Thursday, August 27, 2009

It's Always About Vietnam

Her father’s hand hit the table.
She broke the news
she was headed to Vietnam.
He walked out the kitchen to the barn
and never said a word.
Her father was devastated.
Her mother handled it better.
Memories come easily now
for the former Army captain,
now 62
There was a time
— an entire decade —
when she refused to speak of the war
in which she served.
She cared for the soldiers,
but unprepared for what was to follow...
She came home and got on with the life
she envisioned for herself.
She married, had kids and a part-time job.
There were no missing pieces to her life
— only a hidden one.
She didn’t want people to know that she’d served.
and tried to forget the names and faces
of the dead and dying, hurt and wounded.
Night terrors roused her from sleep...
It’s always about Vietnam.


He is still walking point,
still looking out for his comrades.
The 60-year-old Vietnam veteran,
suffers from post-traumatic stress,
and wants to build a Sanctuary,
to shelter veterans
who are homeless or have disabilities
in new mobile homes.
He is in debt.
and can't afford the investment.
Combat changed him.
He tried to go back to his home,
and family and couldn't...
He stayed drunk, stayed high.
He no longer trusted anyone — and he was angry.
He had become callous and uncaring.
It would be a place for veterans to "decompress"
before reintegrating into the larger world.
Many of his "contemporaries" find society intimidating.
They distrust the VA and the government,
He believes the secluded setting
would be less intimidating
and would foster an environment of trust
but buying mobile homes isn't cheap,
and he is broke.

Healing From War

He will never forget
the face of the first man he shot.
He was just a kid,
a scared 19-year-old in a firefight.
"It was either him or me,"
but that didn't make the death
any easier to deal with.
Four decades later,
the face of the enemy soldier
still haunts his dreams,
and occasionally his waking life.
He didn't share his nightmares
with his loved ones,
and did not seek out help
He still didn't know how
to deal with his personal devils.
He first opened up about his nightmares
to a VA Chaplain
but he never intended to share
his personal problems with a pastor,
or anyone.
Most crippling is the guilt,
a confusion of core ethical beliefs
as soldiers struggle with their actions
and religious teachings,
"Thou shalt not kill."
He wasn't brought up
to kill people.
Forced to confront
suffering in terrifying ways,
some renounce their faith.
Others feel abandoned by a God
they believed to be their protector.
“The boy doesn't seem to be quite
the same since he got back.'"
There's only so much medicine can do.
He used to be tough, but now he’s weak,
or God's punishing him
for killing in combat,'
If he was smarter, he could figure it out.
It’s not about intelligence,
or about strong and weak,
and it's not about God's will.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Prison Vet

A Vietnam veteran...
he has spent the past 15 years
behind bars.
He thinks he’s found the right support
to keep him out of prison.
He belongs to a group of men
who search for help getting jobs,
training and a place to stay
when they get out.
He knows he’s not coming back.
Inmates who served in Vietnam
made up the largest share of veterans,
who returned and felt they couldn't talk
about their experiences
because their friends and family
opposed the war.
Some returned to the states
with substance abuse problems.
It was depressing
his family more or less kept it kind of quiet.
It wasn't something
they sat around and talked about.
It took him a lot of years
before he could come to terms
with even being recognized as a veteran.

A Veteran's Appeal

They make a lot of promises,
but actions speak louder than words.
When you hear the politicians speak
about how much they respect veterans
and the sacrifices they make for their country,
He has been fighting for his rights
40 years after coming home
from the Vietnam War.
He suffered nearly fatal injuries
in a war so many have forgotten.
Shot several times,
combined with exposure
to the toxic Agent Orange,
has led to lingering effects
that some doctors have said
caused a stroke and disability.
He has been battling the VA for years
to receive acknowledgement of what
VA doctors have determined,
that he is 100 percent disabled.
because of the wounds
The VA acknowledges
that exposure to Agent Orange
can lead to diabetes,
Doctors told him diabetes
could have led to the stroke.
Even though he was recommended
for 100 percent disability
by the Social Security Administration,
The VA contends, that the stroke
couldn’t be caused by the diabetes
because the diabetes wasn’t diagnosed
until he had the stroke.
His wife, had to give up her job
to take care of him after the stroke.
All the years of frustrating communication
with the VA and its procedures
has left him discouraged
but determined to continue the fight.
He wants to say to the VA,
“You inherited a healthy human being
and this is what you turned loose
after three years of service
and the gunshot wounds.”


