Just when you feel you’ve heard the worst story about deprivation of benefits, another one floats to the top. Just when you think the VA could sink no lower than whale shit, they outdo themselves with another personal best. Today, from the ILP diaries of Georgia, Bruce sends me this one. I apologize for not being able to write it sooner but I wanted to get Tracy and Loretto’s side of it before throwing rocks just to be fair to Secretary McDonald.
As you all know, I began a quest for the Independent Living Program in 2011 to see what it was all about. How can I honestly help others if I haven’t walked the walk? The walk turned into a long journey that still has numerous chapters left to write. Many of you have shared your disappointments with me on this, too. Fellow HCVet Randy Nesbitt in Colorado is one and we’ll tell his story here soon as well. This trail of tears sounds horribly redundant and I expect many more wait in the wings with similar tales to tell. I’m listening.
Bruce talks of triage and I know that feeling. Leaving fellow airmen behind on the ground to sure death by execution at the hands of the Pathet Lao was one of the hardest things we suffered in my war. You weren’t given the luxury of surrender when shot down over the fence. Flying over them in frustration as you watched that head shot can’t be described in words-ever. This is what drives me now. Surrender, were it an option, would be easy. There are too many sob stories just like Loretto’s and Tracy’s. How do you triage them? You cannot-nor can you surrender to them. Fortunately, Bruce prevailed in this case but how many more of these will we see? How many more Butch Long’s and Loretto Efre’s will we endure before VA surrenders and makes peace with us?
Today is my son’s 28th birthday. He’ll be coming over to celebrate it this morning so I got up at 0430 to write this. Matt is the first in his line who has not and will never serve in the US Military since our modern family tree began in the 1700s. Every generation has done so in an unbroken chain since cousin Earnest LeFevre picked up his musket and headed down to Boston from Kennebunk in 1776. Matt has Ulcerative Colitis-undoubtedly a present from my Crohn’s and two years of exposure to Agent Orange. To say I am glad he won’t follow in the footsteps of Loretto, Bruce or me will remain unspoken. It’s sad to feel that regret about your country but that is what this has come to. But today isn’t about my war or my problems. This day is Loretto and Tracy’s sad tale.
In 2000, Loretto felt that same burst of patriotism that grips all young men in a time of turmoil and war. Just as many in my generation were poisoned with jetgun immunizations, Loretto probably owes his Multiple Sclerosis to his vaccines or environmental conditions endemic to third world countries. The why is immaterial. The “Oh shit, now what?” is the lasting reality we all face after service. The Independent Living Program was supposed to be a cushion to make this transition more bearable. Congress gave it to us (finally) in 1982 with the inception of the VR&E at VA. VA has been very busy trying to take it away or reduce it to what you are going to read about here. It seems odd that the very Agency put in charge of our welfare is pitted against us. I asked Loretto to share his experience with us so that others might benefit and win, too. Here, in Loretto’s own words…
Cupcake threatened to pack me up with dangling IVs and take me to a real hospital after VA came within hours of killing me in 2009. I survived after a fashion… Tracy Efre must feel that same ‘WTF? What next?’ she did after Loretto’s Walter Reed experiences. We all have a breaking point and I suspect the Efres had reached theirs. Bruce, try as he might, could not make these chowderheads see the light. Repeated entreaties to congress critters seems to always generate “Can you give us some more info to go on?” Eventually, there aren’t any more words to describe it and you give up. This is why I began the Win or Die club. What the hey? If you’re going to Hell there’s no reason to travel there quietly and never be heard.
Tracy Efre is what makes America great-a scorned Veteran’s wife. She is rightfully mad as hell and isn’t going to take it any more. Her voice epitomizes what tens of thousands of Veterans’ spouses wish to say. How can you send our husbands and sons to war and then treat them as no deposit-no return trailer trash and deny them the legitimacy we afford the lowliest of welfare queens? Is it any wonder 22 of us decide to punch out of the aircraft of life rather than continue this fight every day? Forty five years ago, the thought crossed my mind when I was unceremoniously escorted off base and handed my slightly tarnished DD 257. What had I just spent the last four years of my life for? America? Welcome home, Buckwheat. No deposit. No return. Thank you for your service-now beat it.
Bruce and I share one thing. We fought together- perhaps not side by side but we were both in-theatre simultaneously. Many of my friends who missed their golden opportunity to be immortalized on the Vietnam Wall served before and after me there. Some served in Europe but all knew they were only a PCS away from a war zone. We all served and we signed a contract that said if we became infirm or damaged, we were guaranteed certain things. Loretto based his choice of becoming one of America’s Patriots in no small measure on that promise. He might not have been so inclined if he had been given a briefing from Bruce or me prior to signing.
