Friday, June 13, 2014

Some people have asked, so I'm sharing this-

I was interrupted a few times while typing this and I'm two hours past my nightly pain meds, so please, forgive any grammar, punctuation, or whatever mistakes.

Lately, I've been asked what we think of the recent issues with the VA that have been in the news. For the most part, those issues don't have an effect on us because he's already "in the system". The biggest issues right now seem to be with incoming vets.

But, I will say this- it is nothing new. When Jerry had his stroke, he was out of the Army for six months and ten days. That "ten days" took more than two years of me filling out forms and writing letters to congressmen/senators (by the way- never heard anything back from any congressman/senators we had in Georgia- where we lived- or in Wisconsin- where we ended up living), and going to the random appointments. We once had to drive two hours to Charleston, South Carolina from where we lived in Georgia for a doctor's appointment. It was scheduled at 8 AM on a Saturday. So, I had to get up, get three kids (aged 6 and under) and the disabled spouse all ready and then load them up in our vehicle and drive into an unfamiliar area with just a truck driver's atlas as a guide (this was back in 1995).

Once there, we were put in a waiting room with about twenty others. After waiting about an hour, we were then told to follow them (two nurses and a man in golf clothes who turned out to be the doctor. (by "golf clothes" I mean a polo shirt with golf balls and clubs all over it and khaki trousers. He had sunglasses on his head as well). I told them that Jerry couldn't walk fast, he'd had a stroke. But that didn't stop them from charging down the hall at a speed even a child had trouble keeping up with. Luckily, some of the other vets created a "chain" in waiting at any turned corners so we wouldn't get lost along the way to another waiting room.

When we were finally taken in to the exam room, it wasn't even an actual examination room. It was an office without any medical equipment.  During this "exam" to determine if Jerry was indeed disabled, the doctor asked him his name. He answered. Asked which branch of the service he was in and he answered. Then he pointed at the phone on the desk. Jerry answered. And it went on like this- the guy pointing at random shit around the office and sometimes throwing in questions like "Who is the president of the United States?". Jerry called a computer monitor a TV and he called the doctor's fancy wristwatch a clock. He called a few other things by an alternate name that sort of meant what they were, but you know... stroke victim.

And that was it. A few weeks later, we got a letter saying that he didn't qualify for anything the VA had to offer. The gist of that letter was: "Due to your time in the service, more specifically your time in the Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, you qualify to receive benefits from the Veterans Administration." And the next paragraph said: "Unfortunately, we have no benefits to offer you at this time." There was some other official stuff, "articles" and such (actions in the military are called "articles", like "Article 15" is an official reprimand. A movie that came out in 1992 called "Article 99" was referencing letters like this. Basically: "Congratulations! You qualify for benefits! Sorry, we don't have anything to give you!" But that's a pretty good movie- a little ridiculous at times, but hey, Hollywood, right?).

Some time later, we lost our home in Georgia and moved up here where my parents lived because my parents were helping us. I always tell people that we came to where the help was. My dad took us to see the VA rep in town (if you have a VA rep- and you most likely do- go to them, they know things we don't). I handed the VA rep the thick, heavy manila folder I kept with copies of everything I'd ever sent to the VA and any politicians I'd written to (snail mail, because who had a computer back then?). And I showed him the few things we'd been sent by the VA. He didn't even LOOK at it. He sort of flipped through and sighed. I told him about the trip to Charleston and showed him the "Article 99" letter.

The VA rep told me: "Stop sending them stuff. They have more than enough information."

Two weeks later, we had a letter saying Jerry had an appointment at the VA in Madison. That's about an hour away. My dad was in the system and he had me go with him on one of his appointments, so I could know the way there and where to go once we were inside. THAT appointment was an actual medical exam. They did a complete physical, made copies and kept the info from all the medical records we'd brought with us. They spoke with both of us, made assessments and told us they would contact us within six weeks.

And that was it. After that, we were "in the system". He had regular appointments. He had his prescriptions covered and all medical for him was taken care of. He was declared "50% disabled" at first. Then 75% and so on and so on, till he reached 90% disabled. And they stalled there. At 90% disabled, he got nearly everything in the way of benefits. Except for medical coverage for the family. And we had three little kids. I ended up having to call the main VA number and I managed to reach an extremely helpful person. It took a few more weeks, but we finally had medical coverage and I was allowed to fill out claims for any medical expenses going back for two years. (not everything got approved and it didn't change any of the bills that had already gone to collection agencies- hey, I was pulling in a mean $5.50 an hour back then).

So, from the time he had the stroke, it took me about six months to even find out that we could even apply- oh, I'd forgotten to mention that... I called the VA office in Savannah, Georgia and a woman told me: "Don't even bother. He won't get approved. Save yourself the heartbreak." I had a routine appointment with the Social Security Disability office and their person suggested we make contact with the VA. I told him what I'd been told over the phone and he was shocked. He made one call for me and got the wheels turning (as in- the first set of forms were mailed to us).

So- from the time I first filled out paperwork to the very first appointment, it was almost six months. It was another two-ish years before he was declared 90% disabled and another six months after that before he got 100% service-connected status. I'll be generous. Three years. It took almost a year to get "in the system" and another two before he was give the Golden Goose Egg of "100% Service-connected Disabled" status.

I did most of this on my own (there were no charities- at least none with TV commercials and junk mail like now). I filled out paperwork, paid to get copies made at the post office, I wrote letters (literal handwritten letters) to Washington DC. Those forms I filled out were repetitive. I still have most of that information memorized from writing it over and over and over. I had to get a certified copy of his DD-214 (discharge papers) which meant I had to go to the courthouse in downtown Savannah, pay for parking, pay the fee for the certification, and it was for no reason. Nobody needs a "certified copy" of DD-214s. (apparently). By the way, during this time, I was working third shift as a security guard. I had Mondays and Tuesdays off because that way I could schedule any of his appointments for those days and not miss my precious $5.50 an hour paycheck.

Anyway... three years total, but it took a year to get "in the system". And that bullshit appointment in Charleston where the doctor would have rather been golfing? That was over six months.

At each victory, we were completely thrilled. We never expected to get anything more, so we were happy with every little bit we did get.

So, the VA has always had "issues". But, I can say that the care he has gotten at the VA hospital in Madison has been very good care. My dad had good care through them as well. I also go to the VA in Madison because they have the spouse program for the spouses of 100% service-connected disabled veterans (but not for the kids, it was just for spouses- but we did have good medical insurance-like coverage for the kids with a 75/25 cost-share thing).

But, now that you've read the whole thing, I'm going to share these with you...

The other day, I explained to the Disabled Guy that I have a huge head and none of my hats would fit on him. So he let me take this photo. That's my Wonder Woman crush cap (which is in my Blogger profile photo).

Today, I asked him to help me with my 365 for Flickr. The theme was "Twisted Flickr" and I wanted him to "be creepy"... it resulted in cackle-laughing on my part and laugh-snorting on his. And this is today's 365 photo.

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