Richfield, Minnesota, USA
Still Stigmatized After All These Years: A Veteran's Wife Speaks
Out...By Donnah Connelly
A few days after America remembered the 25th Anniversary of the
ending of the Vietnam War, I remembered another anniversary of
On May 3, 1996, I married my soulmate Tim -- the kindest, most
considerate, most wonderful man in the world! This might sound
corny, but I really do love him more today than I did on our wedding
day. In fact, I can't say enough nice things about my husband.
Too bad so many other people don't feel the same way.
My husband, you see, is a Vietnam Veteran with POst Traumatic
Stress Disorder. Oh, now you get it. I married an unlovable, screwed-up
vet with PTSD, right? Wrong. Very wrong. Yet you'd be surprised
how many intelligent men and women actually make this unfair assumption.
You'd also be amazed at the intensity of prejudice they still
direct to men who have survived Vietnam.
FYI, in the simplest terms, PTSD involves experiencing the trauma
of a traumatic event -- including rape, accident, natural disaster,
or, in Tim's case, war -- after the event has taken place. Think
of it as a physiological condition that imprints and haunts survivors.
Although no universal cure-all exists, this condition can be successfully
managed with a variety of accepted medical, psychological, and
holistic therapies. Thanks to indifference and misunderstanding,
however, PTSD has become an unwanted stigma for all Vietnam Veterans.
Of course, simple truth can sweep away these fears and misconceptions.
PTSD in itself doesn't mean insanity. PTSD is a treatable condition.
Furthermore, not everyone who encounters trauma experiences PTSD.
Not everyone with PTSD is a war veteran; not all war veterans
experience PTSD, either. Unfortuantely, many people assume that
all Vietnam Veterans have PTSD. Then they automatically assume
that PTSD means these veterans will explode into killing machines.
Now ot might be true that some Vietnam Veterans have killed
people. It should also go without saying, of course, that not
all killers have PTSD and not all Vietnam Veterans are killers
-- or, are going to kill you in the near future. As obviously
simple as the truth might sound, though, some people still don't
All I have to do is casually mention that Tim went to Vietnam,
and the mood of any social gathering dramatically changes. Friendly,
interested people abruptly stop talking to us. They literally
move far away from us. They shun him for being a Vietnam Veteran.
They shun me because I married him.
No, they don't cryout, "Vietnam Vet! Run for your lives! He's
gonna kill us all!" They don't have to say anything. Their body
language, with their uncomfortable movements, frighted facial
expressions, and cautious silence, says it all. They're afraid.
They're very afraid. Now here comes the funny part: Tim was an
Army medic. So, this "screwed-up vet" I married never killed anyone
in Vietnam or elsewhere. He only saved countless lives. Like other
noncombant veterans, he proudly served his Country without firing
a shot. Not all war veterans are combat veterans, but try explaining
that to suspicious, prejudiced minds.
Contending with their irrationality is like dealing with the
dumb kids from civics class who missed the big unit on "Prejudice:
Understanding and Overcoming Stereotypes." Only now, they're dumb
adults who refuse to admit they're prejudiced against Vietnam
Veterans. They're not comepletely to blame, either. Their erroneous
thinking never gets challenged. Their prejudice keeps getting
encouragement and reinforcement from America's media and popular
No wonder Vietnam Vets are now the number one choice to play
"bad guys" in murder mysteries, miniseries, movies, even TV sitcoms.
Too many Americans refuse to give up their ambivalence for Vietnam
and its surviving participants. They refuse to accept survivors
of the most unpopular war in American history as courageous. Instead
of gving these veterans the respect they deserve, they would rather
keep punishing them.
Think about it. Why has it become politically incorrect to keep
casting minorities as villains but okay to keep vilifying Vietnam
Veterans in countless news, movie, and television productions?
Because the media reflects popular culture, and popular culture
reflects this cornucopia of fear, ambivalence, and prejudice.
So the reality of John McCain's heroic epic of prisoner of war
keeps getting replaced by this other reality, the one that prejudical
attitudes have created. Goodbye, hero, Hello, you poor, stupid
Too many Americans want to accept this stereotypical image of
Vietnam Vets as poor, dumb lowlifes who thought their tour of
duty would be a cushy three hour cruise, complete with Ginger
and Mary Ann. As if they only went to Southeast Asia for fun and
For nearly three decades, my husband Tim has been trying to
challenge these stereotypes by trying to educate the suspicious,
prejudiced minds who keep the myths alive. But nobody likes being
challenged. Nobody wants to be educated about pet prejudices,
because everybody needs a pet. Some people still can't comprehend
that Tim's Army life in Vietnam resembled Dana Delaney's selfless
service in "China Beach"-- not the adventurous stuff from the
"Rambo" movies. They want to brand him as the shameless killer
who destroyed lives. Then, when they realize he was -- and is--
the nice guy who saved lives, they become angry at him. They acutally
resent him for being living proof tha their judgements about veterans
are inaccurate and inhumane.
