Welcome to USDR – USDR – Uniformed Services Disabled Retirees

Welcome to USDR – USDR – Uniformed Services Disabled Retirees

This is good stuff, faithful readers. Please take the time to read this.

The “Dignified Treatment of Wounded Warriors Act of 2008,” signed by President Bush on Jan. 28, 2008, provides veterans who served on acti9ve duty from Sept. 11, 2001 to Dec. 31, 2009, with an opportunity for review of disability ratings they were given which led to their discharged from the Armed Forces.

To be eligible for a Physical Disability Board of Review (PDBR) review, a veteran must have been medically separated during the above mentioned time frame, with a combined disability rating of 20 percent or less, and not have been found eligible for retirement. Over half of the cases that have been completed have been changed and have made those discharged improperly, now eligible for health care, and the ability to sign up for the Survivor Benefit Plan for their families without penalty.

For more information and how to apply contact the PDBR intake unit at the following address:

550 C Street West, Suite 41
Randolph AFB, TX 78150-4743

(News Briefs, NAUS Magazine, May/June 2011)

Click on the link above for the original post from USDR.

Until the next time …..


In the Navy? One day you can marry on base. The next day you can’t. If you’re gay that is.

The Navy is riding high these days.  My congrats to Seal Team Six for taking out OBL.  In my opinion, his death is long overdue.  I heard the Seal who fired the kill shot is a married man.  Interesting that the Navy would announce such a thing.  Why would that matter to the general public?  Who cares if the shooter was married, single, black, white, purple, green or (gasp) rainbow colored!

It leads me to wonder if they were prepping us for the next big announcement.  On May 9, 2011, Stars & Stripes published an article entitled Navy says chaplains could soon perform same-sex unions. Could this be the Navy’s way of telling us the “married” Seal is gay and to reward him for his heroism they were timing the release of this announcement as a show of support?  Stranger things have happened, right?

Unfortunately, for gays in the military who, for just a moment had a shred of hope, this didn’t last very long.  Just this morning I woke to a ticker announcement on Good Morning America stating the Navy had reversed it’s position on this decision.  That didn’t last very long, did it?

Why the sudden change of heart?  It’s clearly explained in this article, Navy Plan to allow same-sex marriage on bases draws opposition. The article states that after the plan to allow marriages on base was announced it drew criticisms “from dozens of members of Congress”.  So of course, the Navy bowed to political pressure and back peddled so fast we didn’t even have time to spread the good news that same sex marriages were going to be allowed on base in the first place.  

What a crying shame.  Here the Navy had the opportunity to lead the way…again.  They brag in the news about taking out OBL.  They deserve props for that.  They brag in the news that “sensitivity training” is progressing towards the certification of the repeal of DADT.  They brag in the news they will soon begin to allow same-sex marriages on base.  The policy was published in April and released a few days ago. Why did they wait so long?  You have to wonder about that.  The timing is certainly suspicious, don’t you think?  Just as quickly as it was announced, the policy was rescinded due to pressure from Congress.  

What the hell, Rear Admiral Tidd?  DADT has been repealed.  You took a major step forward in announcing that same-sex marriages would be allowed on base.  What a coward you turned out to be.

Until the next time, my friends…..

Time to catch up. How about an update?

Hello Friends!  It’s been a long time since I caught you up on what’s been happening with me.  I’ve been so busy trying to take care of business that I’ve really fallen behind on keeping you up to date.  I’ve made progress in some areas, had set backs in others.

I find myself bored lately.  My life is at a stand still.  I’ve finally completed my PTSD claim.  It’s taken me over two years to complete that friggin’ claim.  If anyone tells you that filing a claim for PTSD is easy, they are lying.  While it’s true they have relaxed the rules for PTSD due to combat, they haven’t relaxed the rules for MST (military sexual trauma).  For those of you who have been with me from the beginning, you’ll know that I had a ton of evidence to go through.  Very personal evidence.  Letters that I had written home to my best friend over my twenty year career.  I was unaware that she’d saved those letters until she passed away.  One of her sisters found them when going through her personal things and she returned them to me.  I didn’t look at them until after I had my first flashback and started searching for what had happened to me.  It was all there in the letters I’d written home as a young soldier.  My friend had saved all that evidence for me.  Who knew I’d need that evidence 30 years later? 

I filed my PTSD-MST claim last June, 2010.  It took almost one year and a phone call from a Women’s Trauma Counselor from the St Pete Regional Office to finally get me off my ass enough to get moving to finish my claim and send in all the evidence I had.  I had plenty.  I had my letters.  I had buddy statements.  I had a Nexus letter from my treating psychologist.  I had evidence from my SMR showing that I had two pap smears in one weeks time.  I have a current diagnosis.  And I have three years of treatment records.  But every time I looked at those letters, written in my own hand, describing everything that happened to me, they triggered me so badly … well, those of you with PTSD know what happens.  Nightmares.  Panic and anxiety attacks.  Isolation.  Everything, and I mean everything scares the shit out of you.  The slightest noise, the lightest touch and you are jumping clear out of your skin.  Forget sleeping.  If the nightmares aren’t keeping you awake, insomnia is.  You detach from everything you know and love.  Your mood is like a pendulum.  It swings back and forth.  Up and down.  Does this sound familiar?  Sitting in a dark house, shades drawn, only the dogs for company.  Not caring how you look, how you dress or if you ever leave the house again.

