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November 11, 2008

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If only Obama supported the troops.

Actually one of the better methods would be what McCain suggest-at least for VA care and that is to have veterans receive essentially a VA insurance card and let them go to doctors and hospitals in their local area. My husband is a disabled veteran-although from injuries sustained in the mid 90's. At that time it took about 7 months for the military to process his discharge and about 6 months for the VA to process the claim-that was during peace time unless Bosnia counts. I can imagine that it hasn't gotten any better.

The problem now is if you live in a rural area there aren't any VA centers close by, and it often takes months to get in to see the doctor. When we lived in the RDU area of North Carolina VA care was excellent and not difficult to obtain, although my husband still had to drive 45 minutes for his appointments and the actual evaluation center was a 2 hour drive away.

In NH we live over an hour from a major VA facility. When we moved here it was almost a year before my husband could get assigned to a doctor so he could actually access the very small appointment clinic about 30 minutes from where we live.

VA care isn't convienient, and it is slow, and right now we are struggling with the actual care, because the doctor at the VA center stinks, but my husband doesn't have a choice if he wants to use his benefits.

I've got a friend that's in the middle of it with the VA. He's pissed. I don't think his anger has much to do with any recently-enacted policies, so much as that the VA uses VA doctors, who operate from strict cost-control guidelines. He's now walking around, badly and painfully, on a foot minus a few pieces, when it would have been better for everyone to have amputated a larger part and replaced it with a prosthetic.

But that would move him into a more expensive disability bracket, so: no.

On the 11th Day of the 11th month each year, Americans come together to honor those in uniform, the ones who sacrificed for our nation, on Veterans Day. As a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan, War on Terror, I urge everyone to take this day to not just thank a veteran, but to talk with veterans. Learn about how our experiences have shaped our lives and what issues we face as we make our transitions back to civilian life. I would like to explain my side of the story, my own experience.

When I joined the military I was a young, confused kid, who did not know much about life, due to being sheltered for most of my life by my over protective parents. I did not know much about the war, just that I was enraged at the hatred those terrorists had for all Americans and me. I wanted to help my country, to protect it at all cost, even giving up my life to do so. It may sound funny but when I initially tried to enlist in the military, I was to be a military post-man, but the job had already been taken. Since I am color-blind, I wasn’t able to have a range of opportunities in the military. My placement was therefore in Mortuary Affairs Specialist. I felt that I grew up quicker in my years in service than most people do in their whole lifetime.

I was nineteen years old on February 8th, 2002. It was kind of cold for Phoenix as I reached the Airport headed to Fort Jackson, in South Carolina for basic training. Upon reaching Fort Jackson, referred by some in the service as relaxant Jackson, I found that the life I had chosen would not be as easy as I thought. Those first couple of days I got a hair cut, issued uniforms, and learned the waiting line for training was long. During this time, since 9/11, there was a mass influx of new recruits; the Army had problems finding them units to train in. For me I was lucky kind of, since I had a school date that did not come around very often, they tried to offer me another job, but I turn them down, I was shipped from Fort Jackson, then to Fort Lenderwood Missionary. The Ozark Mountains are cold and during winter, it was unbearable. It was an extreme change for me because I was mostly familiar with the hot weather in Phoenix, AZ. Exercising and running in extreme weather with being out shape was horrible. There was no special treatment for anyone but the drill sergeants made me work twice as hard. The treatment I received was something similar to a movie, where the fat kid got picked on and abused, but it was some thing I needed in order to become who I need to be. Despite this, I worked hard, did everything I was ordered to do, and eventually I graduated from boot camp with a new physique. During graduation, my fellow recruits honored me with “The Most Changed Person” reward, the Order of the Dragoon.