They don't even realize how much they want to turn him and other
Vietnam Veterans into scapegoats. They only know they need villains,
and by God, are they ready to vilify. I couldn't begin to list
all the indignities Tim has suffered throughout the years. You've
probably heard stories like these before. When the stories involve
someone you love, though, things like injustice and bigotry take
on new meaning. The incidents seem so senseless, so bizarre.
One coworker who'd learned Tim had been to Vietnam started taunting
him with, "Baby killer! Baby Killer!" In reality he helped deliver
and care for several Vietnamese babies. I asked him, "What did
you say when she said that?"
"Nothing.", he said.
Although it took decades before he was fully compensated for
his disability, some of his own relatives still consider him worse
than a welfare recipient, because Tim now reveives disability
benefits. They regard him as a lazy slob, a do-nothing, because
he is disabled. They didn't want to go to Vietnam, and they didn't.
But Tim did. Now that he's not a toothless, homeless vet living
in a cardboard box, they're actually jealous and contemptuous.
They even told him, "You never have anything to warry about. The
government's been taking care of you all your life." If you have
ever dealt with the VA you'd know that shrimp who eat their young
can sometimes take better care of things.
And don't let me get started on the Minnesota State Veterans
Home.When Tim stayed there it was a run-down, unsafe building
full of pests and vermin. And I don't mean the bugs and rats.
At least they could become pets. No, I mean the administrative
staff and those overpaid state officials who were running that
third-rate residence hall. I mean the same guys who built new
offices with a talking elevator for themselves--not the veterans--as
soon as funding arrived for building improvments. Meanwhile, the
poor veterans who resided at "The Home" had to stay in a condemned
building...until they were evicted and sent to another old building.
Then Tim moved on p to a smaller, "remodeled" linen closet.Besides
numerous health violations, Tim and the others had to deal with
an uncaring staff. One elderly veteran choked to death on food
because no one was around to assist him. Other, older veterans
were physically and verbally abused by a state employee. Tim and
a friend repeatedly complained. Nothing was done until another
state employee caught the aide in the act of punching a bedridden
veteran. Ironically, even when my husband and his friend had been
proven right, the director still continued to denouce them as
"troublemakers." The newsletter Tim founded to inform and alert
residents of these things was seized and taken over by "The Home."
Administrator accused his publication of "being too negative."
Almost overnight state employees replaced truth and freedom of
speech with crossword puzzles, silly jokes, and inspirational
sayings. Positive things, real positive. Not only were residents
like Tim misled into thinking "The Home" would be a safe place
where there rights would be respected, they were also required
to sign a contract -- without being given any opportunities to
ask questions and to inspect the housing and its grounds. Most
outrageous of all, veterans were expected to turn over 85 per
cent of any monies that they got-- any paychecks, social security
and veterans benefits, pensions, monetary settlements, everything--to
"The Home" to pay for room and board-- at best, for their substandard
existence--for as long as they resided there. That's right. 85
per cent. This huge amount might have been justified had the Minnesota
State Veteran's Home actually provided residents with things initialy
promised in the contract. Needless to say, all kinds of promises
were illegally broken or denied. But now, years later, long after
Tim left the Home, even after the State Statute of Limitations
has expired, The Veterans Home is still demanding money from Tim.
And the Department of Revenue is helping, too. The Home can't
legally take Tim to court for the money because the Statute of
Limitations has expired on the case. But hey, that isn't stopping
The Home from confiscating every income tax return or every rebate
with Tim's name on it. What really frightens us is that so many
people in power know about it, yet they refuse to help us. The
State legislator and aides, A U.S. Senator, and his staff, the
State Department of Revenue, and others--they all know, but they
just don't care. Even the local media refused to get involved.
After all,Tim's only a Vietnam Veteran. Oddly enough, all Tim
ever wanted was respect. That was all. As long as the stigma of
Vietnam and PTSD remains, he'll never get it. America..what a
country. America wants it children to live and die for it. Then
it rewards them by stigmatixing them as the New Children of Cain.
Kids, remember this next time uncle Sam wants you to lay down
your lives for one of his patriotic causes. He's the best uncle
in the whol, wide world, but does he ever have a sick sense of
Of cource, if your child or brother or husband isn't the one
who's been unjustly labeled, you probably only think about Vietnam
Veterans three times during the year. Maybe on Veterans Day, Memorial
DAy, or Independence Day, and maybe for just a few minues. then
you'll forget. Try to remember, please try to remember, that for
some people, Vietnam will never be over.
Happy Aniversary, Tim
I love you.
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