Monday, July 28, 2008

Letter From A Desperate Soldier

Via PZ Myers' website, this letter from an actual American soldier in Iraq:

This is a request for help. Disabled veterans are being treated as if they are a burden on the government's checkbook, and the government is getting away with it, mainly because the situation is so far out of the public's collective eye that the military can quite effectively sweep it under the rug. Politicians are using our sacrifices as political capital in front of the nation, while the Army medical system turns around to our face and disdainfully treats us as if we are asking for something we do not deserve. All we want is the care we were promised, and all we are getting is organized resistance from the military medical bureaucracy. In some cases, this resistance amounts to the pure manipulation - and even alteration - of the medical regulations, for the sole purpose of reducing the amount of money the Army has to pay disabled vets upon their separation. I have turned to this kind of appeal, frankly, because I am out of options. I believe that the only thing that can even begin to fix a problem such as this one is true exposure to the bright lights of public scrutiny.

When wounded soldiers comes home, they have to go through an evaluation process in which a panel of Army doctors determines what their final disability rating will be. If they decide that the soldier rates less than 30%, then they can separate that soldier with merely a severance check, and never dole out another dollar to him or her again. Should the rating be above 30%, the Army is required to medically retire that soldier, and send him or her a monthly check after they leave the service. In principle, this makes sense. But this is being abused by those doctors, in that they are intentionally low-balling wounded vets in order to get them under the 30% ceiling and get them out, for obvious reasons of saving money. Just in my case alone, I have seen doctors lie on official reports about what I told them, make childishly snide comments about the appeals that I have written to the Physician Evaluation Board (PEB), and one doctor even suggested that a previous diagnosis was invalid simply because I was "fine" on the day he saw me. (And I have proof - to include hard copies of documents showing the offenses.) This does not stop with the low-level doctors, by any means. The Army PEBs operate on instructions given to them by their command, and one in particular is very telling. Since soldiers began coming home with serious concussion injuries, the Army medical community has seen fit to publish instructions to its PEBs concerning certain ratings and how they are to be 'interpreted' pertaining to veterans' disability claims. One of them that I ran directly into deals with the occurrence of migraine headaches, which many veterans with concussion injuries suffer from, and how they are to be viewed. The schedule that lists ratings that are to be applied states that for a 50% rating, migraines must meet the frequency requirement of at least two per month, and the severity must be prostrating. After veterans began receiving this rating for their complications from IED-induced concussions, an instruction to physicians was published informing them that from then on, the word 'prostrating' was not to be interpreted as it is defined, but rather for migraines to be considered prostrating for rating purposes, the soldier must have stopped and sought immediate, emergency medical attention. Due to the fact that it is very difficult for someone laying prostrate from a migraine to get up and make it to the ER, you can imagine how well this worked in reducing the number of veterans that received disability ratings for their migraines.

And aside from the failings of the rating process, once the soldier is done with that, then there is the incompetent bureaucracy within the ranks of those handling retired service members to deal with. I was retired in January, but did not see a single cent of my retirement money until June. And when it did begin, taxes were being deducted - which shouldn't happen, because combat wounded vets get tax exemption from their disability checks. After getting that fixed, I recently discovered that I have absolutely no medical coverage whatsoever - which I found out while trying to get my prescriptions filled - because my retirement documents never got to the agency responsible for administering my care as a medical retiree. The incompetence of those that handled my retirement file ensured that the necessary paperwork failed to reach almost all of the necessary agencies. And I am by no means the only one this type of injustice is happening to, but instead it is a widespread occurrence. The reason for this is that once the soldier leaves the service and begins the fight for his or her benefits, it is simply that soldier against the entire framework of the Army bureaucracy, and that is far from a fair fight. (They do allow you a liaison in order to to help you navigate the system, but if mine was any indication, this is more of a burden than a help - in asking her to participate in a conference call to discuss why I disagreed with my initial rating of 10%, she resisted and actually said to me, "I'm not here to hold your hand through this.") So I have ended up in a position quite familiar to veterans - broke, living with my parents, in debt up to my ears from the months without income, and having no consistent medical coverage.

So, if you read through this and it seems wrong to you, especially if it makes you a bit angry, then I'm asking for your help. The only thing that will fix this problem is to shine a spotlight on what is happening, because once that happens, the freedom of action that the Army medical community has enjoyed in bullying the wounded soldiers applying for disability will be gone. Once the public is cognizant of exactly what has been done to the veterans the government so profusely praises for their sacrifice, their hypocrisy will be laid bare. If you know anyone - journalist or not - that will take this story and tell it to the public, please let me know. The above injustices are only the tip of the iceberg, even in my case, and I have documentation of many more transgressions.

A disabled vet has fought far too much already to have to continue to fight with their own government like this when they get home. In this case, it is the soldier who is looking to citizen for help with this fight.

The failure of the Bush administration to respond to the continued pleas from our servicemen and women is to my mind a criminal act. 175 days left.

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