I was determined.  I persevered.  I got it finished and two weeks ago I finally sent the completed packet off to the ST Pete VARO, certified with a return receipt.  Now, I will wait.  Like the rest of us caught up in the 1,000,000 claims backlog, I will wait.

While the PTSD claim is processing, I’m still waiting for a decision on my service connected right shoulder, temporary 100% claim that I submitted last June 2010.  What a joke that has been.  Per eBenefits, which I trust about as much as I trust Iris Inquiries or calling the 800 number, it’s in the “Decision Phase“.  According to the eBenefits website, “The Decision Phase is completed on most claims between 16 and 28 days.  The number of days provided is a national average of time claims spend in the Decision phase based on data at the end of May 2010.  Please be advised that a claim may take longer in this phase based on the specifics of your claim.”  Mine has been in the “Decision Phase” for almost two months.  I think they need to update their statistics.  I’ll continue to wait.

Last but certainly not least, there is my appeal for IU.  To refresh your memory, I submitted my claim for it in October 2008 and was denied in October 2009.  I hired an attorney after a very long process and the appeal went in.  We asked for a DRO review.  To date, we’re still waiting.  The review still has not taken place.  My attorney is confident we’ll win so I consider it money in the bank.  I’m at 80% now, I draw SSDI (the decision was based solely on my service connected conditions) and VR&E refused to send me back to school and/or retrain me.  How can I lose is the attorney’s theory.  I hope he is right.

In the meantime, about two months ago, I received a letter from my attorney, Sean Culliton, withdrawing himself from my case.  I have to admit that I was very, very pissed when it happened.  I felt abandoned by someone I had let in to my circle.  He was not a Veteran, he’d come highly recommended and I reluctantly allowed him in.  I trusted him to do right by me.  In retrospect, I understand his decision to let go of my case.  I’m no longer angry.  I’ve hired a new attorney, recommended by Jim Strickland, and I believe he’ll do right by me.  My former attorney has gone back to his civilian clients and I wish him well.  He turned over all my files to me, even going so far as to burn everything onto a disk so that I can pass them along to my new attorney.  He also signed a letter which has been sent to the VARO waiving all rights to any fees and backpay.  He’s a straight up guy and he did right by me.  I’m sure my new attorney will take my case and run with it.  In the meantime, I’m still waiting.

So what do I do now?  I’ve been so consumed with working on all my claims that I no longer know what to do with myself.  I’ve spent day after day, month after month, for almost two years, trying to get this damn PTSD claim done.  Now that it’s finished, and I’ve hired a new attorney to work on my appeal, I’m stuck with nothing to do.  I sit in the house all day, monitor Straight Talk, answer emails, take the dogs out to the yard for potty breaks and clean up their shit, watch my soaps and poke around on the internet.  That’s my day, and night, 7 days a week.  I can’t drive anymore so unless my wife is here to take me somewhere, I’m stuck at home.  Don’t get me wrong; home is my “safe place”.  I’m more comfortable here than I am anyplace else.  I’m just bored.  I need a new challenge.  What to do?  What to do?  And how to do it from home?

Service dog update.  There is none.  Sort of.  I got word from VACO to resubmit my packet instead of appealing it.  I got some static from the fine folks in Tampa Prosthetics.  No surprise there.  An email to my POC at VACO in D.C., took care of that problem.  I’m just waiting now for my backlogged primary care physician to resubmit my packet.  It’s being resubmitted with a focus on Rocco’s mobility tasks.  I gave my social worker a list of mobility tasks that Rocco performs for me that can’t be done by “prosthetic aides”.  That should push my request over the edge.  Keep your fingers crossed for me.  And for you.  If this works for me, it will work for you, too.  As always, I’ll keep you informed.

Speaking of service dogs …. I’m trying to put together a blog of reputable service dog schools.  If you have one that you recommend, please send it to me at WendiG@vawatchdogtoday.org.  I prefer to list non-profit schools that will give dogs to service members and Veterans at no cost but I will list all schools.  Thank you.

And finally … the Independent Living Program.  If you qualify, you really should apply to this program.  I’ve been in it for just over two years now.  It’s taken a while for me to get everything that was written into my plan, but it’s finally all coming together.  I no longer have to worry about using those beat to hell store scooters, or paying outrageous rental fees, when I go out.  I have the “Cadillac” of mobility scooters and finally, last week, I had the lift installed on our pick-up so that we can take it with us when we go out.  Have scooter will travel.  I can now exercise Rocco properly.  He loves to run along side it.  I’m still waiting for an adjustable bed, but my counselor assures me it’s forthcoming.

