‘Well, it wasn’t really a war, was it?’

U.S. Cold War vets are asking for recognition for their service


‘Well, it wasn’t really a war, was it?’The Cold War was characterized by covertness, but it was real enough to almost consume Scott L’Ecuyer. Nearly two decades after it ended, the former mechanic at a nuclear missile silo in North Dakota was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that he says stemmed from his service with the Strategic Air Command in the late ’80s. He watched for Soviet attacks, managed the missiles’ temperature to prevent them from detonating—and was never more than three rings away from the phone during the 18-hour workdays. However, it was constantly asking himself if he was ready to “kill millions” by ensuring that the 450 warheads at the silo were always ready to launch that took its toll. But L’Ecuyer, now 43, is covering his own medical expenses since he isn’t recognized as a veteran: because war was never declared, 1945 to 1991 is classified as peacetime. And that makes Cold War vets in the U.S. who served outside of recognized action periods like Korea or Vietnam ineligible for the same pensions and benefits that traditional combat veterans receive.

According to the American Cold War Veterans organization, as many as 12 million U.S. veterans, like L’Ecuyer, are affected by the lack of recognition. Now these “forgotten” U.S. vets have begun demanding the same pensions and benefits as other veterans, who collect a pension on the basis of serving during a recognized war, serving a full military career, or being injured while in service. They are also pushing for a medal honouring their contribution (as is happening in Britain as well). While some politicians have supported the vets (Hillary Clinton unsuccessfully introduced the Cold War Medal acts of 2003, 2005 and 2007)—one obstacle, the Cold War vets say, is lack of support from other veterans. “If you didn’t get shot at, your service doesn’t register—a ‘my war was better than your war issue,’ ” says L’Ecuyer.

While Canadian Cold War vets don’t have their own medal (the government does recognize those who served under NATO through the Special Service Medal with the NATO bar), they are equal to other vets regarding pensions. A spokesperson for the British Cold War Veterans group, Tony Morland, says he’s lost hope his government will recognize the vets with a medal, and says most Cold War vets would be recognized if NATO issued the honour instead. “The Cold War was won by the NATO alliance sticking to its task,” says Morland. “It is now standard practice for NATO to issue medals for joint operations. One need only look at the Balkans and more recently in Afghanistan.” British veterans petitioned Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s office last year asking for a service medal, but were told that they are only issued to those who have been subjected to risk and rigour “greatly in excess of what is reasonable to expect during normal service activity.”

For L’Ecuyer and others like him, the issue isn’t about glory. “During remembrance ceremonies, I don’t know which group to stand with,” says L’Ecuyer. “That’s the part that stings, when someone says you aren’t a veteran, you weren’t in combat. You were in combat in your head. I had to make a deal with the devil to fix those [missiles].”


‘Well, it wasn’t really a war, was it?’

  1. Brother, you hit the nail right on the head. Bullets don’t have to be fired to get PTSD or to deserve a medal.

    The Cold War is the only war that we have one where no medal has been given.

    This needs to be fixed now!

  2. Every soldier that served in the cold war deserves medals from NATO. How do we get them?

  3. I did 10 years in the Ambulance Service some time after my Cold War service for Britain. I get flashbacks to various incidents and took early retirement after developing diverticular disease, brought about, I fully believe by the stress of the job. Don't forget, emergency services get no recognition either.

  4. Cold War was cultural, fought equally by all citizens, premise that military suffered equally to soldiers from other wars is ridiculous.

    • You are clearly and idiot who never served and never would. Read above dummy.And consider wthose that didn’t serve DO get veterans preference JERK!

  5. As a cold war “Veteran” who served in West Germany and Berlin. We had to be ready to stop the soviet march across western europe at all times. I do feel we get overlooked. Was it a war?? Well ask the sub crews who dodged soviet subs. Ask the Pilots who turned back soviet aircraft who would  look for weaknesses in our defences and tell that to the soldiers who watched and waited over the border into the old east germany.

    • Also ask us who served at the East German border in the Fulda Gap in ACR units. It is absurd that we are ineligible for anything including veterans preferences. This was a high stress situation in which we were on constant rotation through GDP alerts with full ammo uploads (never knowing if they were real or training), border outpost duties (yes, that’s right at the fence, looking right at east german border guards pointing their AK’s at us) and constant live fire at Graf or Wildfliken. Imagine one day the entire Soviet 8th Guard Army has it’s tank barrels pointed right at you and you can do nothing and just have to wait-all the while making sure that you barrels are NEVER pointed at them. We had to be vigilant, extremely well trained and motivated and hardcore and if it weren’t for our hard work and dedication it may have gone badly! Don’t get me started on lying recruiters, the disgracefully inadaquet VEAP program (which the VA did everything it could to keep from you-and make you look like the bad guy) the way accepting those benefits made you ineligible for what were then guaranteed federal student loans, making continuing education impossible, and the absurd repeated statements by college financial aid personel about “FREE ARMY MONEY” . After hearing that several times I almost killed one-especially after seeing minority student getting their entitlements, seeing them show the 1st day of class with new expensive clothes and watches and such and then never being seen again-until the next term when the same thing happened! WE ARE GETTING SCREWED! Note also that dope smoking hippie Peace Corp people get full preference and that a non-veteran has only to serve one day (1 damn day!) in any federal job to receive preference.

  6. With a life expectancy of around about 10 minutes after firing one of our Missiles I would say that the stress factor was pretty high.  Given that active edge was called fairly regular without warning or indication if it was the real thing or not again stress levels were out there.  Many people will try to convince you that medals are not deserved and those pepople will play on your better nature.  Let me tell you that the medal is to comemorate your years of service during the cold war at a time when at any moment you could have been in the middle of a nuclear holocaust with seconds to live.  It is not what you did but what you were required to do. 

  7. As for any Veteran, Canadian cold war Vets are covered by Veteran’s Affairs for injuries and medical conditions suffered during military service. Its that simple. 1-866-522-2122

  8. They may say it wasn’t a real war but we are the only vets who dismanteled the mistakes of all the previous world wars to include the conflicts of V-Nam and Korea by brining down the wall. I watched fellow vets die at many gates guarding the nations intrest with no purple heart recieved for the efforts of those 120 hour weeks. Being constantly deployed and spending 3 years on barracks duty in London I saw my share to include my own house and family being attack 3 times while the Marines looked on and said they could do nothing about it because it was not a war. Many vets would be taken down in the streets while the IRA would run black and decker drills through thier knee caps but the US looked on. I held a bomb for a half hour waiting for the London bomb squad to come an dissarm it not knowing when or if it would explode in my hands. No medal for that one either.There were more military men killed in the cold war than the decade of war in Iraq with untold numbers of wounded that were never recorded because it was not a conventional war. Or those hurt and killed whoild doing drug patrols in areas like the Phillipines jungle with no ammunition. We lost three radio operators and my Commanding Officer put a 45 to my head because he was having a flash back (PTSD) from Nam. No matter we one the war and I never forgot the friends I lost even though my country has. I have a blank pair of dog tags that hang on my truck mirror so I never forget those that never came home before terroism became a fad and IED were bobby traps!.

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