Finding Out Who You Are and Why You're Here

A wife reflects on her often painful 43-year journey with her Vietnam vet husband and hero. Her message to veterans: 'We need you now as never before!'
Finding Out Who You Are and Why You're Here
A statue honors servicemen near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington on March 23, 2023. (Richard Moore/The Epoch Times)
Battlefields Staff


At 68, I'm in denial about the state of affairs in America, and if I didn't trust that a greater purpose was being served, I might even let current affairs steal my joy. Living with my 89-year-young mother since my veteran hubby of 43 years hopped into heaven, we've had so many discussions about how the country has changed.

I have so many memories from when I was a little girl of my parents having guests at dinner, or us going to dinner with others. No subject was off limits, and open respectful dialogue was the order of the day. The dinner table was a safe place to share your views with passion and sincerity, and you never had to fear that a difference in how you saw things or what you believed would ever separate anyone. America without the internet wasn't as keen on making everyone march in lockstep or on trying to please the masses, the media, or the government.

Veterans, you are needed now more than ever to fight with your votes, your lifestyles, and your last ounce of breath for America to be free from the current government's tyrannical mandates. Oh yes, there's a very real war going on in America, and I, for one, am appalled at what I'm seeing. Words such as indoctrination, mandates, lawlessness, government media, and more give a great list to ponder.

So many of the younger generation won't know or remember that it was once unthinkable that our government would censor free speech, try to lock up anyone who questions things or, worst of all, have absolutely no shame in the fact that many of the "facts" it puts forth lack any scientific basis and amount to a web of lies.

At times, the number of lies, the amount of corruption, and the lack of truth can seem overwhelming, but my prayer and hope are that the blinders are lifted and all Americans start questioning many of these areas that make absolutely no sense. After fighting for 43 years for my husband to get real medical care through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), he stepped into heaven on Sept. 12, 2021. I watched him blow out his last breath with a look of wonder in his eyes at what he was seeing on the other side. After our last years fighting the VA at every turn, I silently asked my heavenly Father what he wanted.

Given the price that you warriors pay and the price that I and my husband's family paid, this was a no-brainer. After my 70-year-old husband had finally been assigned a 100 percent VA disability rating following a nine-year battle with the VA to acknowledge his injuries, and after all that he'd walked to live an outstanding life of helping others, I was exhausted with the suffering.

 Art painted by combat artist Ed Bowen during the Vietnam War. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Art painted by combat artist Ed Bowen during the Vietnam War. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Let’s take the nine-year VA battle! I was his attorney and advocate and quickly realized that for us to have an income in life, I had to create jobs, one after the other. Whether it was care homes for the disabled, gardening, a pizza parlor, or a gift basket company, my husband, Dennis, helped in all the ways that he could and tried to do as much as he could to help with whatever endeavor we were involved in. Finally, after 22 years of marriage, a congressman who loved what we were doing for the community through our nonprofit, Happy Thoughts, said, "Why isn’t Dennis getting help?" Well, it took my sister and about four strangers, all within a few weeks, to convince him to go to the VA for help.

Being a combat veteran who was in the jungle for most of his 14 months in the country, he didn't trust the VA, and shortly after his initial release from the Army, he ended up on the seventh floor with a diagnosis of psychosis and a drug regimen that included four major meds that kept him completely doped up. They handed the man a ping pong paddle, as they didn't yet know what a post-traumatic stress injury could do to your life.

Even though my husband had everything from a human bite to his chest to self-medication and homelessness, and relatives literally bringing him in and filling out the paperwork for him, I still had to fight nine years for the VA to admit that the man was suffering.

He never rented his own apartment, bought anything on credit, or had a bill in his name. After eight years, I finally found attorneys for the final year of battles.

Even though the judges kept ruling in his favor, the final idiotic hurt came after the top appeals court judge said, "Don't ever ask this guy another question, and give him a full rating!" With that, he sent his decision to the VA.

Despite that, the VA sent me an email demanding that Dennis, who had short-term memory loss proven by the VA on record, write down the past 22 years of his dysfunction before they would continue his case.

When I got the email, I cried, threw up, screamed, yelled, and couldn't fathom how evil the people in this organization seemed to be. Then, after a wonderful fit, I sat down, wrote all night, and had him sign off on it. When the rating finally came, the attorneys took 25 percent of his back wages and the Social Security that belonged to me and his children. Later, I was told that if I had been dishonest and not forwarded their part, since the check came to me, the VA would have had to pay them directly.

