Tony Nadal is a retired Army lieutenant colonel who spent his whole life with the military in some way. Nadal was born on Fort Benning, Georgia, and his father was also an Army officer.
The younger Nadal only ever wanted to go to West Point and be an Army officer. That’s exactly what he did.
His first duty station after airborne school and Ranger school took him to Munich, Germany. After three years of European service, Nadal got wind of Special Forces operations in Laos. He decided to move toward the sound of the guns.
After a Special Forces deployment in Laos, he returns to the U.S. to lead soldiers in an Air Mobile Division. On July 28, 1965, his Air Mobile Division was sent to Vietnam. His battalion was the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, under the command of Lt. Col. Hal Moore. By November, they were responding to intelligence about an NVA position in the Chu Pong Mountains.
Moore led his battalion to an area called Ia Drang, landing at a place the Army dubbed LZ X-Ray. The battalion’s eight Huey helicopters could only carry six men each, so they had to bring the entire battalion in 48 men at a time. By the time the 7th Cavalry landed 124 men, intelligence from a captured North Vietnamese soldier informed the Americans they were outnumbered 19-to-1.
“I can forget a lot of things about life but I won’t forget the feel, the sense, the smell of LZ-XRAY,” Nadal said in a video interview. “Colonel Moore immediately realized it was going to be a battle for survival.”
Over three days, 3,500 U.S., South, and North Vietnamese soldiers fought for a contested victory, leaving 308 Americans and 660 NVA dead, with 544 U.S. and 670 NVA wounded. It was the first major battle between the U.S. Army and the North Vietnamese Army.
Then-Capt. Tony Nadal lost 15 of his men in the first two days of fighting. Sleepless and battered, his command was ordered out before the Air Force cleared the area out.
The video below was produced by AARP Studios for the American Heroes Channel. Tony Nadal describes how he feels as he pushes himself into the machine gun and grenade fire to retrieve the bodies of some of his soldiers.
“I feel the loss of all my soldiers,” Nadal said. “When you get through all of the bravado, what you’re left with is anguish. They fought for a cause… there was the expectation that when your country calls, you go.”
The legendary battle was depicted in the book “We Were Soldiers Once… and Young” and the 2002 film “We Were Soldiers.”
Susan Ward had only served five weeks in the military when she was medically discharged after an injury — but that didn’t change the fact that she wanted a life in service.
“From that moment when I got out, I was devastated,” she tells NationSwell. “That was my life goal and plan. I didn’t know what to do. I love helping and serving people, doing what I can for people.”
That feeling isn’t uncommon for thousands of military veterans who have a hard time transitioning to civilian life. Though unemployment among veterans who have served since 2001 has gone down, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics counted 370,000 veterans who were still unemployed in 2018.
Numerous transition programs exist to help vets bridge that gap, but for Ward, finding a gig — or even volunteer work — that was service-oriented was necessary for her happiness. She eventually became a firefighter in Alaska, but after 10 years a different injury forced Ward to leave yet another job she loved. She fell into a deep depression, she says, and struggled to find another role that allowed her to fulfill her passion for public service.
“I was on Facebook one day and just saw this post about Team Rubicon, and I had this moment of, ‘Oh my gosh, I need to do this,'” she says.
Team Rubicon began as a volunteer mission in 2010 after the earthquake that devastated Haiti. The organization offered disaster relief by utilizing the help of former service workers from the military and civilian sectors.
(Team Rubicon photo)
It has since evolved into an organization fueled by 80,000 volunteers. The majority are veterans who assist with everything from clearing trees and debris in tornado-ravaged towns to gutting homes that have been destroyed by floods. The teams, which are deployed as units, also work alongside other disaster-relief organizations, such as the Red Cross.
Similar to Ward, Tyler Bradley, a Clay Hunt fellow for Team Rubicon who organizes and develops volunteers, battled depression after he had to leave the Army due to a genetic health problem.
“After I found [Team Rubicon], I was out doing lots of volunteer work. My girlfriend noticed and said she would see the old Tyler come back,” Bradley says. “Team Rubicon turned my life around.”
