From a Grateful State and Nation: Welcome Home, Vietnam Veterans

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The Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs (ODVA) recognizes the sacrifices made by Oregon’s more than 108,000 Vietnam veterans and all that you have endured before, during and after your service. 

While we can’t change how the nation welcomed Vietnam Veterans home, we can honor and serve you today. We offer not only our sincere gratitude for your service and sacrifice, but we also offer our advocacy and action. 

ODVA is committed to honoring your legacy of service through our advocacy. However, we do not want to simply honor your sacrifice on just this day; we want to honor your sacrifice by connecting you and your family to advocacy and services for the rest of your lives.  

That advocacy begins with ensuring that you and your family know about the state and federal benefits and services you may be entitled to. Veteran benefits can positively impact you and your family’s life — emotionally, financially and physically. 

Often veterans do not to seek veteran services because of a mistaken belief that if they access their benefits, they are taking benefits away from someone else who needs them more. But benefits are something you and every veteran have earned as a result of your military service. You are not taking resources or benefits away from any other fellow veteran.

We understand you may be reluctant to engage with ODVA or any other government entity due to prior experiences or denials.  We ask that you reconsider having someone review your potential claims because the types of benefits and eligibility rules may have changed considerably since your last attempt. Federal laws governing United States Department of Veterans’ Affairs (USDVA or VA) issued benefits change continuously. You may now be eligible for benefits that you were denied in the past.

Explore Veteran Benefits with Accredited Advocates in Oregon Every 3-5 Years

There are numerous local, state and federal benefits and resources available for Vietnam veterans and their dependents.  The average veteran or their family cannot be expected to know of all of the benefits and resources available to them or understand all of the laws governing those benefits.  Benefits and resources change or are added often so it is important to continue to stay connected to an advocate.  There is free help available from trained advocates in your local area to assist you with obtaining benefits and resources. 

Even if you currently receive VA benefits, you may still be eligible for additional benefits.  This could include an increase in your disability compensation due to the worsening of your service-connected conditions or could include Special Monthly Compensation if you require the aid and attendance of others due to your service-connected disability.  There are lesser-known ancillary benefits through the USDVA, such as allowances for clothing or adaptive equipment. 

Lastly, we encourage you to consistently check-in on your benefits every 3-5 years, as benefits and the laws governing them, change.  New conditions are often added and changes in how conditions are evaluated occur.  Further, significant changes in your disabilities or circumstances should prompt you to meet with a trained advocate so that they can assist you in assessing for additional claims and benefits.

Find a Veteran Service Office in Oregon

There is access to Veteran Service Officers in every Oregon county, Tribal Veteran Service Officers or Tribal Veteran Representatives in six Oregon tribal nations, national veteran service organizations, and advocates at multiple college campuses throughout our state ready to help you. These services are all provided free of charge.

Learn more: www.oregon.gov/odva/Services/Pages/default.aspx.

Special Advocacy

ODVA provides special advocacy in the form of positions dedicated to advocacy and expertise for several traditionally underserved veteran populations to include the following: Justice Involved Veteran Coordinators, Women Veterans Coordinator, LGBTQIA+ Coordinator, Houseless Veterans Coordinator, Veteran Volunteer Program Coordinator and Aging Veteran Outreach Specialist.  If you identify with one of these populations or would like to connect with someone who specializes in working with these populations, please reach out to ODVA.

Learn more: www.oregon.gov/odva/Benefits/Pages/Special-Advocacy.aspx.  

ODVA Trained Veteran Volunteers

If you have questions, need additional information about benefits, resources or services for aging veterans and their families, or just don’t know where to start, you may choose to connect with a trained ODVA Veteran Volunteer.  Veteran Volunteers will connect you with the County or Tribal Veteran Service Officer and local resources and services closest to you.

Learn More: Reach the ODVA Veteran Volunteer Program at 1-833-604-0885 or www.oregonvetvolunteer.com  

Connect with Care – USDVA Healthcare

Vietnam veterans can benefit from connecting with care.  Whether for physical or emotional care needs, the VA is continuing to improve care for all veterans. 

