Open Letter To All Of America's Veterans/ Max Cleland


An Open Letter to America’s Veterans

America sends the flower of its youth abroad to fight its

wars. Because of that, America’s military is always staffed

with the stoutest, finest, most courageous people in the

country. If as soldiers we are not that way when we enter the

military, the military makes us that way by the time we get

out. In the end, the military is still made up of everyday

people like you and me. As such, most of us have no special

skills to cope with the challenges wartime military service

presents. Regular life simply cannot prepare a person for the

brutish sensory overload of combat.

Coming back from military service in a time of war, we may be

wounded in ways that don’t show to the world at large. Some of

the deepest wounds we suffer may be inflicted without leaving

so much as a scratch. No matter what you are feeling when you

come home, no matter how crazy you feel inside, know that you

are not mentally ill. As combat veterans, we have been through

some of the most traumatic life experiences possible. War is

as close to hell on earth as anything ever could be. That does

make us different from our loved ones back home. War marks us

all, some more deeply than others.

AS veterans, we have paid a price to serve our country. We

have suffered. And we may suffer for a lifetime. The soldier

never gets to choose his or her war. The wars choose us, and

not all are just. I believe the emotional casualties of the

misguided wars may be the hardest of all to bear.

The soldier’s lot is to be exposed to traumatic, lifethreatening

events – happenings that take us to places no

bodies, minds, or souls should ever visit. It is a journey to

the dark places of life – terror, fear, pain, death, wounding,

loss, grief, despair, and hopelessness. We have been

traumatized physically, mentally, emotionally, and

spiritually. Some of us cope with exposure to hell better than

others. Some are able to think of their combat experiences as

but unpleasant vignettes in a long and wonderful life. It is

not to those veterans I am speaking. I love them, but I am not

afraid for them.

I am speaking to the rest of my brothers and sisters, those

who find themselves trapped in the misery of memories as I was

for so long.

Many of us have been overwhelmed by war. Many of us have been

unable to cope on our own with what has happened to us or with

what we have done. Many of us have been left hopeless, lost,

and confused about ourselves and our lives in ways we never

thought possible.

As veterans of war, we are vulnerable to the memories of those

experiences for the rest of our lives. Movies, the nightly

news, the death of a loved one, even simple stress can serve

as a trigger that reminds us of the hell we were once in. Just

that remembrance can sometimes be enough to undo all the

buckles we used to put ourselves back together when we got


Our bodies, minds, and spirits react automatically to these

memory triggers. They feel the hurts and fear and horror anew

each time. The curse of the soldier is that he never forgets.

Having once felt mortal danger and pure terror, our bodies

prepare for it again. That helped us survive on the

battlefield. However, what saved us on the battlefield doesn’t

work very well back here at home. It is impossible to forget

our experiences in the military. But it is possible to deal

with them positively. It is possible to take control of them.

I’ve found in my own life that I had to exude positive energy

into the world in order not to be overwhelmed with sadness and

grief over what I have lost. My body, my soul, my spirit, and

my belief in life itself were stolen from me by the disaster

of the Vietnam War. I found solace in attempting to “turn my

pain into somebody else’s gain” by immersing myself in

politics and public service. In particular, I devoted myself

to helping my fellow veterans and ‘disabled friends heal. This

was a great help to me in my life. But when I lost my

reelection bid for the U.S. Senate in 2002, my life fell

apart. The staff that had helped me politically and physically

so I could keep on running with no legs was gone. ~ne pleasure

of having a job worth doing and the money to keep me afloat

were gone.

My relationships began to crumble, especially the one with my


I went down in my life in every way it is possible to go down.

Massive depression took over. I went down with a grief over my

losses that I had never known before. I went down thinking

that God was not for me anYmore. I no longer wanted to live.

With the start of the Iraq War, my own post-traumatic stress

disorder came roaring back nearly 40 years after I was in

combat. I never saw it coming. Thoughts of war and death

simply consumed me. I thought I was past that.

It taught me that none of us are ever past it. But all of us

can get past it enough to be happy.

