Unfortunately, his country did not honorably serve him back.
Dad lived a somewhat crazy life as a youth. I know only bits and pieces. He ran away to New Orleans with a friend when he was just an adolescent. He got into some trouble "rolling queers." He would be solicited by older men, and he and his friend would assault them. When I learned about this, I was shocked. I always thought of my dad as the least prejudiced person I knew. I asked him why he did it. He responded with a shrug, and said "I needed the money." He never left them injured (physically), and didn't give a damn about their sexual orientation. They made easy marks. While I'm not proud of Dad's actions (neither is he), I did take some solace in the knowledge that he was not motivated by hate or bigotry. He was eventually caught, and spent some time in Biloxi, Mississippi in a roadside work gang.
Like I said, Dad had a somewhat crazy youth.
I don't know much about Dad's experiences in the war. Later in his life, when he was attempting to apply for various services and benefits, I would have to type his handwritten letters so they could be sent the appropriate agencies. I was probably around fourteen years old. I've blocked quite a bit of the information I'm sure, but I do remember that he received several decorations. I once asked him what for and he said, "I survived when a lot of other people didn't. Someone thought that was bravery." He also had to deal with various bouts of malaria, which left him traumatized. Sometimes it wasn't battle experience that left him scarred. Dad's a native Detroiter, and was in Vietnam during the riots. He spent some time wondering if anyone in his family was injured or dead.
When he came back to the U.S., anti-war sentiment had picked up. He soon came to realize that he had been misused. He married a woman a few years his senior shortly after he came home. He couldn't vote. He couldn't buy a house. He couldn't believe he wasn't considered a man. He once mused to me, about men, "How big do they make them?" When he came home, he couldn't understand why he would have to do more to be considered an adult.
Dad had two kids with his first wife. My older sisters. His wife suffered an ectopic pregnancy that developed and burst her fallopian tube. She bled to death internally in my father's arms. Dad had quit his job shortly before, so he could get his college education on the G.I. bill. They had no medical insurance. My understanding is that the ambulance would not originally come because my father couldn't pay for it. My grandfather, who lived nearby, was notified and immediately came to their home to pay. It didn't matter. My dad was dressing his wife to take her to the hospital when she died. He blamed himself.
By now it was the mid-70s. My father's in-laws never particularly cared for him. They didn't like that he was younger than his wife. Now he was a single father. This was rather unheard of at the time. His in-laws didn't want him to raise his children. After all, how could a man raise two little girls? There was no support system for Vietnam veteran widowers. He was very much on his own, but he would not let anyone take his children.
Eventually, he met my mother. She began helping him raise his daughters, and they married. They had two children together, my brother and I.
Dad had a lot of medical problems shortly before and early in my lifetime. He was in and out of the V.A. hospital numerous times. He was so sick he couldn't work, and my family nearly lost our house. V.A. hospitals were horrendous at the time (some still are, I'm sure). My father often languished in his own filth, and my mother had to take it upon herself to change his sheets. When she could find a doctor to talk to her, she was told to say her good-byes. More often than not, she couldn't get anybody to tell her anything about her husband's condition. Once, my whirling dervish of a mother found a chair and sat all four feet, ten inches of herself in front of a nurses' station and told them, in no uncertain terms, that she was not fucking moving until a doctor saw her husband that day. Dad has survived over eight major surgeries, often in disgusting conditions. In the past, he found it difficult to talk to his kids about his PTSD and his time in Vietnam. He would read fictional novels about vets, and highlight the parts that best explained how he was feeling. He once came to me with a book that had a description of a V.A. hospital. I don't remember the book or the exact passage, but I'll always remember the point. The hospital in the novel had a fence surrounding it. The author said the fence wasn't there to keep the crazed veterans inside. It was there to keep the populace away from the horrors within.
Dealing with my father's mental illness was especially difficult as I grew up.
Living with someone who has PTSD means you know he doesn't mean it when he calls you a "cunt," but it hurts anyway.
Living with someone who has PTSD means family reminisces involve the time Dad nearly threw a man through the windshield of Dad's car- with my sister in the front seat.
Living with someone who has PTSD means you have to laugh or cry at Dad's stories that start with "I was heading back into the bar with a brick in one hand, and a bat in the other..."
Living with someone who has PTSD means that you know he can't hold down a job, but it's embarrassing when you have to borrow five dollars from a friend, so you can go on the sophomore field trip.
Living with someone who has PTSD means that you know he retreats into his own little world because he thinks that all of his friends will die, but it's hard when he's not there for you.
Living with someone who has PTSD means you have to explain to your friends why your father nearly got into a fist fight with someone in the theatre parking lot, as he was dropping you off at the movies.
Living with someone who has PTSD means you have to watch as your mother slips farther into her own mental problems.
Living with someone who has PTSD means you have to be strong when your father's joblessness causes you to lose your childhood home, and requires you to move into a new house.
Living with someone who has PTSD means you watch as your mother becomes crazier and your parents' marriage dissolves.
Living with someone who has PTSD means you come home to find your father has overdosed on medication prescribed to him by the psychiatrist at the V.A.
Living with someone who has PTSD means you become the only person you know who has ever watched their sister call 911, and watched emergency services pull up and take your incoherent father out the door.