“There’s one guy who says that just because the uniform comes off doesn’t mean service ends,” says Zachary Brooks-Miller, director of field operations for Team Rubicon. He adds that the narrative around the value of veterans has to change. “We don’t take the approach that our vets are broken; we see vets as a strength within our community.”
In addition to Team Rubicon’s disaster-relief efforts, the organization also helps to empower veterans and ease their transition into the civilian world, according to Christopher Perkins, managing director at Citi and a member of the company’s Citi Salutes Affinity Steering Committee. By collaborating with Citi, Team Rubicon was able to scale up its contributions, allowing service workers to provide widespread relief last year in Houston after Hurricane Harvey. Those efforts were five times larger than anything the organization had previously done and brought even more veterans into the Team Rubicon family.
“Being around my brothers and sisters in arms whom I missed so much, it was so clear to me the impact Team Rubicon would have not only in communities impacted by disaster, but also among veterans,” says Perkins, a former captain in the Marines. “Every single American should know about this organization.”
Although Team Rubicon doesn’t brand itself as a veterans’ organization, it does view former members of the military as the backbone of its efforts. And many veterans see the team-building and camaraderie as a kind of therapy for service-related trauma.
“There are so many people who have [post-traumatic stress disorder] from different things, and when you’re with family you have to pretend that you’re OK,” says Ward, who deals with PTSD from her time as a soldier and firefighter. “But when you’re with your Team Rubicon family, it’s a tribe.”
Visitors to Washington, D.C., pass many memorials during their trips, including those dedicated to wars throughout the nation’s history. The black granite of the Vietnam War Memorial. The fountains and columns of the World War II Memorial. The 19 stainless steel statues of the Korean War Veterans Memorial. One war—dubbed “The Great War”—has been the only one missing. That changes April 16, 2021, with the First Colors ceremony unveiling the National WWI Memorial.
Army Veteran Terry Hamby is commission chair for the World War I Centennial Commission. He hopes the unveiling will be an important milestone for Americans to remember those who fought.
“It’s significant to America,” he said. “For 103 years, 4.7 million men and women who served in World War I have not been recognized here in our nation’s capital for their service.”
Hamby said this group of Veterans blazed a path future generations would follow.
“This group of Americans were the first to deploy overseas to Europe and fight in a war they didn’t start,” he said. “They were willing to die for peace and liberty for people they never met.”
Hamby’s grandfather served during World War I. While working on the project, he also learned his great uncle served. He died in battle on the fifth day in the Battle of Saint-Mihiel.
“From that point forward, it’s personal because you’re a Veteran,” the Vietnam Veteran said. “But it’s really personal when one of your family members is one of those 116,516 people who gave not only the life at the moment, but the life that they would live, to the country.”
The lead designer for the memorial, Joe Weishaar, said the new memorial was a difficult task to tell the Veteran stories and honor their service.
“Weaving all of those things together has not been an easy task, but hopefully I’ve done it and it comes across when people visit,” he said. “It’s really about the men and women who served.”
Even though he doesn’t have a personal family connection to World War I, Weishaar said he felt a personal connection looking at photos and reading through diary entries of Veterans. He said the words of 20- to 25-year-old service members struck him. Weishaar was 25 when he submitted his design.
“I always felt a real connection with them,” the Arkansas native said. “Seventy thousand men and women from Arkansas served in World War I. For most of them, it was the first time they left their towns and villages. That really changes a person.”
About the memorial
Weishaar worked with the existing site and memorial, incorporating the stories of men and women who served during World War I. The memorial stands at the site of the former Pershing Park at the corner of 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., southeast of the White House.
A recent study with a small sample of veterans trying to recover from mental health issues found that video games can help in overcoming such problems as PTSD and substance abuse disorders.
The researchers concluded that although the impact of video games may vary based on the user, clinicians may wish to discuss video game play with their patients to help them “optimize their use of games to support recovery.”
“Gameplay may promote a mindfulness-like psychological [escape] but can also provide users with benefits of confidence, social connection, personal growth, and opportunities for employment or even leadership,” the researchers wrote. “These benefits are accessible to people with disabilities for whom traditional treatments, leisure activities, or social interactions may be challenged by circumstances or limitations. Games could be implemented in large populations very inexpensively, thus acting as potentially very cost-effective recovery supports or mental health treatments.”
