Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The United States Navy Lost My Father’s Military Records.

If you have care and respect for our US Veterans, then please read this!

My dad served our country through the United States Navy from 1963 – 1967, beginning in the Naval Reserves while still in school from November 1962 to June 1963. He was deployed to Vietnam twice and was stationed out of Tan Son Nhat Air Base, Saigon, Vietnam. He served his country humbly because 'that's just what we do.' Though his official service ended with his final honorable discharge in November of 1968, exiting the Navy with the ranking of AX2, Anti-Submarine Warfare Tech, he has silently continued in dedication to make this country a better place.

He has been an amazing husband and father, raising me and my brother while married to our mom for 46 years now. From his steadfast faith in God to caring for his ailing parents, his goodness has touched many. Like millions who've come before him and many who will come after, service like his is the backbone of our country. It consistently honors our founding fathers’ pledge to build a land of opportunity, bravery, equality, and justice, through selfless deed after deed. A US citizen, who’s lived his life from day to day in the shadows of politics and economics that so often shroud the true beauty of this great land. These people are our foundation. They are many.

As a child, I recall my father’s playfulness with my brother and me, yet his stern guidance to teach us right from wrong. This skill continued and was felt by many of our friends who knew him as their baseball or ice hockey coach. I'm sure some of you reading this recognize these same silent qualities in people you've known all your life - parent, friend, teacher, or neighbor. Someone who doesn't seek the limelight, but whose only goal is to live a good life and leave this country with a bit of light to flourish after they’re gone. 

Just over 26 years ago, our family was dealt a tough blow. My mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis to add to her existing battle with depression. As you can imagine, her MS diagnosis only compounded her highs and lows. She also has heart disease and other ailments that require a boatload of medications and hands-on care. Her bodily functions have slowly and painstakingly deteriorated over the years. It has been hard to watch her body constantly fail her to the point she’s been unable to hold her grandchildren. Her fight is one of heroism, but also degrading blows – blows which my father has always taken with her. He is her shield. But even the toughest shield ages and can’t keep up the same productivity. Many reading this can surely relate.

Always her faithful caregiver, my father has put her before himself in all and everything, just as he did all those years ago with our country. The Vietnam War could have taken his life. Thankfully, it did not. Instead, it spared him to return home and be a productive citizen. He has spent his life doing so until recently receiving his own diagnosis - cancer. The shield is developing cracks all his.

My brother and I now face the heartbreaking reality of setting up in-home care for our mom, while my father has surgery for the cancer and for his recovery. We both have four children and will do everything to care for her, but we can’t do it alone. I’m in awe that he’s been doing this alone all these years.

He is a proud man, so asking for help has been hard for him. But it got us thinking about his military service and if Veteran Affairs could be of any assistance. His initial reaction to the idea was that he’d given to his country without the expectation of anything in return and that there are thousands of vets coming home now in need of more care than he needs. (Yeah, my heart pounded a little harder after hearing him say that, too.) Finally, he agreed to let me take him to the VA to see if they could lessen his load of taking care of himself so he could still be available to care for our mom. But to our horror, we discovered the military records he was given upon his honorable discharge were incomplete. They lack the TDY orders proving his was ‘Boots on the Ground’ in Vietnam. Without that proof, the VA can’t offer him any help.

The Navy lost my father’s military service records. Seriously?

We petitioned the Military Achieves in Missouri in November, but have received no response. The only positive help we've been given is from Senator Susan Collins’ office in Maine, where my parents reside. However, a phone call from her office this morning shared with us some bad news. They have found nothing to prove his service as of yet. Again – Seriously? My father will not only be worried about his limited ability to care for my mother during his surgery and recovery, but he’ll also be worried about the expense and care he will need. His surgery is in less than two weeks.

This is a man who our country should be grateful to have as its citizen. And there are millions like him.

After receiving the news from the senator’s office, my father text me this: Makes me feel like I imaged serving, or it was a dream. I’m very disappointed. I can guarantee you his memories aren't his imagination, the atrocities he witnessed or the friends he lost. It’s all real. He could have died in Vietnam, not once but twice. If he had, would he now be a ghost? A never-had-been because the Navy can’t find his records, proof that he served?

This is heartbreaking. Obviously he is crushed, but not for the VA’s refusal to offer him the benefits he earned by serving in the armed services. He is devastated because it seems like he didn’t exit, as though his sacrifice didn't matter to anyone. I, for one, NEVER want a service person to feel this sort of abandonment. What about you? 
 photo Sheri2.png

21 comments:

  1. This is so sad, Sheri. The whole Vietnam era was bad enough with the way our serviceman were treated when they returned. To see this happen now years later when your family could really use the help is just sickening. And even if it weren't for the help that might be given, the message it gives personally to your dad who served well and honorably is even worse. This is just very weird--and heartbreaking for your parents. Are there personal records that the family could submit to prove he was there? I'd say write to a congressman or someone who might be able to restore his records somehow. There must be some recourse in a situation like this. Good luck to you and God bless your family at this difficult time.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, Karen. They mean a lot. I was just told that old photos of my dad during his two tours in Vietnam could prove his status as 'Boots on the Ground', so I'm going to give that a shot. We still have a congressional aid looking into it for us. The sad thing about this is that my dad's experience is not unique. I guess this happens often, which is so wrong. You'd think they would have fixed this issue by now.

