July 29, 2014
Year after year, decade after decade within the veterans community (military-veterans-families) we have a much different discussion than what the rest of the country is talking about. This is not a promising deal to fix the VA. It is yet one more round of toss, slap and grab.
We've been reading about all of this for decades followed by promises of fixing the problems with tossing money around. Soon afterwards we're faced with reports of veterans left to wait and fight for benefits they earned, feeling as if they got slapped and then some yahoos elected to go to Washington to take care of VA can't even bother to show up for hearings for the committees they get to put on their list of things they've done to grab up some veterans votes.
They make speeches about how much they care but never seem to match that care with the what they do.
We need to cut a lot of the bull out of the reports starting with the simple fact that if a veteran had not been to the VA before, they do not get to go to the head of the line. Even in the civilian world, doctors have an obligation to the patients they already have. They will not cancel appointments to fit in someone new or stay late to fit someone in. I have been going to my doctor's office for 10 years and I know if I have an emergency, they will fit me in. Had I not been known to them, I could go to the emergency room at a local hospital or to one of the hundreds of emergency clinics. My obligation is to make sure I take care of my health by having a relationship with doctors I trust.
Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have 5 years of free care at the VA. They do not enroll and get a primary care doctor or even get testing done until they have problems. When they do, they expect to just get in and be seen right away. What about the veterans already there? Are they just expected to give up the appointments they had for months? Do veterans think doctors, nurses and staff will simply pop up when they decide to be seen? They need to enroll in the VA as soon as they get out even if they don't think they need it. Otherwise, staff will not be hired to meet the increase in need.
There has never been enough staff to take care of all the veterans in this country and Congress has had the same debates year after year for decades. We've seen it all before and most of the rush to address crisis after crisis happens the same year there is an election. What about the rest of the time when Congress was supposed to be doing their jobs so we wouldn't have to face repeats of the same things reported about decades before when we also got promises.
President Obama added to the number of veterans going to the VA by making it easier for Vietnam veterans to file claims for PTSD and Agent Orange. Congress did not increase funding enough to cover the numbers of employees to care for these veterans finally being able to seek the care they needed and tried to get before. There was already a backlog of claims and wait times for OEF and OIF veterans but the majority of those waiting were and still are Vietnam veterans. Congress didn't care because they got to talk to reporters about the newer generation of veterans. No one was really interested in the fact Vietnam veterans waited longer, were the majority of the claims waiting to be approved or that they were also the majority of the suicides.
We faced all of this while reporters simply dismissed the most obvious fact of all. Vietnam veterans were home by 1975, not 1973 the way most reporters think.
The First and the Last on the Vietnam Memorial Wall
The first American soldier killed in the Vietnam War was Air Force T-Sgt. Richard B. Fitzgibbon Jr. He is listed by the U.S. Department of Defense as having a casualty date of June 8, 1956. His name was added to the Wall on Memorial Day 1999.
First battlefield fatality was Specialist 4 James T. Davis who was killed on December 22, 1961.
The last American soldier killed in the Vietnam War was Kelton Rena Turner, an 18-year old Marine. He was killed in action on May 15, 1975, two weeks after the evacuation of Saigon, in what became known as the Mayaguez incident.
Others list Gary L. Hall, Joseph N. Hargrove and Danny G. Marshall as the last to die in Vietnam. These three US Marines Corps veterans were mistakenly left behind on Koh Tang Island during the Mayaguez incident. They were last seen together but unfortunately to date, their fate is unknown. They are located on panel 1W, lines 130 - 131.
The last pilot casualty in the country of Vietnam occured during the Embassy evacuation in Saigon, William C. Nystal and Michael J. Shea both died on the helicopter on April 30, 1975 approaching the USS Hancock in the China Sea (both are located at 1W, 124). The last pilot killed in the Vietnam war was Air Force helicopter pilot Second Lieutenant Richard Vandegeer who was killed on Koh Tang Island, Cambodia. This occured during the Mayaguez incident when his helicopter crashed on May 15, 1975. It is concidered the last combat action of the Vietnam War.
Now you know the other fact. Afghanistan is not the longest war. Actually when you think about it the way the Veterans Community does, Vietnam is not the longest war either. The longest war is the fight veterans have with the congress to get the care they need when they need it and not when members of congress get around to noticing.
There is nothing in this new funding for the VA that has not been done before. That also includes the fact that while Congress funds PTSD programs, 57% of the suicides happened after they went to the VA for help. How about Congress start to learn about what they are paying for first before they turn around and make things worse?