VOICE FOR VETERANS SERVICES
Robin J. “Rusty” Rustan
The Basis for the book “Veteran Without A Country” is the “Feres Doctrine” named after Rudolph Feres, a Member of the U.S. Armed Forces who died in a 1947 barracks fire. Feres's widow tried to sue the Army, but in 1950 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that making the military liable would undermine the 1946 Federal Tort Claims Act. So it became that the “Feres Doctrine” and other “case law” which followed over the years, and which was broadly read so as to prevent surviving Dependents and other family members from not only suing the military for “combat-related deaths” but from almost every lawsuit involving the Armed Forces including Negligence, Malpractice, and even Gross Criminal Negligence by any Military or other Federal Employees.
After 9-months at Fort Hood, Texas Rusty volunteered to go to Vietnam. While on Firing exercises at Fort Hood waiting for his orders to Vietnam, on December 02, 1969, Rusty was “crushed” by the Main Gun inside a M-45 Tank and sustained a broken neck injury.
Rusty was taken to Fort Hood Darnell Army Hospital where he was treated and placed in traction for an unspecified period of time. Yet, only 5-days later, while still in traction, Rusty was ordered by his Company Commander to take “pre-deployment” Republic of Vietnam (RVN) training exercises and to be deployed to Vietnam as soon as possible even though he still had a broken neck.
Released with no medical care and No Neck Brace, and only a bottle of pain pills and orders to report to Vietnam, Rusty was expected to report to the RVN Training Detachment Center on February 6, 1970 for a training schedule that would last 6 days.
The RVN training which would start on February 6, 1970, was intense training that would take a Soldier into classes starting with Jungle Survival, Military Intelligence, Handling of POW’s, Duties of a Sentry and Perimeter Defense, “Viet-Cong” (VC) and Ambush Techniques, Communications Security, Helicopter Safety Air Assault, and MEDEVAC, among other things. Rusty was ordered to do all this with a broken neck. It was from this point that Rusty, now holding the rank of Private First (PFC) would refuse all orders to go to Vietnam and would eventually go AWOL from all this madness before reporting to the Mental Health System at Fort Hood, Texas.
On March 9, 1970 more abuses would begin starting with the Military’s Mental Health Care System Psychiatric Department so that the Army could cover-up medical abuses suffered by ignoring Rusty’s broken neck.
The cover-up began with Army Doctors “labeling” Rusty with Psychiatric disorders in only his first interview with a Psychiatrist. At this point in time, Rusty felt that he had no other choice but to go AWOL from Fort Hood, Texas and went to his Home State of California where he planned on obtaining real medical care for his serious injury.
Rusty’s first plan was to check in as a patient with one of the best neurosurgeons in Newport Beach. When Rusty arrived he was advised that emergency medical care was needed but that he would have to seek it in a Military Hospital because he was on active-duty and he was considered “Government Property.”
Again, left with No Neck Brace and No Medical Care, Rusty sought medical care at the VA Hospital in Long Beach but was also refused treatment there because according to VA Staff VA Medical Centers only provide medical care for discharged Veterans and not to active-duty Soldiers.
By refusing medical care to Rusty, Rusty felt that the VA Hospital broke their own guidelines and Human Rights Clause that allowed them to treat any person who had a serious injury on a one-time-basis while in the Emergency Room in order to stabilize them before they let them go to a different outlet for follow-up medical care.
Again, leaving a government hospital with no neck brace, Rusty felt that he had no hope in obtaining the proper medical care for his broken neck. And Rusty thought to himself how such an injustice like this could happen to a War-Veteran, especially when he had once read where a “Death Row” inmate in the California State Penitentiary was given a Kidney transplant costing California Taxpayers $140,000 so they could keep this murderer alive long enough to Execute him.
The Chilling Effects of the “Feres Doctrine” not only hurt Rusty physically for the rest of his life, but also financially, as his service-connected broken neck injury would prevent Rusty from earning his full-potential of life-time employment earnings had he not sustained a broken neck while in service.
But the “Feres Decision” would leave Rusty without recourse to be “compensated” for loss of his full-potential life-time earnings as a “Civilian” would have been eligible to be “compensated” if the same kind of Negligence and Malpractice had happened to them on a Military Base.
To “add insult to injury,” this once “dedicated” and “patriotic” American Soldier after returning to Military custody, would now be treated like a Criminal.
Concerned for Rusty’s mental and physical health and welfare, his parents wrote members of the House of Representatives and Senate on his behalf.
Some responses came back but the truth of the matter was that due to the “Feres Doctrine,” it was Congress’ view during Vietnam as well as today, that they do not have to address injury or injustice or abuses by federal employees perpetrated against the Men and Women Soldiers of the U.S. Armed Forces.
ON March 13,1970, Rusty reported to a medical interview per Senator Murphy’s request to get a fair evaluation of medical conditions at Letermans Hospital. After arriving Rusty had NO medical intervention and was ordered by an Orthopedic Doctor to hit the floor and put out 10 push-ups like in basic training.
