Iraq and Afghanistan Vets Come Home to War
We’ve done a series of stories here at Veterans Today (VT) dealing with the shocking scandals that tend to plague the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) system. My last update on the Dayton VA Medical Center scandal was on 25 April, also back in late April VT was contacted by a young Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) Wounded Warrior asking us to tell his story.
Although this is the story of only ONE Iraq and Afghanistan War Veteran, we at VT know enough about the flaws of the VA system, most recently a VA admitted failure of leadership that we believe is system wide and fixable.
However, one only need go to young Veteran blogs regardless of their own personal political views on the war(s) to find one thing they all have in common – far too many young Veterans (well old Vets too) are still falling through the cracks of a broken VA system.
OIF Veteran David Kendrick contacted our senior editor Gordon Duff noting that he came across our website looking for military friendly news sites. David told VT that he made a short documentary on You Tube that he was trying to bring some media attention to. David was shot in both legs in 2007 and now he feels as if he has nowhere to turn. He asked us to view the video and consider posting it on Veterans Today.
We have decided to do just that, because we believe David is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to young Veterans falling through the VA cracks, not getting the word about VA benefits (despite in all fairness VA outreach efforts now appearing to include excellent TV ads outreaching to younger Veterans at least here in SW Ohio).
But what do our readers believe bothered David most?
It is something that I’ve written about, read two recent academic books on, and an advocacy group has been formed to protect Veterans on college campuses against those who do not support their wars.
Just as Veterans come home from war and feel unwelcome on some college campuses, David came home to be – on one hand – overjoyed by the patriotic welcome. However – on the other hand – reality set in, David was amazed, disappointed, and angry about just how quickly the surge of patriotic zeal welcoming him home diminished into APATHY.
In fact the shame of this story is APATHY.
ROBERT L. HANAFIN, Major, U.S. Air Force-Retired, U.S. Civil Service-Retired, Veterans Issues Editor, Veterans Today News Network.
My name is David Kendrick. This is a short documentary I made with Angelo Mancuso over the summer of 2010.
I was a Cavalry Scout in the U.S. Army from 2005-2010. I was shot by a sniper in Sadir City June 17, 2007.
I got out of the military and was denied social security, and unemployment, and could not find a job. Every loophole that could be found to deny me these benefits was found. I tried to talk to all the major media, but I guess my story wasn’t interesting enough. After trying all media, I was interviewed by local New York ABC Affiliate – WHAM TV 13 reporter Sean Carroll in his story A Vet’s Online Plea for Help.
Veterans Today Interview with OIF Veteran David Kendrick
Why a Video, David?
Well I was sitting around over the summer of 2010 and instead of feeling sorry for myself I decided to do something about it – to take action. I wrote a song about everything I was going through. I recorded the song around August, and was looking for someone who knew how to make videos for You Tube.
Originally I just wanted to put some pictures up with the song and try to post it on You Tube as fast as I could.
I finally found someone who knew how to put together a decent video when Angelo came up with the idea of shooting a documentary along with the song.
So we shot a short documentary in my hometown Rochester, NY from August-September. Angelo has his own production company but he works alone so it took a while to edit.
I came up with the idea of releasing it on Veterans Day 2010, and we both agreed on it.
So we released the video and now I’m just waiting to get it to the right eyes, ears, and hands. I’m basically trying to get it to anyone who will listen.
The mainstream media does so many “feel good,” “Welcome Troops Home,” and related “positive stories” about the wars that I wanted to let the public know that there remains a downside. I didn’t think there was a downside to war until I came home to America was warmly greeted, patriotically welcomed home then boom APATHY.
I’ve been trying to get other Disabled Vets to speak up on the issue when we fall through the cracks or experience APATHY when we come home, but I could not get the support that I was looking for from them.
I’m not looking for a handout or any donations for my video. I just need the chance to speak and let other Vets and the public know what is wrong when it comes to the treatment of Veterans.
Yes, I’ve tried to get other young vets such as myself who feel mistreated and experience media and public apathy toward the wars to speak up on these issues.
Here is a paragraph from my Social Security denial letter: “After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform the dull range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a)”.
