Many of you have known for some time now that I have been dealing with increasing heart problems, diabetes II, stage III kidney disease and neuropathy. All of this stuff is on the presumptive list that Vietnam veterans fought years to convince the government that vets were coming back from Vietnam with all kinds of health problems. Finally the government realized that Agent Orange which was sprayed all over Vietnam was the cause of so much illness. I remember seeing the planes flying over us spraying this stuff even to the point of getting our shoulders wet with this stuff.
I saw a tee shirt recently which read: “I was killed in Vietnam. I just haven’t died yet.” Another one read: “We came home from Vietnam and brought death with us.”
I put off for years registering with the Veteran’s Administration. I just din’t think I was having any problems. In August of 1995 I had a severe heart attack and by-pass surgery. Still I didn’t think this was a Vietnam issue. I continued to have problems with my heart for years, some good and some not good at all.
Finally in 2010 I went to the VA and received a 60% disability rating. In 2013 after I retired I filed again after being diagnosed with Diabetes II and received 20% more disability – which is 70% in VA math. This past summer something happened – not really sure what – where my heart pumping function was reduced to 25%-30%. This was a big drop from the last echocardiogram. My cardiologist wrote a letter to the VA to support the diagnosis that I now had Ischemic Myopathy… reduced blood and oxygen to the heart.
Because of this letter and exams by the VA as of March 11, 2016 I am now rated at 100% disability. The rating is good because it allows me greater benefits from the VA and from the state. The bad part of it is that since last summer I have felt increasingly worse. It is all I can do to stay awake during the day. I have very little energy, and there is very little I can do without extreme fatigue. I am hoping that there is something I can do to strengthen my heart. My cardiologist will let me know about that soon… I hope.
The good news is the increased benefits. My hearing is getting worse, especially in my married ear. 100% disabled vets can get audiological, dental and eye care from VA Medical Centers. So I should be able to get hearing aids and hear better again. Shirley and I can now get Military I.D. cards which will allow us to get on any military base and use their commissary and PX. I have wanted to visit Parris Island for years. With this card we will be able to get on base.
I must take this opportunity to make a declaration which I believe to be very important. I know there are a lot of decent among veterans and others these days speaking very harshly of the VA and their treatment. In all my research I found one word of great advice: “Act like you want to be treated.” Now I didn’t find that until this last claim. However, I always made it policy to treat those working at the VA as people who were there to try to help me. I didn’t go in with a chip on my shoulder. I didn’t expect them to try to cheat me. I treaded them with kindness and respect.
I remember very clearly going to the clinic in Winston Salem to get an x-ray. The lady behind the window, after seeing my VA ID card got up from a seated position, stood at attention and said in a very convincing and sincere voice: “Thank you for your service.” Every time I went to the VA in Winston and Salisbury I experienced the same treatment: respect and kindness. It was clear to me that they were trying to make my time there as pleasing as it possible could be, given the circumstances.
I don’t know what happened to the other people… I just know that I am very thankful to the people at the VA Clinic in Winston Salem. They made me feel like I mattered and that my service was appreciated by someone. On the Vietnam Facebook group they say to all new people registering: “Welcome home.” Well, the VA made me feel the same way… not with just words but with their actions. Semper Fi to all my friends at the VA.