On Dec.17th, 2021 at the Medina County Commissioners meeting, Ruben Gonzalez, a Medina County Veteran Service Officer was awarded an honor by Bob Certain, a commander of the American Ex Prisoners of War organization. An award given to Gonzalez for his help in aiding a POW from Colorado who had served in Vietnam and his widow get the benefits they deserved from Veteran Affairs (VA) and someone whom Gonzalez only refers to as ‘he,’ for privacy reasons, as he recounts the case.
“We (Medina County Veteran Services) literally dropped everything that we had and just focused on taking care of him (the POW) and taking care of his wife,” Gonzalez said. “Based on his health condition and based on his widows too.”
According to Gonzalez, the Colorado POW had never filed a claim for his benefits since he had returned from Vietnam.
“He was a POW for six years, that’s a very long time,” Gonzalez said. “He came back, went through the VA system and I don’t know what happened but nothing was ever filed…His health was deteriorating quickly and so we tried to help him out. But in the process of the VA finalizing the claim, he passed away.”
Gonzalez said that soon after the POW’s passing his team shifted from taking care of the POW’s claim, to focusing on taking care of his loving wife.
“So we pretty much took over the whole process….for the widow to actually receive compensation on behalf of his service,” Gonzalez said. “So she’s going to be receiving compensation for the rest of her life.”
Gonzalez said it was important that everyone, including the families of the veteran, to get this taken care of, as they all ultimately play an important role.
“It’s the right thing to do honestly,” Gonzalez said. “There are sacrifices made on both ends (by veterans and their families). You know my wife took care of the home front while I was out, deployed somewhere, and you’ve got to be able to take care of them when it’s appropriate.”
Gonzalez explained that the way they achieved helping the widow in the end was by successfully filing a DIC claim for the widow. Also known as a Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, Gonzalez said a DIC claim is a way of getting compensation for the widow of a veteran based on that veteran dying of a service-connected disability.
But beyond a DIC, there are other ways in which Veteran Affairs (VA) work to ensure POWs and their families get benefits.
“One of the things that happen with a POW is that they get recognized at the top of the list based on their claim and their benefits,” Gonzalez said. “So they get a special group of evaluators to make sure they’re taken care of,” after all they have endured.
The VA has set guidelines used to properly address the needs of POWs and to give them priority, so Gonzalez is still unsure why the Colorado POW never got the compensation he should’ve already had or why he never filed his claim when he returned from Vietnam. Though speaking with relatives of the POW, Gonzalez believes that there may have been unnamed obstacles in his way as Medina County Veteran Services also had trouble in filing the POWs claim; the main issue being his health.
“And of course we’re dealing with COVID too. In the sense of the VA with limited resources because they didn’t have the people where they needed to be at. So it just delayed the process.”
When asked about why he chose to dedicate his time to helping Veterans, Gonzalez shared that his time serving in the Air force played a part in his decision to help his fellow veterans.
“For me personally, you know being in the Air Force for 30 years, we’re kind of programmed to take care of each other,” Gonzalez said. “Being a war veteran, you know, we always promised each other that we would take care of each other.”
Gonzalez also shared that the main reason he and his wife eventually decided to move and retire to Lytle, Texas was tied to his service and because of the actions of a group of women called the Lytle Stitchers.
“I was down range and one of my guys got injured and the quilt that was placed on that member was made by the Lytle Stitchers, so I made a decision along with my wife to move to Lytle once we retired,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve always loved the community, we’ve always loved helping out veterans, I just happened to fall into an opportunity here in Medina County to work in the veterans services.”
Gonzalez explained that he started his work with Veteran Services as a part timer when the judge eventually asked him to take over when the previous Veteran Service Officer retired. He and his team have been focusing their efforts on helping veterans ever since.
“…I can’t really say the names, but honestly, these are the folks that sacrifice so much,” Gonzalez said.“I mean he was a Vietnam POW for six years. It wasn’t months, it wasn’t a year, it was six years that he was held in captivity…And this is the least that we can do for somebody that’s sacrificed so much for our nation. We can’t just let it go; we have got to be able to give the full effort. He gave his all in captivity and there’s no way we can repay for what he did, but at least we can try.”
By Christian Toler