Catch 22

soldier

A lot of people think the Veteran’s Administration is an unwieldy bureaucracy set up to help veterans. In my experience this is true of most of the individuals who work at the VA. But the organization itself is set up to do as little as possible for veterans while creating the illusion of a deep concern for those who fight our unending wars. Without this slide-of-hand, along with the flag waving and parades, far fewer young men and women would join the military.

There is a battle raging right this moment between disabled Vietnam Veterans and the VA over a proposal to strip these old warriors of a huge chunk of their benefits. If you don’t know about this, please click here. What I want to talk about today, though, is a very personal dilemma the VA bureaucracy has provided for me.

If you’ve read My Life with a Wounded Warrior, you know being married to my Jack is both a joy and a challenge. You know that Jack stepped on a landmine just outside Danang in ’65, died, and that a corpsman yanked his eighteen-year-old body back from that glorious light into the same stinking jungle he had just escaped. You know he’s been pissed off ever since.

In 1992, over twenty-five years after that day in the Marble Mountains of Vietnam, and after ten years of appeals and persistence, the VA awarded Jack a 100% disability based on his physical wounds as well as on his raging post-traumatic stress. I’ve lived with this man for almost three decades and I assure you the psychological trauma of that war was far more debilitating than his physical wounds.  Jack was happy to receive the 100% rating, but he contested the fact that he was not rated at 100% for PTSD and that the VA had factored in something called unemployability in order to bring him up to that 100% figure. If you don’t understand how VA ratings are calculated, that is because you are sane.

It goes something like this, and I’ll do my best to make it simple and quick.

Jack was awarded 70% disability for the damage done to his body when he stepped on that landmine. Because Jack changed jobs, wives, or locations every few years. Because he could not get along with authority. Because he had raging nightmares, slept with a .357 under his pillow, was incapable of forming any intimate relationship, and was, generally, self-destructive, the VA decided Jack was 50% disabled from PTSD. A normal person might think the VA would simply add the 70% and the 50% together to get 120%.  But no

The 70% for physical wounds + 50% of the remaining 30% = 85%.

Confused yet?

But the VA are such good guys that if a veteran’s total disability is over 70%, and if he meets a long list of other criteria I’m not going to go into here (see above stated problem with authority figures and add the inability to stand because of the 66 pieces of shrapnel still embedded) the VA threw in something they call unemployability and out of the kindness of their black heart, awarded Jack that first 100% rating in ’92.

I know this is confusing, but I’m begging you to stay with me just a little longer.

Jack contested this rating. Not because he wanted more money. 100% is a 100%. But because he felt he deserved 100% for post-traumatic stress, with his physical wounds thrown in as, essentially, bonus points. Seven years later the VA agreed with him. However, because we had moved twice in this time and missed one of the many appeal deadlines by two weeks, they began his new rating in the month they finally approved it. November of 2010. 100% for PTSD, 70% for the landmine damage, and by then they threw in diabetes and parkinsons and dementia and came up with some ridiculous figure like 240%. Same amount of monthly award.

Just recently, with Jack’s new diagnoses of Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, we have needed a lot more help from the VA medical system and Jack qualifies for at least some of that help BECAUSE he has a 100% rating for ONE disability. PTSD. So, it turned out to be an important decision when Jack fought them all those years to get the rating he has now.

However.

While the system relies on wives giving up their own jobs and caring for their husbands, the VA requires a veteran be 100% disabled for ten years before his wife is eligible for any pension at the time of his death. That pension is a little less than one third what the veteran is receiving. That’s a blow to the budget, but one day shy of that ten year mark and the wife gets nothing. And when the VA made Jack’s latest ruling in 2010, they reset the clock. So, unless Jack lives until 2020, at the time of his death, I will be attempting to live on my social security of $242 a month. And, given the disease Jack is dealing with, it is unlikely he will live long enough for that reset VA clock to tick down the required ten years. We hope he lives that long and longer, of course. I work every day to provide the care and social and mental stimulation which will keep him with me until he’s in his eighties or nineties. But the reality of the progressive illness from which he suffers does not make for a strong possibility that will happen.

