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Idaho Vietnam War veteran receives Purple Heart after years of denial

Bill Klobas of Idaho has suffered from PTSD after he sustained a traumatic brain injury during combat more than a half century ago.

BOISE, Idaho — The month of June is PTSD Awareness Month and for some veterans who have seen combat, it’s a common diagnosis.

Bill Klobas of Idaho is a Vietnam War Veteran and has suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after he sustained a traumatic brain injury during combat.

“It was a day in and day out combat for ten months, he shared stories of two, three weeks at a time where they were out on ambushes, no shower, no food, no sleep, and watching his best friends die on a daily basis,” his daughter Casey Byington told KTVB.

Byington says her father fought in the Vietnam War in 1968 for ten months and was wounded in 1969.

“They were coming off the jungle, out of Operation Oklahoma Hills, him and his comrades, and they started to take on enemy attack, enemy fire, so they called in for artillery rounds to be shown and they called it in wrong, and one of the rounds hit my dad,” she said.

She added that her dad suffers from traumatic brain injury, something that was not a diagnosis in 1969. To this day, she said he fights in a battle against PTSD.

“It has been so difficult, and the hardest part is that my dad opened up to me threw years ago, when he had what he called his final meltdown, meaning that he was ready to take his own life when he came to my home it was just one of those moments where it was like if we don't get something going now for him, this is going to be it,” she said.

Shortly after her father came to her, the two decided it was best for Klobas to go through a 12-week program through the Veterans Administration. It was also at that moment when Byington believed her father needed recognition and closure from his past, the Purple Heart was just that.

“The journey in getting this Purple Heart has been so much, it has been three years of every door you can think of slammed in our faces,” she said.

Klobas was denied a Purple Heat once because traumatic brain injuries were not recognized for the Purple Heart prior to Sept. 11, 2001. He was denied a second time because as Byington said, the Marine Corps claimed he didn’t prove his injury sustained and that there was no documentation of being treated by a ‘medical officer,’ a requirement for the Purple Heart.

“I was accused of falsifying documents, I was accused of lying, I was accused of writing these doctors' notes from 1969, and you know this is from the United States Marine Corp generals that were saying this to me,” said Byington. “With somebody who sufferers from PTSD when he was told no, it’s like a punch to the gut because it’s like they are saying to him, 'That didn't happen to you and you shouldn't be feeling this way because that didn't happen,' and his brain has so much degenerative issues right now that he kept second-guessing himself, like 'Maybe it didn't happen? Maybe I am making all of this up?'”

However, it was real. Byington said it took two witnesses, additional documentation from his military records, and the acknowledgment of lost files from the Marine Corp generals to prove that.

Now, she hopes that her father, Bill Klobas, will finally be recognized as the American hero that he is when he receives the Purple Heart. However, she admitted that that journey to acceptance could also be another battle itself.

“The whole process has been so much blood sweat and tears on my part that it’s really hard to hear my dad say that he doesn’t know how he feels about it,” she said. "He’s my dad, he’s an American hero, and he deserves to have recognition for that, and he deserves to be you know, honored for that. I won’t say that he is healed or that he is better now, but every day is a step forward, and this award that we are doing on Friday is just hopefully a small piece of closure for him in this journey."

On Friday, June 18, Bill Klobas was finally awarded the Purple Heart and he quickly thanked his fellow veterans who served alongside with.

"I would like to dedicate this to, if I could, to former veterans, that I was with in Vietnam," he said, "even with the welcoming that we got when we came home, everybody turning their heads at us was so hard to take. Especially when I had comrades that I laid next to until they took their last breath."

Since the Purple Heart Award was created in 1782, more than 1.8 million service members have been presented it.