Some of the participants, the researchers also note, described using video games to “distract from overwhelming symptoms, including suicidal thoughts and drug or alcohol use.”
The study included 20 veterans — 15 men and five women — who ranged in age from 25 to 62. Sixteen of the 20 vets reported they had PTSD or trauma-related symptoms. Most of the participants said they had more than one current mental or behavioral health diagnosis, with PTSD and depression being the most common combination. Three people had more than one type of trauma, such as combat — or training-related trauma, military sexual trauma, or childhood sexual abuse.
Dr. Michelle Colder Carras, a public health researcher, led the study, which appeared in November 2018 in the journal Social Science Medicine. With extensive research experience in video game play and in mental health recovery, she interviewed the veterans on the value of the games. (She shares that she’s also played video games herself and has recovered from her own mental health problem.)
In the study, the video game genres included sports, puzzles, gambling, role-player action, fantasy settings, and shooter games. But Colder Carras emphasizes that the genre or specific game isn’t what necessarily helped with recovery. The benefits, she says, stemmed more from the connections the veterans made with other video game players; the distractions they created for themselves by playing the games and removing their focus, for example, from alcohol or drugs; and the meaning they derived from the games.
“Meaning derived from game narratives and characters, exciting or calming gameplay, and opportunities to connect, talk, and lead others were credited as benefits of gaming,” the researchers write. “Responses often related closely to military or veteran experiences. At times, excessive use of games led to life problems or feeling addicted, but some veterans with disabilities felt the advantages of extreme play outweighed these problems.”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
Salsa dancing and the military…it’s so crazy it just might work.
In honor of National Military Appreciation Month, Univision Communications Inc. and We Are The Mighty are teaming up to create a Salsa #InVETational, a dance competition for active duty servicemembers and veterans.
There are three reasons why this is actually pretty cool:
Servicemembers and veterans will be the main event as they compete alongside their dance partners, showcasing their best Latin dance moves for Salsa, Merengue, and Bachata and vying for 1st place prize of id=”listicle-2565272073″,000 in each category and 0 for 2nd place.
Also, this event is totally free for active duty military and veterans.
“Salsa dancing nights have long been enjoyed by active duty military and veterans alike not only for therapeutic purposes, but as a cultural connection within the military community,” noted David Gale, CEO Co-Founder, We Are The Mighty.
The arts are a powerful way for vets to heal after military service, and dance in particular adds the physical element we grew accustomed to on active duty. Dancing puts us back in our bodies, pushes our comfort levels, and connects us to music in very intense ways.
Hispanics have a longstanding tradition of military service to our country. According to the US Department of Veteran Affairs 2014 Minority Veterans Report, Hispanics comprise 12.4% of Post-911 veterans with more than one million Latinos currently in uniform.
Learning about our American mixing pot makes us stronger, united, and worldly.
Plus, we’re talking about a culture that knows how to flavor its food, baby — and there will be plenty of it at the event.
The event will take place on May 12, 2018 in San Antonio, Texas.
Military and veterans interested in participating with a partner must be at least 21 years of age. The next qualifying round is May 6, 2018, at Arjon’s International Club. Registration starts at 8 p.m. and the contest kicks off at 9:30 p.m. Five couples from each category will advance to the finals on May 12.
For anyone who cannot attend, you can help veterans in the San Antonio area by supporting the Lackland Fisher House, a home-away-from-home for the families of seriously ill or injured patients receiving treatment at Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center, San Antonio Military Medical Center or other medical facilities in the San Antonio Area at no cost.
“When was the last time you actually met the animal you ate for dinner?”
Jon Darling, a former Army Ranger and scion of a long line of farmers and restaurateurs, now runs one of the most humane livestock farms in South Carolina, where he strives to be a shepherd to the sheep he raises and to the people who eat them.
When Meals Ready To Eat host August Dannehl visited Darling’s farm, he found himself in a world where things are done with purpose and uncommon care.
Though his family had always been in the food business, Darling turned to a new brotherhood after the attacks on September 11th: the Army. When he got out, he looked for peace in other places, and found it the moment he stepped on a farm.