The Veteran’s representatives here tell me to wait, do nothing, hope we beat the odds and Jack lives another three or more years. They tell me if he dies before November of 2020, then I can write my congressman, fight for that pension just like I’ve fought for Jack’s care all these years. It IS possible that, at the time of his death, the VA will look at the fact that they have rated Jack at 100% disabled for almost twenty-five years now. It IS possible they will overrule that date on the computer and be reasonable.

But no one can verify that for me and thus, the possibility gives me no comfort.

I am an educated person. I could work, even at sixty-six, I could find a job. And, to take care of myself, that is what I should do and I should do it immediately in order to build up some savings and have an income in place at the time of Jack’s death. Except Jack can no longer be left alone for any length of time at all and, even though he has a worker twice a week and goes to day care three days a week, neither of those reliefs give me anywhere near eight hours to work on those days.

Besides, as those of you who are faithful readers of this blog  have already gleaned, even with all this help, I am at my wits end to provide the care Jack needs. I don’t think I can work AND continue to care for him. I fear that my working would mean Jack would have to go into a care facility, and that is not a possibility I am willing to consider. Not yet, not when I can still care for him in his own home.

So, why have I shared all this with you? In part because I am not the only wife of a  veteran who is dealing with this. In part because being a member of a caring community helps me to deal with these difficult decisions. And this may be the most important reason, because when someone, anyone, suggests war as a solution to whatever current situation pops up in the news, I want you to remember that the cost of war does not end when warriors straggle home from a battlefield. It does not end for the veteran and it does not end for all those of us who love them.

Posted in aging, health, Parkinson Disease, Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, pts, Uncategorized, war, VA, wounded warriors, Vietnam, medical care for veterans | Tagged | Leave a comment

Post-Memorial Day Musings

Vietnam boogie stretcher lem to chopper

This past weekend was Memorial Day, a time set aside to honor our war dead with parades and fluttering flags upon their graves, and hopefully, with solemn remembrance of who they were and what might have been.

Jack fell on Saturday night, a fall that badly bruised his back and shoulder and arm and required the help of EMTs to get him on his feet. This happens frequently but always leaves me a bit stunned, knowing the next fall might well be life changing. I spent the weekend thinking of the long term effects of war that our combat vets live with every day, every night, every minute.

This week, two men were killed up the coast in Oregon when they stepped in to protect teenage girls from an Aryan Brotherhood bully. Though I suppose that term is redundant. Nazis, racists, bigots – these folks are, by definition, bullies. The men who stepped up, protected the girls, and were thus killed, were both veterans. That, somehow, gave me hope that the good learned in combat might just balance the trauma, or okay not balance, but set the scales bouncing a bit on their axis.

Because you see, after twenty-five years of living with the effects of Jack’s war trauma, he and I are now living with a diagnoses of a fairly rare central brain disorder and I cannot help but wonder if his exposure to Agent Orange, and the horrors of war, watered for fifty years with the chemical effects on the brain of physical injury and post-traumatic stress – if all of this has not brought us to where we are.  And, somehow, I find myself with a desperate and irrational need to justify, to convince myself that the strength gained from living through his war somehow offsets the damage done.

This need is, of course, a means of embracing my own expenditure – twenty-five years of my life with a man whose strength and courage is a daily inspiration and whose needs and wounds require more patience and understanding than I possess on a near-daily basis.

At this stage, I receive a great deal of help from the VA with Jack’s care and, honestly, that is the only reason he is able to live in our home and not in a skilled nursing facility. There are caregivers –  and I am now far more caregiver than wife, and that is a deep and abiding sadness – who deal with needs as great or greater than Jack’s and who do so with little or no help. As a combat wounded veteran Jack qualifies for help, medical care for which I advocate and cajole and then, occasionally, demand. Still, I am grateful for the care he receives, know it literally saves both his life and mine.