The Dull Range of Sedentary Work Means Ditch Digging
I was told by Social Security that there is a list of other low income jobs that I am capable of doing even with my disability. After three times, I just gave up. I had all the evidence they needed, actual physical injury not hidden wounds like PTSD, and everything else they could ask for but still nothing.
I asked Congressman Doug Lamborn of Colorado (when I was stationed there), and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York (when I returned home after discharge) to help me get my Social Security Disability Claim expedited only to get denied three times. I went to many different lawyers and heard many different excuses for my denial. What I heard the most is that at only twenty something years old, I didn’t work long enough to qualify for Social Security Disability. I was told that you have to work five years to receive the benefit.
You Should Have Filed a Disability Claim With the VA NOT Social Security
I filled my claim with the VA while I was still on active duty. I filed the claim in April of 2010. I did not receive a decision until February of 2011. What I find hard to believe is that I was rated at 90% by the DOD. When I got my claim from the VA I was shocked to find out that I was rated at 60%. I thought to myself “how can this be”.
My PTSD claim went from 50% down to 30%, and I was rated only 30% for my wounded leg. I filed a letter of reconsideration with help from my State Veteran Counselor. When I went in to a second physical, the VA Doctor did two range of motions test and that was it. I was not rated for two things that greatly effect my ability to work.
I have asked the staffs of U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and NY State Senator Michael Nozzolio, as well as Senator Schumer to help me get some answers here, but that doesn’t seem to budge anybody.
I was medically discharged from the Army. I did receive an Honorable discharge, and it is on my DD-214.
I am current working full time. I work 40 hours a week and just cope with the pain that I have from my disability. I tried to receive the benefit called “Individual Unemployability, a special benefit for disabled veterans. But to receive this benefit you have to be rated at 40% for one thing by the VA. I just missed out with my highest rating being 30% for PTSD.
I was offered more counseling, but I receive private counseling from my employer now.
In the past the combination of PTSD counseling and medication made me feel like a zombie…emotionally numb to everything around me. I’m coming out of that phase now and do not want to ever go there again. So I declined to take counseling with the VA. The first thing I was offered was drugs, and I do not want to feel like a zombie again.
I tried unemployment over the summer. I was told since I am a Disabled Veteran, I am unable to look for work. So I was denied state unemployment. They let me claim benefits for a whole month and kept telling me that I would get back pay when they look into my claim. Later on I was completely denied and had nowhere to turn.
If Folks Think I’m Whining, There Are More Vets Out There Being Mistreated Just Like Me
I know this sounds like I’m complaining a lot, and I hate to come across that way. But I just want to make other Veterans, and the buddies I still have on active duty aware of what is going on when their aspirations for a military career is over. I want to let fellow Soldiers know to have a plan when they exit the military, because it’s hard out here for us Veterans.
Everything I did in the military doesn’t mean a thing to civilian employers, and I would just love the chance to tell fellow Vets how to protect themselves, and let them know the importance of having an exit strategy when they get out of the military.
The Mainstream Media Showed No Interest in Negative War Stories Like Mine
I have had talks with reporters from the New York Times, and things were going good for a while, but I guess they lost interest. Now I’m just looking for anyone who will listen. I finally found only one TV station that showed any interest.
David wants [the public] to hear his story; a story he believes is all too common among Wounded [Warriors]. With the help of a local video producer, David documented his story in a series of videos now available on YouTube.
“I heard this loud crack and it was me getting shot and I fell to the ground and I woke up on my back and I had 2 holes in my leg,” Kendrick explained in one of those videos. “I thought, I can’t go home like this.”
Mr. Carroll reports in detail what David went through. David had “undergone numerous surgeries and rehab sessions while completing his five years of service in the U.S. Army. Earlier this year Sergeant David Kendrick was medically retired and honorably discharged,” said Carroll.
David received a Purple Heart from the two bullets that shattered his legs, a limp, and a cane. He receives a modest monthly income from the military, the V.A. helps with medical expenses, but he’s been denied social security among other benefits.
Kendrick’s been on more than twenty job interviews but the economy is no help when it comes to hiring and is disability appears to be a deterrent for some employers.
“I’m still young and ambitious wanting to work,” Kendrick said. “I mean I’m disabled but it’s not the end of the world, I can still work.”
