View From Table 9

November 18, 2008

Things Looking Bad? Try being a Wounded Veteran

Dear Wounded Vet,

Thank you for fighting for us in our ‘war on terror’. Thank you for sacrificing your time, your family, your health and your freedom so that we may enjoy ours.

Now we’re not going to give you a job, we’re going to fire your spouse for being with you while you’re wounded, we’re going to reposess your house and we’re not going to pay you anything for a really long time (if ever) for the injuries – physical and mental – you sustained for us.

When you complain, we’ll remind you that you ‘volunteered’ and that this was what you signed up for and besides, you’re probably faking your injury/illness so you can ‘live off the Government”.

By the way, those of us who made like $400 Million a year to run the economy into the ground, making things worse for you, get to keep all their money and don’t go to jail.

Love,

A Grateful Nation (not really).

Honestly, we should be ashamed….

November 18, 2008

New Veterans Hit Hard by Economic Crisis

After a mortar sent Andrew Spurlock hurtling off a roof in Iraq, ending his Army career in 2006, the seasoned infantryman set aside bitterness over his back injury and began to chart his life in storybook fashion: a new house, a job as a police officer and more children.

“We had a budget and a plan,” said Mr. Spurlock, 29, a father of three, who with his wife, Michelle, hoped to avoid the pitfalls of his transition from Ramadi, Iraq, to Apopka, Fla.

But the move proved treacherous, as it often does for veterans. The job with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office fell through after officials there told Mr. Spurlock that he needed to “decompress” after two combat tours, a judgment that took him by surprise. Scrambling, he settled for a job delivering pizzas.

Mr. Spurlock’s disability claim for his back injury took 18 months to process, a year longer than expected. With little choice, the couple began putting mortgage payments on credit cards. The family debt climbed to $60,000, a chunk of it for medical bills, including for his wife and child. Foreclosure seemed certain.

While few Americans are sheltered from the jolt of the recent economic crisis, the nation’s newest veterans, particularly the wounded, are being hit especially hard. The triple-whammy of injury, unemployment and waiting for disability claims to be processed has forced many veterans into foreclosure, or sent them teetering on its edge, according to veterans’ organizations.

The problem is hard to quantify because there are no foreclosure statistics singling out veterans and service members. Congress recently asked the Veterans Affairs Department to find out how badly veterans were being affected, particularly by foreclosures. The Army, too, began tracking requests for help on foreclosure issues for the first time. Service organizations report that requests for help from military personnel and new veterans, especially those who were wounded, mentally or physically, and are struggling to keep their houses and pay their bills, has jumped sharply.

“The demand curve has gone almost straight up this year,” said Bill Nelson, executive director for USA Cares, a nonprofit group that provides financial help to members of the military and to veterans. Housing, Mr. Nelson said, “is the biggest driver in the last 12 months.”

Congress has recently taken small steps to help, banning lenders from foreclosing on military personnel for nine months after their return from overseas, up from three months, and ensuring that interest rates on their loans remain stable for a year. Another relief bill to prevent certain injured veterans from losing their homes while they wait for their disability money was signed into law in October. The protection is good for one year.

“We owe these men and women more than a pat on the back,” said Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, who introduced one of the bills.

But the short-term measures do little to address the underlying economic difficulties that new veterans face, beginning with the job hunt. Veterans, particularly those in their 20s, have faced higher unemployment rates in recent years than those who never served in the military, though the gap has shrunk as the economy has worsened. (Veterans traditionally have lower unemployment rates than nonveterans.)

Recently discharged veterans, though, fared worst of all. A 2007 survey for the Veterans Affairs Department of 1,941 combat veterans who left the military mostly in 2005 showed nearly 18 percent were unemployed as of last year. The average national jobless rate in October was 6.5 percent.

A quarter of those who found jobs failed to make a living wage, earning less than $21,840 a year.

