Canvassing with KUAM: military veterans sound off about issues
Guam is home to the largest number of military veterans among all U.S states and territories with over 10,000 of them residing here. Fransisco Duenas is a Vietnam veteran who joined the US Army back in 1967 when he was just 16 years old for reasons he now laughs about.
"That’s really funny, because I was a good guy," he recalled. "I had a little run in with the law at the age of 16 and there was only one way for me to avoid going to jail and that is join the military. So I did under Eddy Duenas the former senator. July 21, Liberation Day, 1967. I was out of here to California to take up basic training."
Duenas was deployed to Vietnam in December of 1967 and spent about 14 months there. While it was long ago, it’s still crippling to speak on. "I get emotional, so to speak. All I’m saying is it's a hard core type of job and it traumatizes you in so many ways," he shared.
Through his experiences, he’s been able to meet other veterans such as Albert Eliason who served in the United States Marine Corps. While he’s not originally from Guam, It’s been his home since he was just 9 years old. He took us back to the moment he decided to enlist.
Eliason told KUAM News, "When time came and rather than wait to get drafted I went ahead and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps to avoid the draft. It sounds kind of funny; I could have been drafted for two years of service in the Army and instead I enlisted for four years in the Marine Corps. But I got what I wanted. I never regretted it and as the language is among Marines - once a Marine, always a Marine. I’ve never forgotten my training. I've never forgotten who I am and what I am. I am a United States Marine until I die"
And after serving 20 years as a marine, Frank Salas now dedicates his time to helping his fellow veterans. He’s the founder of Project Guiding Light , which is currently helping over 185 Veterans with their VA claims. To add onto that he also founded the group “Once A Marine Always A Marine.”
In our time together I learned just how close knit and united the veteran community is on island meaning their vote is very powerful. Salas shared what qualities he’s looking for in Guam’s next elected officials.
"First of all, it’s hard to get…honesty. Everybody promises everything. And the big thing that is my pet peeve is that these candidates run to be servants of the people but as soon as they get in there they think we’re their servants. They’re earning my hard-earned dollars. Without that they will have no jobs. And that have to remember that’s why we placed them in there…in hopes that they will do something for us but it looks like it falls on deaf ears," he said.
And he’s not the only one supporting honest candidates. Francisco Duenas said, "Integrity, honesty, I really hate empty promises as Frank has mentioned earlier. I expect the politicians whoever gets voted in to do what they had promised the people of Guam."
Eliason continued, "I want to make sure he’s honest. The best thing is to find out what kind of a history does he have. Is he known for keeping his word. Is he somebody that shares the same values of family, religion, faith in God and country that I do. And if he shares those things I have more tendency to vote for him than anyone else."
And while the veteran population on Guam is enormous, they sometimes feel overlooked. "I’ve not seen anybody have veterans on their platform and that’s shameful. That’s very shameful and an injustice for us veterans here on Guam who went out and served to defend our country and island and our way of life," said Salas.
"Nobody's mentioning veterans. They’re just saying it and then they just completely change the subject but veterans is a big issue and they’re turning a blind eye to it."
Duenas said, "Whoever cares for the veterans needs to work hard and bring the services over here. That clinic up there is too small to handle the ten thousand or twenty thousand veterans on island. You have the Vietnam vets you have Desert Storm, Iraq, Afghanistan."
It's an issue all too familiar for our veterans, having problems with the VA clinic. They hope to elect someone who can change that. Duenas said, "Whoever is handling the veterans here on Guam needs to fight for more opportunities for the veterans here. And a very good example is the VA clinic. In some cases they don’t return calls they don’t answer phones. And the veterans get frustrated, let alone they already have PTSD."
Eliason said, "As a veteran I’m looking at healthcare for a veteran as we’ve already all indicated the Cboc here veterans outpatient clinic is basically overloaded. I called to try and get assistance and I’m either long term listening to the phone ring when it answers I’m giving a menu of options. I don’t have a live person to talk to and a result we’ll call you back."
Duenas said, "I’m still fighting for my wife, because she’s the only one that’s helping me. I submitted my documents for aide and attendance and I still haven’t received any input from the VA because we’re not getting younger we’re getting older and all the chronic pain we received in the military it’s now catching up on us. I’m going to be 73 years old. I have chronic pains all over my body."
The three are all encouraging their fellow veterans to go out there and vote. Island residents can still register at gec.guam.gov and will need a Guam ID or Guam driver's license to do so. August 17 marks the last day to register to vote and early voting in the primary election will be open until August 19 at the Westin Resort.