Better Late than Never: A Vietnam Veteran’s VA Story

Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day

Editors note: This post is updated from Doug Young’s Aug. 15, 2014, guest post blog of the same title.

I dreaded the paperwork, but she made it easy for me. I was late coming into VA’s health care system in 2002, but now I’m very glad I did. I’d heard the horror stories from other Vets and wondered if VA was just another government bureaucracy, but when the clerk (herself a Veteran) sat down with me, it was painless. I was amazed to find out that as the holder of a Purple Heart, all of my medical needs would be covered.

She also got tired of hearing me say “Excuse me” and “Huh?” too many times during the interview. The first thing she did after the paperwork was complete was arrange to have my hearing checked. I remember being processed out of the Army in 1970 in Oakland and being given a hearing exam. As I stepped out of the booth, the technician said “You were a grunt, weren’t you?”

“Yeah, I was,” I said, “but how did you know?” And he replied that all of us grunts had high frequency hearing loss. For years, I struggled with hearing ordinary conversations, especially in crowded places and with people with high voices. It was impossible for me to hold a conversation inside a car – too much road noise. Today, I am fine. VA fitted me with state-of-the-art hearing aids, and even provides batteries.

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One of the things I’m glad to see change from my days after coming home from Vietnamis the way VA handles mental health issues. During a recent visit to my doctor, I was talking to a VA nurse and said something about being in a bad mood and that I got angry easily. Within 30 minutes, I was in a conversation with a psychiatrist, talking about anger issues. After a few sessions, I realized I was just having a “bad hair day” and was fine, but I was struck by how well VA was reacting to Veteran suicides and violence. I didn’t even ask to see a doctor, but was given the care anyway.

There is a wonderful irony coming from the benefits I get for my hearing loss. I’m a little unusual in that I’m married to a Vietnam Vet. My wife was a nurse over there, and we met at her hospital in 1969. In 2002, we decided – with a lot of nervousness and hesitation – to return to Vietnam as a part of a medical team working in the slums of Danang. As it turned out, we fell in love with Vietnam and its people. For them, the war is truly over and forgotten. We loved it so much that we actually quit our jobs in the US and went to live in Vietnam, where we taught English at the University of Hue.

After doing that for a year and a half, we returned home but couldn’t forget the great students we had there. They worked so hard and were so appreciative to be able to learn English from a native speaker. Cindy and I stayed in touch with some of them by email. In 2008, we brought the first one here to the US for more study. We sponsored two Vietnamese students, and three others came over as a result of those two. My VA benefits went a long way towards being able to support these two young ladies, who have become the daughters Cindy and I never had.

Is VA perfect? Hell no – it took a very long time for the audiologist who fitted me with my hearing aids to be paid and she almost dropped VA.   I got billed for a week-long hospital stay a year ago, but got it straightened out with some phone calls. I try to keep in mind that the VA is a huge organization, with all the problems any big organization has. All I can say is that for me – VA has been great.

Doug YoungDoug Young served two tours in Vietnam as an infantryman and is married to another Vietnam Veteran who served as a nurse there. Doug is retired and lives in South Texas where he helps support young Vietnamese students in their studies in the United States. He is the author of Same River, Different Water: A Veteran’s Journey from Vietnam to Việt Nam

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25 Comments to “Better Late than Never: A Vietnam Veteran’s VA Story”

  1. Ron Copley says:

    Nice story, Doug. Well written and personal. Thank you for your service, and welcome home. REC

  2. Rexford O Ames says:

    Good Morning,
    I to am a Vietnam Vet ( did two tours) survived both with issues. My wife of 26 Years has been my best friend and we have 6 Children, 10 Grandchildren and Two Great Grand Children, One little girl, who just came into this world , Saturday 22 March 2014.
    I have been a recluse, worked, bowled with a Air Force Puke( Good Friend) and stayed out of society most of the time. I am almost completely deaf in my right ear and without the Hearing Aids provided to me from the VA. I would remain as isolated as I could get. I to couldn’t hear any conversations, and because I only heard bits and pieces of a conversation. I frequently said things that were way off the conversation. I was viewed as a nut case( Where is he coming from looks) and was frequently laughed at. I felt like a fool and even today, I am very unsure about having any kind of conversation, in a crowed , much less a one on one! I just wait for the look? Then I confirm to myself that I must have sounded like an idiot! That does things to ones self esteem. I am however improving to the degree that I will take my Nook, go sit in a nice café atmosphere , get a cup of coffee and read and/or listen.
    I wish to thank you all for allowing me to ( hear) read your conversations. It helps me to understand my limitations as well as my strengths.

