Tazewell County military veterans, many of whom served in Vietnam, told one of the county’s U.S. Congress members Wednesday of problems they’ve dealt with for decades when they’ve sought medical care through the Veterans Administration.
Their combat-related issues, however, are the same many current service members bring home from overseas conflicts, and Cheri Bustos took note.
About 20 vets met with Bustos, D-Ill., at the county’s McKenzie Building for an hour-long discussion in which Bustos met her promise to “listen more than talk.”
She heard the veterans’ stories of bureaucratic obstacles they’ve encountered for years to obtain both medical and mental health care through the VA. Bustos said she would inquire about several of the cases they raised.
Omer Peal of Pekin said he came home in 1969 with mental health issues from his tour as an Army platoon sergeant in the Vietnam War. He sought help from the VA in the 1980s.
By 2008, “They finally were convinced I was crazy,” Peal joked.
Turning serious, he added, “A lot of veterans get fed up with the (VA) system and drop out.”
That, said Bustos, is a problem the federal government seeks to address, by both making VA medical care available through private doctors and clinics and by opening new VA clinics.
One that is scheduled to open in July 2019 in McLean County will be available to about 2,500 central Illinois vets who now must travel to the Bob Michel VA Clinic in Peoria. That will include many vets in Tazewell, part of which Bustos, of Rock Island, represents within the 17th District.
Discussion focused on care for mental issues affiliated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It still affects Vietnam-era vets, who comprised most of those at the meeting. Most of them told Bustos they didn’t, or couldn’t, watch the recent PBS multi-part series on the war’s history.
“I did” watch it, said one veteran. “I had a lot of sleepless nights” as a result.
John McCabe, Pekin’s mayor and a Vietnam veteran, said he speaks to school classes as “therapy” for issues from his war experience.
Veterans, then and now, “go through a range of emotions the (students) can’t understand,” he said.
Peal suggested the VA could begin programs to educate spouses and families of current service members about how to recognize and deal with PTSD problems their loved ones bring home.
“That’s what we need to get to,” he said.
At the meeting’s end, Jeff Johanssen of Deer Creek told Bustos how he believes the government should approach veteran issues.
“We were trained to do the right thing in the right way at the right time,” he said. “That’s all we ask of you and (of) Congress.”
“I’ll do my best,” Bustos replied.
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