“You fill out a job application and you can’t write ‘long-range reconnaissance and sniper skills,’ ” said Mr. Spurlock, who searched a year for a better-paying job than delivering pizza, finally finding one as a construction supervisor.

The situation is especially troubling for the injured, whose financial problems begin almost immediately.

“The wife drops everything to be by his bedside,” said Meredith Leyva, founder of Operation Homefront, a nonprofit group that provides emergency money and aid to 33,000 military families a year, including the Spurlocks. “She stays at the nearest hotel to make sure he is alive. They live that way for months. She either has to quit her job or she is fired. This bankrupts people.”

Some injured veterans cannot work at all and must rely on disability checks and other government payouts. The wait for a disability check from the Veterans Affairs Department averaged six months in August, enough to financially crush some families.

Those who can work struggle to find employers willing to accommodate their injuries, including mental health problems. The Labor Department recently started a Web site, America’s Heroes at Work, that prods employers into hiring more wounded veterans and explains that post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury are manageable conditions and not necessarily long-term.

Some believe that the government has to do more.

“There have to be incentives for employers,” said Thomas L. Wilkerson, a retired Marine Corps general who is chief executive of the Naval Institute, an independent nonprofit group.

Active duty troops who switch installations also find themselves struggling. Many of those forced to sell their homes this year are finding a scarcity of buyers, or even renters, particularly in states hit hard by the mortgage crisis. Military spouses must choose between taking a loss on their homes or riding out the housing slowdown and facing another separation from their loved one.

Although the government offers safeguards for some federal employees in similar circumstances, it will not help service members make up the difference if they are forced to sell a home at a loss.

What is worse, foreclosure or excessive debt can damage a service member’s career by leading to discharge, the loss of security clearances or, in extreme cases, jail.

A 2007 California task force reported that in the Navy, the number of security clearances revoked because of debt increased to 1,999 in 2005, from 124 in 2000.

“It’s the crash in the market,” said Joe Gladden, managing partner of Veteran Realty Service America’s Military, who sees families in extremis out of Northern Virginia. “It’s not that they have made stupid decisions.”

Mr. Gladden said e-mail messages and phone calls to his office had become so routine that he encouraged military families to share their stories anonymously on his company Web site, vrsam.com.

“I am about sick over this situation,” one woman wrote. “Our two young boys have to go without seeing Daddy until we can sell our house. Not only that, but we face the possibility of Daddy deploying to Iraq again. Shouldn’t we be able to spend as much time together until that happens?”

For the Hatchers, the financial decline began after Roger, a Navy reservist and father of four, returned from his first tour of duty in Iraq. When he got back to Ventura, Calif., in 2004, his job as a groundskeeper for a school district was gone. He was offered a custodial job for less pay. Mr. Hatcher decided to find another job. He looked for several months, then was redeployed to Iraq. By then, the family had moved to Bakersfield, to a cheaper house near relatives.

His second tour was tougher. Iraq had grown more violent, and in late 2006, Mr. Hatcher was blown out of a Humvee after it hit a roadside bomb. The blast injured his shoulder, arm and neck. Back home, Mr. Hatcher, 49, fell prey to nightmares and rages. He drank heavily, said Tami, his wife of two decades. The pain in his shoulder never let up.

It took Mr. Hatcher eight months to find a job, and the family fell behind on their house payments. A disability claim filed in 2007 was still pending in August, Mrs. Hatcher said.

Mr. Hatcher wound up hospitalized for post-traumatic stress disorder three times. “We noticed there was a change after the first tour, but not as drastic as this time,” Mrs. Hatcher said. “The person comes back a different person, and then you have financial issues on top of it.”

His new employer, a construction company, welcomed him back after each medical absence. Still, weeks off the job meant weeks without pay.

Meanwhile, the mortgage company ratcheted up the pressure. Feeling cornered, the Hatchers signed a forbearance agreement, which significantly increased their monthly payment. “They knew about my husband’s situation,” Mrs. Hatcher said of the mortgage company. “They wouldn’t work with us.”

