Monday, September 03, 2007

Serving Your Country

Sometimes, when I feel like making myself feel sick- you know, when my GERD/IBS isn't doing that for me already- I contemplate my outstanding disability claims.

It's been two years now since I was medically discharged from the Army. As soon as I got out, I put in a disability claim for the stomach problems I had pretty much the whole last year I was in (and which I still suffer from). Throwing up all the time, cramps, bloating, gas and heartburn aren't enough to make you totally disabled, of course (although the esophageal cancer GERD can cause will often actually kill you), but the VA, unlike Social Security, grades disability on a percentage scale, and will often give small payments for minor things. A retired Sergeant Major I used to know gets 10% disability for a tiny scar on his ear; visible scarring is considered disabling, even if you can barely tell it's there. So I had a legitimate hope that even though I was not a Sergeant Major, someone in power would think that I was entitled to something for my constant illness.

It's been two years, and I still haven't heard back from the VA about whether or not I am entitled to disability on this matter. First they told me that because I didn't have a clear diagnosis, I didn't actually have anything wrong with me. I was tempted to go and vomit on the desk of the person who made that decision, but instead just appealed it. They got my appeal paperwork and treated it like a brand new claim, telling me that I would have to prove that I'd had the condition since I was in the military. Never mind that all of my medical records are either military or VA, I had to request copies- from them- and then provide them with those copies.

I'm back in the waiting phase, again. I suppose sometime they will have to make a decision, and I assume that if they even glance at my medical records, they will see that I'm entitled to compensation, because I am. I joined the military in good faith and got wrecked while trying to serve my country, and I know that that's true no matter how many bureaucrats deny it.

When I'm not vomiting bile (ha!) over frustration with the system, I daydream about what I could buy with the back pay I would get if the VA found in my favor. I am fully disabled by my fibromyalgia and unable to obtain or keep employment, according to two government agencies and one non-profit tasked with helping disabled people find work, but VA regulation only allows a finding of 40% disability for fibromyalgia, so I live on $556 a month. A finding of only 20% disability for my GERD/IBS, just one step up from a tiny scar on your ear, would net me back pay of $5400 for the two years I've been waiting.

There are a lot of things I could spend $5400 on, but I think my highest priority is dental care. I daydream about getting my teeth cleaned; I could even get a few cavities filled before that money ran out! Screw new clothes and a tattoo and a haircut from someone other than my mother, dental care is my big dream.

Sometimes I wonder what life would have been like if I hadn't joined the Army. I probably would have finished university a couple years ago, maybe gone on to post-graduate work if I found something that I found more interesting than the rest of the world. Maybe I'd be working at a real job, with health insurance and so on. Maybe not. Maybe I would still worry about not being able to save my teeth, maybe I would still be disabled in some way. There is definitely enough doubt in me, though, that whenever I see ads enticing young people to join the military, it makes me see red.

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