How Does the Home-Buying Process Differ for Veterans?

Buying a home is often stressful and exciting at the same time. Understanding the process is key to a successful experience. Presented today by Ask Nod, and myself as a staff writer, the following are the primary aspects of home buying I feel that everyone should be familiar with, as well as a few details that are specific to Veterans.

Financing

Before you begin looking for a home, it is important to get your finances in order so that you can get pre-approved for a loan. This pre-approval ensures you know how much you are able to borrow and lets real estate agents know that you are serious. As a Veteran, you have the option of applying for a VA loan. This is a loan partially backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Because of this backing, lenders feel secure offering the loan with no down payment. Before applying, familiarize yourself with current VA mortgage rates

After you are pre-approved for a loan, it is important to consider how much you can afford. The loan amount you qualify for may not be affordable. Consider all your bills in relation to your income. Make sure to account for repairs and maintenance on the home. A good rule of thumb is that no more than 28% of your total monthly income should go toward a mortgage payment, which generally includes homeowner’s insurance and taxes.

When preparing your finances to buy a home, keep in mind that there may be hidden costs associated with the purchase. These costs include an inspection, appraisal and the VA funding fee for those using a VA loan.

Shopping

As a Veteran, you may be accustomed to military housing, rentals and frequent moves. Choosing a home to purchase is exciting but may be overwhelming. Even though research shows that over half of all homebuyers find their homes online, real estate agents can be invaluable in your search for the ideal home. They know the area and nuances of the local market. If you are new to the area, they can help you choose a neighborhood that works for you. Pay attention to crime rates, amenities and the school district. Even if you don’t have children, the quality of local schools will affect your home’s resale value.

The best season to buy a home depends on your individual needs. If you have kids, it may be better to move during the summer to avoid disrupting their schooling. More houses are on the market in the spring and summer, but the cooler months tend to offer lower prices. These are generalities, however, and the market may be different in your local area. If you are also selling your home, remember that the best seasons to buy and sell may be different, requiring you to time accordingly.

Closing

Once you have found your ideal home, it is time to make it official by closing. This is a paperwork-heavy meeting that finalizes all the details of the purchase. Keep in mind that you should not open any new lines of credit before closing day because this can delay the process.   

Watch out for closing scams. Do not transfer money without first speaking to a trusted individual. Do not send sensitive information via email.

A home is often the largest purchase an individual or family ever makes, and it can be one of the most exciting. Understanding the steps involved before getting started helps make the process less stressful and more enjoyable.

Posted in All about Veterans, Future Veterans, Guest authors, Public Service Announcements, Veterans Law | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

LZ CORK–I’LL SEE YOU AND RAISE

How shall I start this article? It began in 2014 in a little bar in Key Center Washington over a scotch (neat, with a water back). Butch’s daughter, born shortly after he arrived in country in late 68, had been pestering anyone who would sit still long enough to listen that she was not going to let her pa die before he got his Purple Heart. Eventually her pester made its way to my front door. I’d belatedly received my medals about Memorial Day 2013 which should have been awarded in 1972 when I got home from SEA. Due to my hasty departure following an Article 15 removing a stripe and a speedy General Discharge, the awards ceremony was overlooked. Butch never got any of his because they air-evac’d him back to the World. And, due to his numerous TBI injuries, he met the same fate-busted to E1 and 3 months in the brig after his Court Martial for missing formations left and right. He at least got an Honorable-but, like me- no medals. As St. Rodney Dangerfield  correctly observed  “We don’t get no respect.”

I wrote about Butch a few times and poof!– out of the woodwork came a host of LZ Cork Alumni. Read their comments below these articles. It’s a minor miracle this all came to pass. The VA, however, has not been very very nice to Butch. They never obtained all the dustoff records to the 312th at Chu Lai,  the 95th at Da Nang, or the recovery at Camp Zama. His history began when they grabbed his stretcher out of the meat wagon at Letterman General on February 28 1969-40 days after he got clobbered. They never continued the debridements. They let it all scar over and heal. Butch would be shitting little metal slivers of shrapnel for the next 53 years- as he still is to this day.

VA’s attitude was the standard Zeroes for Heroes Program© they have been administering ever since Vietnam. The reason was simple. Nobody in govt. or the VA had ever experienced the volume of severely disabled Vets who came home from Vietnam alive. They had never survived in WW II or Korea in these numbers. There was no bed space; not enough in the way of medical assets to even remotely stem this tsunami of wounded folks. The larger problem of no money was the 800-pound gorilla sitting on the VA sofa. Butch got 10% and that’s more than most got. $17 a month.

When I climbed into the cockpit for the NOD, the NPRC provided the big mystery of the missing documents-VA never came and got ’em. Even when I reopened the claim in 2015. Zip. They just started granting everything as fast as we filed it- and a few we didn’t claim. They even threw in TDIU and Chapter 35 DEA without our asking. All this over a couple of new DD 215s showing he got the PH, the CIB and an ARCOM?  It’s evident in retrospect why they did this. The only problem is that they didn’t use §3.156(c)(1),(3),(4) and pay him back to 1970. In fact, they refused to even mention it for over three years.

As many times as we brought up the subject of a formal reconsideration and kept reminding them, VA continued to write up rating decisions that said “Roger that. The effective date is the date of your March 2015 filing but hey, we’re going to raise your Bent Brain rating from 50 to 70%, grant the TBI and give you 30% for headaches, hear? Why, we’re feeling so good about all this, we’ll even give  you an extra year of tinnitus to the year before you filed in 2015. How ’bout them apples? It won’t change your paycheck but we want you to know we’re doing the equity thing.” Pretty soon, they gave him SMC S for 100% plus 60% but again refused to even discuss reconsideration until the May 2018 SOC.

Have you ever felt someone was funning you but was eventually going to come clean? VA didn’t. The SOC insisted a reconsideration had taken place at some point but nothing in the old records convinced them to think they would have granted any of this shit in 1970. And besides, Butch didn’t file for tinnitus in ’70. He filed for perforated eardrums. Unfortunately for VA, that isn’t the legal standard of review. §3.156(c) records do not have to be conclusory. They just have to support an award today-now- in the present. If you do grant a claim after the introduction of the old records from 1970, you have to revisit the 1970 filing to see if you should have, or would have, granted back then. If so, then 1970 is your effective date for all the stuff you filed for in 1970.

Given the hindsight of Clemons v. Shinseki, you are no longer required to hang that stethoscope around your neck and say you have diagnosed yourself with TBI as opposed to Bipolar disease. If you say your ears were perforated while wearing your Purple Heart, VA has to believe you. They’re also supposed to infer all the other things that might be related to your concussion blast injury. You, yourself, are not required to provide a detailed list with a Power Point Presentation like a guided safari through the M 21 for them.

Shit happens in War. Things go boom. B 40s don’t feel like Nerf™ Rockets. When a 60 mike mike goes off on the roof of your bunker 2 feet over your head while you’re sleeping, bad ju-ju is going to follow you around for a long time. But when someone finally gets it sorted fifty years later, VA should at least make good on it instead of trying to blow you off. I’ve studied the Rubik’s Cube® of §3.156(c) longer than I’ve contemplated the intricacies of SMC and I can tell you it’s horribly subjective in VA’s eyes. Truth is, they’ve never ever seen it unless it arrives back from the CAVC or BVA on remand with instructions to “Make it so, Numbah 1.” There simply haven’t been a lot of these antique claims that are this blatant and well-supported by the evidence-both old and new.

