Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Lesson Never Learned

He’s a veteran of the Vietnam war.
He was in detox last month, then in a halfway house.
He used to wake up drinking and went to bed drinking.
His energy was slowly leaving his body.
He had just enough strength to get out of bed and grab a beer.
One in four homeless Americans are veterans.
More veterans are coming home from war
and things are not likely to get any better.
“This nation has not learned our lesson from Vietnam
and the same thing is happening all over again.”

You Can't Get Money From A Dead Man

He could barely afford food
with the Veteran's benefits he received.
He had no other income.
A diabetic
with high blood pressure,
he could not work.
The 59 year old Vietnam veteran
was living a happy life.
A VA letter demanded repayment
of $43,000.
“He could pay by cash, check or credit card.”
The VA cut off his benefits,
and the letters kept coming.
It was the last straw.
A note was found next to his body.
"(Expletive) you, you can't get money from a dead man," .
"Zero income - thanks a lot, dumb ass."
He took a .22 caliber handgun,
put it to his forehead and fired.
"‘You can pay by check, money order or credit card'?
He hardly had enough money
to put food on the table
and they cut off his benefits.

The Way It Should Be

They won't be sending him
to the university's
body farm, after all.
Instead, the 65, Vietnam War veteran
found dead in the trailer where he lived
will be given a military burial.
They could not find a relative
or anyone to claim his body.
It was discovered
that he was a disabled veteran
living on a VA pension.
He was saved
from going to the body farm.
He had heart trouble
but was getting care.
He served his country and
will have a military burial.
That's the way it should be
It shouldn't be any other way.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

His Mission

Seven days a week,
the 60-year-old Vietnam veteran
takes copies
of the Daily News
over to VA-
the last stop for some veterans.
The newspaper is his calling card,
They don't get a lot of visitors.
If their eyes are too weak to read,
he reads the headlines
and stories to them.
The veterans don't have a lot;
and miss the paper...
After delivering the papers,
he drops in on the veterans
fighting drug and alcohol abuse,
trying to find their way home.
VA doctors told him to take it easy...
living on 35 percent of his heart,
instead of walking his route
he uses a motorized wheelchair
to give his heart a break.

A Futile Battle

He wishes he were younger
so he could fight in the war.
He likes killing,
or so he says.
A Vietnam veteran,
he's pushing 60 but looks 70.
They call him Mad Dog.
He swears he has stopped drinking.
but he's still drinking.
The results of a chest X-ray:
suspicious lesion, probable lung cancer.
He decides it's just a shadow.
He'll get a biopsy.
The truth will surface soon enough.
His mother, father, brother and oldest sister
died of lung cancer.
The odds are not in his favor.
He walks stiffly out of the office,
Mad Dog, out to do battle -
a battle he will lose.

Peace Of Mind

A Vietnam veteran
who tried to numb his pain
with a bottle,
found it led nowhere.
He cannot change the past,
or cannot erase his identity.
He has seen war,
but has found peace
in his art.
It keeps him sober.
He struggles with PTSD
and probably will
for the rest of his life.
He had given up art
because of alcoholism.
He began painting again,
this year,
and has been at it every day since.
For a while, he didn't even know
what was real.
His mind had to clear.
He had to find a way
to help himself.

Return Trip

He just needed to go back
to see what the country was like,
he didn't like the way we left Vietnam.
It always kind of haunted him.
He needed to go back.
Children were not receiving
proper care
amid rampant poverty.
He kept going back to help,
for as long
as he can.
Homeless, blind, HIV-positive,
Agent Orange-affected
and mentally and physically
disabled children
among the victims
he encountered.
Money spent seems small,
but it goes a long way.
He’ll always be glad he went back,
it has made him count his blessings
and appreciate life more then ever.


He lives life in the fast lane,
and works the busy corner
"Homeless Hungry Vet"
on a Budweiser carton.
A woman pulls alongside
and offers a candy bar
and a box of breakfast food.
A smile, then she's gone.
Most 60-year-old men
might be eyeing retirement,
he just keeps working his corner,
relying on strangers for everything
spare change to a cold pizza.
His home is beneath a highway overpass.
He served
in the U.S. Army in Vietnam.
He admits to a beer,
now and then, but
he’s not an alcoholic.
Most of the time,
folks will share a pocketful of change,
or the occasional dollar bill.
On a typical afternoon,
he'll take in $2 to $20...
Most cars pass him by.
"Get a job, you bum.”
He's embarrassed
to stand on a corner,
showing need.
And humbled.