Unable to follow through with the “quack” Doctors interview, Rusty was arrested and held at Oakland Detachment Center where he would eventually be escorted in HANDCUFFS to Vietnam by a Medic and Military Policeman, and still with No Neck Brace… A political prisoner of the “Feres Doctrine” Rusty thought to himself…
Once in the air the Handcuffs were removed. However, lucky for Rusty, the Medic that had accompanied him observed that his medical condition was very critical. So once landed in Hawaii, Rusty was taken off the plane with a gurney, and released for medical care to Triplet Military Hospital.
3 months 11 days with No Cervical Neck Brace, Rusty was examined by Doctors at Triplet and was finally given his first Neck Brace since December 02, 1969.
Once released from the hospital, Rusty was transferred to Schofield Barracks pending further examination by military physicians.
Up to this point Rusty had suffered numerous physical, verbal, and emotional abuses at the hands of Military and other Federal employees, and Rusty thought to himself that they all should have gone to Prison for committing all these illegal acts and human rights violations. It was at this point that Rusty first felt that himself and all other Veterans were being treated like 2nd class Citizens.
Unfortunately, Rusty’s “nightmare” was not over. As on March 20, 1970, while at Schofield barracks Rusty was seen one more time by an alleged mental health expert Major MSC Robert J. Kozukil. Major Kozukil stated that he saw no reason to retain Rusty, and also stated that if Rusty does not perform his duties in Vietnam effectively that he would be considered for a General Discharge.
The end result? Only to be sent to Vietnam with more pain pills, the only difference this time was that Rusty had a neck brace.
Once in Vietnam, PFC Rustan ended up going AWOL to seek medical care and found 93rd Evacuation Hospital. Unlike the previous command and control officers who had no concern for Rusty, the military doctors seen by Rusty at this hospital were angry at the fact that the U.S. Army was sending unfit soldiers to Vietnam.
Finally, Rusty was medically separated from Military Service where he has lived a life of pain.
However, Rusty has directed much of his pain by becoming a Veterans Rights Advocate fighting to keep the Benefits Veterans already have, as well as lobbying for new Veterans Benefits.
Rusty’s Veterans Advocacy is based upon his own rehabilitation experiences and efforts of trying to get rid of the hate and anger “baggage” he was “carrying” leftover from his ordeal while in Military Service.
Rusty found the Department of Defense’s Morale, Welfare and Recreational (MWR) Facilities to be a tranquil place to reduce PTSD Symptoms as a result of using these facilities from 1970 to 1990.
However, after having 20 years of access to MWR’s, Rusty and other Veterans were “slammed again” by the Pentagon in that they were told they now had to be rated with a 100% VA service-connected disability in order to use the MWR Facilities.
Rusty was banned and barred by U.S. Federal Court Judge Ruben Brooks with a Notice and Order to Vacate Camp Pendleton MWR Recreational Facilities, signed by General Hanlon Jr. May of 1998 also served in Vietnam.
In Fact, Rusty believes that MWR Facilities should be the last duty station for Soldiers before separating from Service, so they can have fun surfing, fishing, using beaches, golf courses, craft and hobby shops, auto shops, as their first “adjustment” of returning to civilian life, and to also know that MWR’s will always there as a perk for serving their country. Unfortunately, however, they are no longer available to all disabled Veterans.
DOD should always have welcome signs up for our Veterans at MWR’s instead of Trespassing Signs Rusty said.
Veterans that have bad cases of PTSD can work out their feelings by being involved with the MWR programs which help keep them from making bad choices like suicide. Congressman Bob Filner Sponsored this Bill for a reason. House Bill HR1917 is truly a Mental Health Bill.
When New Zealand’s Veterans return home from conflict, they give all that have served a free vacation to tour the country that they fought to preserve.
H.R. 1919 if enacted, would again permit those Veterans with 50% or more service-connected disabilities to FLY ON MILITARY HOPS ON STAND BY. This entitlement would again change the disabled Veterans life for the better. Rusty would like to see this legislation as part of the Mandatory VA Funding (“Assured Funding”) for the Veterans Health Care Administration (VHA) currently pending approval by Congress.
“Assured Funding along with HR 1918 would allow those service-connected disabled veterans rated at 30% or more access to Military Base PX’s.
Rusty believes that Mandatory VA Funding for the VHA should be a promise kept for all Veterans, especially service-connected disabled Veterans.
Because of all the abuse Rusty received while in service; his never-ending fight for new Veterans Benefits and to keep the ones they already have; and as just one of the survivors of over 150,000 Vietnam Veterans who have “committed suicide” since the end of the Vietnam War because they were ALL treated like “2nd Class Citizens” and forgotten by Our Government and some of the American People, Rusty truly feels that he is a “VETERAN WITHOUT A COUNTRY.”
You can download the word doc here: VETERAN WITHOUT A COUNTRY