There’s the update, my friends.  I’m bored to tears.  I’ve spent two years working on claims and now that they are finished I don’t know what to do with myself.   I have all this spare time on my hands.  It’s Spring time in Florida.  The beach is out.  I can’t drive there.  That means fishing is out, too, because I can’t get myself to the water (& that’s only 15 minutes away).  I guess I’ll have to get with my partner, Jim Strickland, and see what kind of trouble he can find for me to get into.  I am fairly certain he’s got something in mind.  You may want to keep an eye out for some changes in the format here.  I’m just sayin’.

Until the next time…….

2nd Annual UNLV Combat Trauma Conference

2nd Annual UNLV Combat Trauma Conference
“She’s back, but she’s not the same!”
Focusing on Returning Women Warrior and Veteran Issues
May 25-26, 2011
UNLV Student Organization of Addiction Professionals,
WestCare Foundation, Grace After Fire & the Family Alliance for Veterans of America
2010 marked the first opportunity to bring experts, professionals and returning warriors together for a time to focus on combat trauma, sponsored by the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.  This first conference clearly raised consciousness, raised issues and raised commitment among many to maintain the focus and to raise voice to this subject that continues to be heard across the country.  This second annual conference will spotlight the issues facing America’s returning women veterans and their unique issues related to combat trauma.
America’s returning OIF-OEF women warriors represents many new impacts of deployment and combat with which America must deal.  The numbers begin to tell the tale:  
  •     15%  ………    of the US Military are now WOMEN.
  •     9,000 …….    WOMEN have received prosthetics.
  •     1 in 5  …….     WOMEN screened reported Military Sexual Trauma.
  •     13,000 ……  homeless are WOMEN veterans.
  •     30,000 …..     single MOTHERS deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
  •     40%  ………    of WOMEN veterans have children.
  •     8.8%  ……..     of Military WOMEN are divorced annually.
  •     95%  ………    of VA programs do not target WOMEN or offer separate housing.
These numbers are staggering, both in their reality and in their effect on families, communities and the nation.  The intent of this 2nd annual conference is to further raise the nation’s consciousness of this current reality.  But more than that, it is to highlight the resources that are available and those who are already at work helping our women return to full health and productive lives. 

May 25-26, 2011
University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV)
TAM Alumni Center
Las Vegas, NV
Early Registration Fee:  $100.00 
On-Site Registration Fee: $150.00
(No cost to Women Veterans)

CEU’s to satisfy the requirements of multiple professional organizations (including addiction and other health practitioners, therapists, social workers, educators, etc.) are pending  professional organization approval and will be offered at no additional cost.   
Contact:  Sharon Steinberg
WestCare Foundation 
There are limited free rooms for those in need of them.  Contact me at WendiG@vawatchdogtoday.org and I will hook you up.
This conference is open to Women Veterans of all era’s, not just women Veterans who participated in OIF/OEF or Afghanistan.

Do you take your Service Dog to your VA Doctor Appointments?

Hello Friends.  How many of you take your service dog with you to VA Hospital appointments?  If you answered, “I do”, you are one of the lucky ones.  Your VHA allows you to do so.  We’re hearing that a lot of VHA Facilities don’t allow service dogs entry.  Sickening, isn’t it.

Don’t get me wrong, what they will allow are Guide dogs.  The service dogs they don’t allow are dogs like mine.  Dogs who assist with mobility issues; dogs who assist with PTSD; dogs who assist with autism; hearing dogs.  Get the idea?  

Click this link .  Someone has finally taken notice of our plight.  Representative John Carter from Texas has introduced legislation “to mandate service dogs have access to any VA facility, recognizing their importance to veterans’ physical and mental health.”  AMVETS is backing this all the way.

Thank goodness for AMVETS.  I know that since I first started fighting for benefits for my service dog, Rocco, I have gotten a lot of help from them.  They have done extensive work in the service dog area.  Look here to see the letter they sent to Director Shinseki, asking him to close loopholes in the current service dog policy … or lack thereof.

It’s just been pointed out to me that new rules have been issued by the VHA.  Guide and other service dogs are now allowed inside VHA Facilities.  HOWEVER, dogs that assist with emotional support only are still not allowed in.  My dog is a dual purpose dog.  That is, he serves as a mobility and PTSD/medical alert dog.  If he were not allowed in with me, I wouldn’t be going to any of my appointments.  Literally.  OR, I’d be going in there kicking and screaming.  You can count on that.  They’d either be arresting me or locking me up on the psych ward for sure.  You can take that bet straight to the bank.

The article I’ve linked to the blog title centers around a Veteran by the name of Kevin Stone and his service dog, Mambo.  Mambo was one of the first service dogs to be declared as a prosthetic device by the VA.  As such, Mambo receives the benefits that I’m fighting to receive for my dog, Rocco.  Unfortunately, I’m not “an accomplished Paralympics Archer” with a politician in my back pocket.  Hell, I can barely get my Congress Critter to help me (see previous blog).  It seems that to get benefits for a service dog you have to know someone, be someone, get your picture in the paper, etc.  We “little people” haven’t got a chance.  If you have any secrets, please share them with the rest of us.  

