Hello everyone, my name is Laurie, and I am the daughter of a Vietnam Veteran.
After serving two tours in Vietnam, my Dad was sent home in 1971…. my Dad didn’t die there, but he never came home. I was born in 1973, and my parents divorced two years later. I was not raised around him, he never came to holidays, he never told me Happy Birthday, or I love you…. he was just absent. I am 43 years old….and for the first time, because of this last year, I now know, why I never had my Dad why my Grandma was heartbroken and lost her first born, and only son to Vietnam, why my Mother left, and took me with her. He lost us, and we lost him. He did not ever again, have one day of quality of life again after Vietnam. Vietnam has torn apart 4 generations of my family now. I had spent my entire life until now, thinking my Dad had chosen Heroin, over his only child. He was diagnosed in the 70’s with Paranoid Schizophrenia, drug-induced. That’s all I knew my whole life.
In March 2015…I made a decision. A decision to try and know my Dad….before it was too late. I had always wanted to know him, but sadly it was not in the cards for he and I. Just 3 weeks later I got a phone call from a family member telling me he had been taken by ambulance to the ER, for a Heart Attack. By the time I was notified, he had checked out AMA, and walked 4 miles home. He hadn’t been outside walking around his HOMETOWN, in about 40 years and we live in a small town, he almost got lost, let alone it could’ve killed him…. that walk. I immediately went to his home, where he greeted me with a smile and said he was just diagnosed with stage 4 Lung Cancer and given 4-6 months to live. My aunt, who did his monthly grocery shopping, paid his bills etc., for him…. left us that day. Alone, strangers together, who now had only each other, and we were both scared to death. She was his safe place. I needed her for information. She left us. When he went to the hospital that day he had written a note for the staff. It stated that he had had 7 prior heart attacks, seizures, mini-strokes, loss of the use of his left arm for a time, upper raspatory infection, on and on, and he was asking for help with all these things. This was all suffered while he was at home, alone. He told nobody until he finally got scared enough to dial 911.
He was back in the hospital two days later for another Heart Attack.
Spent the night and wanted to go home. I tried to get him to come home with me, but he refused, saying he didn’t feel well, so I let him stay in his home where he was comfortable and had lived for 25 years. I checked on him DAILY. I spent every moment I could with him, just trying to know him, keep him comfortable, and make some memories. I heard stories of he and my Mom I’d never heard… I will forever be thankful for those stories. My Mom passed three years ago, and she never spoke of him my whole life.
Exactly 17 days later, I went to check on him, I knocked, but he didn’t answer. He never leaves his house. At that moment, I knew my worst fear was coming true right then. I had his neighbor let me in his apt. building, and he went inside my Dads home and called his name twice. It was very dark and there was no response, so I had him come out, and I called 911. I was so afraid he was dead inside. By this time, I’m crying, scared….and the 911 operator asked his name, so I told her. Turns out…by the Grace of God, that SHE was the very same dispatcher who took a call about 4 hours earlier, to send an ambulance, because he was having ANOTHER Heart Attack. This time they took him to a hospital 45 minutes away. I knew that wasn’t good. I called immediately, they transferred me to the CCU. Again, not good. The attending Dr. got on the phone and said he was sorry, but my Dad had passed within the hour. My aunt knew…for hours where he was, never called me until it was too late. I didn’t get to say goodbye…. he died on a table, alone at the hospital. I only got 17 days with my Dad. Now, he’s gone. Words cannot express the guilt I feel, knowing what I know now…. that I just DIDNT KNOW.
Since I now had no family… I was left to try and come up with the money for his cremation, which was his wish….and to be brought home and placed next to my Mom. I am a single parent of a child with Autism, and I had no money for his cremation, and no one to ask for help. So, he laid there, in that funeral home, for the next 17 days while I tried to make miracles happen. They never did. The funeral home finally offered up a casket to bury him in a National Cemetery, not what he wanted, but at that point, I had no choice. I took the casket offered by the funeral home because I couldn’t bear the thought that he had still not been laid to rest. What a disgrace…
I called the cemetery to see when he would be laid to rest there, I was told the next morning. I asked if I should be there, please know I have NEVER had to bury anyone ever before now. She told me NO, that most people wait for the Headstone to be placed and then come. I now know, that YES, I should’ve been there, and I had every right to be there, but I listened to them and didn’t go. No one was there to see him laid to rest.
I then over the next few days started arranging Honors for him. If he had to be buried there, I was going to give him the Honor he deserved. 4 times I spoke with the cemetery about arrangements, they assured me they’d make the calls.
On the day of… I showed up with my son, who never got to meet him…and excited to see his Grandpa Honored for his service and sacrifice to our country, to NO ONE. The cemetery never scheduled the Honors. This surely was just a bad dream, right?!? God does not give us more than we can handle, right?! Horrified, I realized this was not a bad dream. Not only was he one of the forgotten Vietnam Veterans, he was forgotten beyond his death.