The long and the short of §3.156(c) is almost -but not always- dependent on using the JSCRURR (Joint Services Center for the Uniform Research of Records)- those eleven VA munchkins slaving away in their DC cave who research things like if Dong Ha (LZ Cork) got hit the night of January 18, 1969. This outfit is used by VA to keep us honest and prove the PTSD stressors filed as evidence by many Vets and  attorneys are legitimate. VA uses it to research to within 6 months  before and after your claim as to when the shit went sideways on Route 1. If you pass that test, then the next is “did you have a diagnosis of PTSD back in January 1969? No? Well, then we can’t pay your claim. Next? Used to be they demanded a date range of 30 days before or after the “alleged enemy action”.  Most Vets have a hard time remembering and just used the monsoon theory. Was it raining or dry season? Dry was February to August. Everything else was wet.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are an ungodly number of Vets who manned IBM® Selectrics or Olivettis while flying their desks who discovered they were nascent Eleven Bravo Tens when the gooks got inside the wire at 0230. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to convey in words what it feels like when a trip flare goes off and you realize the guy that just ran past you is wearing a funny hat and carrying what definitely appears to be an SKS with a bayonet. Your 214 will never say you deserve an ARCOM. No CIB for you, GI. You were there shooting but the VA pukes will never accord you the combat presumption. I don’t care how well you write your VAF 21-0781. It won’t help. JSCRURR fills that gap. In Butch’s case, we don’t need that form of proof. We have two new 215s-one for the PH and another for the CIB and the ARCOM. We have over 75 pages of  medrecs showing SFWs to not one but 7 MGs(muscle groups). We have proof of not one but bilateral eye injuries that night. We have the records showing a confirmed diagnosis of tinnitus and traumatic cataract at Butch’s c&p exam less than three months after discharge. VA would have us believe that filing for perforated cornea is not the same as filing for a bilateral field vision defect caused by a traumatic brain injury. But, in the next breath granting a claim for 20/40 for refractive error that he did not file for. The best was the sudden recharacterization of a concussion blast injury into an “acoustic event” like a loud rock concert. Only a VA puke who’s never heard a shot fired in anger could confuse the two.

Nevertheless, none of that-not so much as a word of it- convinced them to grant SC for SFWs to, say, his left hand. Or his right thigh-but only from March 2015. The best was a new tranche about two months before they conceded TBI with migraines occurred on January 18, 1969-but compensable from 2016 only, mind you. VA did “give the dog a bone” when they magnanimously acknowledged a 1970 CUE and retro’d a 10% for a second muscle group. The reason? Why, you didn’t file a claim for all those other muscles in 1970, honeychild. But now you have so we’re gonna pay you for them. The reason they didn’t get any nicer on the old stuff was the break point for dependency is 30%. If they had granted a 20% back to ’70, it would get into dependency at 30% or over. Somebody must have noticed he had a wife and four kids so that was right out.

I’m seriously wondering in this new world of equity whether the Veterans Law Judge I draw will notice the major flaw in the Secretary’s logic when he said “you didn’t file for tinnitus so we didn’t know you wanted us to consider that.” Of course, Butch did file for perforated eardrums but they didn’t infer that either-or even bother to rate him for it. What they inferred was “deafness bilateral” for what’s behind door # 1- oh bummer- $0. VA’s take, as most know is  “if you ever get more deaf, come back and see us. We have hearing aids for free, too. Did we mention that?”

Winning a VA claim often requires you to find that loose thread on the sweater and keep putting on it to see where it leads. Winning one with a Las Vegas payout for your neighbor after eight years requires a lot of navel-gazing and thought. What am I missing? What are they trying so valiantly to hide? They screwed up and fell into our punji pit. We gave them §3.156(c) evidence a month before we reopened by filing. §3.156(c), however has a compulsive clause-

at any time after VA issues a decision on a claim, if VA receives or associates with the claims file relevant official service department records that existed and had not been associated with the claims file when VA first decided the claim, VA will reconsider the claim,

Will equals shall in law. This is not a permissive thing where if VA feels like getting off their dead asses and developing the 1970 claim, why, they might. But odds are heavy they won’t. Clemons greatly expands the legal universe of what a “claim” encompasses in layman’s terms. The Secretary attempts to use successive post hoc rationalizations for what has transpired-both in 1970 and now in the intercurrent 2018-2021 period. They’re all over the map. This will be their undoing. I just won one back to 2002 because VA did the same thing. The Vet filed for DM and they granted but also included PN of the extremities for which he didn’t file. I pointed out he’d also filed for MDD in 2002 and they denied but failed to grant when we won in 2020. BVA said pay the man for 50% back to 2002 and be quick about it. The rationale was that if the VA raters were intuitive enough to infer and grant for PN in 2020 back to 2002, they should have been equally as astute in doing the same for the MDD.

I’ve never devoted 24 pages and two IMOs to a claim or appeal. I was taught not to be redundant but this whole concept of  §3.156(c) seems to be just as incomprehensible to the VA hierarchy as SMC law is. As for the inclusion of the IMOs, how else can you rebut some (alleged) candlelight ceremony was held  at midnight in the bowels of the VARO that found your reconsideration was reviewed and “it did not prove or disprove your contention.” WTF, over? Did you, by chance grant any claims after reviewing them? Uh-oh… §3.156(c)(3) and (4) are now in play… I merely asked a couple of Board certified experts what they thought. We’ll see how that compares to a  VA-hired gun ARPN with a major in Family medicine practiced at midnight. Remember folks. Equity. Benefit of the watchamacallit.

Some will say I’m betting the ranch on this with two IMOs. Have any of you ever been to the race track and bet $200 across on a six-year-old nag going off at 60-1?  I don’t cotton to spending 8 years on anything just to leave it to chance. In my war, we preferred a three-to-one numerical advantage over our enemy. We rarely attained it and substituted the assurance of air support but you sure depend on good weather to give you that airpower. Murphy’s Law exposed that myth. You reduce the risk factors to as low a number as possible in any endeavor. Mostly, you’ll find you can’t pack enough grenades. To me, IMO’s are my hand grenades. They’re getting easier to procure and harder for VA pukes to defeat. The reason? Elementary. They’re too cheap to hire anything more than FNG ARPNs and 85 yr.-old shrinks who mix up the Veterans’ circumstances… or lie.

Butch has testified until he’s blue in the face to no avail. He’s provided a wealth of really good non-JSCRUR evidence to support his claim. VA foolishly granted it all out the wazoo without considering the implications of §3.156(c). Now they are trying to backpaddle and come up with plausible explanations for all this where they never have before. The problem is obvious. VA cannot bring itself to just admit they didn’t handle this one well and rewrite the M 21 to put guardrails on this kind of thing to prevent it from ever happening in the future.

Truth is, I built this like a Punji Pit from hell. VA fell into it when they granted in 2015. They fell in about three more times since by granting even more after a second and third tranche of records. It’s impossible for them to change what they did. It’s like catching your kid in a lie and he just digs a deeper hole with more and more lies. Shoo doggies. This is more fun than fishing with dynamite.  Or marrying a woman with a liquor store. Or bagging a Boone and Crockett 26 X 25 (irregular) Elk. Or… winning a VA claim for your fellow Vietnam Veteran friend.

Here’s the Gutenberg bible of legal briefs. Let’s hope it’s the last one on this subject.

redact bva ex pgs original – Copy

Posted in Agent Orange, All about Veterans, §3.156(c) claims, BvA Decisions, Earlier Effective dates, KP Veterans, LZ Cork, Obtaining a C-file, PTSD, SMC, Tips and Tricks, VA Agents, Veterans Law, Vietnam War history | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

EXPOSED VET RADIO SHOW WITH JOHN AND JERREL

Hoo, doggies. I love to talk to Veterans and teach them how to spank the VA legally. Since I began this gig, I’m dumbfounded at the tsunami of Veterans who have sent me emails and thanked me for being a ”ghost Sherpa” for them. No. I’m not blowing my own horn. I just mention it to rub salt in VA’s metaphorical wounds. If you remember, VA insisted from 1989 to about 2008 that I never served in sunny Vietnam and was not entitled to the AO herbicide presumption. That’s pretty hard to swallow. Not only did I serve, I did two tours back to back. I lost some good friends whose bodies were never recovered.

That hurts. And, as Sir William vocalized so eloquently, revenge, with a side of a pound of flesh, is a dish best served chilled which suits me just fine.  Supersize me, baby. Being able to teach other how to fish instead of feeding them fish is enough for me. For those unteachable or too disabled, there are attorneys and Agents like myself who can sub in. I will include VSOs because they fill a niche-albeit sketchy in terms of  their legal knowledge. But even if they were Perry Masons all,  it wouldn’t help. VSOs work for VA. They are beholden to them for their existence in the compensation arena. They’re not allowed to go off the reservation and actually help at the risk of being fired.

But that’s not why I called you here. I shine the Bat signal into the sky tonight to alert you to another evening with John and Jerrel and a few choice remarks about some of my cases and how that may help you-the Veteran- get the upper hand with VA on your claims/appeals. Tomorrow night, October 7, 2021, at 1900 Hrs East and 1600 on the left, I have the honor of teaching even more of you about Special Monthly Compensation and its incredible inverted barrel rolls of logic.

You’re going to get to see an actual bushwhack job that screwed a Vet out of R2 for the last seven years. Take a gander below.