George Washington opined in the late eighteenth century before he closed out his affairs:
“The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional as to how they perceive veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by this country.”
In response to Loretto and Tracy’s plight, Bruce went to bat one last time last week in a desperate attempt to help them get sorely needed traction from that very Agency we look to in order to redeem the promise made us for serving America. He finally prevailed just days before I write this. Loretto and Tracy’s sentence of thirteen years in hell has now been commuted to time served. No deposit. No return. No apologies. Same old shit-Different day.
Bruce eloquently wrote the following letter to Secretary McDonald after he was able to prevail in Loretto and Tracy’s fight. My sentiments are similar in that I will also offer the Secretary a seat at my humble table and some of the freshest, herbicide-free vegetables and fruits I can produce for his intercession and investigation of why it took no less that twenty seven years, a CAVC case, three Extraordinary Writs of Mandamus and three BVA appeals to achieve the promise I was given when I held up my right hand and took the oath of enlistment. To his credit, it happened on his watch. Therefore, I offer my thanks to him. I do hope he continues as our VA Secretary after the new administration arrives next year. Continuity of leadership has its rewards.
I would freely give up my entitlement to a greenhouse if I thought it would advance the cause of even one Veteran more severely disabled than myself. I chose to fight for this not to get a freebie but to ensure the ILP entitlement would survive to the next generation of Veterans rather than be unceremoniously deposited in the VR&E’s circular file or here. Loretto and Tracy’s battle for their entitlement is all the more reason why we cannot walk away from the commitment we made to never leave our fellow Veterans behind-even after they have served. As my sister-in arms, Theresa Aldrich so succinctly phrases it over at Hadit.com-
Leave No One Behind
Not on a Desert Trail
Not on a Jungle Trail
Not on a Paper Trail™
The battle to preserve our rights is unending. As soon as we think we have made a dent in the problem, another Loretto surfaces to show us the problems with the VA are deeply entrenched and difficult to root out. At 65 with a bum ticker, time is my enemy now.
This month I found out what lengths they will go to. A VA employee, a VRE Officer no less, willfully and purposely perjured himself under penalty of law in a Federal Court in order to defend this practice of denial for denial’s sake. He used an M 28 R manual as his authority which is not even recognized by Congress or given Auer/Chevron deference in a court of law. It’s a manual on how to assemble a VRE grant- not a regulation or statute. This is what VA has come to represent-a law unto itself. Unless, or until, we recognize the Veteran as being the one from whom all blessings of Freedom flow, we will soon see America become a third world country with an Army to match. Our greatness was built on the shoulders of Patriotism. No other country on Earth can approach the devotion we Veterans feel for ours. We have expressed it with our very lives over and over in our rather brief two hundred -year existence on deserts, beaches and in jungles around the world. It would seem appropriate for those in charge of our well-being to ensure that sentiment continues. Jez. VA employees’ jobs kinda hinge on having customers. I wonder if that metric ever crossed their minds.
On another note, thank you Terry Riggs for your generous contribution to Kelly Moore. As many of you know, Kelly’s husband Jay passed this spring after a long fight with VA over whether he should get the live-saving drug Harvoni to cure his Hepatitis C. In their infinite wisdom, VA decided he was unworthy. Kelly was left with four young children at forty six years old and another empty VA promise. I don’t often ask for donations because that’s not what I set out to do with asknod.org. Kelly was the exception to that rule. Some of you I have helped in the past have helped her out and I wish to thank you for that kindness. I accept nothing for what I do here. However, if any of you feel the need to help the Kelly’s and the Loretto’s or others less fortunate make ends meet and life a little more bearable, you let me know, hear? We can’t erase the failures of the VA but we can always backfill what most decent folk would consider the milk of human kindness. At least here, you’ll know 100% of your donation ordnance will land on target. Seems other charities who claim to help Vets are percentage-challenged in that regard. Salaries and Overhead are a bitch. And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.
P.S. Thank you Loretto and Tracy for being so generous and sharing your story with us here. Many give up and throw in the towel. I only wish there were enough advocates willing to take up this cause. As it has no financial value to a VA attorney for remuneration, many are loathe to accept them. As for VSO’s taking up this cause, fat chance. The resounding reverberation I always hear is the same refrain about SMC- “ILP? Never heard of it.” That’s why we call it VA’s best-kept secret along with the Caluza triangle. Welcome to the ILP club, Loretto and Tracy. You earned it-but at a rather steep entry fee.