The Hatchers borrowed from friends and relatives but still came up short. Then two nonprofit groups stepped in to help. One of them, Operation Homefront, negotiated with the lender to keep them in their house.

Mrs. Hatcher, a purchasing agent, tried her best to shield her husband from their financial troubles. “It’s putting a big strain on me,” she admitted. “But only one of us can lose it at a time right now, and it’s his turn.”

The Spurlocks, back in Florida, were not so lucky. Operation Homefront managed to stop foreclosure proceedings, but the couple had to agree to a deed in lieu, turning over their house to the bank. Their debt was forgiven.

The family moved into a rental house and whittled down its credit card debt to $26,000.

“It feels impossible right now to pay off our bills,” said Michelle Spurlock, 28, her voice breaking. “I had to get my mom to bring diapers over. We couldn’t go grocery shopping. As soon as we turn a corner, it’s something else.”

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

September 18, 2008

You Know a Bush is in the White House When….

Filed under: Uncategorized — table9 @ 9:13 pm
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1. We’re involved in an unwinnable, expensive war in the Middle East.

2. People are losing their jobs, and nobody is hiring.

3. The economy’s in the crapper.

*sigh*

June 17, 2008

Being a Soldier Can Ruin You….

Filed under: Uncategorized — table9 @ 12:28 am
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Yet more on what happens to our injured veterans these days, or the Me Generation’s idea of Supporting The Troops:

Soldiers risk ruin while awaiting benefit checks

By MICHELLE ROBERTS, Associated Press WriterMon Jun 16, 2:07 PM ET

His lifelong dream of becoming a soldier had, in the end, come to this for Isaac Stevens: 28, penniless, in a wheelchair, fending off the sexual advances of another man in a homeless shelter.

Stevens’ descent from Army private first-class, 3rd Infantry Division, 11 Bravo Company, began in 2005 — not in battle, since he was never sent off to Iraq or Afghanistan, but with a headfirst fall over a wall on the obstacle course at Fort Benning, Ga. He suffered a head injury and spinal damage.

The injury alone didn’t put him in a homeless shelter. Instead, it was military bureaucracy — specifically, the way injured soldiers are discharged on just a fraction of their salary and then forced to wait six to nine months, and sometimes even more than a year, before their full disability payments begin to flow.

“When I got out, I hate to say it, but man, that was it. Everybody just kind of washed their hands of me, and it was like, `OK, you’re on your own,'” said Stevens, who was discharged in November and was in a shelter by February. He has since moved into a temporary San Antonio apartment with help from Operation Homefront, a nonprofit organization.

Nearly 20,000 disabled soldiers were discharged in the past two fiscal years, and lawmakers, veterans’ advocates and others say thousands could be facing financial ruin while they wait for their claims to be processed and their benefits to come through.

“The anecdotal evidence is depressing,” said Rep. John Hall, D-N.Y., who heads a subcommittee on veterans disability benefits. “These veterans are getting medical care, but their family is going through this huge readjustment at the same time they’re dealing with financial difficulties.”

Most permanently disabled veterans qualify for payments from Social Security and the military or Veterans Affairs. Those sums can amount to about two-thirds of their active-duty pay. But until those checks show up, most disabled veterans draw a reduced Army paycheck.

The amount depends on the soldier’s injuries, service time and other factors. But a typical veteran and his family who once lived on $3,400 a month might have to make do with $970 a month.

Unless a soldier has a personal fortune or was so severely injured as to require long-term inpatient care, that can be an extreme hardship.

The Army, stung by the scandal last year over shoddy care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, has been working to help soldiers during the in-between period, said Col. Becky Baker, assigned to injured soldier transition at the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office.

In a change in policy that took effect last August, the Army is allowing wounded soldiers to continue to draw their full Army paychecks for up to 90 days after discharge, Baker said. It is also sending more VA workers to Army posts to process claims more quickly, and trying to do a better job of informing soldiers of the available benefits and explaining the application process.

