I get numerous letters from all of you asking me how I kept (and keep) my brain box screwed on securely while waiting for a process that has encompassed years and even decades. Simple. Start a garden. In addition, I suggest you buy a seedling Douglas Fir tree and measure it at the beginning and the end-if you ever get there. I planted a Noble fir that I had as a 5-foot tall live Christmas tree in 1993. I didn’t know it would be used as a measuring stick at the time. It’s now taller than the roof of that second story house or approximately 32 feet. I’m still not finished but VA implies I can see the light at the end of the chunnel.
Mental health and the assurance that others are getting the same shoddy treatment you are is important for your mental health as you travel this road. No one wants to think s/he’s stupid and is doing it incorrectly. That’s the beauty of Veterans Claims blogs. It provides a venue for the “You too?” audience. After you find yourself among thousands of others in this lifeboat, you need to focus the dead time constructively.
Two things come to mind. All work and no play makes for a dull Johnny/Jane Vet. It’s important to always seek out pertinent knowledge concerning the particulars of your claims. VA OGC precedents are very valuable and little known. They aren’t often cited in CAVC decisions but are just as lethal. Never sit back and say you’ve assembled all the pertinent cites or info on a claim. Always research it to death. In the interim, take a breather. Get a hobby. If you are a para/quadraplegic, I know one hobby that entertains many. Model railroads. It’s also a good venue to pursue as an ILP claim. I know. VA’s VR&E weenies are going to say it’s not necessary or vital to your life. Throw down and get your psycobabble shrink to argue otherwise that it’s a prerequisite to your continued sanity. Or do what I did. Begin a garden. I like it for the win/win outcome. Free food. Inherit a goat and some horses and you have a complete nature cycle of turning shit into chow. File an ILP claim for a greenhouse and say it’s imperative to your sanity to be able to go outside (safely) and garden in a heated greenhouse in winter.
The rewards are multifold. You get a valuable source of Agent Orange-free veggies and fruit that you know the history of. You don’t spend money on gas to go get them. If you grow too much, you take it to the food bank so it isn’t wasted. But mostly, a garden allows you to slow down to the speed of light and view nature at it’s speed, which, oddly enough, is about the same speed the VA operates in. Trees might be more apropos in my protracted struggle but corn is a more natural analogy for most of you. Here in the northwest corner of the Left Coast, we need about 110 days for corn. That’s might similar to Allison Hickey’s claim that one day in this glorious new year we’ll see a 125-day claim that’s 98% perfect in every respect. Corn never lied to me. I’m still skeptical but I’m a sucker so I’ll wait and see if she’s funning me.
Be it the ParaLine railroad to nowhere or a small 20 X 20 patch, a pastime that soothes the senses is infinitely superior to fussing and fretting 10 hours a day querying the IRIS and 800 VA gomers. When you finally arrive in the winner’s circle, don’t be ashamed to push further and pursue the ILP option. Congress intended it for America’s most severely disabled. There never used to be a “necessary and vital” codicil. VA dreamed that up to screw you in VA’s OGC Precedent 6-2001. No one has ever challenged it-yet. And then a few assholes like Bruce and me came along that couldn’t be rolled like turnip wagon drivers with a room temperature IQ. The sky is the limit in this game until a Court says it isn’t. No one’s been there yet.
The beauty of law, and more appropriately VA law, is that we are King. Everything was created for us. Precedential decisions support our grants and ratings. VA has to prove the intent of Congress was NOT to award certain largesse. In this, we’re in the catbird’s seat. Numerous decisions say that it is presumed Congress knows what it is about when it writes a law. Further, it is presumed that Congress never intended some of the absurd results VA feels are par for the course. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, as Bruce and I did, is to stand up and prove them wrong. Wrap yourself in the armor of righteousness or find a law dog who will.
Winning is inevitable as VA subscribes to the squeaky wheel theorem assuming your claim has a basis in fact. Most do. But never lose sight of life. Your mental health during this trying time has to be fed and watered in equal parts. Your spouse and children cannot be neglected at the expense of your claim. I’ve made that mistake and had to reassess priorities. Fortunately, VA is time-challenged and this allows us that down time we so desperately need to keep body and soul afloat.
Find yourself a hobby. Hell, figure out the value of π to about fifty places if you’re bored. I got to about 3.14159268 before I lost interest. Gardening was more rewarding. The upside is all the prep afterwards. Playing squirrel Nutkin and packing all that food away is a great mental reward when you really need it. Well, that and trying to figure out a million new ways to prepare butternut squash. Pretend you’re Bubba in Forrest Gump and talking shrimp.
For those of you with a mobile zip code who are temporarily disenfranchised from a home, I suggest camping out near the front door of your VA regional office. If nothing else, a bucket or hat in front of you will elicit contributions to take the sting out of waiting. Besides, you’ll meet a lot of other like-minded Vets who commiserate with you when they come out of the RO. Chances are your claim(s) will magically develop wings with little or no effort on your part.
Lastly, keep your humor close and your anger at bay. No matter how bad it gets, I assure you there is someone much less fortunate than you. There are large numbers who decided the wait was too long and exited prematurely either by giving up or punching out. I’ve been in this lifeboat for nigh on 25 years but have met some who began several decades before me. It always amazes me how they managed to make it to here in one piece.
Remember, die trying- don’t suck on a lead lollipop.