I apologize for not posting this sooner. I wish to thank all those who have sent me get well reminders. After five days in the hospital, even less is apparent about what has happened. After my Tuesday morning rush to the operating room for a Cardio catheterization to determine the cause of my malady, my doctors are in an even deeper quandary. Everyone expected to see thick sheets of plaque in my arteries and slam me full of stents. No such luck.
The IHD diagnosis turned out to be a dog that didn’t hunt. No clogged arteries. Just a heart that has decided to mimic the old Maxwell House® coffee percolator commercial. It was disturbing to watch the sinus rhythm on the monitor. In terms of heartbeat, it looks frightful. If 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 etc. represented a normal rhythm, imagine 1, 2, …3456, 7, 8, 9, ………10, 11, 1213141516, 17, 18 etc. I have no conscious feeling of a 2-second delay between beats. Similarly, there is no adverse, uncomfortable feeling when Mr. Heart engages the hyperdrive motivator. I woke up this morning completely refreshed with a BP of 107/70. The problem was that I was blowing a 99 on the heartbeat.
In the interim, the doctors have decided to hose me with Metoprolol and Lasix in a desperate ploy to slow the heart down. I get the beta blocker application and the Lasix is great for ridding the fluid buildup in the lungs/congestive heart failure. The problem is the side effect of my blood pressure falling dangerously low- like 88/56. I guess I shouldn’t complain. I’m still here typing this.
I am generally uncomfortable talking about my problems with others. Too many of you suffer far more insidious medical maladies than I. It almost seems inconsequential when I consider what some of those I have helped endure. Therefore I won’t expend any more HIPPA time on that subject.
Of far more import, I wish to point to Congress’ impending legislation to open up the VA caregiver program to all of us regardless of what period we served. As most of you know, my east coast compadre Bruce McCartney and I have railed ceaselessly for inclusion of all Veterans in this valuable SMC entitlement. As we have so vociferously argued over the last six years, how is an at-risk Veteran suffering horrific bent brain from the Iraquistan Olympics any different from one who was extremely successful in arranging beer summits between God and gooks in Vietnam 45 years ago? The George Orwell Animal Farm analogy that some pigs are more equal than other pigs in the VA barnyard comes to mind. Apparently, our illustrious Senators on Capitol Hill finally “get” it. Or we hope they will soon.
Wars have measurable consequences. The human fallout is never programmed in to the front end of the formula. That repair order is usually a decade out from the end of hostilities. In that respect, also, the VA is always a score or more of years behind the eight ball. Certain Veterans Charities whom we will not identify, who have the collective ear of their congressfolk, tend to drive policy and decision making re benefits. Bruce and I have long protested this inequity to any congressmen we could corner with little or nothing to show for it.
Likewise, most of you are aware of Bruce’ and my shared perseverance in the field of the VR&E Independent Living Program. Severely disabled Veterans- and I do emphasize ‘severely’- were granted a lovely program in 1980 to enhance our lives somewhat. It was clearly and unmistakably aimed at avocational (read hobby) pursuits in lieu of our ability to be productive, working members in society. It was never designed as a sop for prior shoddy treatment even though that is what it subtly purported to address. The immediate effect was to give us more independence and a feeling of self-worth in the face of an otherwise bleak future.
In 1996, VA began to disassemble this safety net and put more obstacles in our path toward attaining the goal. By 2001, it had effectively corralled the entitlement into one where a Veteran had to obtain his own Independent Medical Opinion from a Vocational Rehabilitation specialist (at his/her own expense) stating as much. In fact, the process began to take on the aura of a compensation claim that required the three Caluza/Shedden/Hickson elements demonstrating a correlation between the severe disability and potential for improvement with an IL program. In spite of the clear intent of Congress, the ILP as a program is rapidly becoming a mere shadow of its original intent. On March 31, 2014, VA remodeled the ILP aspect in M-28 (Revised) and accomplished by nonjudicial fiat what they could not do by law. As expected, the program now offers little more than gewgaws and Fat Tuesday trinkets. Gone are the photo studios, wood working shops, riding lawn mowers and snow blower attachments for your tractor.