Working with other people in that way gave him the same feeling of fraternity that being in the military did, and his interactions with the animals he raises brings him a calm sense of satisfaction as he delivers meat to restaurants with a humane guarantee.
Darling raises his sheep to live free and happy lives, and professes to feeling no fundamental conflict when it comes time for him to bring one of those lives to an end.
Unlike factory farming operations, which treat animals as commodities and people as thoughtless consumers, farms like Darling’s are working to reconnect people to an awareness of the sacrifice that keeps us humans at the top of the food chain. Through quiet leadership and outreach in the form of regular community dinners that center around the slaughter, preparation, and enjoyment of one of his lambs, Darling is reawakening the people he serves to the circle of life on Planet Earth.
A gathering of conscientious diners at Darling Farm. (Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)
Darling’s community appreciates the work he does, and agrees that the animal that dies for a meal should be celebrated. That’s why they join him for meals at his farm; to celebrate the animal that nourishes them. They attribute his ability to listen, rather than just to act, to his military service.
Small farming is both Darling’s family legacy and his way of healing—but his neighbors add that his style of farming is also therapeutic for the community, and society. Knowing the animal rather than only viewing it as meat makes a difference in the level of respect given to the earth. Darling points out that his method is healthier for the animals as well as the land he uses to farm them.
Here’s hoping that sharing his story and life’s work with Dannehl and Meals Ready to Eat will help spread the good word far and wide.
Members of the military who have long been barred by law from collecting damages from the federal government for injuries off the battlefield will finally be able to do so after Congress stepped in to amend the law.
The legislation represents progress for injured service members – but still limits who among them may press for damages.
Up until the end of World War II, the U.S. government enjoyed “sovereign immunity,” a vestige of British rule when “the king could do no wrong” and the government could not be sued.
But in 1946, faced with the prospect of World War II veterans returning from the front only to be hit and killed in an accident on base, Congress enacted the Federal Tort Claims Act. Congress felt that it was only fair to allow people to recover damages for personal injury from the government when the government was negligent or irresponsible about caring for people’s safety.
There were exceptions. Certainly Congress could not allow a soldier – or his family – to sue the government if, due to the orders of a superior officer, he were wounded or killed in battle. So the Federal Tort Claims Act prohibited suits by soldiers or sailors injured due to wartime combatant activities.
But later rulings limited servicemembers’ rights even more, in ways not suggested by the language of the act.
The first of these was a case filed by the surviving family members of a soldier. Lt. Rudolph Feres was a decorated World War II veteran who had parachuted into Normandy on D-Day. He survived that battle and others through the end of the war only to return to the U.S. and die in a barracks fire caused, according to his wife, by the explosion of a boiler known to be faulty.
Feres’ widow also claimed that no fire guard had been posted on the fateful night. Joined to the case were two soldiers who claimed malpractice by army surgeons.
The court decided that the existing benefits scheme for military deaths and injuries was ample and denied the claims. To the further chagrin of the Feres family, the controversial ruling took on the name the “Feres Doctrine.”
Cases sustaining Feres expressed the concern that allowing civilian courts to intervene in cases of this type would interfere with military discipline. Thus, the court declared that soldiers could not sue the government for damages for negligently caused injuries “incident to service,” even if they did not involve combat.
All of these rulings meant that anyone who had the misfortune of getting hurt while on active duty, even if it wasn’t in combat, could never sue for damages – while if the same person had gotten hurt on the job as a civilian, they would have had that right.
This disfavored treatment for servicemen was underscored in the aftermath of the space shuttle Challenger explosion, during which families of civilian crew members were able to file lawsuits against the government, but the family of the pilot who was a Navy captain on active duty could not.
The Feres Doctrine were therefore seen by many as unfair. Others, like the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, criticized Feres because of its departure from the plain language of the Federal Tort Claims Act, which limits the exclusion to wartime “combatant activities.” Still others believe that Feres fails to hold the military accountable for the kind of mistakes for which others are required to pay damages.
The Feres Doctrine nevertheless has continued to hold sway, with the Supreme Court refusing to reconsider the doctrine as recently as May 2019. Justice Clarence Thomas, in a dissent from the court’s denial of certiorari in that case, Daniel v. United States, paraphrased Justice Scalia in stating that “Feres was wrongly decided and heartily deserves the widespread, almost universal criticism it has received.”