Women Vietnam veterans can benefit from connecting with VA care as well.  The VA offers comprehensive primary care and specialty care services designed for women.  Additionally, there are Women Veterans Program Managers at every VA medical center nationwide, to advise and advocate for women Veterans. Women Veterans Health Care Home (va.gov)

Enroll And Establish Care In VA Healthcare

When you apply for VA health care, you’ll be assigned 1 of 8 priority groups.  Priority groups help the VA determine which veterans will be seen first and what, if any, their co-pays for care will be.  Veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975 are immediately eligible for Priority Group 6. However, veterans will be assigned to the highest priority group that their eligibility status qualifies them for, depending on factors such as VA-rated service-connected disability rating  Be sure to see your VA Primary Care Provider yearly, at a minimum. Even if you have private medical insurance, you can still utilize VA healthcare benefits. You may have been told that you were ineligible for VA healthcare benefits in the past, because you were over the applicable income thresholds, but you should consider reapplying for VA healthcare as you move into retirement and may be on a reduced and/or fixed income.  

Enroll in VA Healthcare

Military Service Changes You

Many would argue that service during the Vietnam War changed the lives of those veterans more, and differently, than any other era or generation of veterans. From the effects of the draft, to the effects of combat, and the effects of failed support upon your return home, military service has likely impacted you either physically, emotionally or financially — or possibly, in all of these ways. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

The USDVA provides disability compensation benefits and mental health services for those veterans who suffer from symptoms related to a traumatic event or experience while in service, also known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

USDVA’s Make the Connection site states that “some of the most common symptoms of PTSD include recurring memories or nightmares of the event, sleeplessness, loss of interest, and feelings of numbness, anger or irritability, or being constantly on guard, but there are many ways PTSD can impact your everyday life. Sometimes these symptoms don’t surface for months or even years after the event occurred or after returning from deployment. They may also come and go. If these problems persist or they’re disrupting your daily life, you may have PTSD.” 

If you experience or have continued to experience symptoms like these, you are not alone.  Connect with care either through the USDVA or with your own provider.  There is help available and treatments that work.

Learn more about PTSD:

Military Sexual Trauma (MST)

Military Sexual Trauma (MST) refers to sexual harassment or sexual assault that occurs during military service.  MST is another form of trauma that a veteran may experience while in service. MST can happen to anyone during their service regardless of age, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, race, or nationality. MST can have negative impacts on a survivor’s mental and physical health, even many years after service.  If you are a survivor of MST please connect with your local VSO for support and benefit options.

For more information about MST, treatment, resources and how to connect with the USDVA:

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

Sadly, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) wasn’t as well known or understood for Vietnam veterans as it has been for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.  Our understanding of the long-term effects of exposure to explosions has been expanded in these newer conflicts, some of which is the result of studies conducted of Vietnam veterans who experienced these types of combat injuries.  What we know now is that TBI symptoms can be mistaken for behavioral problems or mental health conditions.  Our concern is that there are Vietnam veterans who were treated with discipline or discharge when they were suffering from TBI-related issues that should have been treated medically.  The USDVA does provide physical and/or mental health care as well as disability compensation benefits for veterans experiencing TBI as a result of their military service.

Learn more about TBI: www.maketheconnection.net/conditions/traumatic-brain-injury

Impact of Service in Vietnam on Your Health

Service in Vietnam during the Vietnam War and its resulting impacts on Vietnam veterans’ health cannot be overstated.  There are numerous health risks for veterans associated with their Vietnam War service to include diseases related to Agent Orange exposure, Hepatitis C, hearing problems like hearing loss and tinnitus related to noise exposures, heat/cold injuries and so forth.

Veterans who served for any length of time between 1/9/62 and 5/7/75, in at least one of the following locations are presumed to have had exposure to Agent Orange and may be eligible for health care and disability compensation benefits for those specific diseases recognized by the USDVA, to be the result of Agent Orange exposure:

  • In the Republic of Vietnam, or
  • Aboard a U.S. military vessel that operated in the inland waterways of Vietnam, or
  • On a vessel operating not more than 12-nautical miles seaward from the demarcation line of the waters of Vietnam and Cambodia, or
  • On regular perimeter duty on the fenced-in perimeters of a U.S. Army installation in Thailand or a Royal Thai Air Force base. These bases include U-Tapao, Ubon, Nakhon Phanom, Udorn, Takhli, Korat, or Don Muang.