I was off to my next challenge, training for my MOS. When I reached Fort Lee, Virginia, I missed my start date and had to wait for the next one. This meant that I couldn’t get a pass to go anywhere; I had to just sit at the barracks, clean the floors, and do KP duty. After awhile this routine got incommodious. I was so happy on Memorial Day 2002, because the next day I was scheduled to start school. Then all of a sudden, I had horrible stomach pains, and could not figure what it was. So I was sent me off to the ER, the doctors initially diagnosed appendix problems. The one-hour surgery was then scheduled immediately, however it took five hours to complete. Apparently, my appendix had been ruptured for over a month including basic training. The surgeons said I am so lucky to be alive. I got a month off to recover and relax. When I got back to Fort Lee, I had to wait another month for class, so eventually when I got to school; I did my best to learn about my job and almost graduated at the top of my class. The reason why I did not graduate at the top of my class was due to my stomach muscles not fully recovering, which made doing sit-ups very hard. I did it because I wanted to join my unit at Fort Lee.

My feelings of excitement and wanting to serve were still in tact even after months of prolong waiting and recovery. In order to be all that I could be, to be the best, I exceed my own abilities by 120%. The mindset I had, came a long way (physically from Phoenix and mentally from the first story I heard about the terrorist attacks), I had really changed for the better. In the first year, I received my first (minor) medal, the Army Achievement Medal. With this acknowledgement from the Army, I wanted to speed up my deployment overseas to Afghanistan, but that wasn’t going to happen until March 18th 2003. According to orders, my team that I was assigned to from my unit wasn’t schedule to arrive in Iraq first. Instead, I worked in the Theater Mortuary Affairs Evacuation Point, a place that went nonstop for the first three months.

Sleep was limited to when I did not hear a helicopter, and when body’s slowed down coming in. In the states I had worked at the Richmond Morgue, but war was different. Instead of just seeing some one you did not know in the states, in Kuwait you learn to know every one, due to them wearing the same uniform, and inventorying all their personal effects, you knew who they wear when they left. Not only was our job to process Americans, but we also helped process British, and any other Allies. During this time I saw the mistakes we made, such as shooting British helicopter down with Sam missiles, and killing Brazilin journalist when we hit the wrong building, during that time I saw the horrors that mankind was possible of. I start experiences, problems, and tried to seek medical help, but I was deferred and told I would be fine. My excitement had come to an end, and I start to get in trouble, pretty soon my 1st Sgt, thought that I was not experiencing enough of the war, so he sent me to the Iraq, Camp Alsad. In Camp Alsad, was slow, but became difficult. Some of the soldiers I ate with at the chow hall, and knew were head on a rest and relaxation mission, but instead of making it, their helicopter was shot down. My team had to go clean the site, recover the bodies, and inventory their belongings. Man life is tough, but even tougher if you know the people. There were two other tough missions. The first were, when three Special Forces soldiers had been killed, when they were given orders not to shoot into a crowd even if they were receiving fire, not only did we have to process their bodies, but we also had to process the bodies of the people who had killed them. We are mortuary affairs first, and as such we have a moral obligation not to look at uniform, or lack of one, but to look at the person and understand their journey had come to a end, and it was our job to treat them with respect because every one has family and friends that care for them, it was not are job to judge right or wrong, which is very hard. The second tough mission was when we went with a convoy head to a site, that they had reportedly killed Sadam Husain, but in fact the compound was filled with animals and women and children. I do not think the Air Force meant to kill them, they were trying to do there job in following cell phone singles, and when they split, they went after the most likely target. On this mission two things had happened. One back in Alsad I was having bad night terrors, but the person in charge of my team figured the answer was not sending me back, but instead was to put me on night duty, and to change the location I slept on, in the location I was, this almost spelled disaster for me and my friend, when I woke up and started to scream at the top of my lungs, the people sleeping around the truck react and were about to shoot in the back of the truck, when my Sgt yelled stop he is just dreaming, oh thank god. The second thing is as I stated before, we are trained to respect the dead, and their belongings. This did not transfer to the people there, instead they were ordered to bury everything, destroy all evidence and move on. That pretty much covers Iraq.