Because Kendrick knows many of fellow Soldiers [and Veterans] are encountering similar struggles, he’s taking this story public. He hopes others will see it, that society may listen to it, and that changes may come of it.
“You’ve got all these people out here that say Support the Troops, Support the Troops and it’s not up to them, it’s the system that’s broken,” Kendrick said.
“I came back and I saw everything I left behind was still there and those people are living good, all the drug-dealers are living good,” Kendrick said. “I came home and people laughed at me because I joined the military. (I) got hurt, came back, and didn’t get anything and I thought to myself why did I even sacrifice if I come back and there’s people laughing at me for the choices I made. That hurt.”
Currently a local pilot program is taking Kendrick under its wings. The CDS Unistel Warrior Salute program is currently providing Kendrick with a place to live, job-training, and other support services he may need while his job search continues.
Veterans Today Editorial Comment:
For Mr. Carroll’s full story go HERE.
We at VT feel that some of David’s reaction is due to him lacking knowledge about his VA benefits when he approached Social Security instead of the VA for his earned benefits as an American Military Veteran.
That said, it is GREAT that David is now getting advise, assistance, and guidance from the CDS Warrior Salute Program.
While the broken VA system is a situation that is easier to fix than the APATHY of a nation and people who not only cannot relate to what young Veterans like David have been through, but in the final analysis simply do not genuinely care. It is more essential now than ever for Veteran Support Groups like the CDS Unistel Warrior Salute program
This to me is something younger Veterans have in common and experience (minus feeling spit upon – for now) that us older folks experienced when we returned home to both APATHY and BLAME for the War.
One case in point has been the experience of Vets (just like their elder counterparts) are welcomed to talk about anything be it in a college classroom, on the job, at the bar or within their extended families.
HOWEVER – DO NOT TALK ABOUT YOUR WAR(S) BECAUSE NOT ONLY CAN NO ONE RELATE TO WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY – FAR TOO MANY SIMPLY DO NOT WANT TO HEAR IT.
We at Veterans Today believe that regardless if the scenario is on the grounds of an Ivy League, private, or state college, on the job (when of course Veterans can find employment), in a town hall meeting or any public setting the last thing Veterans should be doing is not talking about their war(s).
It’s a fact that the vast majority of fellow citizens cannot relate to Veterans. It is even a fact that far too many Vets do not expect our fellow citizens to relate to us. However, how in the hell will our fellow citizens – those WE defend – ever going to be able to relate to us and our wars if we remain SILENT.
Not every Veteran who feels as David did when he fell through the cracks from a cheerful and genuine welcome home – mostly of course (take note) from other Veterans and Military Families NOT the civilian communities at-large.
Not all Vets( like David) will be able to or have to make a video, but there are other ways to express your dismay and vent your anger. Join a progressive leaning Veterans group, start a blog to voice your feelings and share them with other young Vets even if they may disagree with your experience and views.
The Military Services have no realistic (smooth) transition to civilian life program,
There currently is no training or assistance that will prepare young Veterans for the public APATHY – unlike correcting lack of knowledge about VA benefits, the apathy young Vets will eventually feel is a much harder nut to crack. They have been told over and over and over again that the nation support them, then come home to the reality that the American peoples are not only split on supporting the wars, but cannot or will not relate to the precious few who volunteer.
What also attracted me about David’s video was how degraded he felt beyond simply not getting approval for Social Security Disability despite being a Wounded Warrior.
Hell, when immigrants coming to America (the Hmong in California for instance) can get SSI easier than a wounded American born combat Veteran – what’s WRONG with this picture?
I am not saying that legal immigrant groups coming to America, especially refugees for S.E. Asia do not warrant SSI, but that that getting access to Social Security Disability is easier for them than American born troops and Veterans is not right!
The notion that a Veteran, any Veteran regardless of age, war, or era would think to turn to the Social Security System before approaching the VA is beyond me, but somehow young Vets like David are NOT GETTING THE WORD on is their VA benefits, be it how to file a VA Claim, a home loan, or educational assistance.
In all fairness to the VA, they have launched what appears to me to be an Outstanding TV Ad campaign focused on younger Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan so maybe, just maybe the entire experience David went through will diminish.
Bobby Hanafin, Veterans Issues Editor, Veterans Today News