Redact Narrative 6-19-2015

This is equitable estoppel. The VA puke is attempting to talk my client out of her R1/R2 entitlement by scaring her into believing she’s going to lose her right to free medical or hospital inpatient status. Shut the front door. We’ll be talking about that and more. Hope to see you there.

The call in number  is

(515) 605-9764

 

Or, you can log in via the link below. Press one (1) to talk after you connect and hear the greeting. Otherwise do not press one (1), remain silent and help us keep all the dogs barking (except mine) down  to a dull roar or muted entirely…

https://www.blogtalkradio.com/jbasser/12010035/connect/a8cbe17437ef3dcc2e6153bbcee3c9ff3e75ec6b

P.S. Here’s the latest blurb from BVA Board Chairman Cheryl Mason on the BVA backlog for appeals adjudications:

September 2021 BVA report

Posted in Exposed Vets Radio Show, Lawyering Up, SMC, VA Agents | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

SMC BVA HEARING–WHEN THE MUSIC’S OVER, TURN OUT THE LIGHTS

When Jim Morrison punched out, it left a hole in my psyche. Ditto Janis and Jimmy. The man’s talent was unmistakable. What a waste. Fortunately, in the short time he was here on earth, he left us with a plethora of wonderful music. My client Lori reminds me in many respects of his talents now lost to all of us. She had such wonderful prospects and looked forward to representing Veterans and it all came to naught.

Lori served in the Navy as an O-2 and came down with Multiple Sclerosis several years into it. Not to be thwarted, she went to law school and got her juris doctorate. Her disabilities continued to multiply and effectively prevented her from a meaningful career. Yeah. Think of that. A wonderful future ahead of you and it all came crashing down with a diagnosis of terminal MS. She tried vainly to practice law following school but was forced to face reality. How sad to think of all the potential Veterans she might have helped navigate the maze of VA benefits.

Lori was somewhat adept at representing herself for her benefits up until 2012 when she entered the Special Monthly Compensation arena. Suddenly, up was down and no one would give her the same answer on what she was entitled to. The Roanoke regional office, pursuant to a Hampton VAMC CAPRI note, granted an 80% rating for DC 8520-complete loss of the right lower extremity. They neglected one thing- SMC K under §3.350(a)(2)(ii) which goes with it. That was the very least of their errors and the beginning of nine years of obfuscation and worse- lies.

In 2012, Lori filed for aid and attendance due to a subset of disabilities which did not include loss of use of her right foot. VA granted her SMC L for aid and attendance but ignored the SMC K for loss of use. they also glossed over the ½-step bump for independently ratable 50% disabilities under §3.350(f)(3). Surprise, surprise, surprise as Pvt. Gomer Pyle, USMC was fond of saying.

By 2014, she had lost the use of her right hand as well. VA (finally) dutifully awarded  loss of use of the foot under DC 8520 and (magnanimously) added loss of use of  a hand under §4.71a DC 5111-i.e., entitlement under SMC L (§3.350(b)(1). All well and good-so far. A week later she got her rating decision and a note from the SMC gurus at Fort Roanoke saying she should reconsider this largesse and perhaps choose whether she wanted to keep her Aid and Attendance (and lose her hospital benefits) or accept the loss of use of the hand and foot and “keep” her free hospitalization benefits. In law, we call this estoppel. Estoppel is simply a big word for giving you shitty advice that harms your bottom line and your choosing to rely (to your detriment) on their defective legal reading.

 

Well, shoot. Lori was going down the tubes. This MS gig was a death sentence. It wasn’t going to get better or become static. She couldn’t exist unaided and had already spent days-sometimes weeks- at a stretch in VA hospitals totaling months in recent years. The thought of suddenly having to pay for all these inpatient stays out of pocket mortified her. She called the (800) 827-1000 Prize Redemption Center pronto and begged the VA to please award only the LOU of the extremities and to rescind the previous aid and attendance award. Aruuuuuu? SMC is not a “hold the pickles, hold the lettuce” arrangement. You get what’s behind Door #1-not what’s in Monty’s Cookie Jar behind door #3.  In this case, Lori became entitled to SMC O. With one of her SMC L awards being for aid and attendance, she should rightfully have been promoted to SMC R1 at a minimum and probably R2. VA had no more authority to suggest and/or employ this insane suggestion than they did to underrate her in 2012. This illustrates just how ignorant these chuckleheads really are when it comes to SMC. I don’t mean Virginia’s Fort Fumble exclusively. I mean all the Puzzle Palaces across our fruited plains. Houston is the absolute worst.

Lori continued to fight and file but all she garnered was SMC M for loss of use above the right knee. If VA was going to use this defective metric, by rights they should have at least given her the bump up to M 1/2. Being an attorney, she felt she could fight this and win it with one hand tied behind her back. Never underestimate VA. While you are arguing for SMC M 1/2, VA is laughing their asses off because you don’t even realize you should be at R1 or R2. And trust me when I say they are not going to CUE themselves and have that “Come to Jesus meeting” to make it right.

 

Pickles the pillow pincher

So she came to me, a lowly VA agent with no juris doctorate and still wet behind the ears with one year of “legal” representation under my belt.  Go figure. Sadly, I, too, fought these dicks on their level for years and tried to reason with them logically and explain it using §3.350. My dog Pickles is more astute. She I can reason with over who gets the pillow at night (her). As many times as I tried to CUE this error with logic, the more entrenched VA became in their denials. I even refiled it as a brand new claim for SMC R1 and tried to point out the extensive subset of all her disabilities and how none were duplicative or pyramiding. A brick wall would have been a far more sympathetic ear.

I had to sit down and sadly explain to Lori the arduous process ahead of us to obtain a hearing before a knowledgable VLJ at the BVA and the long wait inevitably ahead of us. Finally, that day occurred-May 4, 2021. Attached below is the Hearing transcript before an “acting” Veterans law judge (or AVLJ)- Judge (pro tem) Martin Peters. The hearing illustrates that even legally trained Veterans law judges are not up to speed on SMC any more so than the goombahs below at the regional level. I’m not suggesting that Judge Peters is a mental midget in this arena. Perish the thought. I merely point out how complicated this subject is and how it seems I end up at the BVA each and every time I file a client for the highest levels of SMC. The only good news is that I have all the regulations memorized now and don’t have to look down at my notes to quote the correct cite to 38 CFR Part 3 (or 4).

redact BVA hg. 5.4.21

As an aside, let me discuss the difference between “acting” VLJs and  true VLJs. Both have the same authority but an acting VLJ is essentially a staff attorney who has not yet been awarded his Command Pilot’s Wings. If you were AirCav, think Peter Pilot. When the backlog becomes so egregious as to piss off Congress, VA relents and lets the hired help dress up in black robes and pretend to be judges for 90-day stints.  Some AVLJs are outstanding. Some are morons. I had one AVLJ who granted two SMC Ks for loss of use of each foot but couldn’t follow the Hansel and Gretel breadcrumbs to SMC L for loss of use of BOTH feet and grant SMC L. Many of these folks labor for years before they get the big promotion. Some arrive well-connected with excellent resumes and are awarded VLJ status right out of the box. Many staff attorneys give up waiting and move into other areas of legal employment like VA attorney extraordinaire Robert P. Walsh did. After slaving away for a few years at VA, he realized he was morally on the wrong side of the legal fence and transferred his flag to private representation. Many Veterans, too numerous to count have benefited-myself included. Of course, in my case, he hornswoggled me into doing this VA representation gig afterwards. In retrospect, I can’t thank him enough.

Lori’s Hearing transcript popped up in VBMS the other day which signals her appeal is in the preparatory stages of imminent adjudication. By rights, she should have been SMC P (SMC L ½ plus K) from 2012 to 2014. From 2014, she should have been R1. And from 2016, she should have been R2. I prefer to throw the book at them and let them sort out when R2 began.

Getting an audience with a VLJ is only a beginning. You have to be able to cogently explain to them why you’re entitled to each step of SMC.  This means reducing your argument down to DickandJanespeak like the books we read in 3rd grade. Wait, let me put that in historical perspective-the books we used to read in 3rd grade in the 1950s. Nowadays, 3rd graders  probably read about how Jane learns the proper method of correctly donning Jack’s prophylactic using a banana to represent a reproductive organ-or worse. I reckon they call that Critical Sex Training these days. But I digress from Lori. Incongruously, to me time-wise, I was serving my first tour in Vietnam when she was born in 1971. Weird, huh? I guess if my religious beliefs were stronger, I might find this to be concrete proof of a Higher Being keeping me alive long enough to get her across the finish line. Unfortunately, we don’t do religion or politics here so that discussion will not occur. Karens forbid that.