By the way, I go to James A Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa.  I’ve never been stopped.  My doctors all love my dog.  I’ve seen a lot of service dogs there.  If you’re at one of those VA Hospitals that gives you problems, I’d like to hear from you.  I’d be happy to publish a “Bad Dog” list.

One last thing, Friends.  I’m working on a blog that will list service dog schools.  If you have one that you’d like to recommend to others, please send the link to me at WendiG@vawatchdogtoday.org.  I’ll get it published.  Thanks.

Until the next time …..

Spay Day 2011 Online Pet Photo Contest — A little self promotion

Hello Friends,
I hope you’ll take a little time out from your busy day to click on the above link to vote for my Service Dog, Rocco.  I’ve entered him in the Humane Society’s Spay Day 2011 Online Pet Photo Contest.  He’s a great dog and deserves proper recognition.  I should warn you in advance, it’s also a fundraiser for the local SPCA.  I know among us Veterans money is tight.  If you can spare just one single dollar, even that will be appreciated.  Thank you so much.

Wendi & Rocco with Emily & Bella during a training session in Naples, Florida.

As you know, Rocco and I have been together since the end of June 2010.  We’ve been working very hard with the help of Service Dogs of Florida, Inc., Ken LyonsEmily Gittes, and my very patient wife, Terri, to get Rocco trained and “certified”.  I’m happy to report to you that as of  January 29, 2011, Rocco passed all the required tests needed to become a “certified service dog”.

Now the real fun starts.  Just because he’s completed all the required tasks for certification doesn’t mean his training stops.  Far from it, my friends.  This is just the beginning.  From this point forward, we will continue to fine tune his obedience skills and we/I will be teaching him more and more tasks which will help him to mitigate my disabilities.  His certification is provisional and is good for one year.  In January 2012, SDFL will retest and recertify him.  After that, I believe, he is good until the year 2015.  Is the retest mandatory?  No.  However, if I want SDFL to stand behind me in a Court of Law should I need it, I’ll put Rocco through retesting and recertification.  It’s part of the program, Rocco will pass it with flying colors, and I have nothing to lose by doing it, so why not?  It keeps us both sharp.  

Rocco & I taking a much needed and well deserved break at Starbucks.

If you’re wondering about Rocco’s appeal for VHA benefits, things are at a standstill right now.  To refresh your memories, I received a letter from the VHA on 4 January 2011 telling me that VACO had denied benefits for Rocco.  Later that week I went to James A Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa and requested a copy of my medical records.  Naturally, I’m still waiting for them.  There is a 20 working day wait when you ask for them to be mailed.  I asked for 6 months of records and that’s a lot of copying.  I SHOULD be getting my records very soon.  I had to request a copy of my records to see what evidence was considered.  You see, the entire packet was submitted internally and that includes “evidence”.  I have no clue what “evidence” they considered and of course, no one can tell me that.  I’m hoping that answer will be in my medical records.  

Here is the problem, my friends.  When you are denied benefits at the VARO level, at least they are detailed WHY you have been denied.  They give you that much even when they are slapping you in the face.  Not so with the Tampa VA Hospital.  They sent me a very vague letter telling me I’d been denied and enclosed the standard  VA Form 4107, telling me I have one year to appeal.  How do you appeal when you don’t know why you’ve been denied or what evidence was considered?  None of the evidence considered was listed on my denial letter like it is when you receive a denial of benefits from the VARO.

Just for kicks and grins, my friends, I filled out one of those fill in the blanks CAPWIZ letters and complained about this to my Congressman, Rich Nugent, who represents Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Levy, Marion, Pasco, Polk and Sumter Counties here in Florida.  I figured since it was a complaint against the VA Hospital and not the VARO it wouldn’t interfere with my pending claims.  About two weeks ago I received a letter from the Congressman’s Office.  Basically, he acknowledged my complaint, said he’d be happy to look into my problem with the DVA on my behalf and asked that I fill in “the enclosed Privacy Authorization Form” and return it to his Brooksville District Office.  He asked that I include “any relevant documentation to help support {my} case”.  As I’m still waiting to get that “relevant documentation” from my medical records, I haven’t sent the form back to Congressman Nugent yet. 

Last Wednesday, I received a call from “Kyle” (no last name), and he stated he was from Congressman Nugent’s D.C. Office.  He said that Congressman Nugent was personally interested in my case and wanted to do everything he could to help get benefits for my service dog.  He instructed me to contact the Brooksville, FL, Office and gave me the phone number to call.  He said to mention his name and they would know what to do.

I have very little faith in the Congressional route. Unless you are the son or daughter of one or you’re someone with a large pocketbook and contribute a lot of money to a campaign, they are of very little use to anyone like me … just a regular ole Veteran, trying to get the benefits I need.  BUT … I was willing to give it the old college try.  Like I said a couple of paragraphs up … just for kicks and grins.  I’m doing that a lot these days.

