Vietnam War veterans must be pleasantly dazed with the speed in which the Massachusetts Legislature acted in passing a bill helping current veterans returning from combat.
The State House action offers a marked contrast from the nasty reception Vietnam vets got from activists when they came home from the unpopular war that dragged on for more than a decade.
But now things are as they should be. We honor our returning soldiers who sacrifice to keep us free.
Back then, anti-Vietnam War activists called returning veterans “baby killers.” They were jeered, taunted, vilified and spit upon at airports. It was brutal and very unfair. The anti-war crowd acted as though the war was the idea of these young men who were drafted to fight in the jungles of Vietnam, and not the plan of Democratic Presidents John F. Kennedy and especially Lyndon B. Johnson.
It took time for people and politicians to come around to respect these now-aging Vietnam veterans, and to provide programs to help them, especially those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
So, it was good news for all veterans when the Massachusetts House, on the eve of Veterans Day, quickly and unanimously approved a bill that will train counselors at all 29 state colleges and universities to deal with veterans coping with PTSD and related problems.
The bill was filed by Rep. James Arciero after consultation with experts in the field, including medical personnel at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
The Westford Democrat, whose brother and brother-in-law served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said the bill will allow trained counselors to deal with the difficult transition combat veterans undergo when entering or returning to college directly from the battlefield.
He recalled both men struggling with PTSD, sleep disorders, nightmares and other components of stress coming home from deployment. “Reintegrating into civilian life is difficult,” he said, “and this bill would do something positive to help.”
He pointed out the increasing number of veterans entering or returning to state colleges under the G.I. Bill as the war against radical Islamic terrorists continues without an end in sight.
Coleman Nee, a Marine Corps veteran who served in the Department of Veterans Affairs and who supports the bill, said while veterans bring experience to the campus, “Unfortunately, reintegration to civilian and student life can be challenging.”
Under the bill, which is expected to be approved by the Senate and signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker, personnel at UMass Medical School will develop a continuing education program for college counselors dealing with PTSD.
The counselors would be educated and trained to understand military culture and outreach strategies for dealing with it, as well as recognizing clinical signs and symptoms of depression, signs of suicidal tendencies, sleep disorders, substance abuse and unusual behavior, all of which could add up to PTSD disorder.
This may not sound like much. There are no big bucks involved. It will cost around $150,000 in a state budget of $43 billion to implement the program. But it is something that will make a difference in the lives of many young men and women who have gone through life-changing experiences on the battlefield.
The process of returning to civilian life after wartime combat is hard. The experience is difficult to talk about, especially to people who have no idea what you are talking about and worse, don’t care anyway. They did not serve and will not serve.
There is no draft, and the vast majority of the college classmates of returning veterans are not going to sign up and fight terrorists.
Veterans returning home from combat come back from a different world. One day, with the adrenaline flowing, you are teenager firing a .50 caliber machine gun at terrorists. People die, including some of your friends.
The next thing you know, you are tapping a pencil on a desk or on your computer in a quiet classroom on a bucolic campus. You are in the room with other young people, some the same age as you. But your mind is not there. Your mind is with your buddies in Afghanistan or some other combat hellhole. You feel more there than here.
Which is why many discharged veterans are disoriented when they come home from deployment in Afghanistan or anywhere else they have fought.
So, we must remember that they did it for their country, yes, but they also volunteered to do it for you and me.
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