When I got back to the states, I faced many hardships under the care of the Army. I am like millions of other veterans dealing with mental and physical scars of war. Most Americans will never know about these issues because it is not covered in the news or articles. The Army has become a two-sided issue for me; it was once a place where I wanted to succeed at being a great solider and fight for our rights and our country. Now that I came home I am still fighting another battle, however, this fight, I fight alone. I am trying to cope with sudden flashbacks, traumatizing combat events, hyper-vigilance to the recurrence of danger, feelings of numbness, low self-esteem, rage, and lapses in concentration. All of these have caused me to descend in my quality of life. I thought the Army and my unit would continue to care for me, treat me as a fellow solider, and assist me with finding resources for coping and healing. However, this was not the case, my unit classified me as a troublemaker, an unfit solider. As a result, they discharged me out of the Army abruptly without taking responsibility for the causes of my PTSD illnesses. Like other soldiers, I tried to reach out for help but once the system failed, I tried to commit suicide twice during my service. Luckily, both times, one of my few friends stopped me. This incident put me in a mental hospital involuntarily, where they doped me up on strong medicines, and no one cared to seek the reasons behind the action. I wasn’t allowed to receive my care at the Army hospital, because if procedures were followed, there would have been a long investigation and no one wanted to take the time to take care of their wounded soldiers with PTSD. Instead, I was discharged immediately with personality disorder. This seems to be the common practice for the Army, not just in my case but also 20,000 other veterans. At 5 P.M. September 16, 2004, my last official orders from the Army were, TO GET OUT!! Heavily medicated, I received my car keys, and was told to drive over 5000 miles, all the way home to Phoenix, Arizona. My feelings that proscribed afterwards are indescribable.

Even though I am still in my own body, this whole experience has shaped my life. Following my physical return home to Phoenix, AZ, I, however, didn’t return home with my state of mentality. My homecoming wasn’t what I imagined, that is because it was based on tv and movies I’ve seen about returning soldiers as hero’s. I became hospitalized time and time again.

Don’t worry, my story gets better and does have a great beginning. This new chapter in my life begins with the chance meeting the love of my life, my wife. With her continued support, I am able to handle some things on my own. A great support system, love, understanding, and patience, is what I think all soldiers should have and receive upon their return home. After all, the important issue is that we are all humans! With the good and the bad, we will always have our memories.

So on this Veterans Day and every day the best way to honor our veterans is to connect with them. So please remember and honor our fellow humans, our veterans. Without recognition from our family and friends, it doesn’t seem like all of our efforts make a difference. Many of us new veterans are being left behind, we have honored you by defending your rights, and all we ask is to welcome us home.

Sincerely,
Joshua C. Poulsen
Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran

Thanks Hilzoy, nice post. My best advice to military people getting out is to make a complete copy of your medical/dental record. Don't expect that the VA won't lose it. You never know when they'll find out that the Anthrax shot causes some weird disease (like they didn't know Agent Orange was bad for you during Vietnam).

LT's advice is very sound, and I would supplement it by urging vets to make a copy of every single document and piece of correspondence sent to the VA. As this is yet another expense for vets on reduced pay while they wait for action, offices willing to make their copiers available for this purpose and contributions to help with retail copying are among the many ways to show support.

Sadly, there is an unfolding story surrounding the discovery of inappropriate documents (claims still in process, etc.) being shredded at some regional VA centers. Worth keeping an eye on; although it's difficult to conceive that it could be part of a systematic, criminal effort to slow down claims, nothing is beyond possibility.

I'll be back with a link in a bit.

Military Veterans' Benefit Claims Records Wrongly Headed for VA Shredders

Also, this from the VAWatchdog blog.

From your first link, Nell: "Particular individuals in the Columbia and St. Louis offices are being "looked at closely" in an ongoing investigation, VA Undersecretary for Benefits Patrick Dunne says. "They are not handling clients." Sources from veterans' organizations say they believe the two potential perpetrators to be under administrative leave. The Cleveland office also remains under investigation, and no particular worker has yet been identified as the source of the problem there."

This makes me wonder if the "errors" weren't innocent "errors," but perhaps abuses by individuals trying to keep up with quotas, like the occasional postal service delivery person who squirrels away mail.

I may be biased by thinking of someone I once worked with at a publishing company whom I found had variously been throwing out and hiding lots of slush submissions, rather than look bad to the boss by being seen to be way behind on replying to and returning them.

Either way, these veteran's records shredding is a terrible thing.

[Comment deleted; see Gary's comment below.]

"everyone should know!"

Yes, because that's clearly the best way to help living veterans, and their families: watch a movie.

Jeebus.

Nell that information is disturbing.

And I agree with keeping a complete copy of your medical records. When my husband transferred from the VA system in North Carolina to the one in NH somehow one of his service connected disabilities disappeared off his record, and they keep charging him full price for the required medication. He has called, gotten it fixed, only to have it disappear again months later. He had it happen again just recently, and they told him they would likely have to do a complete new evaluation for him, because the misplaced the records-even though he collects a benefit check for the disability.

I will also readily say our experiences in North Carolina's VA system were good-but there is almost nothing positive to be said about the system in NH. It is overburdened and the doctors come and go quickly and most of them don't even take the time to read the medical history.

"highly recommend! everyone should know!"

I highly recommend nobody try loading that site; Norton Security says it's a fake codec, and it led to intrusion attempts on my computer.

"While a veteran's disability claim is being processed, that veteran doesn't get disability. S/he has to live on a fraction of his or her active duty pay"

This, interestingly enough, is not quite accurate. *If* you are discharged with a disability rating over 0% by the Army's disability raters who oversee your medical discharge decision, this may happen. However, many soldiers are discharged on medical grounds but with a 0% percent rating given by the Army. In that case, the soldier receives a one time lump sum severance pay, usually a couple thousand dollars, but does not receive partial active duty pay of any kind. The soldier must wait for a new rating decision by the VA before receiving any sort of pay at all, which can take months or years as this post says.

This doesn't just happen to people who aren't that badly hurt, either. The Army disability raters are very very stingy with the ratings they hand down. When I was medically discharged, I received a 0% Army rating, and was told to just take it and then go to the VA and the VA would fix things. I didn't get a VA rating for about six months, and three years later I have a 60% disability rating, although I have a claim on appeal because I have been unable to function more than about 15 hours a week because of my disability since 2006.

However wretched the VA system looks on paper, it is more accurate to assume that things are worse than you know.

My friend (Vietnam vet; I can't recall how old he is exactly. He's always seemed younger than I am) says that he has actually heard the words "we can't be sued" come from his VA doctor's mouth.

Think on that for a moment. Not sure that it's true, but it sounds like it might be.

I highly recommend nobody try loading that site; Norton Security says it's a fake codec, and it led to intrusion attempts on my computer.

Given that I just spent the better part of three days trying to rid myself of a rootkit infestation of my laptop -- and, after failing, the better part of a day eking out a backup then reformatting the hard drive a few times -- I'm going to go with: nobody load that site. It ain't worth it.

[There are very few terrors like that of Internet Explorer spontaneously launching itself while your AV software screams the alarm...]

Slarti: My friend (Vietnam vet; I can't recall how old he is exactly. He's always seemed younger than I am) says that he has actually heard the words "we can't be sued" come from his VA doctor's mouth.

Not sure if the 'we' in question was in reference to VA doctors, but the Department of Veteran Affairs can indeed be sued.

Dammit. That last on was me. A friend's (Typepad-powered) blog is hosted at the website of the newspaper that she writes a regular column for; the-powers-that-be are quite strict about not allowing any profanity, even something as innocuous as 'bastard'.

Bastards.

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