I eagerly await Judge Peters’ reasoned analysis of when, and how disabled, Lori was and the end of her insane Alice in Wonderland trip through the looking glass into SMC. This article gives you a inside glimpse of just one Veteran’s travails and the futility of arguing 38 CFR SMC law with room-temperature IQ folks who only know they’re right because their M 21 Bible tells them so. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that VA took a page out of the Flat Earth Society’s logic argument book- “I’ll see it… but not a moment before I believe it. And since believing it is never going to happen, so, too, will they never see it.

The reason that day will never arrive is simple. VA uses an SMC Calculator device which purports to be able to discern the proper rating. So far they’re batting .000 but you’ll never be able to convince them of their error. This is why they invented VA attorneys and Agents. I think the funniest part will be when the BVA decision is returned to the Jamestown Memorial Regional Office in Roanoke, the “VA ratings gurus” will concede nothing more than that the BVA has spoken. There will be no mea culpas or the donning of sackcloth and the anointing of ashes on foreheads. A brief admission of error would be nice but you’ll never get that from anyone who works at VA. Get over it.

More anon when the decision is promulgated. I sure look forward to turning out the lights when Lori’s song is over. And yes, I’m crushed. They misspelled my first name.

P.S. I couldn’t resist this. Apparently, it’s all the rage with the younger Millennial generation. I think it’s called butt printing. Think the way hospitals recorded our right foot print on our birth certificate. Anyway, meet my son Buckwheat, my lovely daughter in law Kaylynn and our newest granddaughter Penelope. She peed on Matt when that paint brush hit the buttocks which explains the premature cessation of the butt printing.

And one of her masterpieces to rival anything Hunter might have painted.

 

Posted in Aid and Attendance, BVA Hearings, Equitable Estoppel, Pickles, R1/R2, SMC, VA Agents | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

THE NDA–FIFTY ONE YEARS AFTER

My how time flies. A fifty-year Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA) sounds like a lifetime to any normal person. It certainly did to me in Spring of 1970. After this long, and even throwing an extra year in for good measure, it still feels like I’m committing some UCMJ security Bozo no-no that could put me in Fort Leavenworth manufacturing government license plates for 10 to 20. Seriously, when it’s drilled into you and integrated into your frontal lobe or wherever that info resides, divulging anything classified from that era still has to go through the logic circuit to get to the tongue -even now.

Some will say it’s already public knowledge and for the most part, it is- but not the specifics of day-to-day operations. Project 404 didn’t even resemble Hollywood’s take off with Mel Gibson starring in Air America. 123s loaded with opium were not shuttling into and out of what few Lima sites we still had operational up in Barrel Roll (Military Region II or MR2). Maybe some cases of good single malt Scotch but never narcotics. Hell, if you wanted to get that high, you could just reach in the aircraft medpak and grab some morphine styrettes which worked one-handed like an epi-pen. Well, that or smoke some opium-soaked Thai stick.

When I arrived for my one-year, all-expenses-paid vacation (which turned into two years) in sunny Southeast Asia (May 1970), the “conflict”, as the VFW and others referred to it then, was still in high gear. Arriving at Udorn-Thani Royal Thai Air Force Base was an eye opener. Guns. Lottsa guns. Sandbagged bunkers. F4s and T-28s loaded for bear taking off and arriving back with empty hard points. I was in communications and was assigned to the 1973rd Communications Squadron and housed in the “Swamp”- the hootches on stilts over the water that had the sheen of petroleum distillate on it. They were the ones that abutted the perimeter that was sprayed to keep the line of fire open…with AO. Just where you wanted to camp out for a year.

Seems like I  was there less than a month before someone called me in to the CBPO (Central Base Processing Office) and wanted to know why I hadn’t checked the box indicating I was a French speaker. Moi? Parlez Français? Well, maybe. Whoosh. I found myself sitting in the waiting lounge at 7th Tactical Air Combat Control (TACC) at 7th Air Force Hqs. about 39 hours later. This is where it got interesting. Have you ever tried to get a salesman to cough up the bottom-line price tag for that beautiful new time-share condo in Oahu? Ditto the Intel weenie in Saigon.

It began with a basic test to ascertain my level of comprehension and  fluency. Following that, I got refingerprinted and a new file picture taken, signed a gazillion forms including a will, some other stuff I disremember and then the NDA sign-here moment. I paused and asked where my duty assignment was going to be and with what outfit. “Just sign here, son, and I’ll brief you in.” Well, what exactly am I going to be doing? “As I said, sign this and I’ll explain it all.”  Do I get Hazardous duty pay and tax-free? ” Sign here, Airman.” Well, can’t you at least tell me what the casualty rate is in this gig? “No prob. About 20-25%.” To most, if you knew that ten of you were going to work somewhere at 0600 and the odds were spot on that only seven point five of you were going to show up for Happy Hour at 1630, it might give you pause. But then if you’re 19 years plus, wet behind the ears and have waaaaay too much testosterone on board, you say “Well, that means 75% make it. I gotta find out what this shit is all about. Now, where do I sign again?

Turns out I was slated for 19th Tactical Air Support Squadron (19th TASS) out of Bien Hoa. Seems President Nixon had authorized a slight intrusion across the border. They were flying O-2s over to Cambodia in the Parrot’s Beak area and doing FAC for the Cambodian Air Force. I guess I can see where that might require a little more than fluency in French and a Secret clearance. I completed all my 7th TACC briefings and was told to hightail  it back to Udorn to collect my bags and report back. On the 130 Klong flight from Tan Son Nhut to Bangkok, I met an interesting guy named Rich Paulus. Rich was Hispanic.  You could tell from the lilt of his speech. But Rich had lived in South LA in a predominantly Thai immigrant neighborhood. He spoke and looked like a Thai. He convinced me it would be okay to “miss” the 0800 daily  130 Klong flight that hedge-hopped upcountry to Korat, Ubon, Nakhon Phanom (NKP) and lastly Udorn at 1600. Well, actually, I missed it two days in a row. But boy howdy did Rich and me paint Bangkok from stem to stern. We even hired “tour guides” who accompanied us 24 hours every day. The hotel was a little rough around the edges but it had air conditioning. I remember this hiatus involved incredible amounts of adult beverages and little else. Fortunately, I didn’t wake up with any tattoos.

I got back to Udorn and three days later was all packed and sitting in the 6th Aerial Port Squadron waiting for departure to Bangkok and Bien Hoa. Someone got on the PA system and and asked if Airman Graham was in the waiting lounge. The Admin weenie from the orderly room called to explain there had been a minor change of plans. Apparently, the interpreter assigned to Detachment 1, 56th Special Operations Wing (SOW) up in Long Tieng, Laos had been shot down while running a low altitude PsyOps operation on Route 7 near Roadrunner Lake. BNR. Since I had been briefed in only on Operation Rustic (the FAC mission in Cambodia), I had no idea what this was going to entail. In fact, I don’t remember actually volunteering for this. A Major arrived and drove me, an Airman First Class, over to the AirAm Air Operations Center on the flightline side and they spent the day familiarizing me with my new job. I even got to pick out a New-in-box Browning Hipower and a Swedish K. This was beginning to feel like Terry and the Pirates. In reality, it was nicknamed the Steve Canyon Project after the funny papers guy.

The next morning I boarded an unmarked Goonybird and departed for Wattay Airport- or Lima Site 08 on the old French military flight maps left over from WWII. Really. We didn’t even have our own American Issue maps. Fact was, we didn’t even wear uniforms. Laos was neutral like Switzerland…on paper. In reality there were three warring factions in addition to us. I assembled this from old maps and it now hangs in the Man cave. You can left click on these to magnify them.

I arrived and was processed in at the US Embassy and taken over to the annex where the Air Attaché was located. I got a new Laotian Driver’s License with my shiny new photo in black and white. I was issued a USAID identification saying I was a French teacher. I turned in my Virginia Driver’s license, my USAF ID and the Geneva Conventions card. The air attaché then went through my wallet and retrieved my picture of my girlfriend , my draft card and asked for my yellow shot book. They referred to this as “sheep-dipping”. If you were captured, it was going to go down like Mission Impossible- America was going to say “Who? Don’t recognize the name. Check over at the French Embassy and see if they’re missing anyone.” And then I caught a 123 up to LS 20A at Long Tieng-or simply Alternate.

Five Klics to the NW was LS 20 Sam Thong (Ban San Tong). They had a small hanger to work on AirAm aircraft and a 12-bed infirmary where I would soon get my transfusion after an injury.

