Born on the 4th of July

July 3, 2010 at 11:34 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Earlier this week, I phoned one of my closest friends, Gary, a retired Air Force Lt. Colonel who was a prisoner of war during the Vietnam/Laos/Cambodia debacle. He carries numerous physical reminders of those days: scars on his fingertips from when his captors tortured him by jamming bamboo shoots under his fingernails, scars on his arms from knife cuts, and every so often he must have his sinuses reamed-out to remove polyps caused by exposure to Agent Orange (for the information of younger readers, Agent Orange was a defoliant sprayed in huge quantities over the jungles of Vietnam in an attempt to kill the plants that the enemy used for cover).

After his return home, Gary served a total of 28 years in the Air Force, serving most of his time at Dayton’s local Air Force base. He spent those years fighting for recognition as a prisoner of war so the Veterans’ Administration would give him the extra consideration he is entitled to. Standing in his way was the unfortunate fact that his flight & captivity had taken place over Laos. I won’t bother going into an in-depth recounting of President Nixon’s highly illegal expansion of the Vietnam conflict into the neighboring countries of Cambodia & Laos (if you didn’t live through those times, you can Google that information yourself). Suffice it to say that the expansion was and is widely known but always officially denied by the U.S. government. Therefore, since American troops were never in Laos, Gary could not have been a prisoner of war. See the logic?

Conveniently for the government, many Air Force files were burned in a massive fire at some office building years back. So Gary’s case was stalemated. He, his lawyers, & doctors presented evidence of his exploits: newspaper articles of his return home, mementos he had gathered during his imprisonment, his damaged body. The V.A. replied that he made-up the newspaper stories, could have got the mementos some other way, and deliberately inflicted the wounds upon himself.

Then about 5 years ago, Gary’s lawyers found U.S. Army files that supported his case. The Army had the information because Gary had been rescued from captivity by Army personnel. Gary got his P.O.W. license plate, his V.A. P.O.W. medical card that entitles him to special care, and a few other perks due to his status.

But Gary fought-on in hopes of receiving extra pension in addition to his retirement pay. The extra money would be compensation for the health problems he suffers because of Agent Orange exposure. Just last month the V.A. made a final judgment that turned him down. They say he cannot prove his multiple abnormal health problems were caused by Agent Orange. Gary got all his files back (I believe he said they amounted to 60,000 pages), boxed them up, and gave-up on it. He says that now, at age 67, his peace-of-mind is more important than to keep fighting.

Why does the U.S. government treat our veterans like this?
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The above information from my old comrade was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I’ve had enough of shabby treatment of our veterans, the BP oil catastrophe, abandonment of the unemployed, the lack of financial reform, bailouts for white collar criminals, endless imperial wars, and so much, much more. The only means I can think of to display my total disgust is by boycotting the July 4th holiday. So this year, no parades, no fireworks, no hanging red, white, & blue bunting on my front porch, none of the trappings of celebrating what used to be called “Independence Day.” I thought I was alone in this decision, but OHollern at the Bad Attitudes site plans also to forgo the celebration.

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