I am a veteran with more than 30 years of service both as an enlisted servicemember and as an officer. I served in Vietnam and the Middle East, in addition to serving as a member of the Stabilization Forces in the Balkans. When I retired, I chose to serve 10 years with the Department of Veterans Affairs Benefits Section. I was a veterans service representative and a public contact representative. My goal was to assist veterans and their families in obtaining their entitled benefits.
So when I heard about the forthcoming opening of the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for my country and proud of the American disabled veteran. This topic is very close to my heart. Upon the urging of veterans and their families and caretakers to not allow our veterans' stories to be forgotten, I recently published The Disabled Veteran's Story. These recollections and stories cover an array of experiences from around the world and speak to the struggles and sacrifices of veterans and their families for the benefits to which they're entitled.
The stories will break your heart. They include the struggles of a Bataan Death March survivor who endured three years and five months as a POW. The experience was so powerful that he could describe each day of his struggle, but that day he could not remember what he'd had for breakfast. Another is the story of the first female pilot, who discussed the military's glass ceiling during World War II and how she was not able to have a family and a military career. The military discharged her once she was pregnant. I also wrote about the haunting story of the Kent State University shooting and the firsthand account of the historic Pearl Harbor attack.
My book also deals with the atrocities that veterans and their families must face -- for example, finding out that the awarded benefits have been granted on the very day that the beneficiary died, after waiting years for their claim to be adjudicated. This meant there was a substantial payment due, but the family suffered years of stress based on unpaid bills pending the delivery of those funds. Another atrocity is the story of the mother who has a son with a traumatic brain injury. She provided evidence asserting that the VA system was broken with a dysfunctional fiduciary unit. Another is the Coast Guard veterans' daughter who describes the true effect that military life has on dependents.
Veterans survive, achieve and serve with pride and fierce determination, but we must not forget that many are also haunted silently during recovery and integration into daily life. My book speaks to their stories but also sheds light on the frustrations and disappointments associated with the VA's bureaucracy. It also addresses approaches veterans and their families have used to obtain the benefits to which they're entitled.
We have servicemembers to thank for our freedom, and the family members for their struggles and sacrifices.
Their stories must not be forgotten.