A Vietnam Vet Speaks on How We are Failing Our Returning Troops

(Guest Post by Terry Kindlon)

In 1968, as a 21 year old wounded Marine Sergeant, I got great medical care in a sparkling Navy hospital where I was treated with dignity and respect. When the Marine Corps decided that my injuries required a medical retirement I was quickly set up for a disability pension and introduced to a VA representative, right there in the hospital, who designed a plan for me that paid every single cent of my education, together with my living expenses.

While I was in college, this older, grandfatherly counselor from the VA would swing by once a month to tell me I was a nice kid, that he was proud of me and to say "keep up the good work." Same deal in law school where there were three other disabled vets in my class (including the extraordinarily talented and dedicated Ray Kelly, who's just finished a term as President of the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers) whose education was also being fully funded by the VA, and, of course, there were also dozens of regular, non-disabled vets who were able to go to law school because of the GI Bill. The VA even paid for my bar review course and sent me a check for $50 to cover the bar exam fee.

Because the VA did what it was designed to do I've been able to have a good life, to practice law, to become the father of seven remarkable kids and grandfather to four more. Not only that, but my taxes have now repaid the government's financial investment in me hundreds of times over. As equations go this is kind of a no-brainer.


A few months ago, in conversation with Northern District Judge Mordue, in Syracuse, I discovered that he, too, went to law school gratis as a disabled vet and that the very same VA guy I had would go see him every month to chat him up and cheer him on (and Judge Mordue has had a very distinguished career as a state prosecutor and judge and then as a federal district judge).

These days the Bush administration is treating our soldiers, marines and vets like sh*t, and they're treating our disabled vets even worse. In the fullness of time there will be hell to pay. They're missing the opportunity to help a lot of men and women who might benefit from an education.

On the other hand, by failing to properly treat soldiers who need psychiatric help they're really asking for trouble. One of the things I spent a lot of time doing during the '80's was representing PTSD vets in criminal cases.

Fortunately, in those days the VA made some adjustments and eventually became very responsive and set up some vet outreach programs, and, just as fortunately, a lot of the criminal court judges were WWII veterans who had more understanding and sympathy for my PTSD clients than the future neocons and chickenhawks around us who vaguely suspected we were just a bunch of baby killers and walking time bombs.

Seriously, people need to know that for whatever grief the Vietnam guys had to endure, it's nothing compared to the burdens being imposed upon the current group of American service men and women, both on active duty and afterward.

Update: Jeralyn adds:

As many TalkLeft readers know, Terry Kindlon of Albany, NY is an outstanding criminal defense lawyer who reads and comments often on TalkLeft about military service. He was a decorated Marine during Vietnam, sustained some injuries, is married to my friend Laurie Shanks, also an outstanding defense lawyer in Albany, and their son Lee, age 30, is a captain in the Marines and a military lawyer who recently returned from Fallujah, where he also served as a Judge Advocate.

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  • Display: Sort:
    How right you are. (none / 0) (#1)
    by agincour on Sat Mar 10, 2007 at 06:31:33 AM EST
    In 1964 I was discharged from the US Army after three years, most of which I spent in France as a part of the last bunch of Americans before De Gaulle kicked us out. I was never in combat, although during my time there we had the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Algerian bombings in Paris. The closest I ever came to combat was when they allowed us to have three bullets in our carbines to guard the motor pool and keep our precious trucks and gasoline safe. I think they were afraid Algerians would make Molotov Cocktails.

    Anyway, when I came home I was able to get my college education paid for and buy a home using my Veterans Benefits. What now looks so wonderful in retrospect was how routinely we were able take it all--we served our country and were taken care of for doing so. No one expected anything less. Even those who didn't go to school could depend on there being a decent job available--not necessarily because of their Veterans Benefits, but because there were manufacturing jobs one could count on to support a family for the rest of their life. If you were a white and a male (a huge caveat), you could count on there being a metaphorical hand beneath you to break your fall and hold you up.

