V.A. Vs. Vets: No Help Here!
Eight hundred arms lost in battle; 170 hands lost in battle; 1,081 multiple amputations; 500,000 veterans with less-than-honorable discharges; 60,000 to 200,000 heroin addicts (depending on your source); 46,092 dead by "hostile" fire; 10,317 dead by "non-hostile" causes; 153,311 wounded in action; 150,341 wounded outside of action; 4,500 legs lost in battle; 23,214 vets 100% disabled; 331,611 total of disabled vets; and 13,167 classified as 100% disabled for mental reasons by the Veterans Administration. Over 3 million men and women served directly in Vietnam and another 3 million served in the military during what is called the Vietnam era.
With the flood of statistics about the injured and dead comes the even greater horror of the way these men and women are treated by society and the government that made them numbers. The third largest agency in the federal government, the Veterans Administration, is charged with the responsibility of caring for and administering the benefits of all veterans of US military service. The VA's budget ($12.2 billion in 1972) comes only behind the Defense Department and HEW.
The power of the VA is vast and is virtually "locked" up in a tight network formed by the traditional veterans organizations, the Veteran's Administration and the House Veteran's Affairs Committee. The Director of the VA is Donald Johnson, a product of this power clic. Johnson was a national commander of the American Legion. Herbert Rainwater, now director of the Veteran's Employment Service in the Dept. of Labor, was national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Richard Roudebush, a special counselor to Johnson had also been national commander of the VFW. From the VFW, he was elected to the House where he joined the Committee on Veterans Affairs.
So goes the merry-go-round of the veterans' bureaucracy. But where do the 6,000,000 Vietnam-era veterans fit in? Because of the unpopular nature of the war, many middle class young men were able to get educational deferments and avoid the draft. This left poor and working class young men (a big percentage being third world), who could not afford legal help or knowledge in avoiding the service, as the "cannon fodder" for the war.
Those that survived came back to a glutted job market, with no more "salable" skills than they went to Vietnam with. And the VA, which was originally set up to help those veterans most in need, just has not been effective in dealing with some of the most pressing needs of returned vets - like drugs, medical care, Post-Vietnam Struggle, education and jobs. The Discarded Army, a Nader publication, analyzed the reasons for this: "Because of the pressure of well-organized veterans' lobby, programs applying to non-service connected needs for men at ages far from military service take up half the VA budget. As a result, the larger part of the benefits to veterans who have never seen combat, at ages when their re-adjustments needs have passed, and for problems unrelated to military service. This is the achievement of a powerful lobby, a compliant Congress and a supine executive agency."
Though the VA hospitals represent the largest hospital system in the country, 170 hospitals with 100,000 beds, the figures are not as impressive as they sound. There is a ration of 140 employees to 100 patients in VA hospitals nationally. In 1970, by comparison, community hospitals had 292 employees for 100 patients and university hospitals between 350-400 for every 100 patients. And of those 140 employees in the VA hospitals, only 90 are involved in direct patient care, the other 50 are in administrative work.
This red tape machine plays havoc with those men who are able to take up the GI Bill to get an education. A recent computer foul-up prevented 40% of the vets going to school on the GI Bill from receiving their allotment checks. The computer was fixed and now only 6% (160,000 vets - which the VA calls an "acceptable" error) do not receive their money each month. "We are sorry a few individuals are not getting their benefits," said a spokesman for the VA. On top of that, the GI Bill at its present level almost completely blocks getting an education at a four-year university.
Suicide is one of the leading causes of death of Vietnam veterans. Others have turned to drugs, which are readily available in VA hospitals. Recent inspections at VA hospitals have uncovered horror stories of disabled vets using heavy drugs to fight off the repressive atmosphere in the hospitals, like finding two paralyzed men trying to shoot up in the garbage elevator. Besides, the VA does not acknowledge that there are any psychological problems that stem from the war. The VA puts the blame on "bad childhoods," not on the contradictions of fighting an unjust war.
Nixon has dubbed March 29th as "Honor Vietnam Veterans Day." But is clear to the millions of returned vets that neither he, nor the Veterans Administration, wants to help those the government used to fight its war. VVAW/WSO knows that the only way American can "honor" its veterans is to get rid of Donald Johnson as Director of the VA, give amnesty to the 500,000 vets with less-than-honorable discharges and provide benefits that fit the need of the person, not the need of the VFW, American Legion or the Pentagon. Join VVAW/WSO's fight against the VA and help make it a responsive agency, not a puppet of government propaganda and powerful "veteran's" lobbies.