Retired Veterans Share Meaning of Holiday
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November 13, 2009 – After celebrating Veteran's Day, KPBS interviewed some local veterans about what the holiday means to them. The editor's discuss problems with getting services for veterans.
Related story: Retired Veterans Share Meaning of Holiday
JOANNE FARYON (Host): Earlier this week, San Diegans celebrated Veterans Day by taking time to remember the men and women who served in the Armed Forces. We caught up with several veterans on the USS Midway museum who shared with us what this holiday means to them. ED JONES (United States Air Force): Hi, my name is Ed Jones. I’m a retired Air Force pilot, Lieutenant Colonel. Presently I’m a docent here on the Midway. Veterans Day nowadays I think is giving credit to the veterans that we didn’t have a long time ago. When I came back from Korea in 1952, they didn’t think too much of the serviceman. And then the same in 1967 when I came back, only I think the family was happy to see me come home. But I think Veterans Day now is making people aware that the people that are serving their country, whatever goes wrong, it’s not their fault. VIC VYDRA (United States Navy): My name is Vic Vydra, safety manager on the Midway. I’m a retired Navy Chief paid officer. Veterans Day is very important to me because it celebrates the sacrifices of all the service members that have been in every branch of the service from way back when up to now. We need to do that just to keep everybody’s mind out that they’re doing something for our protection and for our country. VIC ZAMBRANO (United States Navy): My name is Vic Zambrano, retired Command Master Chief. I did twenty-eight years in the Navy. Veterans Day is important to me. It’s the time to remember and recognize the many sacrifices of our brave men and women in the Armed Services and to recognize also all the things they have done for this great nation. Not to mention also the family members who are behind our brave men and women of the United States Armed Services. TED SHOLL (United States Navy): Hi, my name is Captain Ted Sholl. I’m a retired Naval officer and I spent half of my active duty time as a helicopter pilot and then continued after that in the reserves as a helicopter pilot. Veterans Day to me is very, very significant because back in the 60’s and the early 70’s, we kind of lost touch with what Veterans Day was all about. And I'm very happy to see that not it’s resurfaced again. And particularly on the Midway it’s a very significant time in our year. Well, to me it’s that remembrance of all the people all the way back to the First World War, and the Second World War, and Vietnam, and all the people that were lost and never really recognized. So I think that this is recognition time, and it’s a very significant time for us. HERB ZOEHRER (United States Navy): I’m Captian Herb Zoehrer. I spent thirty-five years in the Navy and I remember Veterans Day as the day to recall all my shipmates, past, present, and those that are no longer with us. It’s particularly important to remember that on Veterans Day for all American citizens. FARYON: Joining me once again to talk about veterans issues are Dave Roland, editor of San Diego CityBeat, and Hieu Tran Phan, specialist editor at the San Diego Union-Tribune. Dave Roland, your magazine recently looked at this issue. And yes, we might be paying more respect to our veterans when they return home, but are we getting them the services that they need? What did your magazine find? DAVID ROLAND (San Diego CityBeat): Well, we looked at a very, very small snapshot. We talked to a couple of guys that had their own issues. One was a man who helps run a support network for veterans who are having trouble navigating the V.A. system. What we found is that people in the system complain generally about the bureaucracy. Anytime you have a bureaucracy there's going to be problems. But at least in one aspect of that, in your record keeping, it’s an apparently very antiquated system for record keeping. We’re really still kind of focused on a piece of paper rather than an electronic system of keeping track of people and what benefits they are entitled to. So if you’re a veteran who is homeless or otherwise down of your luck, things aren’t going very well - you might be an alcoholic or something like that, you might have emotional problems based on your combat experience - if you are homeless, you lose your things, and you don’t have that piece of paper, that DD214 or whatever it is, you may not get the services that you are deserving. FARYON: Post-traumatic stress disorders, also the hallmark injury of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, is this just a difficult disorder to treat or even recognize? HIEU TRAN PHAN (San Diego Union-Tribune): I think it’s, first of all, extremely difficult whether you're a civilian injured and have PTSD or you're a service member or veteran. One, it’s hard to diagnose. Dave and I had a conversation earlier in which we talked about technicians and clinicians perhaps not getting the diagnosis right all of the time or as many times as they should. There's also the idea that it takes many months or years to treat and can be triggered again decades later after a combat incident. I try to be an optimist and I would say that the V.A., along with the Pentagon when you're still in active duty, has kind of moved in the right direction. They may have been able to move sooner, but at least right now they're throwing in a lot of money to try to do more screening, more treatment, more intervention to try to prevent suicides, to try to get professional help for people. And then there are a lot of organizations in the civilian world that have stepped up to try to help. Whether it’s the county that we talked about, whether it’s psychiatric and psychological groups, whether it’s small little charities that operate with less than $50,000 a year that are trying to offer free mentoring, outreach, and counseling in group formats. So people are trying to say instead of always complaining about the government, we should try to step up and offer things that the government isn’t offering. FARYON: Even given all that, lets throw out some statistics. 18,000 veterans are enrolled at the V.A. Medical Center in La Jolla, 27% of them diagnosed with PTSD. This is an overwhelming problem, even given the effort. Are we equipped in this county to deal with this? ROLAND: I don’t think we’re equipped as a country to deal with this. And we, as you know, were a big part of the system here locally. So I think the problem you have in terms of not being prepared is before, in the past, soldiers died sooner. Battlefield medicine has improved so much, so many people are surviving, but they’re surviving with serious head trauma. Brain injury that, like Hieu says, is hard to really get a grasp on right at first - it may come back later - and how brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder interact. I mean, that’s a specialized kind of medicine that you really need people that are equipped. And we’re not equipped to handle that in the general population, I'm actually working on a story right now that doesn’t have to do with veterans or the military, but just somebody who has multiple diagnoses and how hard it is to get adequate rehabilitative care for that person. So I think with the military it’s just magnified because you're sending these people into a situation where they're likely to come back with PTSD, likely to come back with some head trauma. And I think that 27% number is probably low because a lot of the stuff doesn’t get reported. FARYON: Or do they even seek help? PHAN: Joanne, nationally independent surveys as well as the Pentagon’s own surveys show about a third of returning veterans have PTSD and even a higher number have what we call combat stress, which is a smaller version of mental stress that may not be clinically diagnosed. I think I want to take a quick step back and even say that mental health has never been treated the same as physical injuries in our society whether we’re talking about the military or the public in general. So I think we’re trying to come to grasp now with this huge toll of the war, and we’ll see whether the military and our government is fully committed to it. Not just for five years or ten years, but decades later as these men and women age. FARYON: Thank you. Thank you Dave Roland, Hieu Tran Phan. PHAN: Thank you.