Thursday, March 02, 2006

Some Vietnam Vets NOT "truly deserving" of benefits?

My brother, Philip, was brilliant. He wrote and created pencil drawings so true to life, you'd weep. And in his paintings he captured an other-wordly quality of light. A sublime glow. He read everything. He told us stories. He was the first and the best storyteller in my life. He was recruited by the Marines, right out of high school. Those recruiters took a lot of boys from our neighborhood in the south valley of Albuquerque. He was sent to Vietnam twice. We didn't see him for three straight years. He came back violent and moody, went to college on the G.I. Bill, briefly coached high school football and taught Biology. He drifted around the country, met a paraplegic woman almost twice his age and married her because she "saved his life." They lived for awhile in her native Alabama and later Hawaii, but finally settled down on a little farm in New Mexico. He worked odd jobs for years, some he kept longer than others, usually manual labor type jobs. He usually broke a rule or two, threatened a co-worker, or just walked off a job if he felt like it. He began collecting animals. Not with any rhyme or reason in mind. He had dogs, cats and goats, in the double digits. When his wife passed away he became more and more reclusive. He didn't have time to read or paint anymore because he was too busy with his animals. He spent hours taking care of them. He lost a good job on a military base because he crossed a military roadblock to drive home to nurse a sick goat. He had periods of deep depression and suicidal thoughts. His health deteriorated. He began feeding the rats on his farm. Over the years we, his sisters and brothers, have pleaded with him to go to the VA Hospital, get a checkup, get some counseling, join a support group. He was stubborn and proud and wouldn't make time to jump through the hoops the VA required.

Well now he's reached the end of his rope. At 60 years of age, broken down and sick, living out of his car, he had to give in and admit he needed help. And now that he's willing to jump through the hoops to get what his country owes him for risking his life, and ultimately deferring whatever dreams a 17-year old had in 1963, idiots like Sally Satel, with the whole weight of the American Enterprise Institute behind her evil ass, are saying how can these guys make any claims after all these years? How the hell can she say that any of these guys are seeking a free ride?

Sally Satel, a psychiatrist and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote this piece of crap for the NYTimes' op-ed page earlier this week.
ACCORDING to a report from its inspector general, the Department of Veterans Affairs is now paying compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder to nearly twice as many veterans as it did just six years ago, at an annual cost of $4.3 billion. What's more surprising is that the flood of recent applicants does not, for the most part, consist of young soldiers just returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. Rather they are Vietnam veterans in their 50's and 60's who claim to be psychologically crippled now by their service of decades ago.

This leads to an obvious question: Can it really take up to 40 years after a trauma before someone realizes he can no longer cope with the demands of civilian life? The answer: possibly, but it is often hard to know which applicants can be helped with short-term psychiatric care, which are seeking a free ride and which are truly deserving of the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder and thus long-term care and payments of up to $2,300 a month for life.
But it's also very likely that some of the veteran baby boomers who have filed claims in recent years did so not out of medical need but out of a desire for financial security in their retirement years.
Having worked as a psychiatrist at a Veterans Affairs hospital, I can attest to the good intentions with which the department created its post-traumatic stress disorder programs. But as the bureaucracy has become entrenched — and politicians and veterans' groups have applied pressure — a culture of trauma has blossomed.
Most important, more rigor in diagnosing will conserve resources for veterans who are truly deserving. With a new generation of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, the Veterans Affairs Department needs to look at post-traumatic stress disorder in a new way: the department must regard it as an acute but treatable condition. Only in rare instances should veterans be eligible for lifetime disability; and perhaps there should be a deadline of years after service by which claims must be submitted.
This is horseshit. I thought I was deeply traumatized when we had to put our 13-year old Husky down after a brief illness. I can't even imagine what horrors my brother Philip experienced in his two tours of duty in Vietnam.

Excuse me if I foam at the mouth. These veterans put their lives on the line. They were willing to go into harm's way when so many ran and hid (how many deferments did Big Dick Cheney get?). The least we can do for them is make sure they finish well. The very least we can do for them is to make sure their next meal isn't coming out of a trash can.


Barbara said...

I knew a lot of these guys when I was homeless - at that time it seemed like 80% of the guys that were my age or older and on the streets were vietnam vets.

I just want to spit when I read about those who did not serve trying to limit benefits to those who did.

I heard the stories about what they were asked to do - and then the welcome they got when they got home.

I found your post when doing a search for posts about Vietnam vets after posting my own this morning.


red rabbit said...

Hey Barbara! Thanks for posting on the blog. I flew down to New Mexico and over the past 2 weeks, my brother, Philip, has been "jumping through hoops" to get his pension. He's seen doctors at the VA Hospital, had tests. He's suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, severe malnutrition, and has an enlarged prostate. He says he never experienced any ill treatment after returning from Vietnam. It was the recurring nightmares of rocket attacks, dragging dead buddies off the battlefield, and the constant justifications he made to himself that there was some reason for all of it. As the years went by with information coming out about the abandonment of American soldiers basically used as cannon fodder in an ill thought out war, his rage, self-hatred, and despair grew deeper. I don't think we can keep putting 18 year olds in situations where they must kill or be killed without acknowledging and paying the price to repair their lives, whatever the cost.