In 1950, speaking for the Supreme Court in the Feres case, Justice Robert Jackson admitted, “If we misinterpret the Act, at least Congress possesses a ready remedy.” That “ready remedy” finally came almost seventy years later, due to the persistence of a soldier suffering from terminal cancer.
Green Beret goes to Congress
Sergeant First Class Richard Stayskal is a former Green Beret and wounded Iraq veteran whose military health providers missed a 3-centimeter mass in one of his lungs on a CT scan.
After military physicians repeatedly attributed his health problems to asthma or pneumonia, Sgt. Stayskal learned from a civilian pulmonologist that he actually had stage 4 lung cancer. Sgt. Stayskal continues to receive treatment for his cancer, although he says it is deemed incurable.
But Sgt. Stayskal was barred by Feres from pursuing a malpractice case in court.
So Stayskal enlisted the support of California Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a Democrat, who introduced a bill to allow current and former service personnel to bring medical malpractice claims against government health providers.
A compromise version of the bill was incorporated into the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2020. Adding the bill into a “must-pass” piece of defense legislation assured its passage. It was passed by both houses of Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support. President Trump signed the measure into law on Dec. 20, 2019.
Cup only half-full
The new law does not cover everyone. A lawsuit like the original Feres case, by the survivors of someone who perished in a barracks fire, would still not be allowed. That’s because the legislation only allows claims by those who allege to have been victims of medical malpractice by military health care providers.
And claims cannot be brought in federal court, as is normally the case under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Rather, they must be pursued through a Defense Department administrative procedure under regulations that the Department of Defense is required to draft.
Research suggests that most claimants don’t care whether their cases are decided through a court, an administrative procedure or even mediation. Rather, they care about having a respectful hearing in which a third party has carefully considered their views, concerns and evidence.
Those who worked to pass this legislation will likely scrutinize the Defense Department’s regulations and procedures to see whether such a forum has been provided.
While the selection of retired Marine Gen. James Mattis as Secretary of Defense drew a lot of attention, there are some other nominations at the Pentagon that are waiting in the wings — the service secretaries.
There is a Secretary of the Army, a Secretary of the Navy (who also is responsible for the Marine Corps, and depending on the situation, the Coast Guard), and a Secretary of the Air Force.
According to a report by the Washington Post, retired Army Col. James Hickey, is the front-runner to be Secretary of the Army. Hickey is best known as the commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, which executed Operation “Red Dawn,” the mission that lead to the capture of Saddam Hussein.
For the last two years, Hickey, who served multiple tours in Iraq, has been the senior advisor to the Senate Armed Services Committee. His awards include the Army Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with Combat Distinguishing Device and Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Defense Superior Service Medal.
Hickey’s main competition for Army secretary is Van Hipp, a former chairman of the South Carolina Republican party who has served in a number of positions in the Pentagon.
According to his LinkedIn.com profile, Hipp has been chairman of American Defense International, Inc. since 1995.
There are two U.S. congressmen being considered for SECNAV, including Virginia Rep. Randy Forbes, the current chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.
Forbes, who was defeated for a ninth term in the House of Representatives in the 2016 Republican primary by Scott Taylor, a retired Navy SEAL who served in Iraq and who founded the Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund, Inc., faces competition from Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine Corps officer, according to his House web page.
Hunter, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, succeeded his father, Duncan L. Hunter, a Vietnam veteran who served 14 terms in the House of Representatives.
Oklahoma Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine is considered a likely possibility to serve as Secretary of the Air Force.
According to his campaign website, Bridenstine is a former naval aviator who flew the F/A-18 Hornet and E-2 Hawkeye in his naval service, then transitioned to the Oklahoma Air National Guard, where he flies the MC-12, an aircraft that specializes in the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.
Bridenstine was first elected to the House in 2012.
American-style taco – shell + sushi rice = a dish to heal the wounds of WWII. (Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)
Kon’nichiwa, TACO RICE.
Meals Ready To Eat explored the advent of one of Japan’s most popular street foods when host August Dannehl traveled to Okinawa in search of taco rice, a true food fusion OG.