My dad attempted to commit suicide. He, to my eternal thanks, was unsuccessful. My dad couldn't cope with losing another wife, and tried to kill himself after my mother left him.
He spent a week in the hospital. See, dad's suicide attempt meant that he couldn't leave the hospital until he passed a psychiatric hold. He was considered a "danger to himself." The hospital that he was sent to did not have the facilities to evaluate him. He couldn't leave, but he couldn't get treated there. A few years ago, Dad received disability status from both the V.A. and social security. Because the suicide attempt was deemed "combat related," social security would not cover the transfer to a hospital where he could be treated. He would have to go to the V.A.
All of the beds, at all of the V.A. hospitals in Michigan, were full. It seems that we are making mentally ill veterans faster than we are equipped to handle them. My family and I were trapped in some weird Kafkaesque nightmare. He couldn't leave ("danger to himself"), but couldn't get treatment (no room at the V.A. hospitals). My oldest sister stayed with him in the hospital as I spent days on the phone in my dorm room. I talked to people in the Governor's office. I talked to patient advocates. I talked to nurse managers. I talked to people in our senators' offices. I called probate court, trying to find a way to get my sister appointed Dad's guardian. Probate court was particularly fun. I tried to explain the situation to the woman in charge, and she couldn't quite understand the problem. She couldn't understand why my Dad didn't leave the hospital. After all, she said, the hospital "Isn't a hotel room." I (somewhat) politely informed her that she was clearly incompetent, could go to hell, and her superiors would be hearing from me later. All the while, my ill father was decaying in bed. He got so frustrated that he threw his bed tray across the room, needed to be sedated several times, and once was strapped to the bed.
Eventually, a bed opened up in the V.A. Patients are required to stay for three days. There is no significant contact between the patient and the outside world. Dad went in on a Friday. He saw a doctor once. The doctors apparently don't work on the weekends. He was released at the beginning of the following week.
He wasn't really happy to be alive, but he was no longer suicidal. My sister and I, stubborn as two ornery mules, told Dad that he was going to the outpatient therapy he learned about during his forced inpatient stay. He knew better to cross us when we got like that; we learned that technique from him, of course. It became obvious that the outpatient therapy was not designed for him. It's there for veterans who literally need something to occupy their time. When he spent a day making moccasins, we told him he could stop going. We learned of another type of therapy. There is a group session for veterans dealing with PTSD. He was also able to see a psychologist who specialized in PTSD. When Dad asked his V.A. psychiatrist why he wasn't told about the PTSD therapy years ago, the doctor responded with "It wasn't my job to tell you."
Dad is doing better now. We have a much better relationship, and don't fight like we used to. He lived through divorcing my mother, but has specific trouble during Christmastime. His first wife died right before Christmas, and this season has been that much more difficult for him.
My Dad attempted to commit suicide. He attempted to commit suicide because of trauma that he experienced over thirty years ago in foreign war. A war that he never should have been sent to fight. My dad was so scarred and disgusted with his country that he never voted. He didn't have the heart. Despite his mental illness and his shortcomings, he managed to raise some pretty good kids. All of us skew liberal, but my oldest sister and I (twins separated by fifteen years and mothers) are particularly staunchly Democratic.
My parents managed to teach my siblings and I moral lessons about the world and people in it that never felt like lessons. We were monetarily poor, but were rich in family. We didn't have much, but I'll be damned if we weren't educated. My father read to me every story he could get his hands on. We were taught that there were people who had less than we did, and that we were damn fortunate to have what we had. We were taught that having empathy for others costs us nothing and enriches our lives. We were taught that everyone was equal, no matter what the color of their skin. We were taught to speak our minds, and stand up for ourselves and for others who needed someone to stand up for them. We were taught that women are equal partners in this world, and trust me, no one can tell my father's daughters any differently.
My Dad attempted to commit suicide. He is just now getting help for his problems. How long will Iraq war veterans have to wait to get help for their problems? UPDATE: I just want to thank everyone for sharing thier stories and thier compliments and well wishes. Clearly, my diary (which was fueled by insomnia-induced bravery) wasn't as sucky as I thought. I just want to say two more things. I've lurked at dKos for over a year. I've witnessed the powerful nature of this community and it helped me educate others, commiserate in the horrible post-election period, and share some first rate snark. When my Dad was stuck in the hospital, and nothing was being done to help him, I finally registered here. I was at the end of my rope, and approximately five seconds away from spamming every open thread I saw, begging for suggestions and help. I was fully prepared to email every member of this site to ask them to write a diary on my behalf (Carnacki will fill his with wit and wisdom! Georgia10 will include links to help other veterans and simultaneously inform and motivate! Maryscott will swear!). He was transferred to the V.A. hospital before I needed to do this. I just wanted to let you kossacks know, in case you hadn't noticed, that you are making a difference. Second, I was born in 1984. I came into this world long after the war was supposed to be over. I know that everybody on dKos is aware that Iraq is going to effect generations, no only because of our crushed national reputation, our staggering debt, but also because people (Americans and Iraqis) will bear this burden for a long, long time. I opposed the Iraq war from the beginning, and my friends couldn't understand that our nation was going to be paying a higher cost than money. I guess I just wanted to remind everone that fifteen, twenty, thirty years from now, a child will be born who will still be fighting the Iraq war, in one way or another.