2009-05-06 / Headlines

Viet Nam Vet Seeks Military Benefits

"I went willingly where they told me to go back then. Now I need some help."
By: Roseanna Renaud Times Correspondent

(above)) Tony Bush and his medals in front of his home (above)) Tony Bush and his medals in front of his home BPORCUPIN E - Ther e wa s a warrior on the road today. Maybe you saw him, walking as quickly as the diabetes and partial-blindness allowed, making the eighty-seven mile journey from his home in Porcupine to Martin. Or perhaps you were one of three drivers who noticed fifty-nine year old Anthony 'Tony' Bush, near useless glasses perched on his bearded face, gray streaked hair pulled back in a ponytail, and stopped to give him a lift to the Martin Veteran Center. He would have been walking backwards at times, so any passersby might recognize a hopeful friendly face.

As I sat and talked with Tony in the Center's meeting room on that cold grey Tuesday afternoon, I couldn't help but think of the younger version of this man, fresh faced and just 19 in 1969, who told his parents, longtime Porcupine residents Eugene and Hanah Bush, that he was joining the Army to do his duty in Viet Nam.

After Airborne and Pathfinder School at Fort Benning, GA, PFC Bush found himself in-country in January of 1970 at places like Ben Hoa and Phuy Bia where he headquartered with the 101st Airborne- Air Mobile, better known as the Screaming Eagles. Over one hundred field missions, preparing bodies of American soldiers for graves registration, seeing a friend get blown apart, and discovering a mass grave, are just a few of the horrific highlights encountered during his tour, which eventually took its toll on the Oglala veteran from South Dakota.

Photos by Roseanna Renaud (right)) Tony Bush , Then and Now. Photos by Roseanna Renaud (right)) Tony Bush , Then and Now. "I had acquired a heavy drug and alcohol problem in Viet Nam," said Tony. "I came back to the world after all the things I saw and experienced over there."

With an Honorable Discharge in hand and a cluster of service awards such as the Vietnam Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, and Combat Infantry Badge, Bush reenlisted after twentyfour hours and was assigned to Fort Polk, Louisiana where he trained recruits bound for Viet Nam, in field survival techniques.

During a second posting at Fort Carson Colorado, a troubled Tony plunged deeper into an alcoholic abyss and went AWOL several times. In 1975, the military, who didn't have a handle on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder back then, had enough and handed him a court martial and a second discharge, this one 'Under Other Than Honorable Conditions', which meant no military benefits.

(above)) Tony Bush at the Martin Veterans Center. (above)) Tony Bush at the Martin Veterans Center. The fight to upgrade this discharge began almost immediately and would drag on for nearly four decades. After years of substance abuse, a serious car accident in 1992 changed his life and he sought healing through sweats and the Sundance.

Nearly forty years have passed since firefights lit up the night sky, Agent Orange rained down, and spitting bullets zinged over his head in that faraway jungle land, yet Tony, who now has seventeen years of sobriety under his belt, is still fighting the war. Only this battle is on home ground with the United States Department of Veteran Affairs, and he means to survive until completion of his mission.

Subsisting solely on meager Supplemental Security Income from the Social Security Administration, Tony continues to seek the military benefits and healthcare that are due him with the help of Readjustment Counseling Specialist Danny Applegarth and Readjustment Counseling Therapist Martin Miller of the Martin Vet Center.

This year, Veterans Service Officer Charles Quinn was able to get him into a PTSD Specialty Treatment program in Sheridan, Wyoming. Tony will be seen at the Hot Springs VA Hospital in May for a thorough physical exam and in June goes before a military board of review who will hear his discharge upgrade case.

Retired Tribal Advocate Phyllis Wilcox of Wanblee, who works with Veterans in similar straits, believes a Presidential Pardon may be the answer. "I received a call that Tony was looking for somebody to help him with his case," said Wilcox, whose son is also a veteran. "He told me he had a lot of medals, but that didn't buy him breakfast. Our vets should be respected and treated well."

As he said that I was reminded of my own brother, who served at the same time with the Screaming Eagles, maybe even right next to Tony, and arrived stateside in the seventies with a raging PTSD and similarly crushed soul. While both boy-soldiers survived combat, the ravages of war still took my brother in 2000 before he reached his forty-ninth birthday.

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