For the countless veterans of the Vietnam War, returning home after giving their service to their country was rarely met with recognition and thanks.
Now, nearly 50 years after the conclusion of the War, an organization is covering the state to provide veterans with a small token of appreciation for their service.
Last Wednesday, September 29th, Jill Fewell, executive director of Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans (www.whvv.org) was at the Switzerland County Public Library presenting Vietnam veterans with items that give recognition and appreciation for their service.
“We had a good turnout,” Fewell said. “We had about 40 Vietnam veterans turn out and be honored.”
Fewell said that her organization has partnered with the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs for this project.
“Sammy Davis, who is Indiana’s only living recipient of the Medal of Honor, was the one who started this project, and then he asked me to spearhead it and make sure it got done,” Fewell said. “It took a few years to make headway, but we received a nice grant from the Lilly Endowment in order to get our first printing of 20,000 copies. We estimate that there are about 130,000 Vietnam veterans in Indiana. It’s important not only to honor them — because they never really go the ‘welcome home’ that they should have, or the respect or honor or appreciation — so we’re doing that as well as offering this as an outreach to connect them with their earned benefits. Of those 130,000, we estimate that about half of them have never filed a benefits claim, or did and so was denied years ago, and then kind of gave up. It’s important that we connect these veterans to these benefits. There’s now 17 presumptive illnesses associated with the Vietnam War. Even in this last year, the federal government has recognized these ailments and are paying even back claims. These veterans were left out and denied. It took 40-some years for the government to recognize that Agent Orange was a thing.”
Fewell said many veterans have earned benefits just sitting there waiting to be claimed. She estimates that it will take a couple of years to complete, but the goal is to find and honor as many Vietnam veterans as possible.
“These gifts are free to the veteran, and we even offer that to the family members of deceased Vietnam veterans. Typically it’s the widow or widower, so we present them with a gift, as well,” Fewell said.
She also noted that organizations such as the Daughters of the American Revolution are volunteering to help with events and also are delivering and presenting these gifts to veterans who are homebound or those with mobility issues.
The gift consists of a 128-page hardbound book that has all 50 states represented as well as 50 different MO’s, which are the jobs that veterans did while in the military.
“It’s a wide variety of real stories that we pulled from the Library of Congress,” Fewell said. “It’s in a timeline format and the book is called ‘A Time to Honor’. There is also a DVD included with the book titled ‘A Journey Home’, which is a documentary with former war protesters and Vietnam veterans coming together and talking about all of that 50 years later. It’s really, really powerful.”
Fewell said that the organization is also working on its expanded digital edition of the book, where photos of the veteran receiving the gift is added into the expanded digital edition.
Fewell said that her organization, Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans, is a non-profit dedicated to outreach and events and anything that it can do to honor the veterans. It has raised money for the Indiana Gold Star Families monument in Indianapolis, which was built on the Indiana War Memorial plaza and was dedicated May 1st of this year.
The stop here last Wednesday was another stop in covering the entire state.
“We have been in 23 counties so far, and we started this on Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day, which is March 29th,” Fewell said. “We did that with a kick off right across the street from the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs.”
If a Vietnam veteran wasn’t able to come last Wednesday, but would like the gift, Fewell says that there are ways to receive it.
“We have an online order website, www.vetsgift.com, and they can order it there, and we’re hoping to come down somewhere in this area and hold events in hopes of finding all these folks. We’ll get it to them.”
And if a Vietnam veteran is curious about any potential benefits that they earned as a member of the military — or those who perhaps applied at one point and were denied — Fewell said that they should contact Switzerland County Veterans Service Officer Duane Covington, who can help maneuver through the process to get what each veteran rightly deserves.
“The process is now much, much simpler than it was in the past,” Fewell said of applying for benefits.