I called Congressman Nugent’s local office as instructed and spoke with the first woman who answered the phone.  She was as far as I got.  How much help did I get?  NONE.  She told me to go see the County VSO and he would help me prepare an appeal.  I don’t need to see a VSO to help me prepare an appeal.  I know how to prepare one.  I need the Congressman to look into WHY I was denied.  That’s what I told this woman.  She told me, “We don’t do that sort of thing.  There’s nothing we can do to help you.”  I asked her, “Why did Kyle from D.C. tell me to call you?”  She stated, “Because he doesn’t know what we do here.  We’ve already reviewed your case and we can’t help you.”  By that time I was pissed.  All of you with PTSD know how quickly anger can boil up and sneak up on you.  I did my best to remember that I was on the phone with an elected officials office.  I said to her, “So what the hell was the point of calling and asking for help?  So much for calling my Congressman.”  She hung up on me.  I have to wonder.  Had they researched my voting record?  Did they know I hadn’t voted for Congressman Nugent?

It’s all good, my friends.  Like Jim Strickland says, no one cares as much about your claim as you do, so do it yourself.  It’s back to the old fashioned way … which I was doing anyway.  🙂  Kicks and grins, my friends.  Kicks and grins.

While you wait for the next chapter in this saga, please scroll to the top of this blog and vote for Rocco.  He was the inspiration for today’s blog in the first place.

Until the next time ……..

Disabled troops, vets misled on service dogs – Military News | News From Afghanistan, Iraq And Around The World – Military Times

Hello my friends. Nothing new to report on my on battle for support services from the VHA for my service dog, Rocco. To review, I received a letter from my local VA Hospital (James A Haley in Tampa) telling me he was denied as a prosthetic device. You can read an excerpt from that letter on this blog. My next step is to appeal that decision. To prepare for that, so far I’ve done the following:

1. I’ve spoken to my psychologist, psychiatrist, primary care physician, pain management doctor, urologist and social worker. They are all putting notes into my medical records supporting my request for Rocco as my service dog. Furthermore, they have put into my medical record how Rocco supports me on a daily basis. There are many things Rocco does for me that can’t be done by “assistive devices” and they have noted that also.  That’s important because “assistive devices” are one of the reasons Rocco was denied.

2. I’ve requested a complete copy of my medical records, to include mental health, from June 2010 until yesterday, January 14, 2011. I did that for a number of reasons. One, I need to see a copy of the entire packet that went forward to VACO since they are the approving/denying authority. I want to see exactly what they considered for evidence and what reasons they based their denial on. The letter I received is very vague. It doesn’t say specifically what they based the denial on or what evidence they considered.

Once I receive all my medical evidence and the packet that went forward to VACO, I will go through my records, line by line. I will highlight the supporting evidence from my doctors, and I will argue that there are no assistive devices to fulfill a particular task other than my service dog. For example, Rocco has been trained to bring me items from across the room by name. What assistive device will do that? Yes, I’m married. However, the VA has refused to acknowledge my marriage. So technically, I don’t have a spouse according to the VA. How can they deny that I’ve had to train my dog to bring me things on days that I can’t move from pain that I can’t do for myself? My wife works, but even when she’s here, according to the VA, she doesn’t exist. Remember that blog? They refused to add her as my spouse because according to the VA a spouse is defined as someone of the opposite sex. I don’t qualify for Aid and Attendance so technically speaking, there’s no help for me at home other than my service dog.

Rocco does more and more for me every day. Last week he alerted me to an oncoming migraine headache. He knew three days ahead of time. He kept alerting me by pawing at me. He wouldn’t stop. We were at home where, for the most part, I feel safe. I wasn’t panicky. I wasn’t stressed. He continued to paw at my legs almost continuously for three solid days. No dog has to pee that much so I knew he wasn’t telling me he had to go outside. Finally on the fourth day everything clicked. I woke up with one nasty migraine. Rocco stayed very close to me all day. I couldn’t even go to the bathroom without him at my side.  Rocco knew that migraine was coming and he was trying to warn me.  Next time I’ll pay closer to his warnings.  Next time I’ll be prepared for the migraine.

So, my friends, that’s where things stand with Rocco and “his” benefits. Everything is at a stand still until I get my records, a copy of the packet, and I can write up my appeal. As with all VA appeals, I have one year to get it submitted. I won’t take that long, but I want to get it done right.

On to the next topic.  Service dog organizations.

Many moons ago, I wrote about searching for a reputable service dog group. I warned that you have to do a lot of research before you select an organization to get your dog from. The following link comes from the Military Times and was written by Rick Maze. I suggest you read it. It’s an excellent article and talks about  “the buyer beware” so to speak. If you need a service dog, make sure you are getting a service dog and not just a companion dog.