Over 6 feet tall and 275 pounds,
carrying broad shoulders,
a thick neck and a white beard,
but he felt his 60 years
after he was hospitalized
after being attacked
by a group of youngsters
wielding baseball bats.
It was cool,
so he had the window open.
He hollered at them to keep it down.
The youths were
destroying his neighbor's mailbox,
so he and his 20 year-old son,
went outside to run the vandals off.
He wasn't expecting a war.
The Vietnam veteran,
had never been less prepared
for a fight in his life.
He was still half asleep...
the first blow took him
in the back of the head
and another soon followed
that shattered his ankle.
If he'd had time to think about it
he would have called the police.

The Death Of A Brother

The call came in the middle of the day.
It was his sister
His brother in the hospital.
The doctors say it’s the end.
He didn’t remember the rest of the call.
He has told the doctors
to turn off the life support
and his pace-maker.
It was a long night.
He slept very little,
Late the next morning,
his older brother,
had died from heart disease,
diabetes, and kidney failure.
He was 69 years old.
The last few years,
it seems he’d lost so many people.
Grief incapacitated him.
The memories (good and bad)
came flooding in,
the ache in his heart
became noticeable
by the shaking of his hands.
Night came and he relaxed
and slept with no dreams.
The memorial service...
His brother lay in the casket,
an American flag pulled
up to his chest.
His time in Vietnam had convinced him
there was no heaven or hell.
Last night, he dreamed of his brother.
Young and healthy,
he wore the uniform of a soldier
and walked towards the hills
out of sight.

Indecent Proposal

The 63 year-old Vietnam veteran
stood at attention
to receive his sentence
on indecency charges
involving young girls.
His former commanding officer
came to court to support him
and also stood at attention
among the public seats.
The old veteran had pleaded guilty
to the charges.
The judge did not give details...
There was no doubt
that all three girls
had been affected...
He served his country
as a frontline infantryman
and saw much violence,
and coped with the death of comrades
at the young age of 21 years.
The intensity of that experience
had a profound and long-term effect.
The judge said the veteran’s remorse
and his health problems,
convinced him he could use his discretion
and impose a year's home detention sentence
rather than imprisonment.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Together Again

Tears flowed,
laughs were exchanged
solemn remarks were made...
the Vietnam veterans
sat around a table
Men from across the country
met to reminisce about their service
in a foreign war
more than 35 years ago.
19 and thrust into combat
He made the rank of sergeant
the insurmountable responsibility
he had at such a young age.
Hit by a land mine
injured and sent back to the rear.
He was “short” only a month to go.
He recovered from his injuries,
but never saw his friends again.
The U.S. Army sent him home,
They reunited at a reunion,
and have remained close
Many stories shared,
some tears shed,
but one thing remains constant —
the sense of honor --
proud they served.

Mother Knew Best

Their mothers were the first
to know they had it,
even when there was no name for it.
The mothers were the first to realize
their children weren’t the same
as they were before they went to war.
Vietnam veterans move from job to job,
some from wife to wife,
some from place-to-place.
Most veterans are still
in a form of denial,
because denial feels safer
than facing issues.
He worked in a plant
for 30 years,
missing work
often due to problems
later traced to his Vietnam experience.
When he went over there,
he was normal.
By the time he left there,
he was afraid to go home,
because at home
the normal was still there.
He was carrying the abnormal within
and he didn't know how
to turn it back to the normal.

No Home For The Brave?

It was always hard for him
to make the house payment.
A disabled veteran,
his mortgage payment
doesn’t seem like much.
But living on a fixed income
with a family to support
caused difficulties.
He’s more than three months
behind on his mortgage.
He’s working with the lender,
but they want their money.
Disability is a major factor,
but even veterans without disabilities
are having trouble.
They can’t make a rent payment
or mortgage payment,
or they’re losing their car,
or at least the threat is there.
The 63 year old Vietnam veteran
worries he will lose his house.
He receives VA disability payments.
and is behind on his house.
He comes up short every month
because of the increased prices
of gas and food.
He owes so much money
he barely has his eyes above water.
Problems arise
when an unexpected difficulty
breaks an already thin budget.
Something comes up
and they can’t do it.
They lose a job
or can’t get work in the first place.
What they were able to live on
six months ago
doesn’t buy the same things today.
He had big plans.
A three-bedroom condo, fully furnished.
He had two vehicles,
one fully paid for,
the other he made monthly payments.
He had to give it up too.
It hurts.
It’s not a manly feeling at all.
He tries to save money
by driving as little as possible
and spending no more than $50 a week
for food. Still, he keeps falling behind
with his mortgage.
He really doesn’t want to lose it,
but he’s about ready to pull his hair out
and give up.
He did give up when
he no longer could afford
to heat his house.
He moved into his in-laws’.
and is uncertain what his next move will be.
It’s not a good feeling at all.

