The Wadena Pioneer Journal of Wadena, Minnesota, published a story recently, touting the eventual -- and I do mean, eventual -- "victory" of a Vietnam-era veteran receiving compensation for his PTSD. That's the pioneering Eugene Foster himself, in the photo at left. Minnesotans must be made of very strong, enduring stuff, because Mr. Foster has persisted through a two and a half year claims process, and three appeals, to achieve his victory of $65,000, or $2,527 a month from Veterans Affairs for the rest of his life, according to the story. The article also quotes Mr. Foster as saying, "I don’t give up too easy...I come from a long line of stubborn people." Good thing, considering the Vietnam war ended 33 years ago next month, and, at 64, Mr. Foster's life expectancy is just 15 more years, a number probably discounted further by years of poor health. Ever alert for a touch of irony in these heart-breaking situations, I find it in this comment of his veterans service officer: "“The only thing I can say is the system works.”
Well, provided you're not in any hurry, I guess. Mr. Foster had another claim out, according to the paper, for "continuing knee problems he said stem from a shrapnel wound he sustained during the Tet Offensive in January, 1968." But, he "dropped that claim during the process of receiving his PTSD settlement, he said."
Like the narrator in Langston Hughes' poem, "Mother to Son," who lamented that "life for me ain't been no crystal stair," Mr. Foster has had, arguably, more than his share of suffering and pain in this lifetime, much of it thanks to his Vietnam experience, and his attempts to cope with that through his own methods and means. The article in the Wadena Pioneer Journal is brief, but it mentions about a dozen difficult life experiences. A brief catalog of this veteran's hard luck life: the Vietnam War itself, PTSD, his Vietnamese fiancee killed by the Viet Cong; the shrapnel wound; the knee problems; the lifetime spent self-medicating his depression with alcohol, till he kicked that habit; high blood pressure; and getting around in a walker and a wheelchair, in an apartment that had stairs. Thankfully, Mr. Foster persisted, and now the small settlement will allow him to move apartments, and ideally be able to find a "two-bedroom condominium with all new carpets, floor heating and dishwasher..." Small, reasonable goals for someone who served his country, honorably. As Mr. Foster cautions others veterans, "Fight, don't give up." Veterans "deserve what compensation they get." (We won't argue with that. They even deserve it in a timely fashion, and enough to live on.) As he says, "A lot of people should be compensated who don't have it."