By Barbie Perkins-Cooper
After my marriage to a soldier, I was blissful of our future life together. Kissing him goodbye at the Charleston, South Carolina Airport I was fearful of what he would be like when he returned, or what would happen to me, if he did not make it home. Young and excited, I believed the military practiced their belief of taking care of their own. When I arrived at R&R in Hawaii, nine months after he departed, I was informed I had to attend an orientation before his arrival. I was told that he might overreact over something silly and I needed to know how to respond.
After all, he was in a warzone, seeing things that most Americans did not see normally, and I needed to know how to care for him. One year and five days after he left for Vietnam, I was completely surprised when no one contacted me to see how I was adjusting with my soldier husband home. Unlike Army Wives, I did not receive any type of family support.
Never did either of us get a phone call or a referral to his reentry into a normal life. Never did anyone ask me how he was doing after fighting in a warzone. Our life as husband and wife finally began in Fort Gordon, GA where I witnessed flashbacks, irritability, and night rages where he choked me while shouting in Vietnamese language. When I encouraged him to get some help, his reply was an angry, “It don’t mean nothing.” Little did I know my husband was suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, along with the side effects of Agent Orange.
Flash-forward to 2009
The war in Vietnam ended April 30, 1975. I remember watching the stories on the local news, while feeding our child, now three years old. My husband never expressed his feelings over the war ending. He simply rose from the table and walked away. I heard, “It don’t mean nothing,” again. Never did I understand the chill of those words until I slipped into a deep depression over the wrongs of my marriage. Suddenly it seemed my husband was an angry man. He spat off into bitter rages, shouting at me, telling me I should be ‘seen and not heard.’
He wanted me to be the happy homemaker, not the actress, singer, or writer I desired to be. I shouted at him, unable to understand why our marriage was falling apart. He blamed me – for everything. Our fights were my fault. Our finances, and our tight budget, were my fault. The car breaking down – my fault. The lack of intimacy was my fault. Defeated, I crawled into a shell. Why couldn’t my husband understand, I needed more than wife or mommy, I needed a life that was fulfilling, not just domestic. Our fights continued as he demanded that I quit work and focus only on him and our son. Defeated, I granted his wishes while the anger was brewing inside of me. In early 1980,
I read an article in a magazine, describing how many Vietnam Veterans had returned to America, only to become angry. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was the culprit and it was destroying the lives of the Vietnam Veteran. The marriages of the Vietnam era were falling apart, with only 1% surviving. We, my husband and I, were 1%, and we were crumbling.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD] became a household name in the early 1980’s. As the wife of a former military man and a veteran, I was compelled to learn all I could about it. On one occasion I told my husband I suspected he had PTSD. He denied it, telling me our problems were all because of me and my independence. Yes, I was a feminist, and the longer I lived with him, the more defiant I became to make my own way. Nevertheless, I did not have the courage to end our marriage and I stayed with him because I loved him and I was afraid he would not survive without me. In early 2000, he met a Vietnam Veteran on the golf course.
Together, they bonded as brothers. With the acceptance of their friendship, my husband has recognized the behaviors he battles daily are a reflection of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He met with a representative of Veterans Affairs in 2001 or 2002, and is still battling to get the benefits he was promised. PTSD is his daily battle and there are times he actually wants to run away from himself. If only the VA could live with him for one week they would understand how painful his emotional wounds are. If only the VA could hold him during the flashbacks.
In many ways, my soldier husband is still in Vietnam, never to return. On one occasion my husband met with a VA rep only to be told, and I quote, “It doesn’t help your case that you are still with your first wife.” When my husband expressed his comment to me, I was outraged, wanting the name, phone number, and contact information. My husband did not share it with me, but I can certainly educate others into the scenarios I discover.
Recently, I became involved with Veterans-for-Change (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/VETERANS-FOR-CHANGE/), a non-profit group that desires to wake up Congress and fulfill the promises made to Veterans. As a member of Veterans-For-Change, an expanding vocal group for Veterans rights, benefits, and treatment, I as well as my co-members and veterans nationwide, are extremely upset that the VA appears to ignore the veterans.
In March 2008, my husband traveled to Columbia, SC to appeal a decision from the VA. Now, he is told his file is in Washington, still awaiting a decision. My concern is not just for my husband, but for all veterans. Just how long does it take for a veteran to get the physical, emotional, mental, and monetary care he or she needs so life can return to normalcy? Now that I am an active participant with Veterans-for-Change I recognize there is a multitude of complaints that must be addressed by Congress or the Veterans Affairs.
My mission is to write about these scenarios and to share with my readers. When called to duty, to service America and its freedom, our Veterans stood tall, fought the battles, and now when needing our service the most, the VA ignores, or procrastinates to service their needs. This is a disgrace to all serving in the military.
Veterans-for-Change repeatedly hears stories from military veterans about the lack of care with the VA, along with the intense emotional battle, just to get benefits. Repeatedly, veterans are either denied, or their files are placed on hold, sometimes for years. Many of these claims are for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD]; lack of properly sanitized and sterilized medical equipment used for testing and physicals; and Blue Water Navy Dioxin Exposure and Agent Orange.
PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
VA Physicians are being instructed to deny or misdiagnose PTSD, or they are simply ignoring the signs, over medicating or improperly medicating, and simply not even looking into alternative ways of dealing with PTSD. Many Veterans are left to feel as if no one cares, or no one listens to their symptoms. Instead of listening, or asking probing questions, the medical practitioner prescribes a drug and it appears that the VA has a drug for every ailment.
