Tim Connelly, Vietnam veteran
Richfield, Mn, USA
I Am Too Young To BE An Old Soldier.
I am a Vietnam Veteran. I hate the term Vietnam era Vet because
it includes all those people in the Service at the time of that
stupid war. I want to feel apart from those who did not spend
time in that green hell.
One thing that I have noticed is that even in this new millennium
it sucks to be a veteran of the lost war. I got a call from Earl
on Labor Day. He told me Frank had blown his head off down in
Arizona. I couldn't believe it. I thought Frank was doing okay.
Earl, whom I have now dubbed the "Angel of Death", called me again
on Thanksgiving. He told me they had found Rich dead in his car.
He had killed himself, too. Hell, I had just seen Rich a couple
of weeks ago. He had talked about moving to a warmer climate to
be with his son. I dread every call I get from Earl. It is usually
about the death of some fellow Vietnam Veteran I have met over
the past ten years at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center's Post
Traumatic Stress Recovery Clinic.
Not all of the guys killed themselves, but they all seemed too
young to die. I think I know more guys who have died after Vietnam
than in Vietnam, and I was a medic. I feel like my 82 year old
father, who has lost most of his friends, but that seems more
natural than losing most of your friends at 50.
I have come a long ways in the last ten years. From being homeless
and then living in the hellhouse atmosphere of the Minnesota Veterans
Home to getting married and living in a house in the suburbs of
the Twin Cities. I did it with the help of some people who cared
about me and other Vietnam Veterans suffering from PTSD. But those
people aren't around to help anymore.
About five or six years ago, changes began to happen at the PTSR
Clinic. A turf battle over how to care for PTSD patients was ever
present. In the eyes of the Hospital administrators, the inmates
had taken over. Doctors who had worked for 20 years developing
ways of working with Vietnam Veterans were removed from their
positions with no explanation. Guys who had been seeing a doctor
on a regular basis were all of a sudden hanging in the wind. Support
groups, which had helped many guys stay stable, were eliminated.
Guys like Frank and Rich felt, in their minds, that they had no
alternatives left. A family-like atmosphere with less restrictive
rules was turned into a sterile, lifeless, clinical craphouse
of psychological disinterest. A safe place to come and talk with
other Vietnam Veterans about similar problems was eliminated.
Of course, the VA Hospital officals will say I am full of crap,
the veterans are being helped, and so forth. If you have a different
viewpoint, you are a troublemaker. I am not a troublemaker. I'm
a skeptic. After being screwed and suckered into going to Vietnam
and then seeing all the crap over there, I've gotten used to questioning
authority. I also happened to be a journalist for ten years before
I sought treatment for PTSD, so I have gotten used to asking questions
and not getting answers.
Am I supposed to trust people who have no idea of what I and
others have gone through? Wasn't it the veterans themselves who
started self-help groups back in the 1970's to deal with readjustment
problems? I will never understand why they treat us, those who
have incurred the ravages of war, with so little respect. I am
sorry we lost, but you can't win them all. I am getting tired
of speaking out and having no one listen. Since I have a mental
health label, I can be written off as a nut or being in "a loose
period." However, I am not finished yet and will continue, in
some way or another, to try and get the message across that it
still sucks to be a Vietnam Veteran in the 21st Century.
I bought a hat at the VA Hospital a few months ago. It says "Vietnam
Veteran". but I am ashamed to wear it...DAMN VIETNAM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!