I have spent every day since he died, piecing his life together, through records, because that’s all I’ve got left now, that and about 40 letters he had written from Vietnam, home to his Mom, and 9 books full of his art he’s drawn over the last 30 or so years.
I have had to navigate the VA, entirely on my own, I cannot find help. I’ve spend hundreds and hundreds of hours researching US codes and 38 CFR. I have been misguided, misinformed, uninformed and lied to by my CVSO, and another Veterans Service Organization, to the point where I had to record my conversations, and get my Senator involved, who then got The State Director of Veteran’s Affairs involved. I knew nothing about the Military, The VBA, VHA, or Agent Orange, until 17 days before he passed, and I had to start making phone calls to get him some help, or hospice etc.
My Dad was service connected at 10% for Tinnitus, and 70% NON-service connected for Schizophrenia. He was denied twice for service connection, rated Permanent and Total, and stuck on a meager disability pension. He spent the next 45 years, untreated, and living in solitude, dumpster diving for food at the end of his life.
I received his C file in January. Upon return from Vietnam, he spent 3 months in the neuropsychiatry ward at Walter Reed, then discharged early. Over the next few years, there were SEVERAL stays at a VA hospital, where he was diagnosed with three more mental illnesses, with the last being Schizophrenia in 1976. They denied him service connection for drug addiction and the Schizophrenia. My Dad was a high school student who played basketball, had a great family, and lots of friends before he VOLUNTEERED to join the Army in 1968. He went to Germany for 9 months and then VOLUNTEERED to go to Vietnam. 4th Infantry Division. He then, extended to 1st Cav. and did a second tour. He was deemed mentally sound upon entry to the military. He did not come out that way, nor did he ever have a normal life again. I have all his aptitude scores upon entry and exit. How on this earth was his Schizophrenia claim ever denied? I have so many documents supporting the claim.
I’m not even sure he was Schizophrenic now, because PTSD, was not a diagnosis until 1980. The symptoms overlap each other. I have no history of this ever in my family.
I am also dealing with a whole other side to this story. The living conditions I found him living in, that property managers knew about. Been fighting them since the day he died too. Apparently, no one in Oregon, not one agency or official, enforces the Habitability Law we have here. So, why do we even have it? There is not one official or agency, that I have not contacted about this. Over 30 to be exact.
I wrote Robert McDonald seven months after I filed a claim for a non-service connected burial benefit of $300. I explained to him, that to have to wait an entire year for $300, is unacceptable. The Under Secretaries office called me the next day and informed me that my Dads death had been service connected, due to Agent Orange exposure. My Dad never knew it was dangerous. I had the full service-connected death benefit and chapter 35 award in my hands, 4 days later. Crazy, right?! But true.
I am the squeaky wheel that isn’t going away.
I tell this story today because there are two things I want the VA to change.
1) Do not send a mentally ill Veteran a check every single month for 45 years, without requesting him/her to be seen for the continuance of benefits. If this hadn’t happened to my Dad, his Cancer may have been caught earlier, and maybe he’d still be here. He had INNUMERABLE tumors, head to toe when it was caught. The Dr. told me……he had to stop counting
2) DO NOT EVER LET A VETERAN… NOT BE LAID TO REST……for two weeks…. because of a family hardship. They should STEP IN and TAKE CARE of their soldier/Veteran.
I cannot explain how much my HEART HURTS, over having to endure all of this over the last year. You all have been my greatest supporters. Not my own family, but Veterans. The Brothers he never knew he had. I have been embraced by you all, and I feel him smiling down.
Also, he did get his HONORS, exactly one year after he passed, and it was beautiful. So many Veteran Brothers and Sisters showed up for my Dad, their Brother…one of the most moving days of my life. He was given a 3 Gun Volley, they folded and presented the Flag, Taps was played, by a real person, Veterans held a beautiful Flag line…and they knew, and could see, I had no one sitting behind me. Not one family member came, and my Dad had a best friend since he was 14, he also has never spoken to me since my Dad passed. To this day, I do not know why. I don’t think it’s what my Dad would’ve wanted, for this man who holds so many things for me about my Dad to not meet me, at the least. My point being, with no one sitting behind me, one of the Veterans from the flag line asked if a few of them could come and sit with me….and they DID. These wonderful Brothers and Sisters, filled EVERY pew behind me. THAT, made me cry… I was Honored by their generosity, I am so thankful for ALL who volunteered their time for my Dad, myself and my Son that day.
These people truly made it unforgettable. I thank you from the bottom of my heart forever. ♡
He is also one of 2016’s Honorees of the VVMF’s In Memory Program. He was Honored in front of 2,000 people at The Wall.
I was too late, I live with it every day, I do my best now to Honor him and all of you.
And….because of this story, I am now going to become a Veteran’s Service Officer. Because I care, and there are too many stories like his. God Bless…and thanks for listening.
John S. Nix
US Army 1968-71
HHC 4th S&T Bn
4th Infantry Division
15th S&S Bn
1st Cavalry Division
~I LOVE YOU DAD. REST IN PEACE, FLY HIGH FREE BIRD~