If you were to suggest that spiced taco meat dressed in shredded lettuce, cheese, and tomato, would seem a bastard topping to foist upon sushi rice, Japan’s most sacred and traditional foodstuff, well, in Okinawa at least, you’d find yourself on the receiving end of a lesson in local history.
Taco Rice is the result of two post-WWII cultures: that of the Japanese and the American troops stationed in Okinawa, finding a way to transcend their differences through the combination of comforting foods.
An influx of American delicacies, most notably Spam, flooded the island following the cessation of hostilities and led to a heyday of culinary cross-pollination. Spam is still featured in many now-traditional Okinawan dishes, but taco rice is, for modern Okinawans and American military personnel, the belle of the mash-up Ball.
Kinesiotherapy (KT) is a rehab profession that provides therapeutic exercise and holistic interventions to improve well-being and functional abilities. It has been used to help Veterans on an ongoing basis since WWII. Today, VA is the single largest employer of kinesiotherapists (KTs), treating more than 100,000 Veterans in Fiscal Year 2019.
During recent challenges, KTs quickly shifted necessary outpatient evaluations and treatments to virtual care. This ensured Veterans’ safety while also providing specialized rehabilitation for inpatient Veterans requiring extended physical reconditioning.
KTs across the VA health care system today are educated and specialty trained at the undergraduate and graduate level. They support the complex needs of the Veteran population by focusing on skilled rehabilitation, improved function and quality of life.
Their unique holistic approach involves the Veteran as well as their family and caregivers. They emphasize the psychological, as well as physical, benefits of therapeutic exercise within acute, post-acute, outpatient and home-based rehabilitation services. They also provide health and wellness coaching, disease prevention and comprehensive whole health practices.
In use since World War II
KT first was used during WWII when KTs implemented whole health therapy to accelerate the return of soldiers to active duty within physical reconditioning units established by the U.S. Armed Forces.
Pictured above, Abraham Hancock, registered KT and certified driver rehabilitation specialist at the Tampa VA, oversees the KT driver rehabilitation clinic’s simulator. It provides the Veteran and the clinician feedback before progressing to on-the-road instruction with adaptive driving equipment. (2019 photo)
Determination for appropriateness for driver rehabilitation evaluations utilizing VA Video Connect (VVC) technology is always made on case-by-case basis. When the Veteran is well known to the therapist from previous on-road assessments and the Veteran’s Primary Care Physician has documented medical clearance with no cognitive, visual or physical changes that would require a face to face evaluation, the Veteran is a good candidate for VVC.
Observing drivers with Video Connect
Using VVC, Keanan can observe Veterans transfer safely into their vehicles. He sees them stow their wheelchairs and demonstrate basic operational controls (such as making turns and using gas/brake) in a parked position.
The Veteran does not have to come in-person to the VA hospital for the KT Driver Rehabilitation Clinic outpatient appointment to make recommendations for the same adaptive equipment to be placed in a new vehicle. This also applies to the final fittings and inspections once the adaptive equipment was installed.
VA celebrates the profession of Kinesiotherapy and the KTs who are dedicated to the health and wellbeing of our service members and Veterans.
For more information on VA KT, please visit www.rehab.va.gov/KT/ and inquire about KT services within your local VA facility Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Service.
The following is an Op/Ed written by Ken Falke. The opinions expressed are his own.
There’s an important day of commemoration on March 29th — or in some U.S. States, March 30th — that goes unnoticed until the nightly evening news or a stumble on social media. This very special day is Vietnam Veterans Day, or in some states, “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.”
In 1974, President Nixon established this commemoration to recognize the contributions of the men and women who served during this unpopular war and tumultuous time in our history.
Vietnam War memorial. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons | InSapphoWeTrust)
While many will rightly mark the day with speeches, tributes, and celebrations fitting for this great generation, there is a more meaningful way to honor our Vietnam veterans and all veterans. That honor is to provide them new and innovative ways to improve their mental wellness and reintegration into their communities.
Approximately 2.7 million young men and women served in Vietnam — about the same number that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since September 2001. While all serving since 9/11 volunteered, few realize that almost two-thirds of Vietnam veterans volunteered to serve as well.