When I went down, my sense of safety, organization, structure,

and stability collapsed. My anxiety went sky-high. My brain

chemicals, which had helped me stay hopeful and optimistic,

dropped through the floor. My brain stopped working. My mind,

which I had counted on all my life to pull me through and help

clarify challenges, fell into despair. My spirit dropped like

a rock as all hope I had for a good life went away. I was

totally wounded and wiped out – hopeless and overwhelmed. Just

like I had been on that April day in 1968 when the grenade

ripped off my legs and my right arm. Emotionally, spiritually,

physically, and mentally, I was bleeding and dying. I wound up


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been treated there the first time. This time around, I was in

search of being put back together again in my mind, heart, and

soul. When I was there the first time, the doctors didn’t

really treat our hearts and minds

Post-traumatic stress disorder didn’t officially exist.

Neither did counseling for it. What a world of difference

several decades make!

Through weekly counseling, medication for anxiety and

depression, and weekly attendance at a spiritual Twelve Step

recovery group, I began to heal. My personal recovery and

renewal have taken years. I still talk to my PTSD counselor at

Walter Reed occasionally when I need to do so. I still take a

low dose of antianxiety and antidepression medication. I still

stay in touch with my brothers in my Tuesday night Twelve Step

group at the “last house on the block.” As a brother in that

group, I lean on my fellow attendees, especially my fellow

veterans, and feed off their experience, strength, and hope.

Which is why I am writing this open letter especially to those

who have suffered what Shakespeare referred to as “the slings

and arrows of outrageous fortune” by getting blown up, shot

up, or otherwise wounded in the service of our country. For

me, the physical wounds were the first to heal and the easiest

to deal with. It is not easy to r~n for political office or

try to run forward in life with no legs. But live been able to

do it. The mental and emotional wounds – and a whole suite of

spiritual wounds – have been far more difficult to overcome.

They are the most subtle of all, and the hardest to heal. From

time to time, I am overwhelmed by the sense of meaninglessness

I feel regarding the Vietnam War, in which I was a young

participant, and the Iraq War Resolution, which I voted for as

a U.S. senator. To keep my sanity, I must not dwell on my part

in those disastrous episodes in American history. I try not to

blame myself too much. I work on my own recovery and renewal

knowing that I can’t help anyone else unless I get, as

Hemingway put it after his war, “strong at the broken places.”

I try to get enough sleep so my mind can regenerate. I

exercise. I still walk with no legs, putting my stumps on

pillows and sliding across the floor to get my aerobic

workouts. Occasionally I do sit-ups and push-ups and curls

with weights. I stay in touch with the members of my group and

read literature like the Bible, which guides my prayer and

meditation and helps me remember that God is with me! not

against me. I work on my physical, spiritual, and mental

recovery and renewal every day.

Recovery is possible from even th~ most grievous wounds of

war, politics, and life. But we veterans remain painfully

aware of our experiences. As my trauma counselor tells me, it

is fine to look in the rearview mirror from time to time to

see where you’ve been, but it is much more important to look

through the windshield to see where you want to go. We can’t

let where we’ve been dominate and control where we are headed.

Otherwise, we live an upside-down life.

In addition to trying to muster the courage and the faith to

move forward each day, I try to remember that I am blessed to

have the grace of God and the help of friends to point the way

and help me along my path.

Max Cleland

Atlanta, Georgia

j just our broken bodies.


Copyright 2009 by Max Cleland

Agent Orange:The Gift That Keeps On Giving

As if the Veteran Affairs Department does not already have their plates filled with a backlog of claims, they are soon to get hit with a cresting wave of lingering Agent Orange claims.

VA officials estimate that approximate 186,000 claims will be filed before the end of the year that address the new rules of presumed service connected disabilities for illnesses that are related to exposure to Agent Orange. Is this not just beyond comprehension? 40 years have passed and we still have soldiers dying of Agent Orange illnesses!