“We make certain that we’ve covered all the bases before we discharge the soldier,” Baker said.

She acknowledged, however, that the changes have been slow to take hold across an Army stretched by war. “It’s definitely a practice that is new. It takes awhile for new practices to be institutionalized,” the colonel said.

Stevens was moved to the Operation Homefront apartment after a social worker at Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii, acting on her own initiative, rescued Stevens from a homeless shelter there.

“This is a situation where someone used their common sense and they did the right thing, versus saying, `This is the rules. We can’t do this,'” Tripler spokeswoman Minerva Anderson said of the social worker.

Typically, the first 100 days after discharge are spent just gathering medical and other evidence needed to make a decision on disability, VA officials say. If paperwork is incomplete, or a veteran moves to another state before the claim is decided, the process can drag on longer. Disagree with the VA’s decision, and the wait time grows.

“The claims are a lot more complicated than people think,” said Ursula Henderson, director of the VA’s regional office in Houston.

Amy Palmer, a disabled veteran and vice president of Operation Homefront, which helps newly disabled servicemembers, said: “Nobody’s assigned to them. You’re on your own once you get out.”

Hall is pushing legislation that would force the VA to use compatible computer systems and more consistent criteria and to reach out to veterans better.

“A veteran goes and serves and does what the country asks them to do,” the congressman said. “But when they come back they’re made to jump through these hoops and to wait in line for disability benefits.”

Simon Heine served three tours in Iraq as a tank mechanic before he was discharged with severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

His wife quit college so she could figure out how her four children could live on less than $1,000 a month. Eventually, she moved the family of six into an Operation Homefront apartment so they could finish navigating the bureaucracy and wait out the arrival of Social Security and VA benefits.

“It is like giving you a car and taking the steering wheel off. They say, `There is the gas and the brake. Just go straight,’ and hopefully, you are going in the right direction,” Heine said.

___

On the Net: Operation Homefront: http://www.operationhomefront.net

Veterans in homeless shelters.  I thought we pledged as a Country to treat these wounded better than those from VietNam?

September 29, 2007

And Then There’s This…

Filed under: articles,musings — table9 @ 11:53 pm
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From the Associated press, this article , on the trials of our wounded veterans once they return home.

He was one of America’s first defenders on Sept. 11, 2001, a Marine who pulled burned bodies from the ruins of the Pentagon. He saw more horrors in Kuwait and Iraq

Gamal Awad, the American son of a Sudanese immigrant, exemplifies an emerging group of war veterans: the economic casualties.

More than in past wars, many wounded troops are coming home alive from the Middle East. That’s a triumph for military medicine. But they often return hobbled by prolonged physical and mental injuries from homemade bombs and the unremitting anxiety of fighting a hidden enemy along blurred battle lines. Treatment, recovery and retraining often can’t be assured quickly or cheaply.

These troops are just starting to seek help in large numbers, more than 185,000 so far. But the cost of their benefits is already testing resources set aside by government and threatening the future of these wounded veterans for decades to come, say economists and veterans’ groups.

“The wounded and their families no longer trust that the government will take care of them the way they thought they’d be taken care of,” says veterans advocate Mary Ellen Salzano.

How does a war veteran expect to be treated? “As a hero,” she says.

Surprise, the VA is ill-equipped and severely unfunded. Soldiers are returning with more severe injuries than in previous combat situations, largely because of body armour and of more sophisticated weaponry. We’re encountering new syndromes – for instance, they’ve found that penetrating brain injuries, like those seen in IED encounters, leave the memory completely intact. This compares to blunt force trauma, where the memory is largely spared.

So we’re maiming, crippling, psychologically and physically scarring a generation, calling them heroes, then leaving them essentially ‘to the wolves’. Financially destitute, unable to cope, with limited medical and psychological help. Yep, that’s supporting the troops. NOT. God Bless America. Just be sure to not be a wounded hero.