The job was multifaceted. At least three days a week, Major General Vang Pao, the Hmong leader of the US-financed upcountry “conflict” against the Pathet Lao/Democratic Republic of Vietnam, had quasi-dinner parties with the “Controlled American Source” or simply the CAS. I leave it to the reader’s imagination  as to who employed the CAS- let alone came up with some idiotic title. John (no last name) needed to know what was said in French at these parties among the Hmong or any visiting Royal Laotian Air Force pilots (RLAF) themselves. This was standard Trust…but verify. He didn’t want to get blindsided by the Hmong. I was the fly on the wall. I was never introduced as anything more than a bean counter with a notebook. My other day job was flying up and down Route 7 on Tuesdays and Thursdays in a PC-6 Porter dropping fliers or broadcasting entreaties to the Pathet Lao to surrender and sign up with the Hmong and get a free ½ hectare of land. If you turned in an AK or an SKS, you got a bonus water buffalo to plow your brand new fields with. Most of them expressed their immense displeasure by shooting at us. Which explained my immediate predecessor’s demise. Turned out this job had about a 40% casualty rate-something no one deigned to tell me before I was briefed in. My nickname was Chieu Hoi Boy.  Have any of you ever watched a gook tracer come up at you? It appears to corkscrew visually to the intended recipient even though it doesn’t do so physically.  Did I mention they’re a very beautiful green color.

Route 7 was not Interstate 95. It was mostly a dirt road in dry season and a muddy disaster in monsoon. It was barely 30 feet wide in most places and constructed by the French before WWII. The Japanese improved it somewhat but each monsoon reduced it back to a slip-n-slide. The gooks were prone during the monsoon periods to rely on tracked vehicles or elephants for transportation. To avoid offending anyone’s sensibilities in radio land, we referred to the latter as Gray Jeeps. That was the one part I hated to do. Calling in an air strike on them seemed cruel but they were packed with munitions as evidenced by the secondary explosions when strafed. This was the beginning of Operation Leap Frog. It didn’t go well.

 

But that’s all I’m going to say about that today. I don’t want to spoil a good yarn all in one sitting.

Once upon a time in a faraway land…

 

Posted in Agent Orange, From the footlocker, Humor, Vietnam War history | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What Resources Are Available to Help Veterans Start a Business?

Today, an estimated 2.5 million businesses are veteran majority-owned. If you want to join their ranks, taking advantage of available resources is wise. That way, you can get the support you need to make your goals a reality.

If you aren’t sure where to begin,  this asknod article offers up some tips about starting a business, including an overview of available resources.

How to Start a Business as a Veterans

While it may seem like starting a business is incredibly difficult, that isn’t necessarily the case. The process itself is pretty straightforward. Usually, you’ll need to:

  • Come up with an idea
  • Choose a business structure
  • Write a business plan
  • Handle some market research
  • Secure funding
  • Obtain licenses and permits

When it comes to the idea, pulling from your military experience can be wise. For example, many veterans have knowledge and skills that could let them start a private security firm, launch a personal training business, or teach survival skills professionally. However, that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Consider which skills you enjoy using as well as how your experience could benefit others. Then, find an option that aligns with that, allowing you to turn your existing expertise into a workable business.

Resources for Veterans

Education Benefits

As a veteran, you get access to numerous education benefits through the VA. While the GI Bill is the most well-known form of assistance, that isn’t the only program. For example, the VR&E program makes training more accessible to veterans with disabilities. Chapter 36 gives veterans access to education and career counseling, which can help them get on the right path.

By seizing opportunities to further your education, you can sharpen your business skills. For example, a degree in accounting could help you better understand the financial side of the equation, something that could be critical for success.

As you explore your options, don’t overlook online degrees. With an online program, you get more flexibility, ensuring you can balance work, school, and family life with greater ease.

Veteran Entrepreneur Portal

Another resource available through the VA is the Veteran Entrepreneur Portal (VEP). It’s brimming with interactive tools and guidance that can make your dream of starting a business a reality.

For example, you can learn about financing options, get tips for finding government contracting opportunities, and so much more. The portal is incredibly easy to use, too, ensuring you can get what you need right when you need it.

Support from the SBA

The Small Business Administration (SBA) has several programs designed to help veterans. The agency’s Office of Veterans Business Development (OVBD) oversees Veterans Business Outreach Centers (VBOCs) all across the country. 

SBA and OVBD make workshops, mentorship, and training options more accessible. One option designed specifically for veteran entrepreneurs is the Boots to Business (B2B) program. However, it isn’t the only one available, by far.

Additionally, the SBA has other helpful tools that can make it easier to start a business. For instance, the Lender Match program makes it easier to locate loans for your business. 

American Corporate Partners Mentor Program

The world of business can be very different from the military. But if you have a mentor, you may be able to figure out the landscape quickly.

American Corporate Partners mentoring program makes finding a mentor easier. You’ll get connected to a corporate professional who can offer you direct, customized, one-on-one guidance, allowing you to cultivate an exciting career as an entrepreneur.

The mentor pairing process is very strategic. The organization considers your goals, ensuring you are matched with the right entrepreneur from the beginning. If you’re looking for some helpful insights, the program is a hard-to-beat option.

Submitted by Kelli Brewer, one of our staff journalists.

 

 

Posted in Food for thought, Future Veterans, Guest authors, Tips and Tricks, vA news, VR&E | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

SMC–THE PLASTIC FANTASTIC LOVER

I see from the asknod statistics that the most viewed items seem to be articles about Special Monthly Compensation- or SMC in VA parlance. I think, to VA, it is an inconvenient truth; an entitlement that has to be granted but the failure to grant can be (and will be) excused as an innocuous  administrative oversight. Well, that’s what the VAOIG is for. Errr, right?

Well, as they say down at Rentawreck®, “Not exactly.” About the only thing the IG will ever do is note the RO was in need of remedial training on the applicability of ancillary SMC entitlements and the VARO Director and VSCM sign a memorandum agreeing shit happens and never to get caught doing it again. Keep in mind, this isn’t the equivalent of a USAF ORI (Operational Readiness Inspection) where a 130 sets down unannounced at your airpatch and disgorges 20 officers with orders to implement a Defcon 1 test of readiness. You don’t get any warning. If the Base Commander is out duck hunting off base and incommunicado, say bye bye to that first star.  The OIG, on the other hand, telegraphs its intentions weeks in advance.  In Seattle, they call the RO travel coordinator to book rooms at the Alexis Hotel across the street. I’m sure the rhetorical question on everyone’s’ lips is ‘Gorsh. I wonder why they’re in town?’

My mantra is far more direct. I prefer to go on the warpath. Fine. Administratively oversight me once, shame on me.  Administratively oversight me twice and I call malfeasance and sharpen up the class action punji sticks for similarly situated SMC Veterans. If I have 25 cases of this proclivity to underrate Veterans on the proper SMC rate, then to me its not an innocuous oversight but a conscientious, perennial effort to ignore procedural due process under §3.103(a):

(a) Statement of policy. Every claimant has the right to written notice of the decision made on his or her claim, the right to a hearing, and the right of representation. Proceedings before VA are ex parte in nature, and it is the obligation of VA to assist a claimant in developing the facts pertinent to the claim and to render a decision which grants every benefit that can be supported in law while protecting the interests of the Government. The provisions of this section apply to all claims for benefits and relief, and decisions thereon, within the purview of this part 3.

The VBA gomers drive by this procedural due process guarantee every day pretty much the same way they did §3.303(b) until Walker v. Shinseki (2014). Pretty soon it’s just a blur and they begin to ignore it. You do not see the word “may” in there. The operable phrase is the “It is the obligation”. As many times as you remind them of it and get it corrected in Phoenix, you’re playing Whack-A-Mole a week later in Roanoke.

Our Recently Emasculated Plastic Fantastic Lover

Bow your heads in prayer for poor Mr. Potato Head™. He was recently gender-neutralized to satisfy some offended soul. I used him back in 2013 (with free advertizing for Hasbro Toys) as a perfect example of the essence of the building blocks of SMC. Once you attain 100%/TDIU, the SMCs from L to N are applicable.

SPECIAL MONTHLY COMPENSATION–WHAT IS IT?

