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Vietnam Vets Now Fight For Each Other

Discussion in 'News, Politics & Debates' started by goingonhope, Aug 13, 2007.

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  1. goingonhope

    goingonhope Member Premium Member

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    Vietnam Vets Now Fight For Each Other

    Service Organization Addresses Problems Unique to Jungle Campaign


    August 13, 07

    Years ago, Ed Hughes was sitting in a Kansas City soda shop with his aunt when a group of young people at the next table called him a baby killer.

    Hughes, a soldier just back from a tour of duty in South Vietnam, and his aunt got up and left.

    “I was upset, but I didn’t say anything or make a scene,” the Ottawa resident said recently as he recalled that day 37 years ago.

    Michael Kuhn served in Vietnam in 1968. In 1995 he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

    “Until I got into therapy I had no idea I had PTSD,” said Kuhn, a former Army combat medic from Topeka. “It opened up doors I’d sealed off.”

    In August 1964, allegations that North Vietnamese gunboats had attacked American naval ships led President Lyndon Johnson to sign the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution approved by Congress. That opened the door for hundreds of thousands of troops to be sent to Vietnam over the next decade.

    Like Hughes and Kuhn, veterans who served there are still dealing with after-effects of their experiences. Many of them confront Vietnam-related veterans issues through their membership with Vietnam Veterans of America, a nationwide advocacy organization formed in 1978. VVA has more than 50,000 members in 630 local chapters in 46 states.

    Hughes is one of about 70 members in VVA Chapter 912 in Ottawa. Most of the members are from Ottawa, with a few from Lawrence. Hughes is a charter member of the chapter, which was formed in 2002.

    “I joined because I had no place to go to be with my own,” said Hughes, 60, referring to other Vietnam veterans.


    ‘A better fit’

    The VVA’s founding principle is “Never again will one generation abandon another.”

    That forms the basis for why many joined the VVA. They said they didn’t feel comfortable with the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, which were dominated by World War II and Korean War veterans. Some said they didn’t feel welcome there.

    The VVA was more reflective of his generation, said Kuhn, who is president of the Kansas VVA State Council, which serves as a conduit for the national organization to state chapters. “It was a better fit,” he said.

    VVA seeks to hold government agencies accountable for following the laws on veterans benefits and health care. In addition to seeking better care for victims of PTSD, it also advocates for those who are still suffering from the effects of Agent Orange, a herbicide the military used to defoliate forests and jungles to eliminate enemy hiding places. The herbicide was used extensively in Vietnam.

    Rural Lawrence resident Arthur Barton served two tours in Vietnam. He suffered a stroke at age 37. Now 71, he has diabetes and lung and heart problems. Physicians told him that diabetes is one of the primary after-effects of Agent Orange.

    “As for whether the stroke was herbicide-related, I don’t know,” he said.

    Roy Dunn also has health problems that could be related to Agent Orange, the rural Ottawa resident said.

    Dunn, 62, developed prostate cancer a few years ago. Agent Orange has been identified as causing a variety of cancers. When Dunn develops a serious health problem, he wonders whether it is because of Agent Orange.

    “It’s a matter of association. You were there, you were exposed to it,” said Dunn, a farmer and Franklin County commissioner.

    Dunn served with an Army artillery unit and as an aide and bodyguard for a general. He also suffers from PTSD. Just like Kuhn, he was diagnosed with it in the early 1990s. That’s typical of Vietnam veterans, he said.

    “You get out of the military and you are so glad to get on with your life,” he said. “Then 30 or 40 years later it starts to haunt you, the things that you did and the things you’d seen.”


    Now accepted

    Despite highly publicized problems with the nationwide Veterans Affairs health care system, local VVA veterans said they had not had serious problems with the care they receive from area VA hospitals and clinics. But they think the VA system is underfunded.

    “I’ve seen a lot of turnover,” Dunn said. “When you are getting treatment for PTSD, consistency makes a big difference.”

    VVA members said they are trying to help veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ottawa members meet at 8 a.m. on Saturday mornings for breakfast at the Sirloin Stockade. The meetings began when Hughes and fellow VVA member Mel Lucas met and talked to an Iraq veteran who “was having some troubles,” Hughes said.

    “It helped him so a couple of others came,” Hughes said. “We decided to open it up to the whole club and any veteran. Any of them are welcome to come. We just talk. We have a good time.”

    The attitude toward Vietnam veterans has changed over the years and Ottawa veterans say they feel more accepted by the public.

    “I’ve walked in the parades and we’ve received the same cheers and claps as the others,” Dunn said.


    Source: The Lawrence Journal World, Kansas
     
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