Learn more about Vietnam veteran health-related issues:  www.va.gov/health-care/health-needs-conditions/health-issues-related-to-service-era/vietnam-war

Agent Orange and the New Blue Water Navy Act

There are additional duties and locations for which Vietnam veterans may have served that are also presumed to have resulted in Agent Orange exposure.  Recently, the USDVA added three additional conditions that are presumed to be the result of Agent Orange exposure for those specified veterans.  The newest presumptive conditions now recognized by the USDVA are Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism and Parkinsonism. 

The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, extends presumption of Agent Orange exposure to veterans who served as far as 12-nautical miles from the shore of Vietnam, or who had service in the Korean Demilitarized Zone and as such, those veterans may be entitled to service connection for any of the 14-conditions recognized as being related to herbicide exposure.  The USDVA has also extended benefits to children with spina bifida (non-occulta) for whose parents are now recognized as ‘Blue Water Navy’ veterans.

Learn more about Blue Water Navy:  benefits.va.gov/benefits/blue-water-navy.asp

The USDVA also offers a free comprehensive Agent Orange Registry Health Exam for eligible veterans that includes an exposure and medical history component, physical exam and tests if needed.  Other detailed information about Vietnam veterans and Agent Orange exposure, and a complete list of the diseases and conditions presumed to be the result of Agent Orange exposure for veterans having served during the specified timeframes and in the specified locations can be found at the resources below.

Learn more Agent Orange :

Hazardous Material Exposure

Contact with harmful chemicals or other hazardous materials like asbestos or contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune during specified periods, while serving in the military, may also be related to other diseases, illnesses and conditions impacting Vietnam veterans.  Simply serving in the military continuously for at least 90 days, means you are approximately twice as likely to develop amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) as those who have not served.  If you served continuously for at least 90 days and have been diagnosed with ALS after being discharged, it is presumed to be related to your military service.  You could receive USDVA healthcare and disability compensation for this service-connected condition.

Learn more about Hazardous Material Exposure:  www.va.gov/disability/eligibility/hazardous-materials-exposure

Other than Honorable Discharge Due to Undiagnosed Mental Health Conditions or that Are Sexual Orientation-Related

Other than Honorable discharges were utilized in a number of harmful ways when it comes to Vietnam Veterans.  Those who suffered from undiagnosed TBI and mental health conditions such as PTSD or depression, following their combat service in Vietnam, were the often victims of discharges characterized as other than honorable. These veterans were seen by some as having troublesome behavior or misconduct problems, or substance use disorders, that were considered the fault of the veteran and not the fault of traumatic combat experiences. 

Veterans who identified as LGBTQ+ were also victims or discriminatory policies and many also received less than honorable discharges. In some cases, LGBTQ+ Veterans received an honorable discharge while receiving homosexual narratives in their DD214 discharge narratives.

These types of discharges resulted in many of our most vulnerable Vietnam veterans having no access to critical supports, services and healthcare at the time they needed it most.  Compounded by the lack of homecoming support upon their return, many Vietnam veterans isolated from their loved ones, self-medicated with substance use, entered cycles of houselessness, died by suicide or have suffered in silence for all of these years.  Slowly, we are learning about how military service changes people and that these changes are not always reflective of what is considered ‘honorable’ military conduct.

If you have a discharge that is characterized as other than honorable, and you suffer/suffered from the effects of TBI, PTSD, MST, or LGBTQ+ related issues ODVA may be able to assist you in obtaining USDVA benefits and/or upgrading your discharge:

Learn More:

Our Health Changes Through the Ages

We all know that there are some health changes that are inevitable as we age.  We can’t stop aging but we can improve how we age.  The USDVA has multiple programs that support aging veterans in their health, fitness and rehabilitation.

Learn more:

Some Health Conditions Worsen As We Age 

An injury or condition that may have seemed insignificant when you were in service or when you first got out of service, but has persisted continuously over time and/or has gotten worse as you’ve aged, may be a compensable condition for USDVA purposes.  For those health conditions that are service-connected, this may mean that you are entitled to an increased rating or should file new claims for service connection for new conditions that are created as a result of your original disabilities or are the result of medications used to treat your service connected disabilities.  It is important to know that the USDVA and other organizations continue to conduct research on issues related to veterans, their health and how we age, and because of this, new conditions are being added to lists of conditions presumed to be the result of military service, so it is critical that aging veterans remain connected to their veteran advocates and benefits.

