Friday, March 07, 2008

When I am king

Sitting in my email inbox right now is a letter from a caseworker at the VA Regional Office of Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment, St Louis (Voc Rehab). This is the office that works with veterans who are disabled by a condition caused by their military service in order to retrain them for the workplace and help them find employment by providing things like assistive devices: voice recognition software, specialized wheelchairs or whatever you need in order to get back to work. They also do things like paying for college if they think that's what you need to be a productive member of society, or small business planning advice and loans. Voc Rehab interviewed me in January to see if there was anything they could do for me, a disabled veteran.

The letter in my inbox confirms that a paper copy of my official rejection letter will be sent to me as soon as possible so I can add it to my medical and employment history. The VA office here has found that I am unemployable, not rehabable, not worth spending tax dollars on, so I am not eligible for their program at this time. Incidentally, they made this decision in January, told me they sent me the letter in January, and are only now getting around to resending it.

There is another VA office in town, Disability Compensation and Pension (Comp & Pen). This office is tasked with taking care of veterans who have been disabled by their service; and by 'taking care of' I mean 'giving money to.' This is the branch that gives out disability payments, which are scaled based on the severity of disability from almost negligible, something like $110/month, to completely disabling, over $2k/month. If your disability is so severe that you can't find any kind of employment, you are officially entitled to the full 100% disability payments, which gives you about $25k a year to live on. It's not money that anyone would call riches, but at least it's above the poverty line.

You would think, that since the branch of the VA responsible for helping veterans find employment has found that I am unemployable- and this particular office is the fourth in two states, on the state, federal, and nonprofit levels, to find this- the Comp & Pen branch of the VA would be obligated to also find me unemployable, and therefore give me disability payments that I can live on. Well, you would think that IF you don't know the way the VA works. So here I am, poking at my library account online, bored because someone else has all the Buffy DVDs checked out and I can't afford to buy them so I must wait, contemplating the day when I am no longer able to access the internet from my home because my savings will have run out and I will no longer be able to afford internet access. In my bleaker moments, I contemplate a day when I will no longer have a home from which to not access the internet; but I know that this will probably never happen, because I have family. But if I didn't have family... it already would have. The VA provides me with enough to have a nice car to live out of.

All of which leads me to comment on this article that's been floating around, from the Christian Science Monitor: "Homeless: Can you build a life from $25?" Basically some former athlete white boy with a college degree and rich parents went out to prove that it's possible to go from being homeless to renting a place, even if you're ... a young, healthy, rich white boy with a college degree. Some choice quotes:

To make his quest even more challenging, he decided not to use any of his previous contacts.

Ten months into the experiment, he decided to quit after learning of an illness in his family.

"I was getting by on chicken and Rice-A-Roni dinner and was happy."

"I had a credit card in my back pocket in case of an emergency. The rule was if I used the credit card then, "The project's over, I'm going home.""

[In response to a question about whether his game would have been more difficult if he had child support payments or was on probation] "The question isn't whether I would have been able to succeed. I think it's the attitude that I take in."

"This isn't a "rags-to-riches million-dollar" story. This is very realistic. I truly believe, based on what I saw at the shelter ...that anyone can do that."

Speaking as someone who doesn't have the luxury of "quitting" my life when someone gets sick, who doesn't have an emergency credit card or any "previous contacts" that would do me any good, I just have to say that eating chicken and Rice-a-Roni for dinner sounds like the lap of luxury to me (meat is expensive, even chicken), and I deeply resent the implication that the reason I'm in the situation I'm in is because my attitude isn't focused enough on tugging at my own bootstraps. Yeah, I made some stupid decisions. I joined the Army- that was, in hindsight, blindingly stupid. But I'm not sick and unemployed because I'm lazy, and this kid's condescension makes me want to punch him in the face. Knowing that in the future people are going to point to the book he wrote as "proof!" that poverty is a choice that the government shouldn't subsidize with things like food stamps makes me want to puke.

There's a more eloquent takedown of this at Resist Racism: Playing at poverty.

1 comment:

Elizabeth McClung said...

Well, it always irritates me to read this "Hey, anyone who is poor can not be if they WANT to" idea - Spurlock in his series 30 days did one where he and his wife took the basic poverty level and tried to survive for 30 days. Which he did as a day laboror (but then like many was injuried on a day hire job, he had to keep working to have food, but in the end had to go to the hospital and ended up in debt) - he was working 2 jobs, she was working 2 jobs, neither used university degrees or previous work experience on applications so they were in dead end basic pay jobs and bought clothes at the Salvation Army and slept on the floor in an apartment full of ants and had to choose whether to walk 4 miles or take the bus to save $2. Now that is the kind of position I was in sometimes when I was able bodied and healthy.

Now, forget it, I am Linda's pet and thankful to be so. That the VA would actually have different departments between TELLING you that you have no employability and the benefits seems some sort of calculated cruelty (because that is what most of us dream about, getting mail telling us we won't EVER be employed....our whole life). Even the idea of being assessed for that makes my stomach doing funny feelings from the anxiety (and I'm not the one being assessed).

I mean, even to be able to move to another city and start over costs thousands, just to move and to survive and pay rent and deposit for that first month until you get a job and then another two weeks until you get a paycheck. It isn't a hobby, it isn't a fallback, it is desperation and often (As it was in our lives twice), a gamble of everything we had or could borrow and what we could put in a car which we hoped would get us to the city of our choice where we hoped we got enough temp work fast enough to pay the rent for the NEXT month while we hoped to get a job (and that was with qualifations, experience AND degrees).

AHHHHHH! The reasons I am not talking about you and how I feel about that is becuase when I was in situations like that, I was already obsessing about it enough and so I am trying a sort of "I know what it feels like, and that sucks" thing instead of outlining what you already know - that where is justice and dignity and why are the commercials on TV about a life that is SO far away, you wonder if there is border you can illegally cross to get to it....only wait! You're living there already?