Last but most certainly not least, VA WatchdogTODAY dot Org is getting a new look.  We’ve already put up a new banner on the homepage.  I can’t tell you when the new look will premiere, but it will be soon.  Watch for it.  I think you’ll like it.  If you want to blow off some steam, check out our Vets Express page.  We’ve had some terrific feedback from Veterans just like you.  Got something to say?  Send it to vetsexpress@gmail.com.  Just follow the few simple rules we’ve outlined for you here and you will probably get published.  Need help with claims and benefits?  Want to talk with others who have years of experience at it?  Then join us at Straight Talk for Veterans.  We’ll be glad to help you.  No flamers, spammers or trolls, please.  If you’re one of those, you will be banished in a hurry.  We’re a tightly moderated group with a set of rules that WILL be followed.  If you don’t follow the rules we’ve set, in the words of Jim Strickland, “buh-bye”.  Hope to see you there.

Until the next time ….

Not just another MST story

Hello Friends!

I’d like to introduce you to a friend of mine.  We met online several months ago.  Her name is Kate and she’s a 25 year old Army Veteran from Indiana.  Kate joined the Army right out of high school.  After completing basic training she was sent to her military occupational specialty (MOS) school, 92M, Mortuary Affairs Specialist.  Not exactly an MOS you want to have during wartime, is it.  Kate is an Iraq War Veteran — I’ll let you put her MOS and being an Iraq War Veteran together in your own head. 

Kate was in the Army for just under two years.  While recovering from surgery due to an injury she suffered while on a training mission, Kate was brutally raped.  Kate was a 20 year old E3 at the time.  Her unit, rather than help her deal with the aftermath of her assault, elected to discharge her from the Army.  They didn’t believe that she was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and accused her of “acting out”.  Fortunately, the VA believed her and she’s properly service connected for PTSD due to military sexual trauma (MST).

Some time after Kate got out of the Army, she had a terrible skateboarding accident.  As a result of that accident, she’s spent much of the last two years in and out of the VA Hospital, she’s had multiple surgery’s trying to put her body back together again, and she’s losing her eyesight.  But has that stopped my young friend from moving on with her life?  Hell no.

I have to tell you this.  My young friend Kate is truly an inspiration to me.  When we first started talking she’d been in a wheelchair for almost two years.  After her last surgery, she’s finally walking again.  She just completed the Blind Rehab Course at the Hines VA Hospital in Chicago.  She’s working on her Bachelor’s degree in psychology with help from the VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation Program.  Her first book entitled “My Invisible Injury: Life After A Traumatic Brain Injury”  is ready for publication and will be on sale in roughly 45 days.  Be sure to check my blog for updates on that.  No matter what happens to her she cares about her friends and family first and foremost.  This young woman keeps up the good fight and never quits.

Kate’s next major project strikes very close to home.  Not just to Kate and I but to 1 in 3 female Veterans as stated by Tammy Duckworth on her last Oprah Show appearance.  What makes it worse is that Ms Duckworth stated that 95% of women don’t report this to our superiors.  What am I talking about?  Military Sexual Trauma.  MST.  It’s at epidemic levels in the military right now.  It strikes at men and women.  No one is immune.  Kate has decided to put together a book about MST.  She wants your input, my friends.  And she’s here to ask for it.  Folks, I’d like to introduce you to my friend, Kate.
Kate bowling.  Nothing stops her.

Tennis anyone?

All dolled up and ready to go.  Meet Kate Paterson.

Hi ladies and gentleman,

My name is Kate Patterson and like all of you I had the terrible experience of military sexual trauma. I have decided that it is an epidemic and I want to write about our experiences.

I feel that this is often put on the back burner. Many vets don’t even know they can get compensation for it. I do, a lot of my rating comes from learning that I can get compensation for what I experienced while on active duty!

That day still haunts me and it always will.

But, I am going to take power over it and start a book of short stories from women and men veterans across the United States.

I want people to understand what we have gone through. Because fighting on the battlefield is a memory I can place on the back burner, but sexual trauma I cannot.

I would like to have everyone’s stories emailed to me- katieleighpatterson@gmail.com within the next three months.

I am in the process of having my first book published. I have been working on that one for 2 years.

So, you can be anonymous and not have your name associated to your story or you can identify yourself as whomever you would like.

Just let me know!

Thank you all so much,

Kate Patterson

There you have it, my friends.  Straight from Kate herself.  Please, contact her.  Share your story.  As Kate says, you can remain anonymous or not.  It’s up to you.  Kate can’t do this without your help. Won’t you tell her your story?  I’ll be putting mine in writing.  If my story helps empower just one intended victim, I’ll have done a good thing.  That’s how I will be looking at this.  I’ve blogged about my assaults enough times.  Anyone who has read my blogs is familiar with what happened to me.  If you can’t read them because they are triggers, I understand that, too.  Still, I will do my part to help Kate tell this story.  I believe in Kate.

Until the next time ….

Update on Rocco my Service Dog

Greetings my friends,

You’ve been following my saga for months.  You were there when I first brought Rocco home.  You were there with me when I first started training Rocco.  You have been there with me as I gathered all the necessary paperwork to submit to VA prosthetics.  You have ridden along the train ride while I researched and chatted with the many resources I found along the way who advised me on the best way to go about applying for benefits for my service dog from the VHA.

