When I signed up for the volunteer draft to join the U.S. Army, I was 22 years old, which made me the oldest person in basic training and in infantry training. When needed, I went and served my country because of the values my family instilled in me and because of my own patriotism. I wasn’t a draft dodger. I didn’t run off to Canada, nor did I join the National Guard. My family was poor, so going to college to evade the draft wasn’t an option. My neighbor wasn’t a politician with enough clout to get me out of my commitment to my country. I wouldn’t have allowed anything to prevent me from following through with the commitment I made. I took an oath to serve my country, and I did all that was asked of me, and more. When I returned home, I expected to be treated with respect or at least basic, common decency. Soldiers returning home were spit on and called baby killers, rejected by the very people they were defending with their lives. Many couldn’t find jobs or return to their previous lives. I was fortunate – this never happened to me. I didn’t have trouble getting a job. I had a skill I was good at, and I was a hard worker.
Then along came Jimmy Carter. He gave amnesty to all the draft dodgers. How do you think that made me feel? How did my brothers feel who fought in Vietnam? How did it make the soldiers who survived feel? How about the families of the soldiers who didn’t come home, who gave everything? How about Mrs. Sexton, who lost her sons and my best friends over there? How do you think they feel? As if their sacrifice was for nothing, all in vain? Jimmy Carter is the worst president this country has had, and the absolute worst president for the U.S. veteran. President Ronald Reagan did help the veterans by giving them preference points to be hired first for many jobs, and that opportunity was a good thing.
I never told anyone I served in Vietnam unless I was asked. I don’t know if I was that ashamed or it if was because of how I would be treated if people knew I was a Vietnam vet. Is doing what your country asks you to do to the best of your ability a reason to feel shame and rejection?
When I went to Vietnam, I was never scared of anything. Never scared of being in a war, or of what would happen to me, of dying. Now I’m more afraid of the VA killing me than I ever was of the enemy in Vietnam. You fight for this country and then your country won’t fight for you. It won’t take care of its veterans. It’s a shame. It should be a crime. It leaves veterans with no hope. No wonder more veterans have committed suicide than the enemy has killed in battle. When the VA leaves a veteran with no help, there isn’t any more hope.
But I am still proud that I served my country during the Vietnam War. Due to issues resulting from that service, I have been dealing with the VA for a very long time. I have been to VA facilities in Augusta, Georgia, Gainesville and Jacksonville, Florida, and Birmingham, Tuskegee, Montgomery and Fort Rucker in Alabama, to be treated for my service-related health issues.
I am frustrated. Somebody with the ability to improve the VA needs to investigate these offices. Every time I go to an appointment, I see employees coming in late, eating breakfast on the clock, socializing, using their cell phones, and ignoring or belittling the very veterans they are being paid to assist. Most just seem to be riding the clock and drawing a check. These types of employees who suck the system dry need to go. They are of no benefit to the VA system or the veteran.
Somebody at the VA clinics needs to hold employees accountable and make them do their jobs or fire them. Employ people who care about the veterans and encourage them to do what’s in the best interest of the veterans’ health. A veteran’s health should be worth more than year-end bonuses, promotions, and the almighty dollar. The ones who do care stay a very limited time due to the conditions they see and the lack of decent, accurate, quality treatment given to the veterans. Somebody needs to make a difference. No veteran, after making it home from their years of service, should be left to die in their own country. We should be taken care of by our country that we served and defended. I can’t be the only veteran who has this much trouble getting quality, timely health care. Please help! Show us our service wasn’t in vain.
Lonnie R. Battle is a U.S. Army combat veteran. He lives in Clopton, Alabama.