Healing Trip

He will return to the place
he lost his legs.
To a place that should
conjure up bitter memories,
a place you'd think
he'd want to forget.
40 years ago he stepped
on that land mine in Vietnam
– enough time, to have healed
not only physically
but also spiritually.
His faith won't let him be bitter.
He will lead a handful
of Vietnam veterans
from across the U.S.
back to where their lives
changed forever.
He hopes the journey
will help veterans
who are still angry and resentful
to heal and forgive.
As he sees it,
he's fortunate to be alive.
He promised God if he let him live,
he'd do with his life
what he wanted him to do.
He often meets with Vietnam War veterans,
many of whom are struggling..
He encourages them to talk through
their war experiences
so they can move on with their lives.
Until a man vents,
he can't get a break.

Final Decision

He had long sought
higher disability benefits.
A Vietnam veteran
who had been denied an increase
in disability payment for years
will now receive that increase,
and back payments.
The 65-year old first submitted a claim
in 2004 asking for an increase
in his compensation.
previous rulings went against him.
He’s amazed
at receiving the letter.
He feels sorry for the people
who have not been able to do
what he was able to do.
He developed Type II diabetes
many years after his service
because of exposure
to Agent Orange.
Veterans Affairs seemed
to have interpreted
things differently
from his doctors...
until now.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Pawn Of A System

He’s supposed to get free
and complete medical care
from the VA...
The trick is getting in the door.
64 and dying of leukemia,
the VA is too crowded.
He has been forced
to get care outside the system --
accumulating thousands of dollars
in medical expenses.
He thinks the VA should pay.
The VA refuses.
He was a good soldier
and did what he was told...
forced out of his home
for lack of rent money,
he is living in a trailer.
He owes thousands of dollars
in co-pays and deductibles
not covered by Medicare.
The VA said federal law
ties its hands.
He hadn't realized
he was eligible for VA care.
He believes his leukemia
was caused by exposure to Agent Orange,
But the VA, refused to give him
a higher disability pension.
His health has been up and down
and he has been admitted
to a non-VA hospital five times.
VA rules are a maddening injustice.
"It's blatantly unfair," he said.
"There's no justification for this.
Bureaucrats are making the decisions,
not doctors. And they're playing God."

Living In Peace

Once homeless,
a Vietnam veteran
proudly flies
the American flag
outside his red-brick home.
The 60-year-old man
sits in the living room
of the place he's called home
for the past two-and-a-half years.
He enjoys the unconditional love
of his old white cat.
They're both survivors.
Cat was the only survivor
of a litter of kittens.
It’s the first time
he’s ever had a house.
He always lived in an apartment.
His treatments at the Veterans Hospital
turned his life around.
For the past four decades,
he has battled with post-traumatic stress.
Never married, nor a father,
just trying to care for himself
was a big enough challenge.
He couldn't see himself
sharing that burden.
He learned how to deal with PTSD
from the VA.
He’s not trying to make them look good,
but they saved his life.
It's been 40 years,
he still has nightmares.
For a while his life was pure hell.
He learned to pick up the pieces
and start over again.
Spending time with his beloved cat
and taking each day as it comes
is a source of strength.
For the rest of his life
he wants to live in the peace
that he has found.
He knows where he has been
and where he’s going.

Healing Process

The Vietnam War veteran
will never forget the time
an enemy soldier shot at him.
He suffered from PTSD
for more than two decades
without seeking help.
12 years ago the symptoms
begged for something to be done.
He still has “dreams”
of things that happened in Vietnam,
but now they are controlled.
His PTSD never goes away
but now through therapy,
it is controllable.
His wife has been passionate
about trying to call attention
to veterans with PTSD.
She will always have a connection
with the Vietnam War,
it was what was going on
in her young adult life.
Having PTSD can be like
someone with alcoholism
not admitting they
have a problem,
until the person admits it,
they are not going
to deal with it.
Everybody needs a healing process...

