When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again
Tell your parents not to muddy the waters around us;
We may have to drink it someday …
– old folk tune
First, some history, from a personal perspective.
Sometime in eternity, the Veterans Administration hit an iceberg known as Agent Orange. They seemed to the public a mite slow in recognizing the results of dumping millions of gallons with dioxin on the jungles of Vietnam and the troops living there. The firestorm in the seventies brought the VA up short. America, is this correct? You want we should spend more of your funds quicker?
When the first inkling of an emotional reaction to war came down the pike, they were ready. Conceding the principle that vets might no longer trust the feds, the "storefront" counseling centers were established in the communities, with peer counselors paid by but showing no badges from the VA. A large portion of Veterans Services in every Regional Office was set aside for meeting and greeting questions on PTSD, and Adjudication and the Rating Board sections were staffed and trained likewise. Fee-basis counseling was authorized, so that vets might seek help from private providers. And then came the PTSD Centers, VA facilities in the neighborhoods primarily for the treatment of the hidden ravages of war.
Now, PTSD was called "shell shock" in WWI and "combat fatigue" in WWII. You would see guys in old photos in sanitariums hiding under bunks, or on film moving about with head-bobs like chickens. There were no questions about those diagnoses. But an explosion of the finding of these emotional reactions to war came about when the boomers came home from Vietnam, although earlier wars had more troops under fire for longer.
At this time, the VA was losing its largest client load, WWII vets, at the rate of some 1,500 per diem. The PTSD industry became a mission to replace census rarther than return to Congress any budget savings due to loss of business. Bureaus of any government act like that.
(1) There is absolutely no measure of national service which compares with the courage and grit of wearing the colors into combat, and no national responsibility like caring for the one who has bourne the battle. Beside the veteran, the frilly little quasi-patriotic flagwavers are cheerleaders, with about that much effect on the game.
(2) A decent respect for the warrior would show in the cleansing of barnacles from the hull of the Veterans Administration. You do not honor the wounded by simply allowing any claimant into the fold.
(3) The offer of around two thousand dollars a month, tax free, appealed to many who were not by any measure suffering from any known ailment. The symptoms of PTSD were well known, as was the process:
(1) make a claim of sleep disturbance, hyperalertness, flashbacks, poor work history, anti-social and violent behavior (extra points for reactions to Asian personnel encountered at a VAH), substance abuse, and demand a hearing at the VA Regional Office and flip out during it,
(2) join a VA-sponsored conseling group while your claims is processed,
(3) cash in your "counseling" whenever the money rolls in and head out for more pleasant climates.
Jerry Blackburn never came back. Lee did, but he’s lost his teeth to night grinding over the years since. He was aboard a Huey flying relief mission under fire for over a hundred hours. Merle was a jovial sort, but you watch him and he’ll at some point evince a reaction from all the shrapnel he still carries. It started early for Duncan, who had to go outside his tent at Camp Eagle, Ft Sill, OK, to see what the noise was, even though he knew he was spending his last few months on an artillery range, training troops to go where he had been. Bobby will stop while shopping, leave his cart with all the goods there, walk out of the store and never return. Darron I heard about from another who served in his unit. There was a firefight more vicious and surreal than anything in video games, I heard. Darron did not file a claim. He was one of the early storefront peer counselors.
Mitch had an arrangement with his wife. When she told him to go to his room, which was when it was bad, he would. They are in the office now, and he says, "We saw them across the paddy and we fired." Simply, without elaboration.
"Why did you fire at them?" asked his incredulous wife.
Mitch shrugged. "Because they were running."
I call them the 20%ers, which is my rough approximation, not serious, of the number of claims for PTSD which came through an office where I worked for nearly 26 years I rated legitimate. The other 80% included the Basic Training bolos dumped after two weeks in service who came around when the PTSD word was on the street. They had seen a war movie, you see, and then came the flashbacks of a mean DI who yelled at them. And the loader of the cargo planes at Guam, who was distressed because he couldn’t sleep in his hutch near the runway and besides he knew he was aiding and abetting violations of the Geneva Convention. Peacetime vets who produced war stories of North Korean sorties against troop trains in Seol. These claims were denied, as was the one from Daniel, who spent his entire tour in the Long Bihn jail, after his final appeal.
But sailors in calm seas, or "the waters adjacent thereto," they only had to present the well-thumbed list of symptoms. And vets who may have been in country, but made up their war stories. To all of them I say, you are muddying the waters around us.