Heroes, Soldiers and Doing Your Job

Filed under: Uncategorized — table9 @ 12:58 pm
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Hero (def):

  • a man distinguished by exceptional courage and nobility and strength; “RAF pilots were the heroes of the Battle of Britain”
  • the principal character in a play or movie or novel or poem
  • champion: someone who fights for a cause
  • Greek mathematician and inventor who devised a way to determine the area of a triangle and who described various mechanical devices (first century)
  • (classical mythology) a being of great strength and courage celebrated for bold exploits; often the offspring of a mortal and a god
  • (Greek mythology) priestess of Aphrodite who killed herself when her lover Leander drowned while trying to swim the Hellespont to see her
  • bomber: a large sandwich made of a long crusty roll split lengthwise and filled with meats and cheese (and tomato and onion and lettuce and condiments); different names are used in different sections of the United States
    wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn
  • Several months ago, my husband, who is USN/RET, was approached by our next-door neighbor, a WWII vet who flies a flag for his shipmates, asking if Steve was going to march in the annual Memorial Day parade as he was a Veteran.

    Steve declined, though not directly. “I just did my job.” was what he said to me.

    So, we go to the parade, because our 5 year old loves parades and fire trucks and police cars and such. I notice – all the veterans in this parade are old – Korea vets being the youngest of the bunch – and there overall are pitifully few of them.

    This sets my mind wandering. Steve has also said to me “I hate it when people say ‘thank you’ to me for serving.” Why? “Because I did my job, that’s all. I did what I signed up to do.”

    I wonder when that changed – from being proud to march down the street, allowing people to see you and cheer (hopefully) for you to “just doing my job.”

    I’ve also heard so many refer to our troops as heroes. Support our Heroes, Support our Troops. The odd part is that our troops themselves, at least the guys I know, almost universally say the same thing Steve does – “I just did my job.” Yes, even the transverse parapalegic taken out by a sniper friend. He scoffs and chafes at being called a ‘hero’ almost as much as he rants about the VA. He was just a guy on patrol who got hit by an unlucky shot, when you ask him.

    See, the thing is, to call someone a hero is to in many ways marginalize what they really are – people doing a job. I think we have overused this word to where it’s nearly meaningless. “Heroic survivors of 9/11”- they got out, thank God. Were they Heroic? Are firefighters doing their job? Police officers? Doctors? Or are they Heroes we should thank then ignore? I think we’ve diluted this and at the same time used it to allow ourselves to ignore the horrors these soldiers and sailors endure in our names.

    So I wonder about ‘doing the job.’ When did this shift? I think when we moved from the draft system – responding to our Country’s call in its’ time of Need – to the volunteer ‘be all you can be’ system. I noticed this when I observed no one under the age of 60 walking down the main streets, waving to the crowds. Those over 60s really did respond to the Call, like it or not.

    I have heard as well in the community that soldiers don’t have the right to object or complain because, well, they signed up voluntarily for the job, right? So they should not complain that what they’re being asked to do is not just, that the equipment they have is poor, that their tours are endless and the conditions deplorable, because, well, they asked for it.

    This floors me. Really. This amazing dichotomy, that marginalizes and devalues and creates a separate ‘warrior class’ from the mainstream. We celebrate their heroism while devaluing their sacrifice. I am amazed, especially now living in a non-military community, how disconnected we have become from that which is being fought in our names. We are invisible, except in the patronizing rhetoric.

    So, I’ve asked Steve to march next year, to show his son and those watching, that veterans, soldiers and their families live amongst us all. They’re not just old guys from WWII, they’re young men and women, looking curiously a lot like the rest of us. That they did their job, and their job was difficult in ways no other is. They could not quit (something Steve found amazing on the ‘outside’ that he could do), nor did they. They did what was asked of them, and for that should be seen.

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