To this day, I don't know if that's true, but given the fact that my husband was deprived of his life income, and after all that suffering, the VA didn’t have to pay for putting us through that? Nine years were filled with lost paperwork, lying workers, advocates who never did, and a bureaucracy that proved how not to run a system. The humiliation of being picked apart by psychologists who had never seen war, who had never walked in his shoes, and who had to try to wrap their heads around his challenges wasn't fun.

 Dennis and Diana Nickell. (Courtesy of Diana Nickell)
Dennis and Diana Nickell. (Courtesy of Diana Nickell)

Dennis, my hero, never felt worthy and struggled with survivor's guilt, and if it hadn’t been for our three sons and the faith he found, there's no way that he would have put himself through this hellish process. I'm sharing all of this to allow others to see the price that our service members can pay. A lifetime of consequences of offering to serve our country. Meanwhile? Despite the broken and homeless, we house illegal immigrants and send billions of dollars to Ukraine. I have kept this story about our nine-year battle to a minimum, to try to give a feel for what I as his wife walked with the VA.

Was it worth not giving up? Yes!

Was there a sense of justice when what the taxpayers had voted for was given to our family, due to his service? Yes! The second anniversary of my husband’s exit from this world is quickly approaching, and it would take 10 more articles to share what he accomplished with his life, who he impacted, and how blessed we are to have had the honor of being his family. I was pondering what he would say to you if he were here. I think he'd say: "Never give up. Keep battling, because if I can make it, you can, too."

In 2020, during the forced lockdowns, my hero (which he would never let me call him) faced a camera while our middle son recorded a YouTube series to share the wealth of information that this Vietnam combat veteran had learned. This was the same man who wouldn't answer a phone call or knock on the door during the first few years of our marriage.

"Surviving Vietnam" is the name of the series, and it has saved veteran lives. The purpose was to stop veteran suicide and encourage, educate, and share some of what he walked to leave this world a brighter place.

I'm still dealing with the trauma of knowing that repeated VA delays were directly responsible for his death. He waited for a pacemaker at Stanford, and despite five hospitalizations in less than three months due to his lungs filling with water, they wouldn't mark him urgent. I was on the phone numerous times, before he left, begging the local VA and Stanford to allow him to be seen immediately, and was told he wasn't urgent.

The caveat? When I missed his appointment at Stanford, the VA girls called to tell me off and ask why he had missed his appointment! I said, "Well, he died! You would not allow him the care, so his heart stopped!"

The day before my best friend went home, I had no idea that it was his last. But for the first time since that nine-year battle with the VA, I found myself hiding in the bathroom, sobbing my brains out as I realized that I couldn't fix, push, or make happen what needed to happen. I always had tried to hide the price of carrying him and advocating for him, and never let him know the pain involved. This time, I couldn't get it together. I literally fell into his lap uncontrollably sobbing and kept saying over and over:

"I am so sorry, I am so sorry, I cannot fix this."

Dennis gently stroked my hair, and the next morning—he left. Diagnosis? His heart stopped! That, my friends, is a whole other story, but for now, I can only think that I was allowed to see that after 43 years of being the wind beneath his wings, I literally had nothing left to give.

I now know what survivor’s guilt is. So this is my attempt to say, to all those who have served, including their spouses and families, life is hard, full of trials and battles, and yet, this is where you will find who you are and why you’re here.

I miss him horribly, and there's no greater joy than to continue sharing his heart about injustice, the world, and the answers that can help you.

We need you now as never before, dear veterans! Please never give up, and live life to the fullest while you can. Live in the moment and find peace that passes understanding.

We did.


Dedicated to ALL, first responders, and heroes, Diana has found peace in the wealth of her family and her faith. The YouTube series "Surviving Vietnam" can be accessed freely at

Dennis's memoir, “Breaking Chains,” details his story.

For created content shared about their amazing journey, including original poetry by Diana, or for any questions or concerns, feel free to contact Diana at [email protected].

This article was originally published in The Havok Journal.

For 43 years, Dennis and Diana Nickell shared their lives, passion, and hearts. Dennis, a Vietnam combat veteran who dealt daily with the aftermath of his 14 months in-country, spent his later years reaching out to veterans and their loved ones, and tried to help share why they should never give up. On Sept. 12, 2021, Dennis joined his brothers in arms in heaven, who never had the chance to have the life he fought for daily. His wife, Diana, still carries on the mission of educating, enlightening, and encouraging those who have paid such a heavy price for freedom.