Yet, I have to stand in praise of the Obama Administration’s attention to the needs of the VA. Not only did they pass the first ever year end funding budget, October 22nd, 2009, which had not been done in 22 years prior to the end of the calendar year, but they are prognosticating well the needs of the current war veterans and the standing population of vets that are still in need of intensive care from service connected disabilities. To prepare for this onslaught they are hiring about 1800 people to process these claims. The average age would be 60 and assigned a disability rating of 60% or higher. The probability of using third party contractors is quite high since the research for the symptoms and nature of the illnesses has been complete. Not like the days of yore when we had to get the 4th Infantry to fight for us!  Many of these claims can by cookie cuttered as a result of knowing the pattern of the illnesses.

It is the stated declaration of the VA Secretary Eric Shinseki that he will add a total of 4400 new employees to remedy the backlog of claims, inclusive the new Agent Orange claimants.  The secretary affectionately calls this a “brute force” solution to the problem. We are currently experiencing about 160 days to work a file. The goal is not allow that to rise.

The estimate is that about 160,000 vets will file claim, at a cost of about 13,500 per veteran, inclusive of mileage.

It is ischemic heart disease that is determined to be service connected to Agent Orange exposure. Issues with brands of leukemia are still being researched.

Last year the VA processed just under 1 million claims. The projection for 2011 is about 1.3 million.  The total cost of the Agent Orange claims will be about 13.4 billion in 2010. Should the Parkinsons and leukemia claims be approved, inclusive of widows benefits, they are estimating a cost of 42.2 billion over the next 10 years.

War is damn expensive ain’t it? Even when it is over. Lets hope that the indiscriminate use of chemicals does not occur again. But then the jury is still out on the effects of depleted uranium, and we still have vets making claims from exposure to atomic warfare materials.  God save us.

The Army National Guard Then And Now

What an incredible shift in trained and available manpower we have witnessed in the past 30 years in the Armed Forces.

As the son-in-law of a career Guardsman; SMSGT, James Orlando Benson(deceased), I have always taken interest in the participation of our loyal National Guard.

Approximately 9000 Army National Guard soldiers were deployed to Vietnam. 106 of the mobilized unit members died in Vietnam and eight Air National Guard were KIA.

Eight Army Guard units were sent to Vietnam: two artillery battalions and the 116th Combat Engineer Battalion from Idaho.

The only National Guard unit was from Indiana’s  D Company Rangers who performed long range recon patrols. They had 2 KIA and 100 WIA during 1969, which was the peak of the war.

The Kansas National Guard lost the most men in Vietnam in their 137th Infantry. 29 KIA. The 133rd Infantry  from Iowa was next with 12 KIA, and the 299th from Hawaii lost 10 men. All were assigned to regular Army units in Vietnam.

Two Officers who were with volunteer Guard Units were posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

And now, it seems they are melded together with the Regular Army.  What will the future hold for those in harms way? And where are we to find them?

Source: VFW Magazine

VA Letter Addresses Burn Pits In Iraq and Afghanistan

By Kelly Kennedy – Staff writer
Friday May 7, 2010 10:33:48 EDT

A new 30-page Veterans Affairs Department training letter outlines a new policy for VA regional offices to use in determining benefits for veterans who have been exposed to environmental hazards, including burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This marks the first time in its history that VA has addressed potential battlefield exposures while the troops remained in the combat zone, as well as the first time VA sent out guidance about a potential war-related health issue without it a congressional mandate or a recommendation from a large health organization.

The letter, with the subject line, “Environmental Hazards in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Military Installations,” went out in late April to all VA regional offices, signed by Brad Mayes, director of VA’s compensation and pension service.“Service members can be exposed to environmental hazards in the course of their military duties, which may result in adverse health effects,” the letter states.

“Numerous environmental hazards in Iraq, Afghanistan and other military installations that could potentially present health risks to service members and veterans have been identified.”For more on what the letter means for service members and veterans, look for the May 17 issues of the Military Times newspapers, on newsstands this coming Monday.


God Bless
Jose M. Garcia
National Executive Director
Catholic War Veterans,USA
Better to understand a little than to misunderstand a lot.
In God We Trust

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Summer Program/ Free To Veterans/ Welcome Home

This is good stuff. The Purple Mountain Institute is a non-profit organization established in 1999 to develop and bring programs, like this Mindfulness class, to special needs groups.

The curriculum and offering is from the heart of the Executive Director, Teri Davis, ND.

