By Marsha M. Brown
By the time you all read this GIG LINE, we will have just attended the Vietnam Veterans Reunion Picnic in Kill Devil Hills the day before. That story will be featured in the Sunday, April 7th GIG LINE and I can’t wait. In that column, I will write about my impressions of that special picnic gathering; what I saw; heard and felt. I will describe what it was like to be in the midst of men and women I deeply respect who came together to share their unmistakable bond.
In anticipation of the picnic over the past few weeks and contacting veterans who served in Vietnam to invite them, I came to realize two things. First, that many veterans had either never sought VA assistance of any kind over the past 40 years and secondly, of those who did, some had never received help or were turned down for one reason or another. It hurt me to hear a number of veterans describe the anxiety they felt once they finally stepped out to investigate potential assistance only to hear they “didn’t qualify”. Naturally, I wasn’t privy to their application or as to whether they fully executed all of the paperwork the VA requires in order to make a determination. The fact is that the process can be time consuming and some veterans just don’t want to deal with it. On top of that, countless claims have created undeniable and unavoidable lengthy delays in getting answers once a veteran actually submits a claim. This is when having ‘the patience of Job’ is crucial. But, don’t get me wrong, regardless of the time it takes, it’s important and worth pursuing.
One of the veterans I had contacted especially touched my heart. It was obvious he was reluctant to share what he had been through as a Vietnam veteran and I understood that. But what he did share with me consisted of debilitating medical challenges he had endured for years. He told me that he had reached out for help some time ago but had never received any. I listened intently to his recollection and I heard the pain in his voice. It broke my heart. Based on what he shared with me over the phone, it seemed the personal hardships he described were extensive and that his current state of affairs lacked much needed support. His situation was unacceptable to me. He is a veteran for goodness sake. We are on a quest to help him in whatever way possible and to refer him to the best source of medical re-assessment and further evaluation to determine what help may be available now. At the very least, we hope to find a way…somehow…to help him.
One of my uncles who lived in Miami, Florida had aspired to become a professional singer. He was handsome; he had a great personality; he was out going, he was fun to be around and he had a voice that just ‘wouldn’t quit’. Everybody who knew and loved him wanted to see his dream come to fruition; however, my Grandmother explained to me that after having served in the U. S. Marines Corp in the Korean War he had come home a “changed man”. As it turned out he had a very difficult time dealing with his war experience and it unfortunately led him to alcohol dependency eventually contributing to his death. I still remember her face when she described his shattered dreams and that her only son had lost his joy in Korea. She said he had never gotten over it and that he cried after he had come home…a lot. My uncle was a good man with a beautiful heart. It was a sad situation. I don’t know if he had ever sought counseling but if not, I wish he had…maybe it would have helped and even saved his life.
Soldiers, airmen and seamen have endured wars and battles around the world for how long now? War is war and all of the men and women who have experienced it are exceptional human beings. Those who were fortunate enough to have made it back home and those who never returned are heroes…all of them…without exception.
My point in sharing my uncle’s story is to acknowledge that wars are hard on everyone who has had to go through it. And the ways in which veterans deal with their experiences vary greatly. Because of our veterans sacrifice, we should never forget or take for granted what our retired, reserve and active military have done for our country. We should be cognizant of what those who actively serve do each and every day to protect us and defend our liberties. All battles where our men and women have left loved ones behind for far away places and be put in harms way is as important as the Vietnam War. Because I have a personal connection to the Vietnam War, the month of March is a reminder of the end of the War and when my sweet Billy came home. It’s a reminder too that many veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange, now in their mid to late 60’s, are beginning to see significant changes in their health.
Per Wikipedia, “In 1991, the U.S. Congress enacted the Agent Orange Act, giving the Department of Veteran Affairs, the authority to declare certain conditions ‘presumptive’ to exposure to Agent Orange/dioxin, making these veterans who served in Vietnam eligible to receive treatment and compensation for these conditions”. The ‘presumptive’ conditions include: prostate cancer, respiratory cancers, multiple myeloma, type II diabetes, Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, soft tissue sarcoma, chloracne, porphyria cutanea tarda, peripheral neuropathy, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, spina bifida (in children of veterans exposed to Agent Orange…). The list now includes B cell leukemia such as hairy cell leukemia, Parkinson’s disease and Ischemic heart disease”. The article further acknowledges the spraying of Agent Orange herbicides and defoliants in the amount of 20,000,000 U.S. gallons (76,000,000l) between 1962 and 1971.
I wish the ‘list’ didn’t apply to anyone who reads GIG LINE, but that’s not realistic because a lot of the veterans I’ve talked to have been or are currently being treated for one or more of those noted conditions. Some are getting medical help, treatments or prescriptions and some are being compensated at different monetary levels monthly and thank goodness because in my opinion, they sure deserve it and a whole lot more.
The positive good news is that Jeff Pearson, Integrator for the VA Rural Health Care Initiative, will be in Dare County again (with his team) in April. In the meantime, he invites all veterans with any questions regarding new applications, appointments, updates and physical exams through the VA to call his cell: (757) 344-9501. You can also try his office at (757) 722-9961 ext. 7741 or his email: [email protected]
My sweetie pie Billy and I have attended a number of Jeff’s outreach events and we’ve consistently found him to be sincerely interested, nice to talk to and someone who cares a lot about helping veterans. I spoke with him just last week and he told me he can process an application to determine eligibility within 24 hours now. He also said there are appointment openings available for VA physicals in April. Remember that he works closely with Rhonda Creef, Dare County Veteran Service Officer, who can also help you get the ball rolling. To contact Rhonda directly, please call her Monday through Friday at (252) 475-5604.
I strongly recommend that all veterans please not give up on seeking sources of help, benefit or compensation that you deserve and may very well be entitled to. Persistence pays off a lot of times in life and there are many dedicated people working in and through the Veterans Administration who will diligently seek answers in your behalf.
Be happy, be safe, be proud and please take every opportunity to thank a veteran. Until next time, stay tuned…