Hope for veterans who've been denied benefits
WEST MICHIGAN - In “Charlie Foxtrot,” a team of investigators uncovers the reasons behind the national spike in service member suicides. This docu-series focuses on a Military policy that kicks service members out when they attempt to take their own life, leaving them without the help they were promised when they signed up to serve. “Charlie Foxtrot” exposes the trauma of war, taking viewers through a visceral experience as soldiers once driven to the brink of suicide open up emotionally and share videos and photos from the war zone. If, after watching, you feel compelled to help, please sign the Fairness for Veterans petition to Congress.
Editor's note: Videos contain graphic footage of the horrors of war as well as strong language that some will find disturbing. Viewer discretion is strongly advised.
The series is called "Charlie Foxtrot" for a reason. Those of you in the military know what that means. Let’s just say, it’s a complete mess. When it comes to veteran's benefits and health care, the the system has failed some of you. But, there is hope. There is bi-partisan legislation that could help those with PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injuries, which often leads to suicide.
It’s an issue Vietnam Veteran, Ron VanBeek, 68, is passionate about. "I'm 100% PTSD, combat changes a person tremendously." For over 40 years, VanBeek tried to forget the Vietnam War. “When human beings are hunting other human beings, you don't come back the same. The images of war never went away. "For a combat veteran, it's the sleepless nights, the dreaming in the night, and the nightmares."
VanBeek was a sergeant in the 5th infantry. He remembers the day several men in his group were killed; including his two best friends. “Seeing friends die, seeing carnage, everywhere”. When all hope was lost, the rest of the company was saved by a type of aircraft nicknamed "Puff the Magic Dragon."
"That mighty curtain of red fire descended around us a few feet in front of our fox hole and beat back the human wave attack." VanBeek was honorably discharged in 1970. He struggled mentally, but had a successful career. He got married and raised a family. He knows others haven't been so lucky.
"How is it today, that we have 22 veterans putting a gun to their head and pulling the trigger? Putting a bullet to their own head", says Ron.
Many of them are Vietnam Veterans. But there's also been a dramatic rise in veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some say increased awareness will help diagnose potential problems earlier. "We have learned a great deal about PTSD and TBI", says United States Senator Gary Peters (D-MI). The invisible injuries often go un-diagnosed. It can lead to bad behavior, suicide attempts, and a less than honorable discharge. When that happens, the person is denied veteran's benefits. Peters often tells the story of a veteran from West Michigan.
"Later, he went back to the VA. The VA said you do, you have PTSD, traumatic brain injury. They began treatment and look at his record and said you have less than an honorable discharge, we can't treat you any longer. His life spun out of control, he was homeless, that's simply unacceptable."
Last year, Sen. Peters introduced legislation called "Fairness for Veterans". "The legislation gives them a review process for that veteran to go back and have that discharge re-evaluated." Set. Peters believes some of the cases will lead to a credible diagnose of PTSD. “We think it's a very large number."
The Veteran’s Administration estimates 11-20% of modern veterans have PTSD each year and more than 20 former service members die each day by suicide. "We have to treat this with the seriousness that it deserves and we have to make sure we, as a country, always stand behind our men and women who go into harm’s way."
For Ron VanBeek, PTSD and suicide is an issue he speaks about often as a Chaplain with the Army. But even after counseling others and being at peace with his own service, Ron still has nightmares. "I'm on the plane going back to Vietnam, I'm trying to explain that I've done my tour. They say yes, yes, you do. I wake up as the plane lands..."
The Fairness for Veterans act is expected to be taken up when Congress returns to session later this month.