Even though Vietnam was an unpopular war, 91 percent of Vietnam Veterans said they were glad they served in the war, and one-quarter said they would do it again. What these numbers show is the incredible commitment to service that our Vietnam-era veterans share with the post-9/11 veteran generation.
But there are disturbing similarities as well. The current veteran suicide rate of 20+ per day is well publicized; though that the average age of the veteran is 55 years old is less known. PTSD rates from both generations hover around 30 percent.
Additionally, Vietnam veterans struggled — and many still do — with the same challenges that today’s veterans face: PTSD, anxiety, drug, and alcohol dependency, and family and work stability. By a percentage comparison, of the 591 Vietnam prisoners of war (POWs) only 4 percent had symptoms of PTSD.
So why did POWs who experience what would be considered the most traumatic experiences seem to fare so well?
Many suggest the leadership of Admiral James Stockdale while a POW in the “Hanoi Hilton.” His leadership provided purpose, mission, and direction as a team to “return with honor.”
Often, the sense of purpose provided by leadership during transitions facilitates growth to occur. While the DOD, the VA, and other organizations work hard to care for our veterans, the element of leadership seems to be lost after service and veterans fall into a “no-man’s land” that lacks wellness, a clear mission, and renewed purpose.
Why have we made so little progress in mental wellness for our returning warriors?
Many experts, including the Journal of American Medical Association, suggest that our reactive approach to combat related stress such as PTSD doesn’t work. Indicators show that our current approach has made little progress since the Vietnam War, and some suggest since World War I.
We are repeating minimally effective practices where veterans are offered medication, which largely attacks symptoms and leaves them as diminished versions of themselves, or talk-therapy provided by well-intended but often ill-equipped therapists, and cased in stigma.
Though the VA has announced plans to hire 1,000 additional mental health professionals, more therapists will not fix the inadequacies of the current approaches.
How can we do better?
First, expand public-private partnerships. The private sector and nonprofit organizations have developed new approaches to veteran wellness and reintegration that could be expanded. These approaches leverage training (which is compatible with military personnel and veteran culture) and new technology that could “triage” veterans and provide skills to facilitate Post-traumatic Growth before the need for medication or therapy.
Second, we need to recognize and address the stigma associated with therapy. While veterans — and civilians — can gain some benefit from talk-therapy and medication, one can only grow by learning the skills associated with growth. This requires a holistic training approach that veterans understand and allows them to thrive, not just survive.
Finally, innovation costs money. The President’s proposed budget has a 6 percent increase to the VA’s budget; much of it to focus on health care. While this is positive, we need to use new funds to create innovative solutions, not further outdated practices. While the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan continue and future threats remain, veteran mental health issues will likely worsen.
This March 29th and 30th we will stop to honor and welcome home our Vietnam veterans. While speeches, ceremonies, and commemorations will recognize their sacrifice, to truly honor their service — and the service of those that follow — we should facilitate growth and purposeful lives they truly deserve and welcomes them home.
When it’s time for troops to hang up their uniform for the last time and go pick up that beautiful DD-214, they’re subjected to countless classes on how to adapt in the civilian world and use the strengths they’ve picked up in the military to give themselves a leg up in a competitive civilian marketplace.
Troops who had more POGy jobs in the military may have an easier time making the transition. If you worked in the commo shop, there’s countless IT desks out there you can apply for. Flight-line mechanics can make bank working for airlines. But even combat arms guys aren’t limited to positions as security guards or fast-food workers, no matter how many times the retention NCO tells you so.
The fact is, any good soldier, Marine, sailor, or airman who fit perfectly in the formation comes away from service with valuable skills that employers look for in potential employees. Here are a few qualities that veterans have had drilled into them every day since basic training that help them stand out over most civilian competitors.
We’ve mastered the art of “hurry up and wait,” so showing up early and killing idle time is no problem.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Brian Ferguson)
The 15-minutes-prior schedule
If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re fourteen minutes early, you’re still late. Civilians tend to pull some excuse that explains why it’s definitely not their fault that they’re arriving at 10:05 for a 10 a.m. meeting.
