The Puerto Rican Veteran

I spoke to a Puerto Rican taxi driver in May while I was heading to the AIDS Walk. He was interested in the walk because he had lost an uncle to the disease. His uncle had fought in the Vietnam War and was exposed to Agent Orange, the highly toxic chemical substance approved for use in that war. Upon his return to the country, he sought help for various physical ailments from his exposure and also for his lingering psychological trauma. He didn’t receive much support, encountered many roadblocks to get help and never got the proper healthcare he needed for treatment. Inevitably, he began to cope with his traumas through drugs, which set him on a dark path ultimately leading him to contract HIV through shared needles, and which eventually led to his death from AIDS related complications. This man was a veteran who came from an island that is essentially a colony. He deserved better than what he risked his life for. But sadly, stories like his are all too common. So instead of waving the flag at your barbecues, think of what you can do to help that veteran who comes back from fighting abroad, think of how you can help them in their day to day life, maybe offer them a job, maybe talk to them and befriend them, help them find access to the services that they may need. That’s truly the way to honor the people who defend your freedoms. On this day, I dedicate this writing to that taxi drivers’ uncle and the millions of people just like him who suffer in silence for a country that doesn’t do enough to honor their sacrifices. The sacrifices given for a country that barely even acknowledges their existence.