Well, I got another letter from the VA. Those who have followed my story (the story can be found in my Archives, here
) know that I have a pretty good reason to be pissed at the Veteran's Administration. Well, I hadn't mentioned that the VA is basically divided into two separate sections: Medical and Benefits. The Medical side is also where the Benefits guys draw their evidence from in order to distribute their benefits (including VocRehab - and I'm going to wait until I win my case and am again outside the Federal Building. Then
I'm gonna punch that
man in charge right in the mouth. Don't anyone tell him and ruin the surprise, okay?)
Anyhow, I got a final determination on a number of other issues regarding my various disabilities and the service connection rating of each. For anyone who is still in the military, I must urge you in the strongest possible terms
to get every medical complaint logged into your military medical records. Every one of them.
I cannot stress this enough!
The reasons for this are simple: When you get out of the military, the VA will go through your medical records gathered during the military for evidence of any medical complaint you evince when you first show up. If it isn't in your military medical records, they will deny any service connection. They might even deny it if there is
a connection, most especially if there is only a single mention (which they will then - and forevermore - refer to as "transitory" or "acute and resolved"). Log it all!
I decided to tough out what I could, and have ended up paying for it ever since. I hurt my knee playing a game of basketball outside the barracks early in my "career". I was never really involved in sports in an organized way during school, but I played a little bit of everything without embarassing myself too badly. I walked everywhere I couldn't bum a ride, and kept in pretty good shape. During bootcamp, I ran the required mile and a half with no problems (despite the fact that the run times were regimented so as to keep us running in formation).
The first time I managed to really perform the run against the clock, I managed it in just over eight minutes. Not the best on the base, but certainly in the top ten. Then I blew out my knee, and those times got longer and longer, and several years later they had grown beyond the point where I still qualified in the mandatory run (I seem to remember being given 13m45s for the run, and still not making it. Nowadays I can barely walk to the mailbox and back without pain.)
I had just re-enlisted a year before, and I had tried the alternative (a 500-yard swim), but failed because my knee locked up, I got a cramp trying to compensate for the bad knee, and almost had to be rescued from the water for the first time since I got shoved into the YMCA pool. Almost. I was given a medical waiver, then another, and another.
I was visiting the sickbay so often they weren't even making notes in my medical records (I found out much
later), and they would just issue me a few Motrin. I would come back a few days later when I had run out. Every few visits they would suggest a different ACE bandage, or a fancy new brace. (I've got half a dozen bandages and at least three braces from that era.) There was even one kind of "rigid" brace that was utterly worthless aboard ship, because I literally could not
bend my right knee, which made it difficult to get up and down those steep ladders on board Navy Fighting Ships. It didn't last very long.
At some point during this period, I had suffered a bicycle accident that put me into the Hospital for 17 days with two skull fractures and a greenstick fracture of my collarbone. I was also promoted. (Yippee! More money!)
However, at about that same time, I was climbing a vertical ladder up the side of my ship (a Spruance Class Destroyer
, if it matters), and my foot slipped. I grabbed with my left hand, and my right shoulder banged into the opposite side vertical support. Whatever happened at that point, something was injured inside my shoulder. I don't know what
, but, then again, I'm not a doctor. I went down to sickbay, and I can only presume that the old bugaboo of "just give him a few Motrin" jumped up and bit me right square in the ass. My shoulder has been hurting ever since. (The recent letter describes it as "nerve impingement".)
I was popping Motrin like aspirin, and now I was literally burning a hole in my stomach lining. I remember the sudden burning pain and vomiting bright red. I had to quit taking Motrin, because it had given me a perforated ulcer. Trust me, it ain't
something you want to have happen to you. Maybe your worst enemy...
I'm not even mentioning all the personal things going on in my life, because they're not in the purview of the VA (which is what this particular rant is all about, after all), but trust me when I say it was about as stressful as it could get, just about the time we left on what we thought would be just a routine deployment to the Persian Gulf. However, just about the time we hit Hawaii, Saddam crossed the border into Kuwait, and our shipboard lives had just gotten "cranked up a notch". More stress. More on the job responsibilities, because a Watch Supervisor in the CIC (Combat Information Center) is stressful enough in peacetime, but round-the-clock Condition Three operations are icing on the cake.
Long story short, we were in the Central Gulf for long months where Scud drills were being threatened at our airbases, and we were busy stopping outbound tankers, and basically being a
long-arm threat to Iraq. We had some interesting times that I'm not sure I can talk about, and a few sea stories that I have enjoyed retelling over and over. (You know the difference between a fairy tale and a sea story? The fairy tale begins, "Once Upon a Time..." and the sea story begins, "This is a no-shitter...".)
Long story short, I've been told that several of the problems I had when I got out of the military were inadequately documented, and, thus, not "service-related". So if you are reading this, and are in the military, get it documented, even if it's just a headache!!!
Anyhow, I am also applying for Social Security Disability, and have been told that I am not disabled enough to qualify. With all of the conditions that the VA has documented (but determined to be "Not Service-Connected"), I could present a good case for qualifying for governmental benefits in any case, but that's not why I started writing this. I'm writing this because I was reading the letter today when I had one of those flashes of insight that make me certain
that I'm going to win this fight, too. It will just take time.
Look, let's just assume that the VA decision is written in stone, and nothing I can do will ever, ever
change their minds. Fine, let's just start with the things they have accepted as service-connected: I blew out my right knee, damaging the Lateral Collateral Ligament (the one on the outside of the knee). The diagnosis was "hyperextension and partial tearing". The degenerative joint disease (DJD) in the right knee is determined to be 30% disabling. The damage to the LCL is an additional 10% disabling. The hearing loss and constant tinnitus are both 0% rated, so leave them out.
The wrist problems (Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and DJD in both wrists) had been deferred for a while, but the letter today says they are declared to be 10% disabling for the right wrist, and 0% disabling for the left wrist. (Not because the right is so much worse than the left, but because I'm right-handed. If I were left-handed, the figures would probably be reversed.) So we have 30% + 10% + 10% = 50%, right? Wrong. We haven't yet explained what the VA uses as math.
The VA uses some weird "whole body" percentage math. They start with a whole body at 100%. They then deduct the largest disability percentage - 30% in this case, leaving 70%. Then they deduct the next largest - 10%. But they do not
deduct 10 % of the whole body, because you're down to 70%. They only deduct 10% of 70, which is 7, leaving 63%. The next step deducts another 10%, which means that our new total is 63 - 6.3 = 56.7%, And on and on, as the case may be... They don't bother with deducting any service-connected disabilities that are rated as 0% disabling (which basically means that they are leaving open the option of increasing it if and when it becomes
a problem - more reason why you should get everything
So after the three actual percentage deductions, we're down to 56.7%. That means that my disabilities (30% + 10% + 10%) add up to 43.3%, which is then rounded to the nearest 10% unit. Down in this case, so I am only 40% disabled, according to the VA.
The insight that makes this such good news is: That is a hard floor
that Social Security will have to acknowledge. And all those other "non service-connected" (but still very real, medically verified and verifiable, with X-rays, EMGs, MRI's, etc.) conditions have to be added on to that ground floor rating... We shall see.
Maybe my logic is flawed, but doesn't there have to be some
consistency? A "Full Faith And Credence" clause? If any of you have any suggestions, I'm fully
open to them. Drop me a line...