercial fishing family. He served in the Navy during the Vietnam War and later graduated from California State University, Dominguez Hills with degrees in economics and marketing. Louis Pagono, was born 1947, in San Pedro, California. He worked on the docks on his family’s commercial fishing boats, and later in his parent’s restaurant, Luigi’s. Later he joined the Merchant Marines, and worked on the freighters moving cargo up and down the Pacific Coast. Find out more at: www.andrewrafkin.com