The Mindful Veterans Project, (MVP) is a PMI program to provide funding for vets and  their families to participate in the classes.  I was privileged to be able to participate in the last series. Not being one who believes in born again zappings or a make-over metamorphosis of the psyche, this course came close. It is often said, that everything is in the timing, so I may have just been ready for this brand of instruction. Never mind the analysis, it works, and it works like magic.

I suppose the validation and camaraderie that combat veterans experience when they gather contributed to the magical aspect, as we all have our very nuanced war induced stress issues to remove from our saddle.  At the end of eight weeks I felt like I could ride with the wind, without a saddle. Moreover, it has remained with me to date.

The course moves one to more concentration, focus, clarity, insight, patience and peace of mind, while reducing anxiety,depression, anger, fear, stress, chronic pain, and those bugger intrusive thoughts and feelings.

“The quality of bringing our attention into the present moment and keeping it and sustaining it in the present moment and not judging anything or fix anything, or force anything, or reject anything, that is what mindfulness is about.” Jon Kabat-Zinn

Doug Bremer, MD, director of mental health research for the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center, recently completed a study using MBSR for veterans with PTSD. He had favorable results and says, ” we may have the ability to teach our returning soldiers the skill to control their reaction to those painful memories, without the use of medication, and before the stress from the memories causes further damage.”

My only observation here about Dr. Bremer’s statement is this; is not control and letting things flow, antithetical?  But then, that is why I took the course, to calm my over active analytical mind! The one that does not trust authority! Oh well, got some stuff to work on this summer.

MBSR Introduction and Information sessions start with a series of orientation classes on Thursdays 6-7:30pm at the Ada Pierce McCormick Building on the U of A campus at 1401 E. First Street (at Highland underpass.) Library of  the Little Chapel of All Nations. Orientations are May 13, 20 & 27. June 3rd.

The MBSR 8-week Program begins on Wednesdays 6-8:30pm. June 9,16,23 & 30. July 7,14, 21 &28. Registration is required.

Their is no charge for veterans, families of veterans, (the last class had two mothers of combat vets), and those who work with veterans. Registration fee for others is $250. No one will be turned away for lack of funds.

For more information contact Teri Davis, ND^ Executive Director. “”  520-624-7183

Purple Mountain Institute is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit serving Pima County since 1999. EID, 31-1733820

Caregiver Legislation Signed Into Law

President signs into law Caregiver legislation

President signs into law Caregiver legislation

Contact Kristal DeKleer at (202) 225-9756


New law improves care for women veterans and provides unprecedented support for veteran caregivers

Washington, D.C. - House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner (D-CA) released the following statement in response to President Obama signing S. 1963 into law:
“Today I join the many proud veterans and their families in celebrating the enactment of a new law to provide much needed support for the care network of America’s wounded warriors.  Our Nation stands together to honor those who sacrifice by ensuring critical support as they recover from combat injuries. The new law creates an unprecedented support program for veteran caregivers that will provide training, financial assistance, and improved respite service.  The new law also improves health care services for America’s women veterans, expands the mental health services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and expands supportive services for homeless veterans.   
“President Obama promised a new direction for veterans – and once again lived up to that promise by signing a significant bill into law today.  Congress will continue to ensure that the cost of war includes the cost of the warrior by listening to veterans and better understanding the concerns of their families, communities, and advocates.  Only together as a Nation are we able to show veterans that we appreciate their courageous sacrifice.”
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Veterans Legislative Summaries

Veterans Report: The Military's Largest  Benefits Update

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——————————– 03 MAY 2010——————————————-
House Hears Testimony on VA Delays
Deal of the Week: Top Veteran Discounts
Veteran GI Bill User’s Guide Celebrates 10 Years of Service
Register for Free Military Career Fair Today
Battle of the Rifle Grips: Grauer IGRS
Next-Gen Coastal Artillery
Featured Job: Military Friendly Employers
GI Film Festival — Buy Tickets Now
Doolittle Raiders Reunite
National Resource Directory Updated
New WWII Documentary
Apply to Adopt a Military Working Dog
VA Loan Limits for 2010
More Support for Small Business
Pension for Veterans
VA Addresses Veteran Suicides
VA Awards Projects
VA Looks at Going Green
Gulf War Veterans Urged to Seek Care
Wal-Mart Grants $500K for Green Jobs
VA’s List of Yellow Ribbon Schools
Print and Post This Week’s Veterans Report
Headline Military News