    • Charlie says:

      Rex,

      You are never too late to reapply to the VA for your hearing condition. You need to get re-evaluated and should you not receive any support from your regional Va office, right to your Congressman or Senator.

      You may not be able to hear clearly now, but a squeaking wheel gets the oil. Make YOURSELF be heard and come out of the silence.

  3. billyreds says:

    It’s nice to hear (no pun intended) that you’ve had a good experience with the V.A. but that’s not the case all over the country. I went back to the V.A. after loosing all of my medical assistance when my wife retired but remembered that I have medicare because I was a wounded Veteran. To make a long story short. I had an injured shoulder whereas the V.A. sent me to a doctor who wasn’t even an orthopedic surgeon. Then told me there was only one in Pittsburgh Pa.. As far as my hearing. I was sent for a test. It took weeks to get and the ten minute test said I am OK. I still can’t hear properly and now they are treating me for PTSD. Marines weren’t supposed to get PTSD. Right? That’s what I heard. (no pun intended) And the service for the flu or colds doesn’t exist. I was told to gargle with salt and told to but cough syrup. OH! Almost forgot. I got treated like I had the plague. Why did I go to the clinic and bring my illness to the workers? I’ll never know. Where’s Obama care.

    • Charlie says:

      Like the gentleman said previously, VA is a large organization run by people. When you have inadequate personnel, you have these problems.
      I myself have come across some of these problems, I submitted my grievances and instead of blowing up at the staff, I let myself be heard through the Ombudsman for the hospitals. Try it works, but be nice and persistent.

  4. robert egan says:

    wonderful up beat. the va has come a very long way. nice positive assessment of va these days. in past they did not even want to see vietnam vets. it is different now. thank you your story……….

  5. Joseph Lopez says:

    Doug,
    Tell me how they are able to find you Army peoples records but not are Marine records. We did not have doctors and nurses, but they Navy was supposed to take care of us when we were hurt. They had what they called Corpsman but only maybe one or two per every thousand Marines. They were not as trained as nurses or doctors.
    We usually had to wait to get back to Pearl Harbor to get any major treatment after the Navy guys.
    But we never saw any records just got stores, even now they tell us we got to produce the records they are supposed to have. We can’t see the files to see if they ever looked for the records, no memos, no notes, no nothing .Its all our fault that they never tracked them down or have any documentation that they tried.
    So what happens ,they deny you until you go back over 50years and find them.
    Yeah .
    Semper Fi

    • Charlie says:

      My advice, find a sympathetic Vietnam Veteran that works in the VA and can help you with your search for the records. Also get a hold of your Congressman or Senator, they maybe Veterans as well or believe in helping us Veterans. They can make things happen.
      They did for me.

    • Jake Neta says:

      Ya, I know, If I didn’t keep (some) of my records when I was in Nam and took pics, I would not have gotten my 30% on my knee. I didn’t know I had PTSD till a year ago.(New Me, what in the H was the old me like) I feel sorry for my “X” and my two boys, If I knew why, I would have been a better Dad. They are 38 & 40 now and starting to understand. 170 pics on my web site. Look see
      Jake

  6. Ronald Helms says:

    I don’t know why I never made it to Vietnam I joined the Army in 1968 knowing I would go to Vietnam, after graduation my orders were for Vietnam. When I reached Hawaii 6 of us were called off the plane and sent to Schofield barracks. I volunteered twice after that to go to Vietnam but was not sent, I got out of the Army in 1971 after a couple years I joined the US Marine Corps.