I suppose my point here, this week after Memorial Day, is that not everyone who dies from combat, dies on the battlefield. People are changed, sometimes beyond recognition, by the horrors, the absolute inability to justify what happens in war with any possible civilian moral compass. War destroys lives. It’s not that damn difficult a concept. Despite what the flag wavers and politicians tell you, there’s no glory on a battlefield.

There’s honor, and courage, and persistence, but there is no glory.

Posted in aging, caregiver, heroes, Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Mother’s Day Musing

011 bb cover stump

There are those who believe in reincarnation. If so, I have returned again and again to the coastal land between Freshwater Lagoon and Richardson Grove in what is now northern California. Each lagoon offers fog-wrapped memories of nights under stars. Each river mouth births hazy memories of salmon runs. Every rocky guardian of the shoreline whispers of feasts provided by the sea.

Because my husband, Jack, has recently received a diagnoses of Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, we have spent a good amount of time and energy over the past few weeks assuring that his wishes will be met when we get to the end of this disease. I don’t want to talk about PSP, except to say that each day is the best we get. We enjoy what we have and try not to look too far into the future.

In deciding what Jack wants done after his death, I have put some things in writing as well.

Jack wanted his body placed on a fiery Viking ship as I waded into the water and threw myself into the flames. We compromised.  His ashes will be scattered into the ocean. If at all possible, I’ll take him for one last dive in the Caribbean off Paamul, Mexico.

As for me, I’d be happy to dig a hole in the forest when my time comes, lie down peacefully and let the woods have their way with my body. But, I’ll settle for my sons offering my ashes to a redwood grove of their choice. Someplace they can visit if they’d like, though I suspect I’ll soon enough be right here in Humboldt County again, in one form or another.

Posted in caregiver, Eureka, Humboldt County, marriage, Pamela Foster, Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Healing

snow

This morning, CBS interviewed a group of people who voted for Trump. I watched and listened because I know full well that understanding these individuals is the key to my healing. That seems a bizarre statement to make after a presidential election. That healing is needed. I get that. I’m sixty-six. This is not the first election I’ve seen go to the ‘other side.’

This one was different for a variety of reasons. Social media is a big factor. Lots of fake or maybe worse, very slanted, news on the internet. Even the once-trusted news channels – CBS, NBC, ABC – whipped up a profit-inspired frenzy on both sides, demanding drama in order to win those free minutes each night in the national spotlight. But, I believe I would have woven a path around those piles of crap, and accepted our new president if I had not had a visceral reaction to Donald Trump himself.

He opened his campaign by maligning an entire group of people, a group which includes my youngest son. By doing so he created an instant us-against-them mentality. He whipped up fear of those among us who worship Mohammad, when clearly, statistically, those who profess to revere Jesus have killed more of us in mass attacks than Muslims.

He cultivated a cult of personality. Only I, Donald J Trump can save you. And then, because the election wasn’t surreal enough, the media released video of our new president bragging, yes, bragging, about assaulting women. I do not want to dredge all this up again, but if you’re going to understand the rest of this essay, you need to understand and, yes accept, that  my reaction and the reaction of tens of thousands of others like me, is not based on a disagreement over Keynesian versus Trickle-down economics, or universal health care versus private insurance, or coal versus clean energy.

My reaction of disgust to the election of Donald J Trump is based on the fear that economics was more important to those who voted for him than human rights. I am still coming to terms with the knowledge that voters were willing to overlook the Muslim-blaming, the thinly veiled links to white supremacy groups, the week it took him to gently disavow the support of the KKK. In the end, it didn’t matter to them. And while people of color in this country, LGBT people, people who do not worship in churches with crosses on their steeples, have known this for years and years and years, it was a shock to my naive white understanding of America.

So, the election is a week behind us. And here’s where I am – and I share this, not because the healing of one old white woman matters much at all, but because I am not alone in this struggle to come to terms with where our nation now stands. I’ve read enough essays by Trump voters and listened to them enough to understand that they do not see their vote as a condoning of hatred, or bigotry, or assault of those with less power. I still cannot understand how they could have made that decision, but clearly, they did.

