Vietnam Changed my life Forever.
There’s a quote following Picket’s charge at Gettysburg. “ a lot of men went up the hill this morning, some came down. The rest is just detail”
Vietnam changed America. When we talk about honoring veteran’s who risk their lives to serve their country – regardless of the branch of service or their MOS – we are commemorating the contributions of Vietnam Veterans to the existence of those changes.
I can comment to a couple of them:
The VA has changed and continues to face the challenges of a new generation of veterans serving in new kinds of war. When Vietnam veterans came home and went to the VA for help, the VA wasn’t ready and for many veterans help wasn’t available. When Afgan and Iraq veterans came home, the VA met them at the gate as they finished their deployment. The country responded to veteran education and employment needs with funding and programs to meet those needs.
With the help of service organizations and county veteran service officers physical and emotional wounds have been assessed and service connected disability has been recognized.
The VA and the community have responded to readjustment needs not only of returning veterans, but of their family. Individual, group, couple and family counseling programs are available, often at no cost to the veteran or the veteran’s family. And community resources abound.
As I worked with Vietnam and our younger vets, I became aware of the struggle of Viet Vets with the fantastic response given to todays veterans that wasn’t there for them. Then it occurred to me. At least in some measure, the response to Veterans today is the way we should have been treated and weren’t. Then I realized that it was because Vietnam Vets were often treated so poorly that the country has pledged that never again will this country treat today’s Veterans the way Vietnam Vets were treated. War veterans have always made contributions to society – often improving medical treatment because of the efforts to treat and rehab combat wounds. This was Vietnam’s contribution, and I know it was worth the cost.
Over the many years I’ve worked with combat and combat theatre veterans, I can’t remember a WWII veteran who came to the Vet Center for help – until the last few years. I’ve asked these vets “why now?” And they’ve told me that when they came home they had a country to rebuild and the country didn’t want to hear about their pain. Because Vietnam veterans have shared their pain, WWII veterans have said that they now can share theirs. It’s not ok that veterans have to wait until they are preparing to die to share their stories. The community sends our men and women to war and it is the community’s responsibility to bring them home and help them heal.
That’s the legacy of Vietnam. I’m proud of my service. But the needs of our veterans continue. The job of healing is not done when the war is over. For many, healing has just begun. We are a village, and it takes a village to heal our veterans.