Today I got my answer.  DENIED.  Am I going to stop here?  What do you think, my friends?  Have you been a faithful reader of mine?  Than you already know the answer.  Hell no I’m not going to stop here.  I’m going to appeal this decision.  

For those of you I’ve encouraged to apply for benefits for your service dog, don’t let my defeat deter you.  I consider this denial just another bump in the road.  It’s like any other claim for benefits with the VA.  What’s the saying?  Deny, deny until you die?  They denied the wrong Veteran, this time.  I like a good fight.  I especially like a good fight when I know that I’m right and should’ve been awarded this benefit.

Get this, my friends.  Here is the reason, direct from the letter itself, why they denied my request for benefits:

It is my duty to inform you that your request for this benefit has been denied.  After consideration of your official records along with the supporting documentation submitted, VACO has decided that you do not qualify for this benefit.  The clinical documentation provided does not indicate that the dog assists with any activities of daily living that could not be accomplished by other devices.  For this reason your request for veterinary care for a service dog that assists with veteran’s mental disorder and mobility is denied.

 They’ve got to be kidding.  It’s all good though.  I’m not angry.  I’m not discouraged.  Like I said earlier, this is just another bump in the road.  Just another appeal to start working on.  First step, a Freedom of Information Act Request so that I can eyeball all the paperwork that went forward with my packet.  I believe that my paperwork went forward with a recommend disapproval from Tampa but that’s just a gut feeling.  Once I can see exactly what they did, then I can start to prepare my appeal.  Getting letters of support from my VA doctors won’t be a problem.  My primary care doctor, pain clinic doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist and my social worker all believe that Rocco is a necessity in my life.  My psychologist doesn’t want me leaving my house without Rocco.  That’s kind of a no-brainer anyway since I’m paralyzed with fear if I walk out of my house without him.  I rarely leave the security of my house unless it’s to go to a VA appointment anyway and it’s well documented in my records that I’m always accompanied by Rocco.  

The journey continues, my friends.  Will you continue on this path with me?  I hope so.  Have you had any luck with your service dog requests?  Let me know.  I’d love to hear your success stories.  If you’ve been denied like I have, I want to hear that also.  

Until the next time ……

Veterans Health Administration Authorized to issue Service Dogs … for years

Yes, folks, you read that title right.  The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has been authorized to assist Veterans with mobility and hearing dogs since 2002.  How many of us out there knew that?  Certainly not me.  In fact, I only recently found out that my dog, Rocco, can be declared a “prosthetic device”.  If you’re a faithful reader you’ve been following my battle to get him approved for benefits.  I’m still waiting for a response on that request and it’s beyond the three weeks that is required by law for them to respond to me.  But my story is being told in another series of blogs.  Today I’m not talking about me.  This blog is for all of you out there who need service dogs.  Read on if you have been trying to get one without much success.

My good friend, Leo, and fellow moderator at Straight Talk provided me with the following information:
From VA’s Inspector General’s semiannual report to Congress on page 17 of 80
(4-1-2010 to 9-30-2010)

VHA Lacks Formal Guidance for Issuing Guide and Service Dogs

OIG evaluated VHA’s progress in providing guide and service dogs to qualified Veterans. While VHA has assisted visually impaired Veterans in obtaining guide dogs for several decades, VHA only began assisting mobility and hearing impaired Veterans with service dogs in 2008—6 years after originally being authorized. Since 2008, VHA’s authorization of service dogs has been limited to only eight Veterans. VAMCs lack sufficient guidance to ensure consistent decisions on Veterans’ requests for service dogs. Additionally, VHA is unsure of the actual demand for service dogs and is in the process of determining the appropriateness of using service dogs to assist Veterans with mental impairments. OIG recommended that VHA issue comprehensive interim guidance until VHA’s draft regulation addressing service dogs is finalized. The Under Secretary for Health agreed and stated that immediately after the draft regulation is published, VHA will issue a directive defining VHA’s policy on issuing service dogs.

Now if that doesn’t make your blood boil, my friends, I don’t know what will.  How can they look us in the eyes and say they are unsure of the demand for service dogs?  All they have to do is look around any VA Hospital.  I know that at my VA Hospital, on any given day, I see multiple service dogs wandering the hallways.  Look online and do some research.  Look at all the organizations dedicated to providing disabled Veterans with service dogs.  It’s ridiculous to me that “6 years after originally being authorized” the VHA has authorized “only eight Veterans” requests for service dogs.  Who is making these decisions?  Where is the guidance for us to even apply?  And who are the eight Veterans?  Why did they make the cut?  Why are the rest of us fighting for every little crumb they throw our way when clearly we’re authorized this benefit and have been for many years.  Why are Veterans paying out thousands upon thousands of dollars of their own money when clearly, the VHA is authorized to issue us service dogs?  In this economy when many of us are living on strictly our VA disability checks, and service dogs cost into the thousands of dollars, this is criminal.