The Homeless

The veterans gather
in the park.
A Veterans’ Memorial is nearby...
In clusters of three or four,
sitting in the shade, passing the hours...
part of the landscape.
They talk loudly, with references
to which unit they served in,
or something about “when I was in….
Some wear camouflage jackets,
perhaps to remind them
of a time when they had firmer identity.
Listen to their stories,
they offer a clue
to how the nation ended up
with so many homeless veterans.
Stories in how people slip toward instability --
drug and alcohol addiction,
lack of mental health treatment,
lack of job skills,
their own failings.
that slipped them away from society.
But they are still a part of it.

His Death

He died aged just 59
from alcohol and smoking.
He battled emphysema
and was on oxygen tanks
for up to 16 hours a day
towards the end of his life.
He was a very heavy smoker
and liked the brown fluid.
It took its toll on him,
As with a lot of Vietnam veterans,
he picked up the habits
in the military
and brought it back home.
He served as a regular soldier
in the Vietnam War
and was “very proud” of his medals.
His death hit home to his fellow veterans
when they wrote a death notice.
They got a little bit emotional,
They pride themselves on being tough bastards
but started getting misty eyed.
They can't forget 40 years of friendship.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Proper Burial

He spent the past few years
of his life alone inside
his one-bedroom apartment.
Television kept him company.
His wife’s
remains sat in a urn
atop the refrigerator.
Diabetes had ravaged
the 66-year-old Vietnam veteran's feet.
He had few visitors.
When he died inside his apartment,
few knew who he was
or that he had received a Purple Heart
as a medic in Vietnam.
He suffered from PTSD.
A funeral home donated
the casket in which he was buried.
The urn containing his wife's ashes
buried inside the casket with him.
A graveside service
with full military honors
A man
who served his country.
Buried with dignity and respect.
That's the least he deserved.


She stepped forward on her 85th birthday
to ensure the voice of her late son,
had not been stilled.
He was 62 when he joined
the swollen ranks
of Vietnam veterans
who have chosen to die
by their own hand.
He died
at a VA office.
His case at the VA
had been poisoned
by misinformation and lies.
"For that reason alone
I ended it where and as I did.”
His experiences in and after Vietnam
left him feeling at times
like he was engulfed by a big black hole.
His mother sat with photos of him
at her hands
as she delivered his message.
"Look after the other Vietnam vets
and do more for them,"
She read aloud
the last lines of the funeral message:
"Remember the good and fun times we had together.
Be there for each other until your pain goes away."
Then, with misted eyes,
she added her own footnote.
"It never does."

PTSD Ain't Easy

PTSD never goes away...
veterans can learn
how to live with it.
Recovery is a long process...
Many veterans still
have a lot of problems.
It’s a day-to-day thing...
some have to be heavily medicated.
Frustrated and tired of dealing with it,
some vets consider suicide,
it’s a really bad place.
The more one isolates
the more likely PTSD,
Treatment gives tools to help.
But recognizing when the mind
reaches a danger zone
and when to pick up
available coping tools
is up to the individual.
Like everything else,
it takes practice and discipline,
You’ve got to motivate yourself
to pick up the tools.
It’s really hard.

Old And In The Way

The 61-year-old veteran says,
The VA is soliciting the young vets
while on the other hand
the VA is telling him to go home.
Isn't that strange?
Older veterans pushed out
to make room for young vets.
He’s convinced
the government is abandoning him.
It's like a slap in the face.
If you flip out again, call 911.
The VA’s mantra continues to be --
There is no policy on cutting back
on services for Vietnam vets.
Veterans suspect a sinister motive.
It’s the only thing that keeps him alive.
“It helps a lot.”
Some might wonder
how, 40 years after returning from Vietnam,
how veterans can be so dependent
upon group counseling.
He had been suffering since Vietnam,
and didn't get diagnosed until three years ago.
The aging Vietnam veteran feels,
just when he’s getting some help,
the rug is being pulled out from under him.
That makes it pretty hard,
“You have to fight for everything."