  7. Ed Miller says:

    Doug I agree with your words about the VA, I also waited until 2008 to get involved with the VA as all I ever heard was how they were not that good or true with our words and the things that our bodies are going through now, but they have done so much for me as I how have found out the I have PSTD which I never thought was from me, and I also had the purple heart and I am also glad that the VA has found that my legs are in bad shape from everything I put them through in Vietnam. The VA does have the right Doctors and employees that care about all veterans and I wish that all vets would also trust them because the VA is very good for us.

  8. Nick Lopez says:

    Yes VA is big allot for them to do i remember being sick and in between jobs no insurance and a wwII vet took me to VA they treated me sent me off with some medicine thanku. Now other vets tell me i should get my VA card i called once they said my name is in the system and the Marines sent me to rehab i have 28yrs. Clean and sober i was not in any wars or campains but i am definitely indebt to them they helped me. So much i have a fighting chance. 82′-86′ Semper Fi i dont have much to offer but i know i owe u guys.

    • Charlie says:

      Your comments and continue to speak to as many Vets you come across, is a way to give back.
      You would be surprised at to how many Vets do not go to VA to check in once they get out of the military. They either feel healthy or they just believe they don’t want to be part of the system because of pride or anger to the military.

      It is our health we need to be concerned about and our future healthcare.

  9. Norm W says:

    It’s great that Ed and Ronald get excellent care from the VA, but, not all Vietnam vets are treated the same. Every veteran’s service should have the same respect but through personal experience I have found that those who served in Iraq or Afghanistan get much more respect and proper treatment than some of us Vietnam veterans that served and especially have to endure the effects of Agent Orange. In general, Vietnam veterans have always been treated the same as the days we returned by being spat upon and called baby killers; like we were some kind of crazy monsters from hell. But, we are no different than any other vet that has served this country and we should all be treated the same, but, unfortunately that does NOT hold true. Hopefully some day the American people will “accept” us as equal regardless as to when or where we served.

  10. i dont agree norm.. im a viet nam vet. and they treat me just fine. i don’t see any differance in treatment between them and us.you should be greatful we have the va. ya… they are not perfect. eaither are we. give em a break soldier.

    • Norm W says:

      It is possible that the quality of care depends on location. I have an ex-navy friend in upstate NY who gets excellent care, a Marine in central Ohio that gets crappy treatment like I do here in KY. So, maybe location has something to do with it. But, as far as the respect of service that remains the same no matter where we are.

  11. Gary Baxter says:

    I agree 100% with what Norm says about us Vietnam vets that had significant exposure to agent orange. As a Marine I was exposed to AO a lot and as a consequence I have multiple types of cancer, loss of hearing and other things. I waited a long time to go to the VA but finally did, and I’m very appreciative for the treatment the VA now gives me. Too bad the “civilians” don’t treat us Vietnam vets with the same respect as those vets that served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  12. Kathy McCoy says:

    I am so incredibly happy to hear of such a nice outcome. I also am sorry for your pain. I know that the VA gets a bad rap, but I know that they do try to help people and that their load is so immense that so many vets fall through the cracks. I also know a Vietnam vet who has hearing aids because of his service. It’s just a good story.
    Thank you for your service, truly!

  13. Kathy McCoy says:

    So glad to hear such a success story. It was a long time coming, and you did a lot of service for many people. The VA gets a bad rap, but I’m very involved with trying to help veterans, and the VA does help; they want to help, and they try. It’s the overload that hurts the Veterans, but that doesn’t help those who fell through the cracks. I’m happy for this veteran.

  14. Charles Evans , jr. says:

    It does make a difference which VA you go to . I moved from Washington,D.C. And transferred to the Hampton, Va. VA and it has been nothing but downhill since . I had no problems getting my medications when I was attending D.C. VA. Medical center , But I had a rude awakening since I’ve been going to the Hampton VA. . I was even accused of coming in off the streets and demanding narcotic’s ( which was a lie ) even though I had an appointment with my primary care doctor ( changed doctors over ayear ago ) at the time . I never had a problem with getting refills before hampton. I weamed myself off the pain medication I was taking and now I just deal with the pain and not the problems it takes to get the medication . Other Vets at the Hampton VA. are still having problems getting their pain meds. . The facility has been in the news on more then one occasion for the way they treat the Vets ( Not ) Good ) !