Something I think many Veterans fail to grasp are the intricacies and nuances of phraseology used in §3.350 that confuse rather than illuminate. Take the VA’s unique way to describe loss of use of the lower extremities. §3.350(a)(2)(i) summarizes this in VAspeak:

(i) Loss of use of a hand or a foot will be held to exist when no effective function remains other than that which would be equally well served by an amputation stump at the site of election below elbow or knee with use of a suitable prosthetic appliance. The determination will be made on the basis of the actual remaining function, whether the acts of grasping, manipulation, etc., in the case of the hand, or of balance, propulsion, etc., in the case of the foot, could be accomplished equally well by an amputation stump with prosthesis;

 

First you have to go back to §4.10 to grasp functional loss. What VA will studiously avoid telling you is that, just as in PTSD/MDD c&ps, VA gets first right of denial. In other words, it would be futile to obtain and submit a beautiful IMO (Independent Medical Opinion) from your neurologist stating your fall danger is so great that you are almost guaranteed to get a cerebrovascular accident (CVA as in concussion) with resultant permanent brain damage if you insist on perambulating unattended. By all means, get the IMO but hold on to it until VA denies you.  You never play (M) 21 and show your cards to the dealer at the beginning. Here’s why:

The responsibility for determining whether there is loss of use rests with the adjudicator; the Board may not ask a clinician to determine whether there is “loss of use.”  See VBA Live Manual M21-1, IV.ii.2.H.1.b.

I’ve had raters who wrote that “no doctor has, as yet, declared that the Veteran has elected that his leg should be amputated below the knee with use of suitable prosthesis so the claim for loss of use of the lower extremity remains denied.” One has to wonder where they found that phrase in the M 21. Even worse. Obviously they tried it on Mr. Dempsey W. Tucker in Tucker v. West (1998) and here I was fighting it twenty years later in 2018:

 

The relevant inquiry concerning an SMC award is not whether amputation is warranted but whether the appellant has had effective function remaining other than that which would be equally well served by an amputation with use of a suitable prosthetic appliance. See 38 C.F.R. §3.350(a)(2), § 4.63. The Board concluded that because his situation did “not warrant amputation,” the appellant was not eligible for SMC. Tucker vWest, 11 Vet.App. 369, 374 (1998).

One of the intricacies of SMC is to understand it is an entitlement awarded based on quality of life issues above and beyond what any 100% rating can provide. Many people qualify for the concept of unemployability due to a 100% rating or a TDIU comprised of a single disability. Once you pass through this qualifying portal, your entitlement to any of the higher SMCs (S, L,M,N,O,R1,R2,T) begins, assuming the disabilities are independently ratable, service connected and you qualify. The more serious the loss or combination of losses, the higher the rating.  SMC ratings are based almost entirely on an increasing degree of severity as enumerated under SMC P in §3.350(f). However, there isn’t enough paper to cover every conceivable combination of SMC. Being able to argue two entitlements for A&A is just one avenue of many. Unfortunately, very few attorney websites delve into these discussions. Meaningful, boots on the ground SMC intelligence discussions on the Internet are in short supply. Most Vet Attorneys and agents don’t have time to discuss the matter. Their paralegals are trained to do intake and VSOs have never heard of it. I have great respect for Hadit.com but here again, people with little or no hands-on litigation experience try to convey their stories as the ‘how-to’. Sherpas they ain’t. What’s sauce for the goose is most definitely not sauce for the gander in SMC.

As usual, VA gets to be the arbiter and determine the definition of ‘qualify’. I can’t think of how many Vets who go for SMC S and discover that their TDIU is based on §4.16(b) and not (a). Bingo. You don’t qualify. Your IU was based on multiple disabilities-not one single, independently ratable disease or injury. Considering my argument above about §3.103(a) and the holding in Buie v. Shinseki (2010), VA is required by law to maximize your entitlement(s) as high as they can. VA interprets that to mean if you beg for it, they have to consider it- but not a moment before you begin begging, mind you. That is not how this is supposed to work. Granted, VA is not renowned for being self-starters, but the moment you qualify for SMC L, there should be an in-depth review to see what else is behind Door number 2.

Therefore, if you are doing this yourself pro se, I suggest  you be anally specific when filing for the higher SMCs. Be sure to point out the date the first doctor stated your disability arose to a compensable SMC level. Cite to the regulation that supports your authority. Below is an example.

redact 526 for LOU and highest SMC 2

One of the most clever SMC traps VA employs is to award SMC L under §3.350(b)(3) for Aid and Attendance and throw everything but the kitchen sink into the rationale. Trying to extricate a single one (interstitial disease in the example above) and expand it to merit a separate A&A entitlement to  SMC L  thus becomes an art form. Once again your biggest and best cite to precedence will always be the Buie holding requiring VA to obey §3.103’s codicil to maximize what you should get short of pyramiding under §4.14. A 100% schedular rating for it is essential to even begin the argument for entitlement. Here’s the authority in M 21ese:

The M21 suggests that SMC(l) has a schedular/extraschedular requirement.  See M21-1, Part IV, Subpart ii., Chapter 2, Section H, Topic 8, Subtopics a-c.  Specifically, the M21 indicates that a single disability evaluated at 100 percent disabling may be required for a grant of aid and attendance, and that without such a total disability, referral to the Director of Compensation may be warranted for extraschedular consideration.

In addition to the above, the VA ADJUDICATION MANUAL, M21-1MR, Part IV(ii), Ch. 2, § I(58)(e) notes “veterans entitled to SMC at the [(o) rate or (r) rate] are, by definition, very seriously disabled” and the rater should “apply a liberal interpretation of the law in determining the need for A&A”. (emphasis added).

Winning SMC claims is not for the faint of heart. It takes a long time to fathom some of the various routes you can take to get where you should be. It hinges in great part on how much you have already muddied up the waters before you begin your quest for higher SMCs in earnest. Half of my battles for my SMC clients are navigating around the cards my client was dealt before I got there. Fortunately for us, VA’s finest no more comprehend SMC than they do the Unified Field Theory so we’re relatively safe once we escape the the local yokels’ jurisdictions and proceed to appeal. Well, almost. I’ve seen some pretty lopsided BVA SMC decisions that were so obviously bogus that we were able to resolve them at the Rule 33 conference. The worst one was the VLJ granted LOU for two (2) losses of use of left and right lower extremity under SMC K but refused to combine them into one SMC L Loss of use of BOTH lower extremities. This, of course, fenced him out of his rightful SMC R1 entitlement. I guess what’s scary is to think of how many Veterans with VSOs who might have walked away from this thinking the BVA gomer was right in his interpretation. What am I saying. They don’t teach SMC to VSO service officers. It’s like the flat earth society. The world ends here. Do not attempt to exit the reservation.

Thank you to all the cartoon contributors. Please remember that although we do not share the same politics, the humor is still indisputable. I can’t wait for my neighbor Gary Larson to amass a new collection. After an extended hiatus, he’s back in the cockpit again. How cool is that? ”Neighbor’ meaning he lives on Fox Island which is about a .30 ’06 round to the east of me. Hey, in this day and age where Mr. Potato Head© can be divested of his gender-affirmative prefix noun-let alone have his personal pronouns redefined- I should be able to claim BFF status with whomever I choose.

Lastly, if you should choose to do battle with VA over the higher SMCs, you would be well-advised to seek counsel to do so. I’ve been doing it since 2012 but I still enjoy walking point and learning new ways to spank these chuckleheads. As quickly as VA comes up with a denial band aid, we have to learn how to counterattack. I’m sure it’s been that way since the War of 1812.

Posted in 100% ratings, Aid and Attendance, Duty to Assist, Humor, Lawyering Up, R1/R2, SMC, Tips and Tricks, VA Agents, VA Attorneys, Veterans Law | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

9/11/2021–THE MOBIUS LOOP OF LIFE

Alternate 5/10/1975

A solemn day today, yes but, give or take 50 years, America finds itself on almost the exact same footing as it did May 10th, 1975. Uncounted numbers of Hmong tribesmen, our trusted sworn allies against the Pathet Lao, were being left behind on the runway at Alternate (LS 20A at Long Tieng) as the last 130 climbed out to the east crammed to the seams with humanity. The loadmaster ended up sitting on the top step on the floor of the cockpit above the cargo bay. 