House Hears Testimony on VA Delays
Speaking to a House subcommittee, Jacob Gadd of The American Legion’s Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division said the Veterans Business Administration needs to speed up its process of appointing fiduciaries to handle the finances of veterans who are mentally incapable of managing their own benefits. More

Deal of the Week: Top Veteran Discounts has hundreds of discounts exclusively for veterans and their families. Don’t pay full price for anything. More

Veteran GI Bill User’s Guide
GI Bill benefits can be hard to understand, but the following guide will help you cut through the confusion and access the Montgomery GI Bill benefits you deserve. More Celebrates 10 Years of Service is celebrating its 10-year anniversary by saluting the military community. Visit our 10 Year Anniversary Page to see some of our most popular content over the last decade. More

Register for Free Military Career Fair Today Career Expo is coming to St Louis, Mo. on May 11, 2010. This event will feature top employers seeking the valuable skills you learned in service to your country. More

Battle of the Rifle Grips: Grauer IGRS
When Ward and I attended the ITI tactical shooting course a few weeks ago, instructor Brandon Wright, taught us a new way to grip the rifle with our support hand by canting our wrists and throwing the thumb over the barrel. More

Next-Gen Coastal Artillery
Above, an Iranian produced version of the C-802 anti-ship missile, concealed inside a commercial truck, from Iran’s Great Prophet 5 military exercises. More

Featured Job: Military Friendly Employers
Visit’s Veteran Job Board to search thousands of jobs in aerospace, defense, health care, nursing, government, law enforcement, teaching and more. More

GI Film Festival — Buy Tickets Now
The Fourth Annual GI Film Festival, which will be held May 11-16 in Washington, DC, just announced its line-up for 2010 and tickets are now on sale. More

Doolittle Raiders Reunite
Four of the remaining eight famed Doolittle Raiders, known for their nearly impossible bombing raid on Japan, reunited recently for their 68th years at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. More

National Resource Directory Updated
The National Resource Directory redesigned and enhanced its website at More

New WWII Documentary
WW2 Reflections released its second documentary in a planned trilogy of works that chronicle the major battles fought by U.S. troops in Western Europe during World War II. More

Apply to Adopt a Military Working Dog
After completing their service, some military working dogs are made available for adoption. The adoption law gives priority to their handlers, then to civilian law enforcement agencies and finally to the general public. More

VA Loan Limits for 2010
The 2010 VA home loan limits are out and many locations will remain at the 2009 levels. More

More Support for Small Business
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki recently pledged VA support for President Obama’s efforts to remove barriers to access for Veteran-owned small businesses. More

Pension for Veterans
The VA’s Improved Non-Service Connected Pension is designed to supplement the income of wartime disabled Veterans, and Veterans 65 and over who had to give up career opportunities while they served their country during war. More

VA Addresses Veteran Suicides
With more than 6,000 veterans committing suicide every year, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is redoubling its outreach to veterans and promoting the toll-free suicide-prevention hotline, which is the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. More

VA Awards Projects
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) awarded $20.2 million to install solar energy systems at 18 VA medical centers. More

VA Looks at Going Green
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently completed studies evaluating the potential use of renewable fuels in energy plants supplying 38 VA medical centers around the country. More

Gulf War Veterans Urged to Seek Care
Gulf War veterans with medical symptoms should seek treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs in light of a recent study that says Gulf War service is a cause of post-traumatic stress disorder, a senior Military Health System official said recently. More

Wal-Mart Grants $500K for Green Jobs
The Wal-Mart Foundation issued a grant of $500,000 to help Veterans Green Jobs, a Colorado nonprofit organization, boost its job creation and training programs in the green jobs field. More

VA’s List of Yellow Ribbon Schools
The VA posted its initial list of schools which will be participating in the Yellow Ribbon program for the 2010 – 2011 school year. More


God Bless
Jose M. Garcia
National Executive Director
Catholic War Veterans,USA
Better to understand a little than to misunderstand a lot.
In God We Trust

The Most Dangerous Man In America:Daniel Ellsberg

This gripping documentary about the Pentagon Papers and the events that led up to their release was an Academy Award Nominee and is currently playing at the Loft Theater.

