Kucivers’ fight typical for veterans

“In the Army, we’re all brothers. We protect each other. Here, there’s no bond, it’s everyone for themselves.”

Dan Kuciver, retired Army staff sergeant

Stories and photos by ROBYN ZELICKSON

Retired Army Staff Sergeant Dan Kuciver sits quietly at the table in his dining room, hooked up to his oxygen machine. His wife Karen, the newly elected president of the Student Veteran’s Organization, is by his side.

He is also kept company by his favorite of the six family dogs, a black lab mix named Rocky. In the Arizona room, there are several birds and a well-loved guinea pig.

The military is a proud tradition in Dan Kuciver’s family, going back to the Civil War. His mother’s family fought for the South and his father’s family for the North.

In 1985, Dan Kuciver enlisted in the Army, and after eight weeks of basic training, went to Fort Benning in Georgia for Infantry School. From there, he was stationed in Colorado Springs.

Over the years, he was deployed to Somalia, Desert Storm in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Panama and some others he can’t mention.

He was responsible for four to six men, depending on the team. These men were 20-30 years old and, like Kuciver, were being asked to die for their country if necessary.

In 1997, Kuciver was honorably discharged from the Army.

Coming home was a difficult transition. Kuciver was drinking a lot, and he was arrested for fighting and DUI. He suffered from nightmares due to severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, so he self-medicated.

According to the Mayo Clinic website, PTSD is defined as follows:

“Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.”

At the time, there were no real resources from the Veteran’s Administration upon leaving the military, so Kuciver found himself on his own to try and resolve the issues he brought home.

“In the Army, we’re all brothers,” Kuciver said. “We protect each other. Here, there’s no bond, it’s everyone for themselves.”

Dan Kuciver stands with his wife, Karen Kuciver, in front of their Tucson Home. Dan
Kucivar needs a double-lung transplant, but has refused the procedure.

HEALTH ISSUES

Aside from PTSD, Kuciver had hearing loss. Later, there was lung trouble because of his time in Desert Storm.

He currently needs oxygen just to be able to breathe. His lungs have deteriorated to the point where he needs a double-lung transplant, which he has refused.

“It’s weird,” Kuciver said. “I couldn’t handle someone else’s organs inside my body.”

Kuciver, who is in his early 50s, also believes the younger soldiers coming home now need lungs more than he does so that they can grow old with their families.

“My kids are all grown now,” he said.

When his children reached age 16, he talked to them about his time in the military. He described to them the methods that he learned in training as a sniper – either kill or be killed.

“The first time, it’s hard,” Kuciver said. “The more you do it, it’s easier, but that bothers you later on.”

Only one of Kucivers’ boys joined the military. He fought for four to five years in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Korean Demilitarized Zone.

Kuciver says that he’s proud of his son for defending his country. Although his son was deployed into dangerous combat missions, Kuciver wasn’t afraid for him.

“I respect him so much for fighting for his country,” Kuciver said. “Even if he died for his country, I would be more proud. And I would go again, if I could and they asked me.”

FINANCIAL ISSUES

Karen and Dan Kuciver were high school sweethearts. They parted ways, then reunited after 20 years. Now, she’s his advocate.

One of the promises made to Kuciver was that Japan would send money for U.S. soldiers, rather than getting involved in conflicts like Desert Storm. Instead of giving them the money, the U.S. government set up life insurance policies of $1 million for each soldier.

Unfortunately, the soldiers weren’t told they had to keep up the premiums when they returned from active duty. Those who didn’t had their policies cancelled. This was the situation with the Kucivers. No amount of fighting with the government could change it.

However, Karen Kuciver was successful in obtaining medical benefits for her husband. It took her three years and he was denied benefits twice. His lung issues were easier to prove, but he was told that his hearing could have been damaged before he deployed.

Because he was claiming disability insurance for his PTSD, Dan Kuciver had to undergo psychological testing. The Kucivers learned that if veterans are declared 70-100 percent disabled due to PTSD, the government can take over their finances and make decisions for them.

ONGOING BATTLES

The Kucivers both believe that veterans shouldn’t have to fight so hard or wait so long in order to receive medical or disability benefits.

“I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Dan Kuciver said. “I struggled with a loss of power and have to fight just to get through the day.”

When Karen Kuciver leaves the house for work, she leaves a list of chores for Dan Kuciver so that he is able to occupy his time while she’s gone. He can’t do much exertion because of his lungs, but he can get outside to water the garden, she said.

Dan Kuciver believes that PTSD is an even bigger issue for veterans returning from service now than it was in his time in Desert Storm or for veterans who fought in Vietnam.

“They aren’t given the coping skills that the guys were given before,” Kuciver said. “They used to be better prepared for combat than they are now. They’re not training them for sleep deprivation either.”

Kuciver’s unit had one-hour guard shifts in their barracks at night. They also did three-day training exercises in the woods where the soldiers were not allowed any sleep at all. That, he’s been told, is a thing of the past.

His advice for those recruits joining the military today?

“Don’t try to be a hero, everything will come naturally,” he said. “The only heroes are the dead ones that don’t come back. But, always have your buddies’ back. Always.”

Karen Kuciver new president of Student Vet organization

Karen Kuciver is the new president of the Student Veterans Organization at Pima Community College. Kuciver started as the East Campus liaison to the SVO, then became secretary. Recently, she was elected president.

The purpose of the SVO is to provide a stable, safe place for veterans. Although the group provides tutoring, its main function is to assist vets in dealing with everyday stresses.

“The sense of camaraderie that the SVO gives the student vets helps them in transitioning to student and civilian life,” Kuciver said.

There are 200 veterans at East Campus and 800 at PCC overall. While the Downtown Campus has a Veterans’ Center at RV-155 and the West Campus has a room at A-225, Kuciver would like to see the program expanded.

“Each campus should have an area like the Veteran’s Center at the Downtown Campus,” she said. “Soldiers write a blank check to serve us. Now, it’s our turn to serve them.”


Vet Services to honor graduates

Military and Veteran Services will host its first annual veteran graduation recognition ceremony and dinner on May 3 from 5-7 p.m. in the Downtown Campus Amethyst Room.

Graduating veterans were sent an invitation via PCC email.

For more information, call 206-2266 or email Hector Acosta at hacosta@pima.edu or Jorge Camarillo at jcamarillo@pima.edu.


SVO elects president

Karen Kuciver is the new president of the Student Veterans Organization at Pima Community College. Kuciver started as the East Campus liaison to the SVO, then became secretary. Recently, she was elected president.

The purpose of the SVO is to provide a stable, safe place for veterans. The group provides tutoring and assists vets in dealing with everyday stresses.

New SVO president Karen Kuciver.

“The sense of camaraderie that the SVO gives the student vets helps them in transitioning to student and civilian life,” Kuciver said.

There are 200 vets at East Campus and 800 vets at PCC overall. While the Downtown Campus has a Veteran’s Center at RV-155 and the West Campus has a room at A-225, Kuciver would like to see the program expanded.

“Each campus should have an area like the Veteran’s Center at the Downtown Campus,” she said. “Soldiers write a blank check to serve us. Now, it’s our turn to serve them.”

The Veteran’s Center is open 8 a.m.- 5 p.m., Monday – Friday during the Fall and Spring semesters.

Filed Under: FeaturesNews

Tags:

About the Author:

RSSComments (0)

Trackback URL

Leave a Reply