      Thank you, again...

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  2. That's unbelievable. I know it's before computers, but I don't know how that could even be possible. I'm so sorry your family is going through so much hardship and here's yet another problem.

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  3. Wow. Like our country doesn't treat our veterans shamefully enough. Now we lose the records proving they ever served? I don't know what to say to this. I am sorry, Sheri. Not surprised. But very sorry and ashamed for our country.

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    1. Thanks, Dianne. It's nice to hear that people agree with me. My second son is a senior this year. He's always thought about enlisting in the Navy. I won't lie that this has bothered him. I mean, why would anyone agree to risk their life for our country if our country isn't more careful with the simple task of record keeping. The idea is so strange to me. If we did this in the private sector, we'd surely be help accountable. And I don't mean to be harsh. Human error is inevitable, but they should have (and still should) take safeguards so this doesn't happen.

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  4. I'm so sorry you and your loved ones are going through this. That is a shame those records are lost. That is both unprofessional and disrespectful on their part as it's their job to keep records and also to honor those who served.

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  5. I hate this, Sheri. It's so heartbreaking. What can we do? Can we phone our congressmen and demand they fix this somehow? Tell us. I am so sorry. I come from a military family. My uncle was a POW. Another uncle was hurt badly in the war. He was guarding an artillery hold when the enemy blew it up. He was standing right next to it. After months of healing, he requested to go back into combat. So I get this and I want to help in any way I can. I will pray this gets resolved someway. <3 you.

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    1. Oh wow, Robyn. You have some brave family members. I could never give these people their just due, the full respect they deserve. Thanks for offering to help. We're still at it. My dad's case is nowhere near unique. It happens to many in our military. I guess I feel like the government wouldn't forget to tax my dad or hold him accountable for anything. So why is the military so careless with their records. It's part of these peoples' identity. Just bummed for my dad. I won't give up until we find something that proves he was there.

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  6. I agree with Dianne. This is horrible. Is there anything I can do? Write a letter? make a phone call?

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    1. Oh gosh, your offer to help means a ton to me. Unfortunately, my dad's situation is not unique so I think letters or calls kind of fall on deaf ears now. Senators Collins' office has been helpful. I called and spoke to an aid. He was very nice and understanding, like he seemed to care. He said he'd keep digging. Guess that's all they can do at this point. I did find some photos of my dad during his two tours in Vietnam. I'm going to bring those in to the VA to see if they can find proof within the photos. One of the workers there told me many vets have proven active duty status by doing this.

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  7. My goodness, like your poor father needs more bad news. This is dreadful. It's a typical bureaucratic f*-up though. Something like this happened to my mother. Perhaps your father could contact his old commanders or the people who served with him and they can sign an affidavit of his service. I wish your father, your mother, and your whole family my very best wishes and I hope he recovers quickly from his surgery.

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    1. Sorry your mother has had a similar experience. It's really crappy. My dad isn't sure how to get a hold of the guys in his crew. It's been almost 50 years and they've all lost touch. I was wondering why the VA couldn't take that route, though. I'm sure one of the nine guys has received some sort of care from the VA. I'll have to ask.

      Thanks!

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  8. I'm astounded!! It's unbelievable and inconceivable! So sorry this has happened to your father or to anyone. t hope this matter is resolved, quickly!!

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  9. How heartbreaking and discouraging - honestly I hear almost nothing good about the VA. It's probably a good thing he isn't going to a VA hospital, too, though they should provide monetary support for him!!!!

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    1. Thanks for your support, Margo. I appreciate your comment.

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  10. That's horrible! I wonder how many other people this has happened to.

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  12. This is heartbreaking, Sheri. Ironically, the army lost some--fortunately not all--of my Dad's papers and we had a battle getting him help during his life. I still have open correspondence with the VA and my dad died ten years ago. Thinking of you and your family. I hope you can find the help you need.

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  13. That is just so wrong and so frustrating for all of you. Hope those photos work.

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  14. What a horrible way to repay a man who served his country honorably and bravely. No wonder America is in such a mess today. A bunch of incompetents are running the country, in all areas it seems. Prayers for your father and your family that all will work out.

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  15. How awful! Can't they find anything online? My sympathies go out to your mom, dad and you as caretakers. It's admirable how your dad cared for your mother all these years. Many weaker men would've bailed. I hope proof of his service turns up and he gets the care he needs.

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