That fifteen-minute buffer works wonders with the way most civilians schedule things. The higher up in an organization you go, the more promptly meetings tend to start. If you’ve been ready for 15 minutes already, nobody will end up waiting on you. You’re set.
You’ll never find a more open and, uh, “creative” conversation than those held at a deployed smoke pit.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
We’ve seen it happen a million times: Someone throws out an awful suggestion and it’s met with agreeable silence. Everyone is too afraid to speak up because their reputation is on the line for speaking out of turn. Then, out of the corner, a veteran speaks up and says, “well that’s dumb. Why the f*ck would we do that?”
If there’s one thing that sets a veteran apart in a board room it’s their ability to avoid being a yes man. It may ruffle the feathers of people who expect everyone to nod along, but at the very least, it moves the meter.
If you thought vets couldn’t also handle useless and drawn-out PowerPoint presentations, think again!
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Alfonso Corral)
No aversion to manual labor
Veterans can safely celebrate the fact that when they get a new job, if something comes up that’s not in the job description, it’s not expected of them. That’s right: if you’re now an office drone working some cubicle job, no one will randomly get on your ass for not cleaning the break room.
Sometimes, however, things just need to get done. Using that same example, an entire day could go by in a civilian office and people will simply walk by that messy break room thinking, “it’s not my responsibility.” Most vets, on the other hand, would instinctively clean it up without giving it a second thought.
The same goes the other way around. Knowing who does the leg work in an organization makes a leader’s work a million times easier.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Chlosta)
Acknowledgement of hierarchy
Things are nice and easy when everyone wears their rank on their uniform. You can instantly look at their insignia and recognize where they stand in the chain of command — no questions asked. That simple insignia tells the world what is expected of you, in accordance with your rank.
The civilian workplace doesn’t really have those kinds of markings — but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a pecking order. Vets just need to know who’s in charge of them and who’s in charge of the people in charge and they’re set.
Sometimes, leading from the front means letting a subordinate take the spotlight. That’s surprisingly rare in the civilian world.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Andrew Parks)
Willingness to take a leadership position
Everyone wants the bigger job, bigger desk, bigger pay check, but too few people are willing to exit their comfort zone to get it. They’ll whine about that one guy getting an extra zero in his paycheck but slink at any opportunity to prove their worth.
Vets, on the other hand, will usually take it upon themselves to organize their coworkers if they see a lack of leadership and make themselves the face of their team without even realizing it. Willingly taking on that leadership role proves to the company that the vet is serious and values the company. This almost always gives that vet more firepower when it comes time to shoot for a raise.
The ever-looming glare of a drill sergeant never leaves the back of your mind. Ever.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Ken Scar)
Separation of work life and personal life
Keeping what’s going on in your personal life from affecting your work life is a difficult skill to master. It’s a beyond-useful talent to be able to set aside any personal problems when it’s time to get serious and work. The other part of this equation is not letting personal drama bleed into getting the mission done.
Troops and vets have been constantly cattle prodded into moving forward and to quit whining about unrelated stuff. This is second nature.
There’s no gray area in “until mission complete.” Either it’s impossible or it’ll be done by lunch time.
(U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. David W. Cline)
The mission-first mentality
If there’s a single quality that civilian employers can expect from nearly every veteran, it’s that veterans will always be task-oriented. They’ll see a checklist as a thing to complete rather than a thing to dread.
From the moment troops enlist, they’re taught to juggle roughly seven thousand different tasks inherent to military life, in addition to those associated with their given MOS. There’s a job to be done, so let’s get to it.
As Vietnam War Veterans Day nears March 29, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund’s Wall of Faces is nearly complete but needs help from the public to track down the last few dozen photos.
Of the 58,279 names inscribed on The Wall, there’s less than 80 photos needed to complete the Wall of Faces.
The virtual Wall of Faces features a page that honors and remembers every person on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Each page has a photo to go with each of the more than 58,000 names on The Wall. The Wall of Faces allows family and friends to share memories, post pictures and connect with each other.
Additionally, over 1,400 of the photos are poor quality. Anyone with better photos can upload them. A list of those are at located here.
The remaining names, listed in alphabetical order, are below. The list has name with a link to the Veteran’s page, service, date and location of birth, and date and location of death.