Vietnam Lessons

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vietnamBY JERRY DONNELLAN

Director, Veterans Service Agency of Rockland County

I arrived in Vietnam at the ripe old age of 22.  I say that because the average age in my platoon was 19. Think about the 19-year olds you know. It’s like last year’s high school football team. Now armed to the teeth with weapons they have been taught to use very well. The sole purpose of that being was to kill the enemy, which is easier to say than to kill other teenagers.

The Army does it’s best to beat any individuality out of them in those days.  Drill Sgts. were not prohibited from saying or doing almost anything.  If my Drill Sgt. Had to adhere to today’s political correctness, he’d be a mime. We’ve been trained not to think but to act reflexively, because if you are caught in an ambush, there’s no time for focus groups. In the average ambush in the Central Highlands, the right thing to do is to run at the enemy screaming like a banshee even though every brain cell is screaming no.  Actually, it’s the safest thing to do because if you don’t get killed, you’ll be behind the bad guys and have the advantage.

So after a year of this being now a 20-year old, is dropped back on Main Street in Pearl River with Uncle Sam’s thanks and that’s about all.  He arrives back in a country that is mad at him for doing what they asked him to do.  His hometown friends seem childish and their main interest is the new Nanuet Mall – a place where he couldn’t stand to go because of the crowds.  The question that comes up regularly is, “Did you kill anyone?”

That you would brush off so as not to add to the ‘baby killer’ image we already had. It doesn’t take long until most of these friends fall away. His true friends are still in the Central Highlands and so is his soul.  He actually felt badly about leaving them a man short.  But there was a tonic for this called Jack Daniels.  That worked for a while but soon regardless of how much you drank you couldn’t get high – you just got numb.  But numb was preferable and seemed to help block the rage.

So we took these teenagers, turned them into weapons, loaded that weapon, and set it off to war.  Now the weapon has come home and nobody has taken the time to unload it.  Today it’s worse.  At least after ‘Nam there were jobs.  We had numbers – the WWII and Korean vets had our back.  But now the Draft has been gone for more than 40 years and the numbers aren’t there.

There was a time when we went to war as a country. Now we just send our troops and make no accommodation when they return.  Then we are surprised when things like Dallas and Baton Rouge happen. Thank God there haven’t been more.

What we need is a reverse basic training. Perhaps a month of counseling, job skills, resume writing, etc. before they’re allowed to get their discharge.  Perhaps they should be prepared for society in the same way we prepare them for war.  We can’t leave it up to the VA.  Veterans don’t have to join the VA and many don’t want to based on their experience, what they’ve heard from other vets, and extremely poor media.  Not to say that’s by design, but it does help to keep the patient load down.

In the past 10 years the number of veterans has dropped markedly. At the same time the VA budget has more than doubled.  Understand what I’m saying.  If I were to triple your salary and gave you an extra day off each week, do you think you could handle that?  Well apparently they can’t.

Now at a time when the suicide rate is setting records and there doesn’t seem to be anything our government can do and PTSD claims are through the roof, the VA in its ultimate wisdom is laying off psychiatrists. I don’t know about the rest of the country, but by September 2 of the three psychiatrists now at the New City VA Clinic will be gone.  Mr. Long said of the VA, “They didn’t want to help me.”

Mr. Long was the shooter in Baton Rouge who killed three police officers and wounded three others.

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