Chi Man

His eyes sparkle behind thick glasses
and his silver beard is almost
to his belt.
The veterans follow
the little man’s fluid moves.
He was a medic in Vietnam.
Drafted into the Army at age 18.
He was good at grabbing people
and putting them back together.
But that’s also how he got PTSD.
Tai chi helped save him.
War bothers him.
He can’t stop war --
he knows that --
but helping veterans
calm down
so they don’t waste years
like he did
trying to get his head
screwed back on straight.
Breathing is the key.
Breathing is pill-free.
It works.
He used to be angry about Vietnam,
but he’s glad he lived through hell.
As an older man with that experience,
is like someone who’s thankful
for the experience of cancer.
It’s hard to understand
unless you’ve been through it.

37 Years Later

He died
at the age of 56,
combat injuries
caused lifelong pain
and premature death.
The war is not over.
People die every day
from wounds
received in Vietnam.
A casualty of war,
37 years later.
He plugged away living
on borrowed time.
Wounds and exposure to Agent Orange
caught up with him.
He knew the time had come,
laid to rest, as he wished,
among fellow veterans.
Vietnam veterans were short-changed
They went as teenagers
and were forced to become men.
Along with that came
incredible emotional scars.
Nobody will ever convince the family
he wasn’t a casualty of war.
It’s all there in his medical records.
He gave his life the day he was wounded,
and his soul was taken 37 years later.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Memorial Day 2009 Part III

War is relegated to history.
for most people.
For others
war becomes
part of their daily lives.
It infects
their dreams,
their families,
their jobs
their relation
to the world.
Forever stranded
place and time,
spirit and body
wounded and defiled.
Returning from war,
they are proud
not because
they are happy
to have gone to war --
the human part of man
should be ashamed
he went to war --
that part of him
which feels pride
is the vain part of man,
the empty part of man.
The human part has the shame.
Who better represents
the preciousness of life,
the need for peace
the human cost of making war.

Memorial Day 2009 Part II

He sat on a bench
by the corner store.
His face weathered
and clothes worn
A cart of cans next to him.
As a young man,
he went to war.
Devoted to duty
and service,
love of country
and respect
for it’s leaders.
Today, on the street
cast aside,
like the junk
he collects.
Has his country
served him as well,
as he served it?

Memorial Day 2009

The somber sounds of a bagpiper...
Friends and family call out the names
of loved ones
who had returned
from the Vietnam War
only to die a premature death.
Her father died of cancer,
attributed to Agent Orange.
Many post-service deaths were attributed
to post-traumatic stress disorder.
She hopes the memorial will bring
some measure of comfort
to the families and friends
of those who died.
It will remind them their loved ones
are not forgotten

Old Vets Social Club

It's a quiet night
in a community veterans' hall
men who served in Vietnam
gather for a support group
with no mental health expert.
it can take months,
to see a psychiatrist
at the VA clinic, .
The veterans complain
they're hurried in and out.
The VA deny long waiting times
for psychiatrist appointments.
They call on each other at all hours.
With no psychiatrist
the only emergency services they have
are each other,
After years of suppressing rage
and drinking away memories of Vietnam,
emotions are erupting more regularly
provoked by the latest war.
It didn't used to be this bad.

Whatever It Takes

She buried her husband
the man she loved
but really he
died years earlier.
after a year in Vietnam.
the war began once he returned home.
It ended when he was shot
and killed by police
holding granddaughter at knifepoint,
refusing to let her go.
He knew he was done.
There was no doubt in his mind,
and there was no doubt in her mine.
It was just a matter of when.
He returned a different person.
Life was not normal in their world.
Still, she stuck by him for 38 years,
Until this fall.
It was over.
He began drugs.
Within a few months,
he was dead.
"They program these guys to kill
without a conscience.
You can't send them home
to families like that,
that's when the war begins."

Rage Erupts

Depression engulfed him.
He was shot in Vietnam.
He would rage.
always drunk.
not right in his head...
when he was drinking,
it got worse.
He was on the couch, naked,
his wife in the bedroom,
stabbed to death.
It was sad, but not surprising.
He was slowly going downhill.
She was in a living hell.
worn down by abuse.
so sweet,
she just didn't talk
became a recluse.
Police gathered around the home.
Neighbors gazed from behind yellow tape.