A need to gather: Vietnam Veterans Day lunch to interrupt isolation of pandemic
Nevada County entered the red tier just in time for this year’s Vietnam Veterans Day.
A Vietnam Veterans Day lunch, now sold out, is set for Saturday. It’s supported by the Marine Corp league; American Legion Post No. 130; Vietnam Veterans of America; Welcome Home Vets; Daughters of the American Revolution; All Veterans Stand Down; Veterans of Foreign Wars; Legion Auxiliary; and Nevada County Veterans Services.
Sandra Boyd, who served as a military social worker after the fall of Saigon, said the different agencies and nonprofits joined together to optimize the use of their collective resources and offer consistent support to veterans in a trying time.
“I’m sure with COVID, you can imagine, everyone is isolated,” Boyd said.
Boyd said it is important to support veterans in general, but especially now given post-pandemic laws and social expectations surrounding human touch and gatherings.
Boyd said her group has been having monthly lunches as part of a larger outreach effort.
Her experience as a young professional in her field gave Boyd an longstanding appreciation for the veteran’s experience and struggle with mental health.
Boyd offered therapy to veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder at Forth Worth, Texas, shortly after the Vietnam War ended. Before Boyd would begin working with children, she also offered social services at Fort Hood.
“(Fort Hood) had the largest mental health unit in the state because they had so many service people,” Boyd said.
Doug Becker, a Vietnam veteran, was an Army intelligence officer and ranger.
Like Boyd, Becker volunteered for service, as opposed to being conscripted.
Becker said he joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corp (ROTC) while he was a student at the University of San Francisco.
“All the ROTC cadets went to summer camp,” Becker said. “That’s when I decided this was what I wanted to do — I wanted to be a career military officer.”
Becker was commissioned the day after his graduation in 1970. Between 1972 and 1973, Becker served in Vietnam near Saigon and then in the IV Corps, in a town called Can Tho.
Becker said his officer status inadvertently protected him from the hostility many experienced upon their return.
Instead of entering civilian life right away, Becker remained on active duty in Maryland and Thailand until he was discharged in 1976.
“I did not have the experiences of many enlisted people,” Becker said. “There were people who returned to protesters who yelled at them and spit in their faces.”
Becker went into sales in San Francisco as a civilian, eventually purchasing his own insurance agency. He met his wife Tammy over the phone at a collaborating agency and they married in 1983. In 1998, the couple moved to Grass Valley and in 2010 began Welcome Home Vets.
Becker said he started Welcome Home Vets to offer resources closer to central Nevada County.
“If you don’t have a PTSD rating you can see a local therapist and Welcome Home Vets pays for a year of counseling,” Doug’s wife, Tammy Becker, said. “If you get the rating, you have to go to the VA Center, Auburn, Sacramento or Reno.”
Tammy Becker said Dr. Paige Brown and Mark Thielen were two professionals in the area committed to offering consistent support to those who need it.
Tammy Becker said Welcome Home Vets offers those it services the consistency required for psychological healing.
“With the VA so far, the veteran has to tell the story over again because of the turnover, and has to travel,“ Tammy Becker said.
Welcome Home Vets also offers counseling services to the veteran’s family members, in groups or individually.
Doug Becker said the nation he represented abroad a half century ago does not look that different from the nation now.
“Today we’re very polarized and we were very polarized in the ’60s and the ’70s,” Doug Becker said.
Doug Becker said the country has a long way to go in terms of the racial and gender equity struggle that the student movement fought for a half century ago.
“The world hasn’t changed all that much in the last 50 years,” Doug Becker said. “Speaking for myself, as a veteran, I’m disheartened. I’m disheartened that we haven’t made greater strides in society and in the world.”
That said, Becker loves his country and attributes the slow change to the mercurial nature of being human.
“That doesn’t mean I was less patriotic than I was in the ’70s,“ Becker said. ”I personally want to buy a ticket for anyone who doesn’t want to be in America to go anywhere they want to go.“
Becker said he bore witness to racial strife in the military as well, but it was challenging to see veterans return home and face unwelcoming crowds.
“Most of our military did not want to be there in the first place,” Becker said, adding “most of the veterans were drafted.”
Jason Tedder is the public relations officer for the American Legion Post No. 130 and communications director and treasurer for Welcome Home Vets.
The Navy bar controlman, also a Grass Valley native, was deployed to the Persian Gulf for a “pirate-hunting tour” around the horn of Africa from 2008 to 2009.
Four members of his 14 person division have committed suicide since winter 2019, he said.
“Over the last few months I’ve had so many of my friends have mini-meltdowns in my presence,” Tedder said. “They’re just concerned about community, concerned about polarization and finding the whole world extremely hard to navigate.”
Tedder said he was sure the general community feels the same way, but veterans especially need opportunities to congregate.
“It often takes an outside source to give them an excuse to do it,” Tedder added, “because they wouldn’t reach out on their own to do it.
Doug Becker said he is looking forward to seeing his comrades in person on Saturday — and touching them.
“It is a day where we come together because of a common experience, which we may or may not share with each other. The simple fact that we have chosen as individuals to come forward, shake the hands of another veteran saying welcome home,” Doug Becker said, adding “maybe even give each other big man hugs.“
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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