    • John Reed says:

      Besides being a Vietnam vet (1st Recon Bn, 1st MarDiv 66-67), I am a retired Master Chief Hospital Corpsman. I now work as a county Veteran Service Officer in Oregon. My first encounter with the VA in 2000 was a result of my now “service connected” prostate cancer at the age of 53. In July 2006, I was hired by the county as a VSO. I now interact with the VA, M-F, on behalf of all veterans. The majority of “my” vets are Vietnam era. Most all are pleased, as am I, with the treatment they receive at the Portland VA Med Ctr. Some also receive treatment at the Roseburg VA Med Ctr and their ancillary clinics. Despite some physician shortages and long lead times for appointments at the outlying clinics, the VA is trying to do right by the vets. Fee Basis issues are a problem, but we are working hard to make it work. VA Health Benefits is not like health insurance, you can’t just go anywhere for anything and expect them to pay for it, although it does meet the Affordable Care Act requirement. That’s my story. Retirement is a “dirty word”.

    • Norm W says:

      Charles, have you tried bringing this to the attention of the hospital patient advocate or your social worker? I take some pretty strong opiates and haven’t had any problems in getting them, but, under the new policy I have to get pissed tested like a common criminal, but; f**k’em, as long as I get what I need for that. Where my problem is concerns the more dangerous parts of my health care; heart and lungs. I have already had 4 heart attacks from Ischemic heart disease (Agent Orange) and I have COPD from the same. And then there is a list of other items that would take a whole page to list. My biggest problem with the VA is that they don’t listen to you. You are nothing more than a number and when you tell them that your health is failing in areas that you can’t even get to the bathroom without falling and that you need some help with keeping up your home and getting fed, they just look at me like “who the hell do you think you are?” Well, someone that put my life out there on the line so I can f**ked up so you can be an asshole to me I guess. But, back to you, if you needs your meds raise so much hell that you get what you need. If necessary contact your congressman. Hell, I’ve even called the White House a few times (of course I don’t talk to the Prez) but, I get someone that puts it through channels to the Director of the VA. And then something happens. What pisses me off so much is that most of these people that work at the clinics and the hospital are vets themselves, but, their attitude is “screw you, I got mine, it’s your problem to figure out how to get what you need.” Really loyal and patriotic, huh?
      I was told that maybe I should go to the VA Regional hospital in Lexington instead of the one here in Louisville that even that mileage difference would help, but, to make sure that I would get better health care they suggested the 125 mile drive to Nashville VA. Hell, if I could make trips like that myself, I wouldn’t need them for half the crap they are supposed to be helping me with. And, yes, I heard about he Hampton and also the DC VA big problems. Half of those screwballs that work for the VA couldn’t even get a job in the private sector. If you would like some more direct suggestions, post more and I will help you in any way I can since I have gone to hell and back with the VA, maybe I know some things that could help you. I make no promises, but, I’m willing to try. Sounds like that is more than the Hampton VA is willing to do for you. Good luck, Brother.

  15. Ed hansell says:

    Late getting into VA care but the care I receive at Hunter-Holmes in Richmond Va is outstanding all top notch doctors & Nurses

  16. Michael P. says:

    I agree, with the way Vietnam Vets, are treated different, from current Vets! Nam, Marine Vet., 66-67. Basically, as prior stated, Volunteer, and was PROUD to serve. This Conflict, was all Political! Basically the VA & DAV, really does not want to Know, or care! Covered with A/O continually, hearing disabilities, & others, not mentioned. Just waiting on Nam Vets, to Pass on! Have submitted repeated claims, and of course, the usual, Rejected!

  17. i dont agree norm.. im a viet nam vet. and they treat me just fine. i don’t see any differance in treatment between them and us.you should be greatful we have the va. ya… they are not perfect. eaither are we. give em a break soldier.