This angers me on a number of levels.  I have a friend, a former Navy Seal, black ops kinda guy.  I don’t know the places he’s been, the things he’s seen or the things that he’s done.  I don’t know what he witnessed during his military career and I’m sure I don’t want to know.  He probably couldn’t tell me if I asked him.  Most of those missions are classified.  I know that he has five Purple Hearts and he’s service connected with  multiple disabilities to include PTSD and mobility issues. If anyone needs a service dog, it’s my friend.  I hope the VHA gets their act together soon.  My friend has been let down again and again by trainers and schools promising to get him a dog, train it, equip it and send him the dog.  Then for whatever reason, they back out.  My friend is left without a dog. He’s stuck at home, unable to leave the house, paralyzed by his PTSD.

For someone like my friend, who can’t leave the house without assistance, this is a tremendous let down.  If the VHA was doing what they were supposed to be doing, it wouldn’t be a problem.  Why isn’t this man one of the 8?  How does he become one of the Veterans who is issued a service dog?  Therein lies the problem, my friends.  No one seems to know the answer to that question.  Go to your prosthetics office and they’ll tell you they aren’t authorized to issue service dogs.  Show them this quote from the VAOIG Report and they’ll probably tell you you’re out of your mind.  They’ll argue with you much the same way they argued with me when I applied to have Rocco designated as my prosthetic device even though I had all the paperwork and evidence to support my request.  The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing and the VAOIG’s report is proof of that.

Here is what I propose, my friends.  Are you a disabled Veteran in need of a service dog?  Go to your doctor and get a prescription for one.  Here is a letter/prescription that works and has stood the test of time in court cases.  It was provided to me by my Instructor, Ken at Service Dogs of Florida, Inc.

Here is the standard  prescription for an ESA or Service Dog… remove the part that doesn’t apply.  This prescription has been used in nearly 200 court cases since 2004 and been well vetted as it covers all the bases.

/—  Sample note/script  from your doctor… 
They need to mention the laws, etc.

Sample Letter from a Service Provider
Name of Professional (therapist, physician, psychiatrist, rehabilitation counselor)
XXX Road
City, State Zip

To Whom it may concern:

[Full Name of Tenant] is my patient, and has been under my care since [date]. I am intimately familiar with his/her history and with the functional limitations imposed by his/her disability. He/She meets the definition of disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fair Housing Act, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Due to [mental illness/hearing loss/reduced mobility], [first name] has certain limitations regarding [social interaction/coping with stress/anxiety, etc.]. In order to help alleviate these difficulties, and to enhance his/her ability to live independently and to fully use and enjoy the dwelling unit you own and/or administer, I am prescribing an [emotional support animal (Hud/FHa/ACAA)]         or       [service animal (ADA/Hud/FHa/ACAA)] that will assist [first name] in coping with his/her disability.

I am familiar with the voluminous professional literature concerning the therapeutic benefits of assistance animals for people with disabilities such as that experienced by [first name]. Upon request, I will share citations to relevant studies, and would be happy to answer other questions you may have concerning my recommendation that [Full Name of Tenant] have an emotional support OR service animal. Should you have additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Name of Professional

Ask your doctor to submit that letter as part of a consult to the Prosthetics  Department at your VHA requesting that you be issued a service dog.  Right now, PSD’s are not authorized.  This is in the works but for now, only hearing, guide and mobility dogs are authorized.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t request a PSD.  It’s just that the chances of it being authorized right now aren’t real good.  Still, there’s hope for the future.  The point of doing this is to assist the VHA in finding out THE NEED for service dogs.  They claim they are “unsure of the actual demand for service dogs” so why don’t we help them along?  The only way to do this is to put in requests for service dogs.  The higher the demand, the faster they will have to act.  Well, in theory at least.  That’s the way I see it. I’d also attach a copy of the above paragraph from the VA’s OIG Report.  You can read the entire report for yourself by clicking on the title of this blog or by clicking here.

What do you say, my friends?  Let’s help the VHA do their research.  Let’s step up and show them what “the actual demand for service dogs” really is.  Start applying to your local VHA for your service dogs.  Let’s force them to do the jobs they are being paid for.  It’s far time they started giving us the benefits we’ve earned.  Keep this in mind, my friends, you don’t have to be service connected to apply for a service dog.  You only have to have a disability and a doctor’s recommendation stating that a service dog is a medical necessity.  You must also be disabled according to ADA standards.

What are you waiting for?  Have you been on a waiting list somewhere?  Have you been saving up to purchase a dog?  Don’t have the money to buy the equipment you need?  Don’t have the money to pay a trainer?  Let the VHA take care of all that for you.  Let them know the demand is there.  Make an appointment with your primary care physician today.  Talk to him/her about a consult for a service dog.  Print out this blog and take it with you.  Email me or comment here if you need further information about service dogs.  I’ve done my homework and I’ll be glad to share what I know with you.  Also, read the previous blogs I’ve written about service dogs.  They are loaded with information for those of you who already own them and need a little bit of help with them financially.

Until the next time …..