Warrior Wire: Denied Till They Die



When I started working on this article, I honestly thought I’d be writing about something else. I’d been contacted by Tracee Beebe, a filmmaker who was working on a documentary about Vietnam veterans, and she told me that they were being denied benefits from the VA because their military records didn’t reflect their service accurately. I was intrigued, and I pitched my editor the story. At the same time, my father had just been awarded disability compensation by the VA for exposure to Agent Orange, something that he’d been fighting for since he returned home, and I had pitched another story about that issue. I even thought I might interview my dad, make him tell me all the stories I’ve never heard, and all the ones I have that I want to hear again.

Then I started doing my interviews for this piece. It turned out that all the vets I was in touch with were trying to get benefits for exposure to Agent Orange, and all of them were being denied because they didn’t have “boots on the ground.” The story had changed.

My dad helped me out with a lot of the research as I worked on the story, and he sent me every scrap of paper and internet link he had that had some useful information. But because he’d (finally) been given a disability rating, he was no longer part of my Agent Orange story. And, actually, I was glad. Not because I didn’t want to interview him or hear his stories. We talk every week, multiple times, and I love hearing his stories. No, I was glad he was out of the story because of how hard it was to talk to the men who hadn’t gotten a rating and weren’t receiving benefits. Some of them cried when we spoke. Sometimes, I cried after I hung up. One man who’d agreed to an interview died before we could actually talk. That was tough. And all of them sounded a lot like my dad.

Tracee had started her documentary because of her father’s experience with the VA and Agent Orange, and when she and I spoke, it was like we were talking about the same person. The way she described her father—his attitude, the things he said, the way he thought about his service, the worries he had—sounded exactly like my dad. All of the men, really, were similar to my father. Maybe it’s just that they all come from the same generation, or maybe because they all fought the same wars, literally and figuratively. Whatever it was, it was like talking to and about my dad, all day, every day, while I worked on this. Except that my dad wasn’t sick like they were. And my dad wasn’t still waiting for someone to admit that something had happened to him and he deserved to be compensated. My dad, unlike some of the men I spoke to, was doing better than ever.

I know that there are so many more issues out there, and with wounded troops still coming home from Afghanistan, and the VA still mired in scandal, Agent Orange seems like a minor, far-away issue. But it’s still something that so many men (and women) are battling. And Agent Orange doesn’t only affect the veterans who were exposed, but their children and grandchildren. And while the number of people affected dwindles every day, as the older generations die off, it doesn’t make the issue go away. If we’re still fighting to get vets taken care of more than four decades after the Vietnam War, how long will this newest generation of vets have to fight to get the care they deserve?

While we wait for that answer, I’d love it if you’d take a minute to read my article, “Denied Till They Die,” from the May 2014 issue of Penthouse. You can read it by clicking the above image or by clicking here.

Warrior Wire: Health-Care Scare

I’ve mentioned before that my dad is a Vietnam Vet. He’s also in poor health. A good amount of the medical attention he receives comes from Veterans Affairs hospitals and doctors. I grew up taking trips to these hospitals with him, hanging out in gift shops and waiting rooms and cafeterias while he had tests done and blood drawn. Because of where we lived, the hospitals were usually a few hours away, and going with Dad to the doctor was just an excuse to hang out with him and finagle a trip to the mall out of him after. (Hey, if you want me to go to the hospital, I expect a reward. Hospitals freak me the fuck out.) They always treated my father well, though, and everyone I came into contact with was pleasant and helpful.

Although my father is well taken care of now, when he came back from Vietnam, it was another story. My father suffered from PTSD, and in the late ’60s and early ’70s, that wasn’t something people talked about. Vietnam Vets were shunned because they were fighting a war most civilians didn’t believe in, and getting treated for a mental health issue was something shameful and embarrassing. And lest you think PTSD was hard to get treated for, my father was also sprayed with Agent Orange, and may or may not have health problems related to Agent Orange poisoning. (I say may or may not because in the past 40 years, the government has flip-flopped on whether US soldiers were affected, and depending on the day and the doctor, my father is or is not one of these soldiers. Confused yet?)

The point of all this is to say that how veterans are treated, medically, has been one of the most important issues in my life, and I’ve followed it closely. Last year I wrote about a potential cost increase for a specific military insurance plan, and part of the discussion about the fee hike related to the Veterans Affairs hospital system. When the proposal was first announced, not a lot of people were talking about how Tricare and the VA system were related and how they played off each other, but that was my first thought. If veterans can’t afford Tricare, which operates like a standard civilian insurance plan, more of them may need to turn to the VA for care. The famously backlogged VA. Doing interviews for my article, I asked about the connection, and I remember people being surprised that I was bringing it up. No one expects the civilian pornographer to know these things, I suppose. But when you grow up hearing something enough, it kind of sticks.

To read my article, “Health-Care Scare,” which appeared in the May 2011 issue of Penthouse, click here.