In the context of multibillion-dollar budgets, $100,000 is, as the saying goes, a drop in one very big, very full bucket. But to Minnesota’s southeast Asian population, some of whom fought alongside U.S. troops during the Vietnam War, it could mean the first steps to finally finding peace.
Tucked in the Minnesota Senate’s Health and Human Services Omnibus bill is an appropriation to fund mental health services specifically for hundreds of Minnesota Hmong and Lao veterans born before 1965 who otherwise would not qualify for the same benefits as their U.S. veteran counterparts. The grant would allow for culturally specific treatment for those Hmong and Lao vets who may not have been aware of such services or who felt stigmatized seeking out traditional treatment programs. The money likely would be matched by the nonprofit organizations receiving the money.
“These veterans put their lives on the line to protect American freedom, and now their children and grandchildren are contributing citizens and taxpayers of our state,” Sen. Foung Hawj, DFL-St. Paul, who sponsored the appropriation, told the Senate HHS Budget Committee last week. “This small investment can save our state resources in the long run, as it prevents future mishap. On another positive note, it gives deserving attention to our forgotten heroes.”
Decades after Vietnam, Southeast Asian veterans continue to experience stresses that can gravely affect their physical and mental health, said Dr. Thomas Nguyen, a psychologist and clinical supervisor at the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation’s Southeast Asian Services. Nguyen told the committee how his own father proudly fought alongside the American allies, became a political prisoner and experienced significant trauma. He has been inundated with countless horrific stories following the fall of Saigon.
Nguyen told the committee that he recently saw a Southeast Asian veteran at no charge, because the vet had no insurance. He confided to Nguyen that he was embarrassed to share his story with anyone.
“He came back the following session and shared that he was able to eat and sleep better,” Nguyen said. “He said that he feels comforted because his therapist does not think that he is crazy.”
Roger Vue, vice president of the Lao/Hmong veterans organization of Minnesota, has served veterans since 1995. He pointed to stress playing a role in tragedies like that of Pang Vang of Maplewood, who was 84 when he shot and killed his son, 36-year-old Chue Vang, over an argument about cable TV. The elder Vang had served alongside Americans troops as a member of the Laotian military during the Vietnam War.
“If we really don’t have anyone helping them solve their problems and dealing with their issues, there are going to be more and more problems,” Vue said. “Because $100,000 may not mean a lot to your people, but it means a lot to my people, to my veterans, to their families.”