One of the women on the panel of Trump voters this morning on CBS said she was frightened to publicly admit she voted for him. That she had received threats. That’s not right. It shames me that anyone in this country would threaten another person with violence for any reason, let alone over the execution of a constitutionally-guaranteed right. Voting, protesting lawfully, speaking out about that with which we disagree – all that is our right and our duty.

I am still struggling with trusting those who voted for Trump. I am able now to behave respectfully toward these individuals. I can walk in the mall without studying each face, wondering which of them thinks that, as a woman I have no right to my own body, which of them only affords me safety based on the color of my skin or my non-hijab-covered gray hair. I have come this far in my own personal healing because I have come to realize that many of the people who voted for Trump, voted for Obama in earlier elections. While I believe that Trump’s campaign, and certainly his victory, stirred the bottom of the muck in this country, I must believe the haters are a minority, that many Trump supporters stand against hate, and against violence, and against blaming entire groups of people based on the actions of a few.

I believe all of this in my mind. In my heart, I still distrust, still suspect that my safety around Trump’s people requires diligence on my part. But then, it’s only been a week since the election. The commentator this morning on CBS advised that we all, on both sides of the aisle, just calm down.

Always an effective strategy – telling anyone, man or woman, to just calm down.

A more useful suggestion, for me anyway, is to channel my passion into constructive action. I donated to Planned Parenthood. Yes, I made sure to do so in honor of Mike Pence so he’ll receive yet another certificate. Yes, that is petty and vindictive, a clear fuck you to the man who is now vice president. That’s why I did it.

I volunteered to be an escort at PP.

As a small-time student of history, for months I have seen similarities between the rise of Trump and the rise of Hitler. Both movements were hate-fueled cults of personality. That’s how it looks to me. I understand that’s not how it looks to those of you who voted for Trump. But, I keep wandering if Germans by the tens of thousands showed up on the streets of their towns and cities after Kristalnacht. Did ordinary people step up and stand against the hate? Or had they left it too late? Did fear of retaliation keep them home? Or were they quietly, secretly undisturbed by hate against a group of people who, after all, were different from them?

And I don’t have to go that far from home to see historical examples of times when hate ruled. Right here in my beloved California, my ancestors or men very much like them, killed thousands of Native Americans when they arrived seeking their own fortunes. In the 1940’s The Native Sons of the Golden West, of which my dad was, briefly, a member, were instrumental in interning the Japanese among us. Internment – that’s a polite word for locking people up and stealing their land and possessions.

Hate has won in the past. Hate has won because good people got lazy, or were more concerned with their own success than with protecting the civil rights of people who were, in one way or another, different than they were.

So, no, don’t tell me to just calm down. Those of us protesting are doing our best to send a clear message that we will not allow hate to win. In the end, it doesn’t matter who any of us voted for. Politicians come and go. What matters is that we stand together against hate.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Line in the Sand

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The election is over and I’m taking the election of The Orange Man personally.

Every single person who walked into a voting booth and voted for the man who bragged of being a sexual predator, and I’m not just talking the pussy-grabbing incident, the old orange fart bragged on the radio to his good buddy and fellow degenerate Howard Stern about walking into the dressing room to peek at naked girls as young as fifteen – every single person who overlooked and justified his actions condoned sexual abuse and harassment. Those who elected him shouted out loud and clear that protecting the vulnerable among us is completely unimportant to them as long as they could exact vengeance on an uppity woman and send a message to all those minorities out there to remember their place at the back of the bus.

Several weeks ago I deleted an earlier post about my own sexual abuse as a child because I did not want my mother, who is now eighty-six, to be blamed for a situation over which she had little control. Over the years, when I have shared that story, many people have told me they would never allow something like that to happen to any child. They’ve sworn to me with tears in their eyes that, regardless of the consequences, they would step up and “shoot the s.o.b.” or “bury the bastard in the swamp.”

Big talk.

The people who voted for Trump shouted their position to the rooftops. “I don’t care what a powerful white man does to any women or child. Have at her boys. Grab some pussy.”