For a seminar on the Constitution and the First Amendment in action, I highly recommend this searing expose of  Daniel Ellsberg and how he elected to be a whistleblower by releasing top secret documents, 7000 pages in all, unveiling the blatant lies and deception of four presidents; Truman, Eisenhower Kennedy and Johnson, about our involvement in Vietnam and the well documented analysis of our very slim probability of winning.  It is when this was known that is chilling. Ellsberg, who contributed to these strategic studies, knew that the lie would be perpetrated unless something drastic and dramatic was done. Enter the thriller that unveils the motives and machinations of our leaders. The recordings of Nixon, that I do not believe have heretofore been heard in context are going to make you cringe.  When he refers to Vietnam as a, “shit-ass little country,” and urges Henry Kissinger to consider using nuclear weapons, you will gasp at the language and tone of a President of the United States.  While Kissinger served Richard Nixon with ultimate loyalty, he did in fact comment during the 1968 campaign, “that man Nixon is not fit to be president” Did he know that was self fulfilling prophecy?

The trail of deception that was outlined in the Pentagon Papers, ultimately exposing the mental instability of Richard Nixon and his Cabinet is adroitly scripted is this documentary leaving the viewer with a full and rational understanding of the genesis of the Watergate Scandal and the only option Nixon had, which was resign or be impeached.

Nixon’s Cambodia policy, was the seal of his fate. By first bombing Cambodia without notifying Congress he enraged the members on the Hill who in turn repealed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution on December 31,1970 stripping him of his unilateral power to conduct war. We have subsequently emasculated our Congressional representatives when it comes to the conduct of war.

To know with certainty, much coming from Robert McNamara, that we could not win, we went forth with the “Christmas Bombings,” dropping 100,000 bombs in 11 days, the tonnage being the equivalency of  8 Nagasaki’s,  leaving the North Vietnamese with but a higher resolve.  Ellsberg wanted to end the deceptions, and at 79 years old he is here to tell the tale, and it is a doozy.

Elsberg, a former Marine Company Commander, and a high-level Pentagon official and member of an elite think tank; the Rand Corporation, tells his tale of conscience driven decisions and the metamorphosis from a trusted and loyal insider to a pariah who was hunted by the FBI.  After visiting the front lines in Vietnam and accompanying soldiers on patrol, even walking point with them, he returned with an outlook that veered far afield from his colleagues. President Nixon once tagged Ellsberg as, “the most dangerous man in America.” Ironic eh- given the outcome of Nixon’s presidency that met its demise with his obsession and paranoia that began with the vilification of Daniel Ellsberg?

Oldest Female Marine Was A Tucsonan

It appears that our readers do enjoy some levity and local veteran trivia, so I will try to provide more local color.

The oldest living female Marine died on Veterans Day last year in Tucson. Miriam  Cohen was one of the oldest females to enlist in 1946 at the 35 years old. Miriam served in WWll and the Korean War. She moved to Tucson when she was 92, and served as the Grand Marshall of the Veterans Day Parade in 2006. Her vigor was evidenced by volunteer work at the local VA Hospital well into her 90’s.

Last year I had the honor of being at the bedside of Betty Magee, another original woman Marine, also in her 90’s who died in a local hospice. I will never forget the call that came from Richard Guthrie, a former Navy Commander and family friend of Marine Magee. Her dying request was to have a Marine in dress blues at her bedside. Within 45 minutes with the amazing power of mobility of the local recruiting office we had a woman Marine Sgt. at the foot of her bed adorned in dress blues.

An equal mobilization effort was put forth by Dan Marries at the Channel 13 who arrived at the hospice with a camera crew five minutes before all of us. Magee got her wish and it was televised on the 10pm news. She beamed with joy and passed shortly after.

As a footnote, my namesake Margaret Brewer was the first woman General of the Marine Corps.