National Vietnam War Veterans Day - Lest We Forget!

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On March 29, 2019, we as a nation will take the time to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War. This solemn day of recognition acknowledges the sacrifices of the "Vietnam Era Veterans." These are the men and women who served in the Republic of Vietnam from February 28, 1961 to May 7, 1975 or otherwise served in the U.S. military between August 5, 1964 to May 7, 1975.

Of the almost 19 million Veterans in the US, Vietnam Era Veterans represent 35.8%. Think about that, almost 6.8 million living men and women served in what has been arguably the most contentious war in our nation's history.

While so much has been written about this generation, I would like to share some thoughts as the widow of a Vietnam Veteran who suffered greatly for his service, as a Vietnam Era Veteran myself, and as someone who has spent the last five years working with Veterans at Still Serving Veterans.

Not on My Watch

As the military built up after the attacks of September 11th, 2001, there was a powerful public response on the part of key public and private leaders who had served during Vietnam. They were not going to let their children be treated as they had been treated. We as a nation had learned the lesson of the social, cultural, and personal costs of "confusing the warrior with the war."

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Invisible Wounds

Our Vietnam Veterans have taught us that many of the wounds of war are invisible. While Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is linked in the public mind with Vietnam Veterans, this disorder in fact did not become an illness recognized by the American Psychiatric Association until 1980 when it was formally included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM II). PTSD, which is more common in the civilian population than the military, can be a source of life-long misery for the victim and their family.

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In my work with older Veterans (and all of us who served during the Vietnam Era are, by definition, "older") I am seeing individuals who for years have managed to keep their memories of Vietnam in what one Veteran described as a "tight little black box," begin to experience flash-backs and other symptoms. As another Veteran told me, “now that I am retired, I have more time to think“ which for him was not a good thing.

Benefits

Many Vietnam Veterans came home and used their GI Bill and/or VA Housing Loans to start or restart their lives, a relative few applied for VA disability benefits. They didn't trust "the system," didn't believe they were hurt enough, thought that they were taking money from those who deserved it more, or gave up trying to work their way through the VA system.

However, as those who served in Vietnam and nearby waters, have aged, many have begun to show serious symptoms of the Agent Orange exposure and other disabilities attributable to their service. These include diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes, Parkinson, Ischemic Heart Failure, and some seven types of cancer. This list continues to expand. Therefore, a claim that was denied years ago, may now have be eligible for compensation.

5 Recommendations for Vietnam Veterans and Those Who Love Them

  • If you served in Vietnam or the adjoining waters and never filed a disability claim, consider doing so. Not every claim is approved and not every award is at the desired level, but you do not know unless you submit the claim. If you don't want to do this for yourself, if you are married, do it for your spouse!

  • If you have filed a claim several years ago and have developed any of the conditions described on the VA website, consider reapplication/appeal.

  • If you are concerned about the mental health of a Veteran (Vietnam era or otherwise), do not hesitate to seek help. Call the Veteran Crisis Line at: 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, send a text message to 838255, or chat online or make an appointment at the Vet Center near you.

 
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  • When you see a Veteran wearing a hat, jacket, or anything which identifies them as a Veteran, say "thank you for your service" and then look them right in the eye and say "and I really mean it"! Being recognized (finally) for one's service and sacrifice can make all of the difference. This YouTube video entitled a Moment of Truth shows this profound truth in such a moving way.

Assistance With Benefits

If you need assistance understanding the benefits for which you might be eligible, please contact Still Serving Veterans at https://ssv.org/ or call 1-866-778-4645 and ask for Terri. All of Still Serving Veterans ‘counselors are themselves Veterans and all services are offered free of charge because of the generosity of foundations, companies, and individuals with hearts for Veterans. .

We don’t know them all, but we owe them all!

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Reflections by Paulette Risher

MG, U.S. Army (retired)

Chief Programs Officer