Retirement is generally one of the milestones of aging that many veterans look forward to.  The thought of no longer having to go to work everyday and having more time to do the things we enjoy is exciting.  Often, what we don’t think about when we think about retirement is the difficulty that the transition away from work and our co-workers may bring.  Most feel some loss of purpose and a sense of loneliness when they are no longer a part of the mission they devoted so much too, but there are a lot of different ways to continue to serve your community, loved ones and enjoy the freedom that aging and retirement offers.

Learn more: www.maketheconnection.net/events/retirement-aging

The Place Where Honor Lives – Oregon Veterans’ Homes (OVHs)

There are currently two Oregon Veterans’ Homes (OVHs) in Oregon; one is located in The Dalles and the other is located in Lebanon.   Residents at the OVHs receive care from nursing staff with the skills and understanding to meet the unique and special needs of veterans and their family members. OVHs are Medicare and Medicaid certified, and incorporate the latest advances in skilled nursing, rehabilitation, and memory-related care.

Both OVHs are award-winning facilities.  Most recently, both homes were awarded for 2022 Pinnacle Awards for customer excellence and satisfaction.

The OVHs are skilled nursing facilities and as such, clinical need for skilled nursing care must be established in order to be considered for admission.  Care at the OVHs is an earned benefit available to eligible veterans, their spouses and parents of a service member who died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  You do not have to have a service-connected disability to be admitted into an OVH.  In many cases, the cost of care at an OVH, is the responsibility of the resident.  However, if nursing home care is required because of a service-connected disability, or you have a combined service-connected disability rating of at least 70%, then the cost of your care at the OVH may be covered by the USDVA. 

For more information about the OVHs, please visit www.oregonveteranshomes.com. Read about the OVHs award winning care: oregondva.com/2022/02/15/oregon-veterans-homes-receive-pinnacle-awards-for-customer-excellence-and-satisfaction 

Join or Volunteer With a Veteran Service Organization or Group to Help Other Veterans

By continuing to serve other veterans now by either joining a veteran service organization or by volunteering to help veterans, you can help yourself.  Your physical and mental health can be protected and improved by volunteering and participating in an organization of service.  Depending on the group you join, you can meet other veterans, serve veteran causes, further veteran issues, help others and your community and perhaps learn a new hobby or skill. Organizations serving veterans in practically every way abound throughout the state of Oregon.  Multiple National Veteran Service Organizations and local veteran groups throughout the state have local Oregon chapters and are actively recruiting for new members.  A few examples include (but is by no means inclusive of all):

Stay Informed

The ODVA has a number of ways for veterans and their families to stay up-to-date and informed of the all of the latest news and information impacting Oregon veterans and their families.  Subscribe to Oregon veteran news and benefit update emails at the links under Subscribe: www.oregon.gov/odva/Connect/Pages/Connect.aspx.  Please also visit the ODVA Aging Veterans Resources Webpage at www.oregon.gov/odva/Resources/Pages/Aging-Veterans.aspx.

The USDVA also has a variety of ways to get updates; visit www.va.gov and choose an option under VA Updates or visit www.va.gov/opa/socialmedia.asp to choose from the many social media options for a multitude of VA programs.

Thank You For Your Service

You and your service matter.  We do not want to simply honor your sacrifice on just this day; we want to honor your sacrifice by connecting you and your family to advocacy and services for the rest of your lives.  If you’ve already connected to your earned benefits, we are so glad to hear it and encourage you to share your experience and insight with others.  Mention something about veteran benefits to the person standing next to you in line at the grocery store wearing a Vietnam Veteran cap or with that single walk-on who joins your golf group or the person you meet in that class you’re taking at the senior center. 

Remember to tell your friend who served, to contact their County Veteran Service Officer or Tribal Veterans Service Officer when they tell you they’ve been diagnosed with a new disease that you think may be related to their Agent Orange exposure.  Ask the person working on your furnace with the tattoo if they were in and whether they’ve checked to see if there are any benefits they may be entitled to.  Share that you served with others so that others may share their service.  This is how we take care of each other going forward.  And if you’re not ready yet, we get that too; we will be here when you are.   

On behalf of the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs and in honor of Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day, I extend our heartfelt gratitude and deepest respect to you today and always. 

Welcome Home. 

Lacey Carter is a U.S. Army veteran and Aging Veteran Outreach Specialist for the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Contact her at lacey.carter@odva.oregon.gov or 503-580-7143.

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