Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Where have you gone Willie and Joe?

When Willie and Joe came home from WW II and later from Korea, they came home to ticker tape parades and a hero’s welcome. They joined their local American Legion and VFW posts, went about enjoying the best GI Bill ever in the process of returning to civilian life.

For the past few decades, Willie and Joe rose in the ranks of their posts, then the state organizations, and finally into the national leadership of those two giant Veterans organizations. Willie and Joe are still there. Once in a while a Vietnam Veteran sneaks in.

Willie and Joe marched and crawled across North Africa and Europe, landed on island after island in the western Pacific, flew missions in daylight over German occupied territory, and sailed ships into harm's way on and under oceans around the world. Six years later they were called to arms again to fight communism in Korea. From the Frozen Chosin Reservoir, to the Pusan Peninsula, and back to Inchon, they fought with the same valor and selfless courage they showed in WW II.

We'll call them Eddie and Josh, the new war Veterans from Gulf War I and Iraq and Afghanistan. Eddie and Josh came home and found the Legion and the VFW, sitting at the bars in their posts. Old guys more like parents and grandparents than fellow Veterans. So they decided to start their own organization: The Veterans of Modern Warfare. And rightfully so.

Eddie and Josh won the first Gulf War in a little over a month, and did so with minimal casualties, while inflicting major losses on the Iraqis. They freed Kuwait and stopped. Eleven years later, many of the same soldiers went to war again in the Global War on Terror, now separated into the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War. Iraq now has some semblance of a Democratic Government, as does Afghanistan. Both have been mostly freed from despotic dictators or subversive forces. Residual combat is still going on.

Somewhere in between Willie and Joe and their modern counterparts, Eddie and Josh, are the nameless, faceless Vietnam Veterans. They fought for nine years, more or less, in hostile jungle, in aerial action in skies filled with SAM missiles, and on the waters in and around Vietnam. They fought in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. And they have since found that they also faced another enemy, unknown at the time, an enemy inflicted upon them by their own government. The 20 million gallons of dioxin laced herbicides sprayed in and around Vietnam were quite unlike the "bullet with your name on it." It all had all their names on it. For some reason or other, many managed to dodge it. At least for now. But far too many were unable to do so.

3.4 million served in Vietnam, including 512,000 in the waters off shore. The 2000 Census estimated there were only 1.012 million left alive in that year. At that rate, there are likely somewhere between 200,000 to 400,000 still living nine years later, likely nearer the lower amount. At the rate they are dying, they will be gone long before the last of the "Greatest Generation" and the Korean War Veterans.

One suspects the principle reason for this accelerated death rate among Vietnam Veterans to be the exposure to dioxins from the sprayed herbicides like Agent Orange.

This may be one reason why there are and have been so few Vietnam Veterans in the upper hierarchies of the American Legion and the VFW.

It also may be one reason the American Legion and the VFW have essentially given no more than lip service to the Vietnam Veterans.

It should have raised alarm bells instead.

In 1991, Congress passed the Agent Orange Act. It was to provide benefits and compensation for anyone who received the Vietnam Service Medal, or the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for Service in Vietnam, who also had a specific disease listed by the Department of Veterans Affairs to be a result of exposure to the dioxin in herbicides that were sprayed in Vietnam.

From the start, the DVA denied those otherwise eligible Veterans who served in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia [TLC]. In 1993 the DVA changed their policy to remove the Air Force. In 2002 they changed their policy again, this time removing the Blue Water Navy from eligibility.

They did this without a shred of documentary, or scientific evidence to prove those Veterans were not exposed. They did this in violation of Federal Law that requires them to publish their proposed changes for public comment, by not bothering to do so. Their changes, therefore, were all illegal.

Where were Willie and Joe while this was going on? They were in their post bars, they were selling insurance to each other, they were recruiting new members, and conducting conventions. And at those conventions they were passing resolutions asking Congress to fix the Agent Orange Act of 1991 as it was intended. But worst of all, they were training their Veteran Service Officers, the folks you go to for help with your VA claim, to simply accept each change the DVA made and tell the Veterans not to bother filing a claim for Agent Orange exposure if they belonged to one of the three groups listed above.

