DAV Magazine March/April 2018 : Page 25

“We know now how critical early detection and treatment for mental health conditions can be to keeping veterans out of the dangerous cycle of substance abuse, homelessness, unemployment or— worse—suicide,” said Metcalf-Foster. “In hindsight, how many Vietnam-era veterans could have been helped if the right supports were in place back then?” Even finding access to basic needs proved to be a hardship to many Vietnam veterans. “One of the many challenges I faced when it was time to be discharged was finding housing,” said DAV life member Dr. James Kirschke, professor emeritus at Villanova University, who lost both legs after stepping on a land mine in Vietnam. “I couldn’t go back to my family home, a two-story row home entered by a flight of steps, so I began searching for a suitable apartment. It was hard enough in those days to find any building I could get into in a wheelchair, let alone an apartment building.” Long before the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 would improve accessibility and opportunities for the country’s injured and ill, Kirschke often had to ask classmates or total strangers he met on the street to carry him in his wheelchair up flights of stairs when a building did not have a ramp or elevator. Once while it was raining, he asked several fellow students to help lift him up a small flight of steps. Most refused. Some even laughed. “I strike these incidents up to the rampant prejudice against veterans at the time, especially wounded veterans who were sometimes seen as deserving of their injuries for participating in an unjust war,” Kirschke said, adding that he is glad things have “ For those of us who came after the war, we have an awful lot to thank the Vietnam generation for.” —National Commander Delphine Metcalf-Foster changed for returning veterans. “The Vietnam War and its veterans were embattled for too long, and it’s time that combat veterans get their due.” Senior Vice Commander Dennis Nixon was wounded during his second tour in Vietnam as a young Marine in 1969. After recovering from his injuries, he returned to civilian life in a small town in eastern New Mexico in 1970. Although he didn’t experience the same mistreatment as Kirschke, it would be decades before Nixon was ever thanked for his service to the nation. “I never really received a thank you until after Operation Desert Storm,” Nixon said. “I think we have finally made progress as a country in that regard.” That progress largely began as a movement within the Vietnam veterans community to ensure future generations were not cast aside or forgotten when they returned home. “We owe a great deal of our strength as an organization to their collective efforts,” said Metcalf-Foster. “Vietnam veterans have taught us an important lesson about not taking our foot off the gas when it comes to advocating for those who follow us—we have to continue building a better system for the next generation of veterans. And for those of us who came after the war, we have an awful lot to thank the Vietnam generation for.” ■ Marine 1st Lt. Jim Kirschke (center) at Chu Lai, Vietnam, in 1966. In January 1967, Kirschke stepped on a pressure mine filled with 40 pounds of rusty nails rigged to an antipersonnel grenade and anti-tank rocket, which resulted in a double leg amputation. Kirschke recovered, went on to earn his doctorate and recorded his memoirs in the book “Not Going Home Alone.” DAV.ORG | FACEBOOK.COM/DAV | @DAVHQ | @DAVHQ 25

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