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New nonprofit a big help to Vietnam veteran

Pete Fowler
pfowler@postindependent.com
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Pete Fowler/Post IndependentVietnam War Army veteran Mike Malone stands in front of a flag at the Vet-Trans office in Rifle. The flag features the handprints of New Castle schoolchildren. Vet-Trans is a new nonprofit that primarily gives veterans rides to medical appointments.
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RIFLE, Colorado ” Mike Malone did a little thinking before parachuting down into a war zone in south Vietnam.

Malone was a member of Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade. The Feb. 22, 1967, jump was the only combat parachute jump of the Vietnam War. Other U.S. units were pressuring the Vietcong toward the Cambodian border, Malone said, and his unit jumped in to block the route.

“These guys jumped right into a small hot zone,” said Peter “Doc” McGuire, also a veteran.

No one could have known exactly what they were jumping into or if they’d make it out alive. Soldiers are basically sailing targets once the parachutes open ” a scary situation for anyone.

“People don’t like to admit that, but you do a lot of thinking in that plane before you go out the door,” Malone said.

Malone is originally from Onalaska, Wis. He enlisted when he was 18 and served in the Army for about three years. His uncles, grandfather and others in his family fought in different wars.

He’d hoped to get some training in the Army and an armory position, but because of the conflict in Vietnam, there wasn’t much in the way of training. When Malone got out of the Army he worked for Dixon Paper Co. in Denver, then went through a variety of jobs every year or two from sales to construction, being a body guard, and coal mining.

It wasn’t easy to adjust back to civilian life. Instead of welcoming those who fought back home, a lot of people were hostile. The Army even warned its people not to wear uniforms when traveling after arriving back home.

“It wasn’t going as smooth as it could have been,” Malone said.

Malone said he didn’t suffer any injuries to speak of but he was exposed to agent orange. He didn’t realize it until he was back in the U.S. for years. He didn’t want to go into detail but said, “The more years that went by the more problems I had.”

Malone had started his own security company in 1983 but was forced to close it down almost two years ago because he physically couldn’t do the work anymore.

He’d tried about three times to enroll with the Veteran’s Administration and get medical care benefits. But he said there were bureaucratic problems between the Army and VA that prevented his military records from being acknowledged until about two years ago.

Eventually a high school buddy was able to locate Malone’s military records. Joe Carpenter, the Garfield County veteran services officer, also helped push Malone’s records through the government process, Malone said.

To get to and from medical appointments Malone gets rides from Vet-Trans, a new nonprofit set up primarily for that very purpose: providing transportation for veterans to medical appointments. Malone said he suffered some vision problems from the agent orange and doesn’t drive.

Other veterans have the same problem and have been known to stand on Interstate 70 trying to hitchhike their way to the VA Hospital in Grand Junction. That’s part of the reason Carpenter formed Vet-Trans.

“A few years ago I noticed a lot of my clients were having to hitchhike to Grand Junction for medical services,” Carpenter said. “I’ve had guys with cancer standing out on the interstate trying to hitch a ride in the snow. It sounds ludicrous but it happened all the time. It probably still happens on occasion.”

Malone said that with the help of Vet-Trans, he’s never missed an appointment .

“I don’t know what I would have done,” he said.

Contact Pete Fowler: 384-9121

pfowler@postindependent.com


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