Just as nobody wants to be the last to die in one of these affairs, so, too, does one not want to be left behind to face the wrath of the new landlords. Interestingly, we learned nothing from this teaching moment-right down to leaving the hardware on the PSP again. The present debacle outlasted our Southeast Asian boondoggle by six years albeit only gobbling up 2,448 folks trying to be all they could be. Vietnam was insatiable like the maws of Hell by comparison. Uncounted in all these shindigs is the cost in what we now antiseptically address as “U.S. Contractors” or, in the instant war, 3,846 mostly ex- military types we used to refer to as mercenaries… or pilots for Air America/ Southern Air Transport- or my personal favorite- Consolidated International Airlines. Six of one, half a dozen of another. Few know that every pilot who flew the Long Tieng Airlift was a civilian. Seems our Air Force was AWOL for this gig, too. Sound familiar?

Flying your Flag at Half-Staff

Being inquisitive once as a child, I asked my father about the history of flying the flag at half-staff. He felt it should be reserved for military servicemen or extremely high ranking members of the Executive branch-i.e., the President or the Vice-President. You should be accorded this honor once individually. In some locales, such as Pearl Harbor, the flag is flown at half-staff on the anniversary of the attack there- as it should be. That was a huge tragedy. Dad was a 33-year career Air Force fighter pilot with three NDSMs and didn’t have much use for politicians unless they could procure him a faster fighter. About this time (1954) President Eisenhower codified the rules. Here’s the latest regulation but it seems the current President is ordering up half staff treatment more and more frequently. What changed?

Based on this conversation about etiquette, I note I tend to see the flag at half staff far more frequently. I’m not some Karen making a mountain out of a mole hill but it would seem we cheapen the significance of the act if we overdo it nationally. The flying of it at half staff on today’s anniversary is more than appropriate- don’t misunderstand me-but simply because it, too, signifies the anniversary of a group event. I think it should be called for less and certainly not for victims of every extreme weather event to come down the pike. Less is more.

One morning down in California back in February 2020 on the cusp of the Corona Constellation, I arrived at my friend Sam’s house to find he’d passed about ten minutes after I left to go back to the motel late the night before. We had come down to be with his wife on death watch but I was still saddened to learn I missed the moment. I immediately turned and went out front to lower their flag. I believe Kathi left it there until the funeral a week or so later. When Cupcake’s dad passed, we did so, too until his ashes were spread. Ours is lit and flown 24 hrs. a day. It goes without saying that any reported loss of servicemen is cause for lowering our flag.  To me, Dad’s explanation is more congruent. Veterans serve under the country’s flag and the flag is spread on their coffins as testimonial to their service. I have a hard time putting a congressman or a Senator in the same boat with Veterans.

But now it’s time to cast away stones as the Byrds sang.  We will pray flags flying at half staff will once more become an anomaly. Knowing Fort Five Sides, they’re already running missions across the border to resupply the holdouts up north. SOSDD. It would be just like them ADHD generals to argue they need to keep their fingers on the pulse over there. That can only generate more candidates for VA benefits. Here’s hoping the next country to attempt to drag these Neanderthals kicking and screaming into the 21st Century will be the Chinese who break their spears on these cavemen/poppy growers. Historically, records show it’s currently  Goat Ranchers 7, Invaders 0. In the era of HIND choppers and Stinger missiles, that’s pretty impressive. No less than Alexander the Great and Atilla the Hun pissed on that fire and went home empty handed. I wonder if they left their spears, bows and arrows there, too?

THE GREAT BIG BOAT VACATION

But I digress. I wished to share Cupcake’s and my most excellent mini four-day boating vacation with our kids and the newest Graham- granddaughter Penelope. Pardon me, we included Pickles, Widget (Minpin) and Missy the Yorkie. Taking Widget anywhere these days is a pain. He had a stroke last winter and appears to have lost his hearing. To get his attention now, you have to wave both hands wildly. That doesn’t play well in public. People call 911 when you start doing that. The EMTs show up and put you in those suits that button up in the back. I hate that when that happens. I can’t scratch my nose when it itches.

We picked up the boat at Seven Bays Marina about mid-lake on the east side on Sunday the 26th and returned Thursday morning at 0930. They send their own pilot out to exit the harbor and to bring you back in upon your return. They take all your gear and pack it from the car to the boat for you and vice versa afterwards. It’s like the Below Deck show without the servants and the big tip.  We chose to sail south as that is the more unadulterated, prehistoric stretch.  Being the week before Labor Day, the river was a ghost town.

The smallmouth bass fishing was absolutely incredible. We had to triage our catch almost immediately to nothing less than 2+ pounds and sacrifice the cocktail ice until we put in at Keller’s Ferry. By the second day it was up to a 3 lb. minimum. Look on a map and you’ll see Lake Roosevelt is like a wide spot in the Columbia River. The reason is Grand Coulee Dam. It’s like an inland ocean. And, unlike all those California reservoirs/lakes, it never goes down unless they open the gates…which they did on Day two. We woke up 2 feet lower and really had to crank the dual 110s to get off the beach.

If you’re old like us, and have to wear a mask, isolate or observe a 6-foot clearance horizontally outdoors, this is the glamping ticket. You’re miles from anything or anyone-no cell service, no internet. nothing. Your vessel’s a fifty five foot mobile island.  You can put in to shore anywhere and tie up for as long as you want. From Seven Bays, it’s only 30 miles or so down river to the buoys that keep you out of the turbines.

These houseboat rigs are slower than the seven year itch but can probably make fifteen miles a day in a push. They have dual controls up on the flying deck. I recommend adding a small skiff and a 5 hp OBM if you like to fish. That and a shit ton of #2 and 3 Mepps spinners. The rocks underwater are unforgiving. Maybe a 2 ½ ” Rapala and a Tiny Torpedo. We saw one area with lots of cattails so I expect having a weedless frog would be a good idea as well.

The boats have everything you’d find at home except a king size bed. They’re all Queens. You’ll need the onboard generator to run the AC and the microwave and recharge the batteries but it was never over 80° so we didn’t use it. The microwave only got a workout as the autoclave for the baby bottles and associated paraphernalia. You have onboard potable water as well as unlimited direct lake water for dishwashing or bathing. The mean water temperature is about 10 degrees colder than a polar bear’s nose. Next year, we’re renting the one with the hot tub on the top deck.

Pickles has officially “dog-tested and dog-approved” this vacation and has given her complete concurrence on any future event. This must have felt like some kind of mega-supersized swimming pool to her. Widget and Missy avoided the water like Wicked Witches of the East.

Cupcake insisted on getting life preservers for the dogs “just in case”. When I put Pickles’ on, she seized up and refused to move an inch until I removed it. It was great for photography though. In fact, none of them were enchanted with the idea of wearing them-ever again judging by the looks we got. Taking the Three Dog Night picture was a piece of cake.

A lovely, uninterrupted four-day floating vacation with your new granddaughter? About $5,000. The memories? Priceless. There are some things money cannot buy. For everything else, there’s plastic.

Posted in Food for thought, Humor, VA Agents | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies

An article in the Burlington Free Press, Afghanistan veteran honored in Randolph after losing his battle with post-traumatic stress (Link), about young Cory Green, only 31, raises a lot of emotions. There is the utter sadness of his death, and feelings of gratefulness for the kindness of the Vermonters who showed their respect for him and his family.

Cory Green was transported to the cemetery in Randolph for burial with military honors.

Green’s caravan, which traveled along Interstate 89 from Colchester to Randolph, included a police escort as well as fellow veterans traveling on motorcycles and in buses. Firefighters lined the overpasses between Colchester and Burlington with trucks, flashing their red lights.

A small group also gathered on a bridge and waived flags in support. Heartbreaking.

In the sensitive article by Dan D’ Ambrosia, I learned about the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University. Their Costs of War Project released a report with devastating estimated suicide stats:

The study finds that at least four times as many active duty personnel and war veterans of post-9/11 conflicts have died of suicide than in combat, as an estimated 30,177 have died by suicide as compared with the 7,057 killed in post-9/11 war operations. 

Summary (Link)

Full text (Link)

VA 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual
Report

Given the lousy way the DoD handled the Afg. withdrawal, and 9/11 coming up soon, I’m worried about veterans of this, and all wars. My veteran Airman son, was at Dover, bringing the fallen home, during the Obama Administration. We talked about that sad event last week.

Waiting for the federal government to take care of people, or assets promptly–although sometimes they move fast when forced to–isn’t wise. Strong local communities are the best option for solving most problems.

Conflicts–we reap what we sow. My sense is that Americans are fed up with the “costs of war.” And with our endless domestic wars.

Peace, security, beauty, liberty, restfulness, and a refined culture of life is possible for our descendants. Maybe even for the oldies among us.