We as Americans must take a stand to service and understand our soldiers and Veterans, not simply remove their weapons, dust them off, and refer them to another source of treatment, or someone else at the VA. We must learn to listen and stop the habit of prescribing drugs for every ailment. Veterans are not pin cushions or guinea pigs. We promised our Veterans benefits, freedom, and a better life, not simply prescribed drugs by doctors who react by overwriting prescriptions, instead of listening to their emotional ailments. Is this the way the VA strives to help our Veterans?
Just simply prescribing a drug in hopes the Veteran will feel better in the morning? Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD] is described as an ‘emotional illness’ and it was not recognized as PTSD until the 1980’s when the American Psychiatric Association recognized it as such, according to the website, www.psychiatric-disorders.com.
PTSD leaves no visible scars, only the emotional scars that will remain forever inside the mind of the war veteran. PTSD leaves a stigma attached to it. To those who do not understand this ailment, the looks, discriminations, and lack of compassion leaves the Veteran with a lack of understanding of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the wounds of it. While it is true, the wounds are embedded within the mind, the wounds are so obvious to those of us who love the Veteran suffering with PTSD; and we strive to do all we can to make their life more productive and pleasant. We need the VA to do the same.
Veterans-for-Change has discovered there are far too many reports of improperly cleaned or sterilized equipment at numerous VA hospitals, resulting in thousands of complaints that have not been addressed or resolved.
Reportedly, there could be as many as 11,224 Veterans at risk, due to this lack of care, and many VA hospitals are involved. The number of Veterans affected could result in health and physical epidemics that could result in deadly diseases that should have been prevented provided the proper sanitation, and sterilization techniques were used. Instead, questions remain unanswered, and the VA’s continuous denial brought to the public attention of these problems, resulted in denying any possibility, or accepting responsibility, of cross contamination to many veterans. This is unforgivable and a government investigation should be underway – ASAP.
Blue Water Navy Dioxin Exposure
Reportedly 21 million gallons of Agent Orange were scattered over the fields in Vietnam between 1962 and 1970. Many of the Veterans of the Vietnam conflict served the United States Navy during 1962 and 1975. Many of these war veterans suffer with medical disabilities from the effects of Blue Water Navy Dioxin Exposure, found in Agent Orange.
However, these naval personnel are constantly denied service-connected health care and disability compensation by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Those who served in the Navy during war time have been excluded for presumption of illness directly related to Agent Orange. This chemical was sprayed, tossed around, and of course when it rained went into the ocean, or was carried in the air during strong winds.
Agent Orange was also carried on board ships for delivery, yet Veterans are still denied benefits due to the “boots on the ground” ruling. The ‘boots on the ground’ ruling must be changed to benefit the Veterans and their illnesses. They were in Vietnam. They experienced Agent Orange in everything around, especially in the air and waters.
President Obama has said: “We have a sacred trust with those who wear the uniform of the United States of America, a commitment that begins with enlistment and must never end.
”You, as Americans, and politicians of a free society, do have a moral, ethical, and Patriotic obligation to provide benefits and care, regardless of the costs involved! Our government has a moral, ethical, and Patriotic obligation to care for those who did the job others failed to do, or the many millions of Americans who chose to escape the effects, physical ailments, illnesses, and emotional wounds of war. Freedom is not free; it comes with a price tag. Veterans paid a gigantic price, emotionally, physically, and mentally.
Only a war veteran can comprehend how that price was paid for in full by our military and war veterans, along with their spouses and children! The price they paid for their devotion to their freedom does not have a monetary amount and it could be considered priceless since the effects of war leave so many emotional and physical scars that cannot be repaired. The price our war veterans paid was distributed in full with blood, sweat and many tears! Veterans-for-Change finds this unforgivable. Isn’t it about time Congress, the President, and the Veterans Affairs actually stood tall and paid that bill?
Isn’t it time to help our wounded warriors, including those who suffer with PTSD, lack of medical care and improperly cleaned or sterilized equipment, and Blue Water Navy Dioxin Exposure, along with the emotional scars, to be compensated? The actions of Congress and the actions and policies of the VA seem to express so loud and clear that it would have been far better had our men and women not served or died at war than to suffer the denials, the schemes, shenanigans, and the maltreatment provided by the government of the United States.
Let us all make a bit of noise with our Congress and all lawmakers. Send a copy of this article to those in your community, along with those who represent your home front. Isn’t it time our Veterans were treated with respect and dignity? Isn’t it time we welcomed them home and gave them the benefits promised, without the emotional war they must battle now, just to get those benefits? The choice is yours. You must decide.
Barbie Perkins-Cooper is an awarding winning writer who loves the journey and exploration of travel, health, and hospitality. She is the proud wife of a Vietnam Veteran and works full-time as an editorial photojournalist. She has published numerous articles and photographs for regional, health and beauty and travel publications including the Travel Channel and Buick Magazine. She volunteers as a PR rep for non-profit organizations, including Veterans-for-Change, and she is the editor of Mail Call for Glenn L. Jeffers VFW. Barbie resides in Charleston, South Carolina with her husband, Phil and three precious pups.
A member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors [ASJA] and the Society of Professional Journalists, Barbie is the author of Condition of Limbo and Career Diary of a Photographer. Visit her website www.barbieperkinscooper.com
Jim Davis is the son of USMC MGySgt. Lesley Davis (Ret.) who passed away on April 24, 2006, from ALS caused by Agent Orange. His dad’s mission before he passed on was to ensure all veterans, spouses, children, and widows all received the benefits, medical care and attention, and proper facilities from the VA.
Because of the promise made to his dad to carry on the mission, in May 2006 Davis began as a one-man show sending out 535 letters every single week to all members of Congress requesting and politely demanding the fulfill their promises made over the past decades to care for life those who wore the uniform and their families.
Veterans-For-Change was born in August 2006 with a very small membership of 25 people composed of veterans, spouses, widows, family members, and friends and to date continues to grow.