I received an e-mail from the mother of a wounded veteran requesting that I reprint a column I wrote a few years ago. She didn’t know the name of the column, but that it was advice to wounded vets about the VA and dealing with their families. I thought and thought and with a search of my incredible file system, I came up with the notes I used on that column. Now I am putting all that paperwork back into the cardboard boxes and storing them under the steps. Filing is not my strong suit and I hope this helps her son out, it is a rewrite, so it isn’t exactly like the first one.
An Open Letter to Wounded Veterans of
George Bush’s War on Terrorism
I know that it is an American War that you have fought in, but from now on this war will be called George’s War or Bush’s War. WW II was Roosevelt’s War, Korea was Truman’s War, and Vietnam was LBJ’s War.
I am writing to you as a fellow combat vet, who did his stint in the military and Veteran’s Hospitals. I had no idea of what the future held for me when I came home and I am sure you are in the same boat.
For the next few years people will be saying, "Thank you for your service." It will probably embarrass you as it has me. It makes those people feel better because they have no idea of what you have gone through and have no idea of what to say to you. To tell you the truth I don’t know what to say back to them either. Usually I say "yeah" or say nothing. Your experience in combat is so distant from what most Americans know, you will just get frustrated if you try and explain anything to them.
Sometime in the next thirty years you will realize that the only people who have an understanding of your combat experience are other vets. You will be talking to some guy at the VA who is thirty or forty years older and he will know what is going on with you when thoughts of combat start jumping into the front of your mind and they will. I have been talking to a WW II or Korean War vet and it feels like we are both eighteen again, because the trauma of combat happened to both of us when we were that age.
Right now the whole Nation is on your side. Politicians love you and the President showers you with praise. I am sorry to tell you that this will end. The only people that are really there for you are your close family and other vets. Washington is constantly trying to save money by cutting Veteran benefits. President Bush and his administration have cut veteran medical care by over $1.8 billion. Congress knows about this shortfall and they wanted to fix it, but they had to go home for the July 4th holiday and left the veteran hanging until they get back.
Veterans from past wars have had to band together and form groups to lobby Congress and the White House so that we get the help we do today. That is why there are the American Legion, VFW, AM Vets, Blind Vets, Paralyzed Vets, Vietnam Vets, Gulf War Vets, and many more.
These groups formed because Washington stopped keeping promises to care for those who fought for America. If Veterans couldn’t vote, we would have nothing.
If you are severely wounded, the American Government will help you out. The money they give you will not make you rich or even middle class, but if you watch what you spend, you will have enough for food and shelter.
I want to tell you some things about the Veterans Administration and the medical care you will be dealing with for the rest of your life. First the good part. The people who work at the various Medical Centers are great. The doctors, nurses, people who clean the halls, security, and the guy who plants the flowers and cuts the grass are all there because they want to be and they truly want to help you, the veteran. You will find that many are veterans too, but that makes no difference because everybody there is out to help you.
The people working at the VA do the best they can with budgets that are cut, old equipment, out-dated facilities, and an Administration that is constantly trying to get them to save money. Remember that, because time at the VA can get very frustrating.
The bad part is that getting help from the VA is a game that can cost you your life. You will find that all of those Veteran Organizations are your advocate. There are a few Senators and Representatives that will go to bat for you, but for sure they are in the minority. Your best bet is to learn how to play the game from other vets. They can save you from beating your head against the wall. Also keep in mind that the Veterans Administration loves to make you nuts with paper work, forms, and appeals.
Right now you are working on getting your body back to the best it can be, depending on what happened to you. For the rest of your life you will be working on your mind. You have been to combat and that changes you. Everything you saw, heard, and experienced in combat was experienced by other vets too. Never exactly like what happened to you, but close enough so that other veterans are at least able to understand where you are coming from.
Other veterans were nice enough to give me their time and understanding so that all the sick and terrible things I saw and did could some how fit into my head. For years it felt like they were spilling out and I couldn’t keep them in and hey, you can’t. Trying to shove those thoughts of war to the back of your mind does work for a while, but they demand to come out and there is nothing you can do to stop them.
Sure some people handle it better than others, but like it or not you have joined a new club. The price you pay to join is so very high and you can never get out now that you are in. It is up to you to make the best of it you can. There are thousands and thousands of Americans from every war we have had who are willing to help you out in any way they can and some of them will need your help.
So, I will say thanks for what you did for our country. I won’t bullshit you though, the next few years are going to be harder than any time in your life. You have to learn how to become a civilian again. Old friends won’t seem the same and so many things that people worry about will seem trivial after what you have been through.
If you have a wife or husband, clue them in about all of your thoughts. You have to do that or those thoughts will tear you apart as a couple. It took me years to learn that and it is hard. Talk to your spouse or I can guarantee you that you will be talking to a shrink.
America is a wonderful country and I would be there in a heart beat if it needed my protection again and I know you feel the same. Right now the best thing you can do for your country is making yourself as whole as you can. Take your war experience and use it to self-motivate your life in a direction that can bring you happiness. You earned it!
Jim Glaser [send him mail], a Marine Corps Vietnam War veteran and Commander of VFW Post 3869, works to educate the American public on the consequences of war. His personal website is James-Glaser.com.