Will We Learn?

When Vietnam vets began to get sick and babies were born with unexpected birth defects, nobody believed it was Agent Orange. Even today, Veterans Affairs does not acknowledge all the conditions caused by exposure to the chemical.

To put a personal face on it, the most commonly accepted theory of why I turned out the way I did has to do with my Dad’s exposure to Agent Orange. Midline facial birth defects became far more common in Vietnam’s children. I don’t have statistics for this, but I believe the incidents were also higher in vet’s children. I had a midline facial birth defect, yet the VA has never acknowledged my father’s service to his country might have resulted in my disabilities.

Then we have the first Gulf War where service members began experiencing weird medical conditions after service. They are still fighting for their conditions, such as ALS, to be recognized as service-related.

9/11 happened and many of those who ran toward the disaster to help began developing medical issues in the days, months, and years after. They still struggle to get help.

Now vets are coming home with PTSD and they are not getting the help they need.

As a people, are we really that dumb? As a people, do we want this to be how those who help and defend us are treated when they need our help and support?

You are probably thinking, “Yes, our government needs to do better. I’m ashamed.” While I acknowledge that our government ultimately must take responsibility for those harmed in the line of duty, I think it is easy to see this as something beyond one person’s ability to impact.

You may not be able to offer health care, you may not be able to beat the VA into submission, and you might not be able to change the world, but you can still do something. We’ve all heard the horror stories such as like this one and wile we feel for the people involved, we don’t really do much.

I know the brother of the soldier described in that blog and I think the fact that I keep asking how his brother is doing matters. I think the fact that I tell his brother’s story matters. I can’t do anything to fix the broken system, but I can at least make sure those impacted know people care and the stories are spread until someone who can help hears them.

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About Jen

After acquiring a degree from Vassar College in psychology, I moved to Western Mass where I ran a peer mentoring network for disabled college students as well as activism and organizing around disability issues. I also conducted research on disabled women’s body image. An Upstate New York native, I eventually followed my heliotropic nature to the sun of Southern California. I divide my time between writing (disability fiction and essays) along with moderating San Diego Bisexual Forum which is one of the oldest groups of its kind in the country. In my off hours I can often be found in my neighborhood live music venue enjoying our local talent.

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