Los Altos resident Duncan MacVicar, a West Point graduate who served in Vietnam, has supported veterans’ and their causes for years. Following his retirement from the high-tech industry, MacVicar has advocated on behalf of veterans in areas ranging from counseling to lobbying legislators.
“I was in the process of retiring from a high-tech career, and it was an easy decision for me to devote my time to veterans’ issues as much as possible,” MacVicar said.
Many of today’s returning veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, which can lead to impaired memory, language difficulties and psychiatric disorders resulting from head injuries suffered on and off the battlefield.
A supporter of court-supervised therapy in lieu of jail sentences for mentally ill veterans, MacVicar lobbied for an amendment to state law that allows for treatment rather than jail. The bill passed unanimously and was signed into law in 2011.
“Today, mental issues are two to three times greater than those for Vietnam veterans – and Vietnam was bad,” MacVicar said. “More soldiers are surviving due to better body armor and equipment, and the ratio of wounded to killed is higher today than in Vietnam. Traumatic brain injury is a signature mood of these conflicts.”
According to MacVicar, damage from the use of improvised explosive devices in the long-running conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, coupled with multiple tours of duty, have caused service members major psychological and neurological trauma.
In addition to the physical and mental challenges they confront, once veterans return from deployment and re-enter civilian life, another difficulty awaits: finding employment. Many vets enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces directly out of high school. And while serving their country, few vets are able to accumulate college credits or vocational skills to help in the challenging job market.
MacVicar volunteers at Foothill College’s Veterans Resource Center, a nonprofit organization attempting to address veterans’ job prospects. MacVicar holds workshops at the center, which offers career counseling and academic support for vets returning to college. The Rotary Club of Los Altos donated funds to purchase each veteran at the center a Smartpen, a ballpoint pen with an embedded computer that records a class instructor’s voice and synchronizes the lecture with notes that users write in a designated notebook. A form of assistive technology, the Smartpen is especially helpful to those suffering from PTSD.
MacVicar is a longtime volunteer for a variety of local agencies, including the Methodist Church, the American Cancer Society, El Camino Hospital, the Craigs- list Foundation, the Career Action Center and the Community Services Agency, which last year honored him as a “Hometown Hero.” He co-founded the North County Homeless Housing Coalition and the California Veterans Legal Task Force.