The Legion and the VFW are the "biggies" in Veterans Organizations. They are the ones who supposedly carry the weight in Washington.

At the first sign of trouble with the 1991 Agent Orange Act, these two organizations should have demanded Congress conduct investigative hearings into the action of the DVA. They should have pressured Congress -- and they have the weight to do just that! -- to take whatever action required to stop the DVA's illegal actions and right the wrong they committed, and stop the DVA from doing other similar actions.

They should have taken drastic action in 1991, certainly no later than 1993! But instead, they continued to sell each other insurance, conduct annual conventions, issue statements usually backing conservative candidates, and recruiting new members.

This moral and ethical lapse by the American Legion and the VFW has lead to the early deaths of untold thousands of Veterans from the Vietnam War, the privations of their survivors, and the privations of still living Veterans in need of services but unable to afford them, and others unable to work, now without income, now losing their homes, their retirements, and their families in many cases. That is to say nothing of their dignity.

Occasionally one or both organizations would throw some money into the pot to fund a law suit, like the Haas case. On the whole however, the American Legion and the VFW have silently abdicated their responsibility, and their ethical and moral obligations to their own members, and constituencies.

Now, when given an opportunity to redeem their 18 years of moral turpitude, neither organization has lifted a finger to pressure Congress to pass HR 2254, the Agent Orange Equity Act of 2009, which sits in the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs. It lacks co-sponsors. It lacks a voice in the Senate to introduce it. It lacks a voice in the Capitol to fight the misinformation program being conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is spreading the lie that the bill will cost $27 Billion. In fact, the cost of the bill is less than $3 billion. The DVA inflates the numbers whenever it is convenient.

Willie and Joe fought two wars against injustice, inhumanity, and racism, fighting for the rights of free world peoples who sought their freedom from oppression and tyranny.

Where have you gone, Willie and Joe? You’re needed here at home.


”It is a stain on this nation's honor that the Department of Veterans Affairs has become a deadlier and more difficult adversary to the American veteran than any they have ever faced on a battlefield."-- VNVets

"The concept that Agent Orange, and its effects, stopped dead in its tracks at the shoreline is simply too illogical, and too ludicrous to accept. What does that say about the Bush Administration and his Department of Veterans Affairs?"--VNVets

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." --President Abraham Lincoln

"It follows then as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious."--President George Washington

Copyright © 2005-2009: VNVets Blog -- Now in our Fifth Year of Service to Veterans; All Rights Reserved.


  1. Anonymous15:51

    I haven't thought of the VFW or the American Legion as Veterans Service Organizations in years; they are drinking clubs....period!

    I feel the same about the Fleet Reserve Association and a few others; only the Disabled Veterans of America seems to be worthy of the title.

    I agree they COULD make a difference, don't hold your breath until they do (unless, of course, you look good in blue)

  2. I agree with half of what you say. Some of the Service Officers from DAV are quite good. As for the FRA, they and the VVA are the two organizations that have been working hard on this problem for years, non stop. The FRA offers online assistance for folks to contact their Congress person and the VVA has been working behind the scenes on legislation.

    But you are correct about the drinking clubs. There are exceptions, but pretty much that is what they are.

  3. Anonymous12:17

    Where is the media? Why is there no national concern for the justice being denied and insults being handed to the uncompensated victims of AO? Where is the support from families and "faithful" friends of the millions of Vietnam Vets who served. Where is the outrage of congress over the treatment of its sick and dying constitutents. Where is the president's help and concern for equal justice for all.
    Where are the hearts of the American people? It certainly does not seen to dwell on the realities of what is going on between the victims of AO and the Agency created to serve these victims. Does America even care. The troops on the ground in Vienam and their families have received their compensation-and some abundantly. Do they relly care if we receive our due or not--even if small. Our elected officials will still get reelected whether they help us or not. Because there is not enough concern or pressure on congress to make the difference. And too many veterans and non veterans are simply not concerned since it does not concern them. America needs a heart trasplant, it seems,if we fail to see or overlook injustice, or refuse to get concerned if it does not concern us. It appears that whether or not Michael Jackson is the biologicl father of his children or not is more newsworthy and important than the unjust treatment we are receiving.