Dear Mr. President,
We veterans are dying, eighteen a day after the war by our own hand. We come home but we never left the holes we fought so hard to defend, and the holes in our head are our dead and dying comrades beckoning us to join them because coming home has become a worse fate than the wars we fought. We signed up to serve our country and put our lives on delay for the mission with little to show for it upon our return. We could go to school with the GI Bill as long as we are sane and able to focus on schoolwork, but I can hardly focus on this letter I am writing and basic tasks become pointless.
Last year my unit dropped me off for a thirty-six hour mental health evaluation at the Portland VA. I was provided with pink pajamas and was evaluated in a setting that would make any suicidal human want to drown in their own vomit. Homeless veterans of different eras were mumbling to themselves, some wandering in endless circles. I was as a veteran humiliated by my own vulnerability and weakness and felt interrogated by civilians who could not possibly relate to my situation by having never served. A normal person would have assumed they were in prison, the food was terrible and we were not allowed outside for a walk or a smoke, which having picked up the habit in the service became too much for me to bear. I had the feeling that the civilians running the show knew that Vets smoke, and that Vets will check themselves out if smoking is prohibited. I was verbally disappointed in the program offered and upon my early release was told by a staff member, “If you don’t like it, talk to your congressman.” I was not within capable faculties to start a conversation with a congressman. I just wanted to be left alone.
I later spent three weeks at the Seattle VA for PTSD treatment and when I returned home nothing had changed. I don’t think there is a cure for wanting to put a bullet in your head after your life has been turned upside down by elements so far out of one’s control. What we need is an ease from the pressure. When we leave the service we need access and priority to jobs, good jobs that pay enough money to raise a family. We have spent an equivalent amount of time that one would for a college degree, tested in much more extreme forms and at the end of our career we have nothing to show for it.
My answer for this problem is that the VA mental health system needs to be reformed and can be by the very people it is supposed to support. I DO NOT TRUST CIVILIANS to handle my mental health counseling, they are too easily influenced without understanding the consequences of their incompetence. A program should be implemented to send interested veterans into the counseling field without having to spend four more years in training. This would open a gate that would provide jobs for Veterans that can help the Veterans of their conflict until the last of us leaves the earth. The only civilians in the VA should be doctors required for surgery and dispensing medication, all civilians should be overseen by veterans who would be working at appropriate GS levels.
The Vietnam Veterans need to be separated from the Iraq and Afghan Veterans as I found that our group sessions are prone to re-traumatize Vietnam Vets and that we have different issues as we come from different worlds. There should also be a program that can be ran by Veterans after discharge from active service in order to keep accountability of those they served with from their own unit to make sure that their comrades are not slipping through the cracks. We trust the people we served with. Claims should take one month, no longer. The mountain of paperwork and years it takes to file a claim is obviously put there as a roadblock to discourage veterans from following through. If our country cannot afford to pay for our services after our service they should have never sent us to war and the idea that eighteen veterans commit suicide every day is ample evidence that we have been failed. Our blood and our pain is in your hands, we gave so much for so little in return.