The author of Born on the Fourth of July (1976) recounts the brief 1974 movement he initiated to change how Veterans Affairs hospitals cared for wounded soldiers.
Kovic (Around the World in Eight Days, 1984, etc.) returned from the Vietnam War in the early 1970s paralyzed from his chest down. Insomnia, anxiety, depression, bedsores, and lack of sexual function also tormented him. During his stay in VA hospitals located in the Bronx and Long Beach, he observed that the “wards were overcrowded and terribly understaffed”; when bed-ridden soldiers called for help, none came. Kovic began to discuss his situation with other patients and soon realized that the poor treatment he had witnessed was a universal problem that cried out for reform. In the spring of 1973, he organized a group called the Patients’/Workers’ Rights Committee, which was a success among young Vietnam veterans but became the bête noire of older vets and hospital administrators. The group fell apart after Kovic went home to New York; it received new life after he returned to Southern California that fall. At that time, the author created the American Veterans Movement and began looking for ways to publicize the plight of wounded veterans at the national level. His search led him to the idea of occupying California senator Alan Cranston’s office with other AVM members. The sit-in quickly developed into a two-week hunger strike in which veterans demanded a meeting with Donald Johnson, the head of the Veterans Administration. Kovic and his fellow veterans succeeded in making the changes they sought, but the AVM spiraled into chaos afterward, disbanding a few months later after an unsuccessful Independence Day march on Washington. The great strength of this book is that the author never minces words. With devastating candor, he memorializes a short-lived but important movement and the men who made it happen.
Sobering reflections on past treatment of America’s injured war veterans.