Time for big ideas in health care


POSTED: Wednesday, August 26, 2009

If I were president of the United States, the issue I'd push right after health care and immigration reform would be better medical and social services for veterans, and a national welcome home for our Vietnam veterans who never got one.

President Barack Obama said last week during the national health care brouhaha: “;One thing that reform won't change is veterans' health care. No one is going to take away your benefits. That is the plain and simple truth. We're expanding access to your health care, not reducing it.”;

Well, maybe. I don't see it in House Bill 3200. I've read 800 pages, the meat of it, and I don't see anything that benefits veterans. I support HB 3200 and the public insurance option, but I'm among those disappointed that veterans' health care doesn't seem to be specifically included. That's left to Congress and the Veterans Affairs Department headed by Kauai native and retired general Eric Shinseki.

And there's some due for Vietnam veterans that's a separate issue but no less important.

Earlier this year, the 101st Airborne Division and the citizens who live around Fort Campbell, Ky., held a “;welcome home”; ceremony for hundred of veterans who didn't have one when they came back from the Vietnam War.

It's something I'd like to see us do in Honolulu.

It's way past time for us to quit blaming the people who were drafted or had enlisted to fight the war that was ordered up by John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon. They just did what American leaders asked of them. By and large, they were pawns, not war criminals. More than 58,000 did not come home. Others returned without limbs and mentally damaged.

As veteran Dan Mouer writes: “;Vietnam veterans are men and women. We are dead or alive, whole or maimed, sane or haunted. We grew from our experiences or we were destroyed by them or we struggle to find some place in between. We lived through hell or we had a pleasant, if scary, adventure. We were Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Red Cross, and civilians of all sorts. Some of us enlisted to fight for God and Country, and some were drafted. Some were gung-ho, and some went kicking and screaming.”;

Gordon Duff of the Veterans Today newsletter summed up the afterlife of returning Viet Vets:

“;What did Vietnam vets get? They got $173 a month. What was that to pay for? Living expenses, books, tuition, supplies, fees, in fact everything. What did it pay for? It paid rent on a shared bedroom in an old house and bus tokens.

“;Who paid the rest? Vietnam vets worked, most full time, often having to miss classes because of jobs. They borrowed thousands and left college in debt. Books? They were checked out from the library or never bought at all. Food? Whatever you could buy for a buck a day, usually canned hash or Beefaroni.

“;No counseling, no disability checks, just poverty, overwork and the struggle to find jobs while being banned from most companies and denied employment preference. The price? Devastation. Banned from mainstream service organizations because of our undeclared war we stood alone.

“;The big news was Woodstock. A half-million Americans were fighting one of the most brutal wars in our history under the worst conditions of any war we had fought and nobody cared. There was still a draft, designed to protect rich kids, the kind whose families could get them into National Guard or Reserve slots that poor kids weren't allowed in. ...

“;As with other wars, most Vietnam vets didn't make it to college. Medical care from the VA was almost nonexistent. The worst of them died of hospital infections or neglect. I saw amputees stored in hallways and basements in VA hospitals in unbelievable filth. I will remember this all my life.”;

So pass this on. Think about sending it to our Kauai man in charge of Veterans Affairs.

And think about some major ceremony here that says “;I'm sorry you had to go while I didn't and I got all the benefits and you got so little.”;

Bob Jones is a MidWeek columnist who covered the Vietnam War for three years and was wounded while with the 25th Infantry Division Wolfhounds from Schofield Barracks.