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Road Home

Dedicating a stretch of highway
to Vietnam War veterans
will help them make peace...
They left Vietnam,
but it never left them
It’s a step toward
reconciliation with
many veterans...
They can use the memorial highway
as a “road home.”
The road has its ups and downs
like Vietnam.
At times it is turning back on itself
like it’s searching for something.
But it doesn’t know what it is.
A lot of them didn’t want
to go to Vietnam,”
but, they did.
The highway’s a constant reminder.

Mad About The Nam

He was back in Vietnam.
A Vietnamese man
had given him
a particularly hearty reception.
So glad to see you Americans!
Everything you left here still works.
There are still some hard feelings
but the fact that they could forgive us
fascinates him
The war seems to be over for them.
He doesn't think
it’s over in his own country.
It’s not over for him.
Vietnam won't be over for us
until we all die,
He makes no bones
about what the Vietnam experience
did to him --

At The Hospice For Ailing Veterans

A Christmas tree
lights up a corner.
American flags
carefully folded behind glass
in wood-frame cases...
each with a metal nameplate,
commemorate the men who died.
It's a placid retreat
where ailing veterans
can reach the end of their lives
in dignity, in a bed
instead of a hospital ward
or the street...
He’s a veteran with liver and lung cancer.
The room
where he sits
is homelike
with a big-screen TV,
and a long, comfortable couch.
Most served in Vietnam...
the alternative would likely be
a veterans hospital or nursing home
-- or worse, the street.
Society doesn't really have a feel
for what goes on in the life
of someone who has been in combat
or been in a war.
The 62 year old veteran
had lived alone in an apartment.
He moved to the hospice
for companionship.
He keeps plugging along...

The Vanishing Army

No doctor had indicated
"Agent Orange exposure"
as the cause of a Vietnam veteran’s death
– until last week.
On his death certificate,
his doctor attributed
the 65-year-old’s death
to Agent Orange,
among other causes.
For decades he and his family
had been fighting
the Agent Orange battle.
So many guys passed away,
same symptoms as his
but no doctor acknowledged
their deaths’ connection to Agent Orange.
Of late a lot of the guys
have been getting sick.
He gave instructions to his wife
not to pin on his medal bar
when he was placed in his casket.
Others noticed it too.
He didn’t want his medals on
because he would not have been
in this state
if it was not for Vietnam.
In the back of their minds
comrades also know
many of them
will not reach old age.
His passing
is a reminder to them all.
They did not mind going to war
and dying in the hands of the enemy
but to slowly die
from a silent killer
has had a devastating impact
on their lives.

Another Veteran Standoff With The Cops

His suicide threats
caused a massive traffic jam.
The 66 year old had been jailed
since his nationally televised capture
by a police SWAT team.
He felt alcoholism
and a combat flashback
caused his freeway drama.
Court-ordered psychiatric tests
revealed "alcohol played a large part"
in the three-hour freeway drama.
He tearfully said he had
"let veterans down
and himself down."
It was only the calm work
of the hostage negotiator
who talked to him
during the standoff
that prevented him
from carrying out
a suicide threat.

Help For A Vet

No longer does he have to choose
between buying food and medicine
or having the deteriorating screen
replaced on his house.
This month, he got both.
The Vietnam veteran
is having much of his home renovated,
including shelving for his kitchen cabinets,
handicap bars in his bathrooms,
exterior painting,
floor boards replaced around the house
and other odds and ends.
He and his wife are on a fixed income
so it’s a big help.
Now confined to a wheelchair.
He had a leg amputated three years ago
a result of exposure to Agent Orange.
Because he's in a wheelchair,
he couldn't move around
his house very easily.
but now he can...

Up In Flames

The old veteran lost
almost all his possessions.
The house burned to the ground.
He lost all his books,
valuable antique furniture,
china and memorabilia.
He also lost his cat.
The city sent him a letter...
they would demolish
his uninhabitable home
and assess him for the expenses
for cleanup,
including removing the tree branch
that had fallen,
struck the power lines
and caused the fire.
It’s a high-crime area.
He had to think of a benefit,
moving to a much safer place would be one.
His personality has changed since the fire.
He was sad and gruff but started to come around.
He's more content, more accepting
of what's happened to him.
He still feels the loss, but he's changed.
He probably will never be able to get over
what he lost in that fire, though.