I have been back many times since 1992 and this is indeed true. For instance, children of the VNCH weren't allowed to attend school, but finally in 1981 this was changed and my wife finally entered grade school at nine years of age. I have met many veterans and it brings tears to your eyes to think of their betrayal.
Brief History of VHF
In late 2005 some American veterans of the war met with some Vietnamese survivors of the war who had relocated to the Raleigh-Durham area. The Vietnamese related their concerns over the disabled South Vietnamese veterans still living there, whose lives are doubly difficult due to their disabilities and the restrictions they have faced ever since the end of the war.
The American veterans immediately identified with the sufferings of their former comrades, and so everyone wanted to work to bring some level of aid and comfort to those disabled veterans who are worst off. From the discussions eventually came the idea of a charity specifically to help these most needy victims of the war. And thus the Vietnam Healing Foundation was set up and officially registered as a 501 (c)3 organization.
In early 2006 the first expedition to Viet Nam was conducted, to begin locating needy veterans there. A bilingual translator from Canada worked with one American vet in visiting and interviewing a number of disabled veterans in the Saigon area, with guidance from helpful Vietnamese living there.
Over a period of several days, careful visits were made to a couple dozen disabled veterans, to validate their claims of service and examine their situations. Most of them were extremely poor, leading lives of deprivation and hardships, trying to make a living in ways such as selling lottery tickets, doing street repairs on motorbikes, or just being supported by family members, so the whole family shared the hardships. Many were also in poor health, due in part to their wounds, but more from all the years of next to no health care.
All of them received cash gifts of several hundred thousand dong, for which all were grateful. But as one of them said, it was as important to them to be remembered and visited by someone from the US, after all their years of being forgotten and abused.
Since that time VHF members have made several more trips to Viet Nam, and located needy veterans all the way from Saigon to Hue. The stories all have much in common, lives of quiet desperation, trying to just make enough money to pay some rent and at least one bowl of rice per day.
Because the authorities are suspicious of anything that concerns old Southern veterans, VHF has to operate as much in the shadows as possible. Twice every year we arrange for our clients to receive packages of money, amounting to at least 1.5 million dong and for some sponsored vets, as much as eight million. These amounts don’t make any veteran rich, but they do help make life much better, paying for food, medical treatment, and sometimes for house improvements or school tuitions for children.
While we have a list of over 80 confirmed clients to receive regular aid, we have also made special one-time gifts to at least another 80, plus paid for houses to be built, special bicycles for those missing limbs, and other particular needs to be met. We also contribute to orphanages and have arranged for shoes, clothing, and even a day at an amusement park for the Bui Doi street children.
All of this is done with no part of our budget going anywhere except to those in need, and about a 3% overhead for costs of distributing the funds. All VHF members contribute their time and effort for no compensation other than the knowledge that the work we do really helps people who need and very much deserve help.
We are always looking for more members and more contributors, since there is a huge number of needy old veterans in Viet Nam, and we hope to keep expanding our client base. This is truly worthwhile work, and very rewarding to all of us who have been involved in it.
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