Last night, Cupcake announced she was watching a new series on the boobtube called Project Runway. The meaning of that phrase was indelibly planted in my brain in 1970 flying into a mountaintop Lima Site airstrip on top of a Karst for the first time. They didn’t make Depends® undergarments back then, either. Limestone Karsts in Laos looked like Madonna’s bras. The airpatch, LS 32 Ban Bouam Long, elevation 1463 metres, faced northeast, was uphill, bumpy, waaaay shorter than a football field and maybe 40 feet wide. Our aircraft, a well-worn AirAm Helio Courier (Tail number XW-PGB if memory serves), was probably older than me (19).
When we came ‘left’ on final, or what approximated it in the PIC‘s mind, I asked where the runway was. He laughed so hard he had to wipe off the snot running down his face. He said I must be new around here. The cargo was 4 wooden cases of old .30 Cal. M1 Carbine ammo, ditto the 60mm mortar rounds, a pig and a bunch of chickens. The return cargo were the pig/chicken shit all over the deck, two armed USAID agricultural specialists in full camo and three very dead tahanns (Hmong soldiers) whom we always returned to their birth villages for burial. They were usually wrapped in cargo parachutes which helped wipe up the pig shit but it did nothing to quench the stench. Which is why knowledgeable airmen upcountry always carried those small Vick’s Vaporub jars to mask unpleasant aromas. They sold a shit ton of them down at the Udorn BX. Due to the solemnity of these occasions, everyone politely ignored the smell. It was de rigueur to share your Vick’s.
Project Runway in 1970 was twofold back then. Landing was relatively easy. Taking off from Bouam Long -even in a VSTOL aircraft like a Porter or a Helio was an act of faith. Or a leap. Taking off with seven (7) passengers in a six-passenger craft was also not the smartest idea but Hmong were small of stature. At the very bottom end of the downhill runway was… absolutely f—king nothing. You developed sustainable airspeed by expeditiously retracting your leading-edge slats and diving into the valley below full throttle. Which aptly describes that sinking feeling in my stomach in April 2018 when Lori asked me to take over her claim. She was an attorney and if she couldn’t win it, maybe I was in waaay over my head. Her VSO, Virginia Department of Veterans Affairs didn’t even know what R1 was- let alone how to spell it. I was still wet behind the ears on SMC but had a rough enough grasp to know Lori was getting screwed. Besides, she was busy fighting (and losing) Multiple Sclerosis and hors de combat for this project. About all I knew on the subject of MS was you didn’t want to catch it. But if you did, you were in for a shitstorm and a lot of pain and misery. Add 25 years and stir. The end. I wrote about her here:
After a pretty thorough records review, it was obvious the Handy Helpful Hampton VA folks knew absolutely nothing about how to maximize a SMC claim. But then, that’s what their M 21 manual is for. They’d granted SMC L for Aid and Attendance but when the extremities began to crap out, they tried to keep gluing on bits and pieces of L ½s and Ms and L-2s. Seemed like all roads led to SMC P with no off ramps to SMC O or R1.
We politely waited our turn. Because I’m gun-shy, I placed two bets on this game. Bet one was a CUE going back to 2014 for R1 instead of SMC M. Bet number two was a simple cold call supplemental refile for R1. I got what I expected- a dry hole. And like all of you pilgrims on the claims trail, we took a number and sat down on the Group W bench. I felt the two appeals were inextricably intertwined and convinced the hearing judge to entertain both of them. They promptly bifurcated the appeals and assigned them to two entirely different VLJs. Idiot’s delight.
We got the biggest problem solved last night. It popped up in VBMS about 1659 Hrs EDT as a rushed publication. Check out the typo denying R1… right after the award of R1. Fortunately, reasonable minds can only conclude from the follow-on Conclusions of Law language that VLJ Keith Allen is indeed granting R1 but denying R2. Shoo doggies. I can fix that faster than you can say Denis McDonough. The jump from SMC M to R1 was the original game plan. R1 pays out $8635/month vs. the SMC M at $4900/mo. R2 is small potatoes and only gets you another $1200 per month.
I like to divide my battles into fights. Winning R2 is a simple, post-R1 affair. Getting an intelligent VA person to employ SMC Phonics™ and grant R1 involves appealing every time. I know. ‘Intelligent VA person’ sounds like a non sequitur. Even then, due to what some feel is the utter complexity of the regulation, these G-14 snowflakes will still manage to wander astray into SMC P and focus on stuff which doesn’t apply. Herding cats is tame in comparison and takes far less time. Too bad we couldn’t just use canned cat food to win VA shit. Heeeere, Kitty Kitty Kitty…
Anyway, here’s the shiny new rating for Lori. It’s being written up at the Office of Administrative Review, formerly the AMC, nee AMO (VBA397) in DC as we speak. I’m guessing that typo is going to throw them for a loop. It doesn’t take much to conflusticate these folks. Rumor has it that it takes them three signatures just to get permission to go to the loo at the VSC.
Merry Christmas, Lori. Thank you for choosing me to help make your R1 dreams come true. I apologize that it took me so long. That CUE appeal they mention is ready for the VLJ’s ( D. Marz Ames) signature so we hope to report back soon. Hopefully, the CUE is not going to be a catfight up to the Big House at 625 Indiana Ave. A $2500/month increase for 90 months is going to go over like screen doors in submarines. Oh well. Win or Die, right?
On behalf of Cupcake, Kona, Cooper, Ambush, Buddy, Pickles, Widget and myself, I hope we passed the audition this year. Merry Christmas to you all and best wishes for a new year devoid of this infernal bug.
P.S. Merry Christmas to those who couldn’t make it this year due to prior obligations.