One of the best decisions I ever made, whether by accident or not, was to serve in the Air Force. But I am often left feeling humbled and embarrassed if someone thanks me for my service. As part of Armed Services Radio and Television and serving in Public Affairs at the Survival School Headquarters, I met many soldiers, airmen and marines who served in tougher times. I served on the heels of the Vietnam Era. I met former POW's. I sat in the mountains with combat veterans who were survival instructors and heard about their experiences. I was an entertainer and their story teller. That was my service.
Service - any form of service - evokes thoughts of sacrifice. I was an entertainer and story teller. Any story I have to tell about personal sacrifice is tiny compared to many I heard. As a result, these many years, I have been shy to talk about being a veteran and to take advantage of the VA benefits.
I was not eligible for the GI Bill because I was post Vietnam era by a year or so but could contribute to the Montgomery Bill to help fund future education. Thankfully, I took advantage of that and every dollar I saved was matched. I also took college classes during my time in the Air Force. While funding wasn't enough to pay for my first choice, SRU provided a solid education and opportunity to work my way through those college years. There were times my sister, Alice, helped keep me fed and I graduated debt free -,except my debt of gratitude to both Alice and my country.
From there, it took years to build a career in Communications. Working at minimum wage entry level jobs, as a freelancer, in my own fledgling business, part time gigs - finally led to full time work as an instructor and then 21 years in corporate video production.
If I had been saddled with education debt, I'm not sure what would have happened. Because of my service and taking advantage of the Montgomery Bill, I graduated debt free. But I was shy to take advantage of other Veterans Programs. I did not try to get a VA loan for my home. I did not realize I could have taken advantage of VA health care in the times I had no health care.
Today, as a veteran, I am thankful that VA health care is an option for me. There are stories about long wait times for care, but every vet I know who has taken advantage of this benefit has great things to say about the care they receive. As an aging veteran who may need to rely on this system, I am thankful to know it is there.
There is talk about privatizing the VA system - a push to "VA choice". If the ultimate result is that it will cost us all more and provide less, it's not the right answer. I'm still feeling shy and humbled by the men and women who perhaps need the services more than I do, but feeling a bit protective of my own interests. Those who served - especially in big ways - deserve our care and consideration.