This Vietnam War Veterans Day, remember those who served and the care they still need

Fifty years ago, on March 29, 1973, U.S. combat troops left Vietnam, and direct American military operations ended. Two years later, the last remaining Americans were evacuated.

Today, and every March 29, we remember these brave men and women as part of National Vietnam War Veterans Day.

Approximately seven million living American veterans served during the Vietnam era - from Nov. 1, 1955, to May 15, 1975. That's roughly one in 50 Americans and one in nine Americans over 65, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Our state has a strong history of military service. Tens of thousands of Illinois residents served during the Vietnam War, and some made the ultimate sacrifice. Of the more than 58,000 Americans who died in the conflict, almost 3,000 came from Illinois.

As hospital director of Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital, I've had the privilege to meet many of these brave individuals.

Hines VA is the state's largest VA Medical Center, and our biggest group of patients are Vietnam-ear veterans. Many were exposed to harsh combat conditions or dangerous chemicals, such as Agent Orange. Like veterans returning from today's battlefields, those who served in Vietnam came home with both physical and unseen injuries of war.

Sadly, many of these injuries weren't as understood by our medical community or citizenry as they are now.

In addition to honoring veterans, National Vietnam War Veterans Day can also serve as a reminder of the ongoing need to support and care for these men and women

Our nation continues to get better. Last year, the President signed the PACT Act, which provides one of the largest expansions of VA health care benefits in history, including care directly impacting Vietnam-era veterans. This is only the latest in a series of laws enacted to help our veterans, including those who served from 1955 to 1975.

No American generation has been untouched by war. However, we now have better resources in place to care for our veterans and families. I implore all qualifying veterans, including our Vietnam-era veterans, to seek help at Hines VA Hospital.

If you need service-connected medical care, we can help you.

If you need mental health care, we can help you.

If you are unemployed, we can help you.

If you are homeless or hungry, we can help you.

Many Americans may not have given you the proper gratitude you deserved during the war and upon your return, but we can help you heal now.

National Vietnam War Veterans Day allows our nation the chance to remember its history and learn from the past. I want to personally thank the brave men and women who served during the Vietnam War-era, to acknowledge their sacrifices and contributions to our country, and continue to offer support for those in need.

• James Doelling is the hospital director of Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital, Illinois' largest Veterans Medical Center. The hospital treats more than 44,000 veterans from World War II through the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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