Vietnam veteran works to help comrades 

Mike See is still fighting the Vietnam War. 

While the jungles have long since been left behind and the rifles have been put away, See says many veterans from the conflict are still fighting for their lives, against homelessness, medical problems and a society that doesn’t understand them.

The 73-year-old Winchester native is custodian of the Winchester Elks Lodge on Shoppers Drive, and he uses his position to help with his other job, collecting and distributing items to veterans in need.

See’s passion comes from his own firsthand experience.

“In 1980 I found myself homeless,” he said. “The company I worked for went bankrupt and I didn’t have enough money to afford the rent. Then I broke my neck on a temp job.”

See was sent to live at a shelter for homeless veterans, many of whom served in Vietnam. He lived there for 17 months while working to get back on his feet.

“I learned more about sociology there than in four years of college,” See said. “One thing I learned was that, no matter how bad a homeless person looks, there’s a reason for it.”

See began receiving medical services from the Department of Veterans Affairs, where he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He said that in the 1980s it was difficult for those who had served in the war to find work.

“In 1980 if you were a Vietnam vet you were ‘crazy,’” See said. “If you mentioned Vietnam in an interview you could feel the conversation drop out from under you.”

As a result, he said, many veterans became homeless.

See has made it his mission to help those veterans. Through the Elks lodge and other organizations, he collects donated clothing, food, books and other items that he then delivers to shelters for homeless veterans. He said he has worked with numerous shelters all over the region, even going as far as Ohio, Tennessee and South Carolina. He also regularly transports veterans to the hospital when they need it.

See continues his work just for the satisfaction of doing something to help alleviate the problems some of his brothers in arms are facing.

“The war is not over, and I will not lie down and give up,” he said. “We’re gonna make this work.”

See also helps fellow veterans work with the VA, an agency he has mixed feelings about.

“The VA tries, but they have too much bureaucracy,” he said. “They have some fantastic doctors.”

It’s a challenge for many, he said, because many Vietnam veterans came home with medical issues, and the number of veterans needing care has only increased as they have gotten older.

“Most of us are on seven to eight types of blood pressure medication, for some reason,” he said. “And there’s no such thing as a full night’s sleep.” 

See said that the war itself has been one of the biggest barriers in getting many veterans help.

“You just can’t understand what it was like unless you were there,” See said.

As a result, he said that many veterans don’t want to talk with anyone, even doctors, about the war. Some even want to be left alone by society altogether.

“Some folks just don’t need help,” he said. “Some don’t want it. Maybe they’ve been experiencing bad luck or just bad timing.”

He said that anyone wanting to help work with Vietnam veterans should be sure to follow one piece of advice.

“Listen to what they are saying,” he said. “And remember, there’s no such thing as atheists in combat.”

For his work with the veteran community, See was awarded the 2016-2017 Veteran Volunteer Award from the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.

To donate items for distribution to veterans in need, bring them to the Winchester Elks Lodge,  225 Shoppers Drive, or VFW post 2728, 124 Mt. Sterling Road.