(122) From Foxtail to No Bail: The Battle Cry of the VVA

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Molly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)

When growing up in Southern California, the foxtail weed could take down even the toughest animal, including horses, dogs, coyotes, cows, goats, and cats. When the animal tries pulling the foxtail out of its fur, the weed winds its way into the animal’s nose or ear or burrows under the skin. Often, the foxtail requires surgery to remove lest it fester and wreak havoc on its host.

While the analogy may not be the best to use, I felt as if a foxtail lodged in my brain when I wrote Tuesday’s blog, “Give the Dog a Bone.” This blog listed Miss Molly’s top Veteran organizations to support financially. What haunted me through the week was the founding statement for the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), which reads: “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.” I found its goal statement just as provocative: “To promote and support the full range of issues important to Vietnam veterans, to create a new identity for this generation of veterans, and to change public perception of Vietnam veterans.”

Of course, I did not require surgery to remove this metaphorical foxtail, but these statements bugged me until I finally surrendered and asked my husband to help me understand. It struck me that for such sentiments to find their way into the founding statements of an important organization must have meant that a great deal of suffering led to their formation.

Scorn for the Vietnam Veteran 

The Vietnam Veteran “was treated with intense scorn, disgust, and hatred by a nation that refused to look at itself honestly….Worse, veterans of other wars told him that he fought in the only war that America lost….Even worse, he was told by some that he didn’t even have the honor of having fought in a war….

Brende and Parson in Vietnam Veterans: The Road to Recovery

Brende and Parson continued their description of the treatment Vietnam Veterans experienced upon returning home. “Many Vietnam veterans’ fathers who had served in earlier wars often refused to discuss Vietnam with them. Or if Vietnam was discussed, the war and its soldiers were spoken of as losers and in a disparaging way.” (Brende and Parson, 73, 80)

In short, Vietnam Veterans were abandoned by the generation of warriors who went before them. Many of those who abandoned our Veterans were fathers of the men who fought in Vietnam—Veterans from World War II.

Legitimacy of the Vietnam Veterans of America 

Congress established the VVA in Public Law 99-318 in 1986. With its founding principle to make sure no generation of Veteran again would experience the abandonment the Vietnam Veterans experienced, it follows that our government leaders recognized the injustice leveled against this generation of Veteran. Additionally, the VVA was charged with creating a new identity for the Vietnam Veteran and changing public perception. Again, our government leaders acknowledged that the media and social attacks on our Veterans were not only unjustified but caused by the betrayal of our own country of those called to serve.

What this Means for Our Military Today 

This week, I accompanied my husband to several VA doctor appointments. In one of the waiting rooms my husband struck up a conversation with several Veterans. He and a Vietnam Veteran shared their stories. A young Afghanistan Veteran, suffering from TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and PTSD, opened up to William once they were alone. He shared that his assignment included forward operations like my husband’s. They experienced much of the same trauma from their war service. The young Veteran drank every word of encouragement William offered. While the Veteran started his discussion with watery eyes, he showed signs of hope and optimism as he left for his appointment.

I asked William what changed the man’s outlook during the conversation.

“—Because I was in combat and he needed to know that in order to open up. Only a Veteran who’s been there can help another Veteran. Even though their combat experience is different, combat is still combat.”

The healing that began today for this young Veteran tells me that the goal of the VVA to make sure no generation of Veteran is ever abandoned again is being fulfilled. Because William and other Vietnam Veterans took the time to engage this young man, he learned he is not alone and that his road to recovery is shared by tens of thousands of Vietnam Veterans willing to help.

Only the Vietnam Veteran 

No matter how much I blog, how much education the psychiatric staff possesses, or how well-intentioned our families are, no one can ease the healing process like another Veteran—especially a Veteran, who had to overcome the ignorance and hostility of a Nation that once abandoned its warriors.

For every Vietnam Veteran who meets the next generation of Veteran, know that you represent a lifeline for the young Veteran. You offer the experience no one other than a Veteran can to help him or her overcome the distress and trauma of war. Please do not bail out on this new generation of Veteran, as you are the only generation of Veterans, who can reach them.

Post your Comments: 

As a Vietnam Veteran, what advice might you give a warrior just returning home from service in a combat zone? Please reply below. 

Source cited:

  • Brende, Joel Osler and Erwin Randolph Parson. Vietnam Veterans: the Road to Recovery. New York: New American Library, 1985.

About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her granddaughter.