    We live in a far different country today, one that has been taken over by Darwinian ethics in everything from politics to law enforcement to sports. The way current veterans are treated is symptomatic of the whole. In my opinion, without some kind of massive intervention, the condition is fatal.  

    some perspective (none / 0) (#2)
    by profmarcus on Sat Mar 10, 2007 at 07:27:27 AM EST
    as a vietnam vet myself, i have received a number of benefits that helped me throughout my life, the most important being the gi bill, without which i would have had an immensely more difficult time completing my undergraduate and graduate work...

    it has only been in the past 4 years that i have taken advantage of va medical care, now that i belong to the swelling ranks of those without health insurance... i must say that the care i've received at the reno va hospital far exceeds what i would have expected, measuring up to and, in some cases, exceeding what i received through the private sector...

    i don't doubt the walter reed story for a moment, and i also know that health care throughout the va system is not necessarily consistent... (and, yes, i do know that walter reed is a military rather than a va hospital...) i also know that veterans benefits have been under constant attack under the bush administration... i have never been able to understand why so many vets have and continue to support bush... as i drive around, i constantly see "veterans for bush/cheney" bumper stickers, and i want to pull them over and ask what in the hell they're smoking...

    anyway, so much for my blabber... thanks for the post...

    And, yes, I DO take it personally

    As a recently (none / 0) (#3)
    by Wile ECoyote on Sat Mar 10, 2007 at 09:47:07 AM EST
    retired Vet with permanent partial disability, I can tell you most troops don't care where or what it looks like where they are treated, but how they are treated.  
    This is a drop in the bucket when it comes to the looming socialized medicine that is going to be legislated on the country.  Wait until some Lard A$$ed person who would not know exercise or personal responsibility if it hit them on the head needs a medical procedure under socialized medicine done and a gov't GS-4 bean counter decides it can wait for 4 of 5 months because it will be the beginning of the new fiscal year and then there will be money for it.    Who will care about peeling paint then?  

    it's not cosmetics ... (none / 0) (#4)
    by Sailor on Sat Mar 10, 2007 at 11:01:45 AM EST
    ... it's unsanitary conditions around open wounds, it's nurses fighting each other not to change soiled linens, it's the gov't screwing the wounded out of their just benefits, it's cutting money from the budget for care during an escalating war.

    BTW, my Dad went to school on the GI bill and also repaid the gov't hundreds of times over in taxes. The GI Bill was a great investment, not an expensive perk.


    The VA IS socialized medicine. (none / 0) (#5)
    by Mreddieb on Sat Mar 10, 2007 at 01:27:33 PM EST
    The Va has and is a shining example of how GOVERNMENT can a would provide health EXCELLENT care. The reich wingnuts have been spewing this anti healthcare propaganda for just too long now! All we need is the same kind of dedication to taking good care of all  our citizens as we do our Vets. Then we can and will have finest universal health care that would be the envy of the civilized world. I too am a disabled Veteral and have a 100% connected disability. If our Govt can provide this kind of excellent care for me I have no concern about National medical care. We have got to stop the lies being spread by the anti health care NUTS!

    Name (none / 0) (#6)
    by Wile ECoyote on Sat Mar 10, 2007 at 03:13:23 PM EST
    one thing the gov't has taken over from the private sector and has done cheaper, faster, better.  

    Um.... (none / 0) (#7)
    by squeaky on Sat Mar 10, 2007 at 03:41:55 PM EST
    You mean something like spying on its citizens?

    Hiring a dick is rather expensive, I hear.


    Prove (none / 0) (#8)
    by Wile ECoyote on Sat Mar 10, 2007 at 04:25:03 PM EST
    it is more expensive.

    Can't (none / 0) (#9)
    by squeaky on Sat Mar 10, 2007 at 04:31:22 PM EST
    It is top secret. But I imagine that the phone records ATT et al sold to the US government were cheap compared to what it would cost me or my agent. Very cheap.

    LOL (none / 0) (#12)
    by Wile ECoyote on Sat Mar 10, 2007 at 05:38:46 PM EST
    Is that the best example?  

    lol (none / 0) (#13)
    by squeaky on Sat Mar 10, 2007 at 05:46:01 PM EST
    yes, me too.  

    Highways, FDIC insurance, Medical research (none / 0) (#10)
    by Dadler on Sat Mar 10, 2007 at 04:45:01 PM EST
    Please stay on the topic of vets and medical care (none / 0) (#11)
    by Jeralyn on Sat Mar 10, 2007 at 05:12:32 PM EST
    if you want to discuss other topics, there's an open thread today.