About 300 former military members are in Spokane this weekend to talk about issues important to veterans.
In the Doubletree Hotel, the national convention for the group Veterans for Peace has the feel of the 1970s anti-war movement. Many of the men and women here participated in that, both as members of the military and as civilians.
"It’s probably the best opportunity for military veterans of a like mind, who are organizing against war and organizing social justice work to gather in one place and share ideas, celebrate our victories and plan for the next ones," said Garett Reppenhagen, the executive director of Veterans for Peace. This gathering in Spokane is the organization’s 34th national convention.
There are many of the usual discussions veterans have, about their health care, about how to help their brothers and sisters who are homeless. And then there’s Agent Orange.
“I was born two months premature. I weighed three pounds, four ounces when I was born. I’m missing my right leg below the knee and several of my fingers and the big toe on my left foot,” said Heather Bowser, the daughter of a Vietnam vet.
Her father was exposed to the chemical defoliant when he served in Vietnam. Now Bowser is the president of the Children of Vietnam Veterans Health Alliance in Youngstown, Ohio. It’s a support group for about five thousand adult children of men and women who served in Vietnam.
“There are 16 birth defects that are covered if you’re a child of a female Vietnam veteran," she said. "Many, many of our birth defects, including my own, would be covered and acknowledged by the U.S. government if my mother was the Vietnam veteran. But there are only 7,500 women that served in Vietnam and over 2.8 million men that served. So if they admitted any kind of culpability, then that would be devastating financially.”
Also at this convention, Washington D.C. photographer Ron Carver unveiled “Waging Peace in Vietnam,” a book he and two colleagues edited, telling the story of military men and women who fought the Vietnam War from the inside. His photographic exhibit is on display at the Doubletree this weekend, its first stop as part of a nationwide tour.