There was a time in my life when I didn’t talk much about the fact that I was a Marine Corps veteran who served at Khe Sanh and Hue at a time when both places were battlegrounds. I wasn’t ashamed of my service; in fact I’ve come to realize that it had a profound impact on my life; some good and some bad.
Very few people I worked with during my early days covering technology in Silicon Valley knew I had been in the Marines and fewer still knew I had been at Khe Sanh and elsewhere in South Vietnam long ago.
I didn’t hang out with other veterans and I had resisted joining either of the two most well-known veteran’s organizations.
I used one very few part of my veteran’s benefits’I went to college on the GI Bill. And in 1971 I went to a VA clinic to see a doctor, an experience that soured me on the VA for many years.
But my life has changed recently and I wanted to find out more about my veteran’s benefits. And my quest led me to a local American Legion post here in Escondido where several members pointe me to the VA and made sure I knew what to do to take action. So I joined the American Legion and I use it as a “club house” of sorts. Whenever I need to socialize an can get away from my duties around the house, I pop up to the Legion, read a book and have a Coke in the patio.
Over a soft drink one of the officers of my local Legion Post patiently explained to me how the VA worked, plus how much it had changed in the last 30 years. He provided me with the information I needed to make a VA enrollment appointment at a local clinic and patiently explained that Legion volunteers were on hand at the two largest clinics here in San Diego County and there job was to help guide me through the VA’s organization.
So I had my first appointment with the VA today, had my picture taken for a VA ID card and was incredibly surprised by the experience. I waited two minutes for my appointment, was courteously treated by an enrollment officer who made the point of telling me “we’re here to help you.”
I quickly outlined the three service-related reasons I wanted to enroll with the VA:
I believe long term exposure to incoming and outgoing artillery caused permanent hearing loss in both of ears;
I think that as a result of having been in a bunker that took a direct hit from an incoming North Vietnamese artillery round, I have profound claustrophobia—aka PTSD;
Most of all, I was exposed to Agent Orange at least three times during the time I was in Vietnam.
I’ve always felt slightly ashamed about going to the VA with this. However, the enrolling agent at the clinic set me up with the appointments I need to get the ball rolling, and, he made sure I understood I should feel no shame for seeking help from the VA.
I’ve never felt more satisfied with any government agency interaction than I have with the VA clinic in Oceanside, CA.
Wow, they just knocked my socks off.
And it all started with the simple act of spending $35 to join a local American Legion post and asking for help from other veterans who had been in my shoes.
After a lot of years, I’m beginning to understand what it means to have been thanked for my service and to really have been “welcomed home.”-- Jim Forbes April 4, 2012.