The voters watched an old man, not a child, but a grown man, bully and make fun of people with handicaps, and prisoners of war. Night after night the media squealed in faux-horror as he encouraged his supporters to hit and harass those who disagreed with them. “Go ahead. Punch him. I’ll pay your legal fees.” He called blacks thugs and if that wasn’t clear enough, he flat out said he’d reinstate stop-and-frisk, a policy which has been proven to target young men of color. With a shrug and a grin and a wink, he accepted the endorsement of the American Nazi Party and the KKK. The man opened his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants rapists, and by doing so galvanized those afraid to compete in the job market with a person who does not speak the language of the land. He selected a man for his vice president who diverted tax dollars in his home state of Indiana for conversion therapy for gay and lesbian people so they can become normal, like him.

There is simply no way anyone can say they did not know that Donald Trump is a racist, a bully, and a sexual predator. If you voted for him, you knew damned well what you were doing.

The lines are drawn.

#Nevermypresident

Posted in nevermypresident, politics, The Orange Man, Uncategorized | 8 Comments

What I wanted Hillary to do

new pam photo

Here’s what I wanted Hillary to do last night.

I wanted her to turn to the man stalking her from behind, the man so used to using his physical self to over-power women, that he saw nothing wrong with his behavior, I wanted her to turn around, look him in the eye and say simply,

“I am uncomfortable with you standing this close to me. Back off while I am speaking.”

Having worked for years in brokerage and banking, I have been that woman on that stage – competent, intelligent, hardworking – using so much energy to push back against the predation all around that I was exhausted each and every day. I often wonder how much more women could accomplish, even more than they already achieve, if they did not have to deal with constant sexual predation.

Inspired by a post on Girl Boner, by August McLaughlin, over the next few days I will do my best to tell my own story. For now, because like so many women, I must step away from the computer, bury my anger and frustration, and spend the day caring for others, in my case a husband who faces his own challenges, I ask only that you spend a few minutes thinking about the effects of rape culture on women. Maybe, together, we can figure out a way to make the world safer.

Posted in abuse, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Power of The Great Bear

bear

The Great Bear appears in many of my stories and novels. For Indigenous peoples of North America, Bear has always held strong spiritual medicine.

Left alone, Bear goes about her life foraging quietly, caring for her young, perhaps enjoying the sun and rain and fog in much the same way as I do. But, anyone who has ever wandered a rugged path, or wove their way along the edge of a forest or blackberry patch and come upon one of these great beasts knows the instinctual terror that cramps the belly, catches the breath, and rams the heart up into a closed throat.

Bear is a thing of quiet, almost humorous lumbering beauty. If however, a traveler is foolish enough to threaten her or her young, she will rear up on her hind legs and tear that feckless individual limb for limb, leave them dead or broken and bloody. The beast will turn then, once satisfied that the threat is gone, and disappear back into the depths of the forest, content once again to nibble at berries, dig roots, and enjoy the tender grass of spring.

So, it’s no wonder I identify with Bear.

But, Bear holds a deeper meaning as well. She is tooth and claw, yes, but also Bear is quiet beauty and acceptance. In my latest short story, which is included in the fine anthology, Macabre Sanctuary, a woman comes to the woods seeking relief from a difficult reality and comes face-to-face with the holy will of nature.

Here’s an excerpt:

The cold creek is knee-high when a force like a sledgehammer slams my right shoulder, knocks me face-down in the water. I roll in a ball, rounded back to the bear. My knees scrape gravel. The water buoys me, nudges me toward a deeper center. A bear face appears under water, fills my vision. A black snout bumps my right eye, a rough tongue samples my cheek. The snout disappears.

A quick gulp of air. Heavy, clawed weight on my back. The bear straddles my body bounces up and down exactly like James played as a child with a red beach ball. On land, I’d be dead already, crushed under the animal’s bulk. The water is my salvation. Of course, I may well drown in its saving mercies.

Want more? And, ten other terrific, spooky, scary, dips into the dark side? Click here: Macabre Sanctuary.

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Posted in Macabre Sanctuary, Pamela Foster, Bear as Symbol, writing, nature, death, Uncategorized | 4 Comments