Each succeeding year since 2004, when VA began recording ILP statistics, has witnessed a shrinking of this valuable entitlement with an increasing emphasis on independence in everyday living. “Independence” being defined as a grab bar next to the water closet to aid in standing up. “Independence” being defined as a cordless phone for when you have fallen down and can’t get back up. “Independence” defined as sock puller-uppers due to debilitating lower back pain. “Independence” as in an electric can opener to ameliorate your symptoms of peripheral neuropathy. Redefining “independence” has gradually metamorphosed into denying Veterans anything of or having to do with avocational pastimes. This is tantamount to the Orwellian analogy I raised above. Why, asking for a Tempurpedic bed now results in your request being sent down to the local VAMC where their prosthesis gurus parse the wisdom of issuing you one of their cheapo depot hospital beds-sans heat/vibrator attachments.
In that same vein, Congress was inveigled into creating a new Special Monthly Compensation (T) in 2010 that would provide for the slew of Veterans returning home with severe traumatic brain injury and/or debilitating bent brain syndrome. The concept of the entitlement was long overdue. Throughout the last century and the beginning of the twenty first, hundreds of thousands of extremely disabled Veterans have come home from conflicts and saddled their spouses with extraordinary challenges in caregiving. VA never felt a need to reimburse us equitably until 2010. When they did make the commitment, it was only half-hearted and relegated to post-2001 Veterans.
The divisive nature of the entitlement has rankled many of us who strive to help our fellow Veterans who had the misfortune not to have served post 9/11. Therefore, it is with great joy and expectations that we welcome this unfolding change in philosophy. It certainly outweighs any of my problems in importance. Should the House decide to go along with what the Senate is proposing, a great weight will be lifted off our chests. My fear is that the sentiment will be greeted with derision and a veto. I won’t beat a dead horse named Swale, but it seems there is always an endless pot of money for indigent immigrants and little, if any, left for those of us who have borne the battle.
This is also all the more incomprehensible in light of the administration of the Independent Living Program. Imagine a targeted entitlement (much like SMC T, I might add) that allots up to $180,000 per Veteran to a lucky 2,700 severely disabled which VA insists they cannot find enough of who qualify. Has anyone considered that they set the bar too high? If I am 100%+100%+60%+40++30%+10%, would that not suffice to be considered “severely disabled”? I had to fight 5 years to prove my worthiness. Ambiguously parsing 38 USC § 3120, to extract an interpretation of “necessary and vital” as the prescribed entrance fee, is incongruous to say the least. By that metric, virtually no one, regardless of even those with the longest laundry list of severe disabilities, can qualify. Perhaps the spectre of this going before the CAVC induced Ronald McDonald to grant my greenhouse? Who knows? Anonymous sources at 810 Vermin Ave. NW have acknowledged as much.
Similarly, any of you who have attempted to scale the VA caregiver mountain in search of SMC T have discovered a similar ‘necessary and vital’ codicil in your path. In order to qualify, the VA demands an in-depth examination of the proposed Veteran seeking it. Following that, the designated spouse/caregiver must attend classes to be taught the art. If and when all these hurtles are accomplished, only then is the entitlement awarded. Additionally, during the award of entitlement, the Veteran must attend the VA’s Kumbaya classes to move her/him towards normalcy. Keep in mind, the VA never intended this entitlement to be permanent. It is a transitory aid to parachute you back into society as soon as possible. Woe betideth those of you who opt to take a volunteer position at the food bank or your local library. That will sound the death knell to your SMC T instantly. You will have demonstrated your miraculous ability to reintegrate back into society. Likewise, if your spouse takes even so much as a part-time job outside the home-again you have demonstrated ( by his/her absence) you are now far more independent and no longer in need of a “minder”.
The teaching moment here is not in looking a gift horse too closely in the mouth so much as it is trying to locate said gift horse. Ofttimes this in nothing more than a fig newton of the imagination-much like God. We know He exists. It’s just that no one has ever seen Him.