Laura (Guest author)

Posted in All about Veterans, Food for the soul, Food for thought, Future Veterans, General Messages, Guest authors, Gulf War Issues, Inspirational Veterans, Military Madness, suicide, Uncategorized, VA Health Care, VA statistics | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

FORT FUMBLE, NEBRASKA–HELTER SKELTER

Only in the corndog capital of the United States could you have a VA adjudicatory mishap of such epic proportions presented with a straight face. Nah. Just kidding. In this day and age, with the VA’s National Work Queue (NWQ), your decision is destined to be sent all over Hell’s half-acre before the final promulgation is complete and closed. No less than 20 VA “technicians” (insert eye roll here) will develop, search, research, approve for denial and finally decide your case. Some of them are even reputed to have IQs over 100. 

A large majority of  Vets  think they personally have the most dynamite Regional Office of all the 57 across our fruited plains. A lot of these folks will also say they get the most awesome medical care at their own VAMC and feel sorry for the chumps in Phoenix. Why, waiting for 4 months for an x ray to check for cancer is just a minor inconvenience when you opt out of Medicare B and go totally free to the VA. So what if they still take your temperature anally? I hear it’s more accurate than those newfangled digital things.

This is the VA saga of Andy-not to be confused with the more famous  Andy -aka Howard. Andy and his wife came to me via Hadit.com waaaay back in 2018 and asked why he was having such a hard time getting Special Monthly Compensation (SMC) for Aid and Attendance. Hey, this isn’t like Mardi Gras and the VA Krewe throwing out SMC necklaces. When you cross over into SMC land, the knives come out. I have a MS client who goes in to get infusions every two weeks. I get to see her medical notes sent over to the raters from the VAMC nurses. Deena (not her real name) has total loss of use of right upper and lower extremities. I’m trying to obtain R1 and have been as long as I’ve been fighting this one for Andy.  She often uses a “knee scooter” when her husband is walking while holding her up on the left. The RN decided she had arrived “ambulatory”-i.e., on her own two feet or on crutches. No mention of said knee scooter. No mention of the better half holding her up, either. I’ll bet you didn’t know but every time you go to see a VA doctor and he sends you up to the lab for a blood draw and a urinalysis, they automatically check your pee for 5 different drugs-including pot and disco biscuits. Spooky shit, huh? These guys are shopping for negative evidence 24/7 so be aware of that.

I don’t know what Andy did to piss off them boys and girls down In Houston but they do not like him and make no bones about it. He tried everything. He filed for each and every disease or injury that came down the pike. VA dutifully granted them at 0%. He circled back and filed for increases and gradually got them. When the COPD got so bad he was winded just trying to make it to the bathroom and went on oxygen, they gave him another 10%. Eventually, the lack of O² impaired his mind like Sleep Apnea does. All the drugs began to make him obese. Then the Diabetes Mellitus and the peripheral neuropathy began. He filed some more and got denied or low-balled some more and  on and on it went. He was rated at about 590% but could not get his foot in the door for a&a. Then he almost burned the house down. He left the sprinkler on for a week out back and almost flooded the basement.

Finally, Andy asked me to fix it. I began the process with what should have been a slam dunk filing. No dice. VA was adamant he was Boston Marathon material… or faking it. After the usual plea for reconsideration (which was decided at the Andrew M. Cuomo Memorial Regional Office in Buffaloed,  NY), I filed the 10182 and NOD’d it to the Board.

Fortunately, saner heads prevailed and the good judge granted on February 4, 2020. On the 25th, Houston wrote it up but, as usual, their SMC Ratings computer, which they insist is infallible as are all VA artifices, failed to pick up all the ancillary entitlements. After all the grief I had already received from these chuckleheads, I felt I could just send them a polite letter pointing out the overlooked bump under §3.350(f)(3) and (4). Bad idea. They sent it up to the Board and told them Mr. Andy was unhappy with the BVA grant of a&a and wanted more.

So, I refiled a 995 and asked for the bump locally. VA tossed it in the circular file. Again and again. So, what the hey. I had plenty of time left to file a new NOD at the BVA and have them fix it. On April 29 of this year, the BVA decided it was defective and did not have a timely denial below at the Samuel Houston Memorial Regional Office. That appeal went into the trashcan too. The reason was the decision to shitcan it occurred about a month past one year from the original VA adjudication implementing the a&a. Are you following this?

So, I armored up on July 17th and shotgunned a 526 and a 995 at them simultaneously with no legal brief asking for SMC (p) under subsection §3.350(f)(4) (the bump from L  to M). The reason for two was if you just send in the 526, they say you already have been denied for SMC M so you have to use the Supplemental claims form. Of course, if you just send in the 995, they say this is a new claim and say you used the wrong form. VA couldn’t decide which one to shitcan so Fort Lincoln took the 526 and Houston took the 995 (and shitcanned it). I got this back in VBMS almost immediately:

Redact 8.23.21 RD denial

It was pathetic. I’ve had VA “misconstrue” a lot of claims I’ve filed for on behalf of not only myself but my clients over the last decade or two. This one was absolutely over the top. The rejoinder was basically “Oh. You want SMC M? Okay, fine Andy. Suck on this lollipop. The VA examiner says you don’t have any of the below:

1) LOU of upper extremities; or,

2)LOU of lower extremities above the knees; or,

3)Anatomical loss or loss of use of one arm at a level, or with complications, preventing natural elbow action with prosthesis in place with anatomical loss or loss of use of one leg at a level, or with complications, preventing natural knee action with prosthesis in place; or,

4)Blindness in both eyes having only light perception; or,

5)Blindness in both eyes leaving the veteran so helpless as to be in need of regular aid and attendance.

They didn’t mention permanently bedridden until they got to the Rating decision. It appeared this was going to be all she wrote short of an Ex Writ to the Court.

That’s when I got out the M 79 and began walking the HE into their TOC. I fired off an email to Acting Under Secretary Tom Murphy, the Coach who reviewed the file before the decision, the RVSR supervising the GS-10 VSR “author”, every Tom Dick and Harry who had even left a note in VBMS or touched it in Lincoln, cc:’d it to Denis “the Menace” McDonough, the Lincoln RO director and his Veterans Service Center Manager (VSCM) castigating them for their ignorance on the subject of SMC. Shoot. I might have even cc:’d Micky Mantle’s mom I was so pissed. I allowed as Mojo, Homer Simpson’s famous trained monkey might be able to do it correctly.

Silence ensued over the weekend and then the Lincoln Change Management Agent (CMA) contacted me and said I had created a shitstorm and the Raters were running around like a Chinese Fire Drill. Oops. That might be racist to bring in the Chinese. Sorry if I offended anyone. Nevertheless, the fire drill produced results. I was watching it in real time last Friday on VBMS TV and then… Bingo. At 1547 Hrs the initial rating decision, now revamped to comport with §3.350(f)(4), appeared in the documents queue. At 1659 Hrs the two signatures popped up in the file and the game was over. Or was it?

VA tried hard to appease the Grand Poohbahs back east and prove they weren’t descended from, or raised by, wolves. They took a very vaguely worded 4138 to construe Andy had actually been asking for a&a as early as February 12, 2018-almost six months before I refiled him for it. But by granting that earlier effective date, they opened up a whole new can of worms. He was now entitled to a half-step bump under §3.350(f)(3) but they neglected to use their trusty SMC computer to determine if he was entitled. Not that it would have prognosticated the L 1/2.  So, now I have to file a NOD and ask for 6 months of SMC L 1/2 worth $1,339.23. Idiot’s delight. These dickwits couldn’t find their asses with both hands or a methane detector while defecating. It’s a wonder they even get their underwear on facing the right direction in the morning. So here’s Act II.

Redacted CUE on SMC M & EED

redact 2nd sig. 8.27.2021

That’s the problem with litigating  SMC for your clients. You’re dealing with people who are allowed to procreate and make more idiots. Let us fervently pray their offspring do not find their way into VA employ. They might grow up to be like the guttersnipe in the video below…

Amen. Well, almost. You didn’t think I was going to rest on my laurels. No way, dude. I’m pissed and going for SMC R1 on the premise that his 100% for Major Neurocognitive disorder requires a&a in its own right. Right. Tally Ho! God sends the Right!

P.S. Have a safe, disease-free Happy Labor Day weekend.

Posted in 100% ratings, Aid and Attendance, All about Veterans, Appeals Modernization Act, BvA Decisions, Duty to Assist, Earlier Effective dates, Humor, SMC, Tips and Tricks, VA Agents, VA Motions for Reconsideration, VBMS Tricks, Veterans Law | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments