Big Brother is NOT All Powerful
Friday, January 09, 2009
Today is VFB Day. Victory For Bob Day. Mark it on your calendar, and if you ever contemplate going up against the minions of our government, look at this circle and know that you CAN win!
Like a lot of Vietnam veterans, I slept, marched and "hit the dirt" during my 13 months in-country, more than once. A lot of that was through areas that had been liberally treated with agents Orange and Blue.
A government study that ended in 2001 showed that Viet vets were four times more likely to show up with type 2 Diabetes than the average American (or Australian or South Korean - both fought by our sides in Vietnam). Congress read the report, said, "Woops! we forgot to check on the long-term damages caused by these defoliants. Since the government is being sued by 100's of thousands Viet vets, maybe they are due some compensation".
Since there was no Type 2 diabetes in my family, I applied for this compensation.
The first response from VA was, "There is no record you ever served in the military". I called VA in St. Louis and spoke to a living, breathing, human (well maybe not human). When I questioned him, his response was, "No evidence, bud". I told him that I had used my VA benefits to help purchase three different home. His response was, "Somebody must have made a mistake". When I asked if they had checked for my enlisted files, he said, "Absolutely. In no case do we show you were ever in the military".
Well, a year as enlisted and 7.5 years of commissioned service couldn't have just gone down the drain. AHA! After I got off active duty, I joined the California National Guard.
I called their records center, told them when I had been in the CARNG. She said, "Let me check". When she got back on the phone, she said, "I'm sorry Mr. Clarkson, we have no record of you ever serving in the CARNG". I guess she could hear the steam coming out of my ears, because she hurriedly added, "But we had a fire in 1977 that destroyed more than half of our files. Now they're all on computers". Whoopee!
That night, pondering what was going on, I realized that I was the Assistant Psychological Operations Officer for the Division I was in, and we had some . . . contact with an Operation Phoenix. This was a somewhat, well, more than somewhat, black operation. Maybe that's when my records went missing.
But, they should have basic records showing I had been in service. Then it hit me. When you out-process in the Army under anything but dishonorable conditions, You are given a form, DD-214, that shows your awards, dates of promotion(s) and Commands in which you served.
I looked through all my Army stuff that WAS "stuffed" in different boxes, foot lockers, etc. I couldn't find it!
When I am angry with myself or frustrated, I have a tendency to mutter bad words to myself. When my wife hears them, usually she just walks away and lets me calm down, but this had been going on for over two hours.
She asked me what was wrong, and like most guys, I proceeded to tell her - in a very loud and descriptive manner.
She looked at me and said, "Why didn't you ask me what you were looking for?" Why should I do that? I was the one responsible for keeping track of that stuff.
She politely told me she had found it in some papers I was going to throw away, and since it looked important, she saved it and put it in my "Resume" file, should I ever need to specifically list where I had been or what I did while in the Army.
OMG. What a wonderful wife she was. Without even knowing it, she had immediately recognized an important document and kept it out of the trash! Wow. When I married her, was I smart or what!
I made a copy of the DD-214 and sent it Registered Mail, Return Receipt Requested, to the Veterans Record Center in St. Louis.
A month later, I received a letter stating that I had to show proof that my Type II diabetes was as a result of my time in Vietnam.
After I came off the roof, I realized I was dealing with a government bureaucracy. Where I thought I was dealing with an organization that helped Veterans, I was dealing with an organization whose function it was to say "No" and place as many mines in front of veterans as possible, thereby saving the government from paying for combat related conditions, or for which "detailed" records could not be produced. Oh, I forgot to tell you. My Health Records had all been "lost", too. That being the case, I went to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and engaged the services of an "Advocate", whose job it really was to help veterans looking at that 1,000' wall they tried to make us climb.
As more and more roadblocks were produced, my health declined. Diabetes causes your body to produce an exceptionally large amount of cholesterol. The cholesterol collected in my heart and I had a heart attack. I had Open Heart Surgery and four bypasses.
By this time, VA had reluctantly granted me a partial disability of 20% for the diabetes - which earned me $101 dollars per month.
Shortly thereafter, my body no longer responded to pills, so I had to go on insulin.
I filed for an add-on to my diabetes claim, and for the related heart disease. For two claims, there were twice as many mountains to climb and I had to produce letters from every doctor who had every treated me for heart disease or diabetes. OK. That took awhile, but we tracked every single doctor down, even one who had retired.
Two months after I submitted the information, I was sent a letter stating that 1, I hadn't proved that it was necessary to switch from pills to insulin, and 2, What did my heart condition have to do with Diabetes?
Well, number one was fairly easy. Since I was going to an Endocrinologist, he wrote a letter that said, basically, if I hadn't started taking insulin my health would have been compromised in the extreme, leading to blindness, peripheral neuropathy and amputation.
The VA's rsponce? OK, we'll go for the Diabetes claim, but you still haven't proved the heart portion, and since both issues were submitted as one claim, they couldn't make an official determination without both parts of the claim being substantiated.
OK. We started over with the heart condition and gathered about 15 different studies conclusively linking diabetes to heart disease, letters from all the doctors again, yada, yada, yada.
Waiting for some sort of answer, I had another heart attack - with Open Heart Surgery, but this time I needed FIVE bypasses.
The frustration I was going through was putting a major stress on my life, and I started having trouble sleeping.
I could go on almost forever, but I'll cut this short:
I had hearing loss diagnosed due to exposure of 175mm cannon fire as a Battery Commander while in Vietnam (2nd assignment).
I started being treated for stress, common to either heart patients OR diabetics.
My Sleep Disorder was ascribed to Severe Sleep Apnea (I was waking an average of 49 times an hour and showing no signs of REM sleep).
I had my heart run away with the spoon during a treadmill at my Cardiologist's offfice (OK, I thought a little humor should be thrown in - there was no spoon), actually, my heart went into Ventricular tachycardia with heart rates going up to 600 beats per minute. At that level, one's heart is doing nothing but quivering as the electrical system was short circuiting. There was no blood with oxygen being pumped. The treatment for this was an ablation (deliberately burning out part of the electrical system in the heart) and the emplacement of a cardio defibrillator into my chest. Without a shirt, it looks like I have a deck of cards under the skin in my chest.
I had a third heart attack, the treatment this time was with a stent and drugs.
I went into severe Major and Chronic Depression and was in the Cuckoo's Nest Resort and Health Spa (the first time) for 10 weeks. The second break was for just a week, and my last vacation there (last year) was for just four days.
The reason it was so short was they had to transfer me to the medical hospital because I had two Grand Mal seizures. The first was observed by medical professionals at the Cuckoo's Nest, the second was observed by hospital personnel. Additionally, I had a number of Petite Mal seizures while in the hospital.
But today, today was awesome. I got a Determination letter in the mail that said VA had determined that I was currently 100% disabled. Parts related to the diabetes went back to 2005, other parts went back to 2006 and the 100% disability, all service connected, went back to 2007.
A second letter from the VA contained a sizable check that should almost get all our bills paid, especially the credit cards we've had to use.
So, Coach V, I took your advice. "Don't ever, don't ever give up."
And if YOU should Ever run into a nightmare like the one I have endured, don't you ever give up, either!