After one year and one month of active duty service in the U.S. Marine Corps, during the Vietnam era, I was discharged on a medical under Honorable conditions. It seemed that the rigors of boot camp had ruined my knee, as it clearly states in my medical boards. Some may say that was not a lot of time to serve, but the fact is it did give me a permanent injury. And sometimes it is not the quantity, but the quality. The Vietnam era Woman Marines paved the way for the new Women Marine Corps. During the peak Vietnam campaign there were only 2,700 women that served in the Corps. We trained with the guys in those days, it was tough and one had to be tough to survive! It wasn’t till after the Vietnam campaign that the boot camp for women was ‘lightened up and geared more towards a woman’s body’, rather than a mans. But because of these initial women, blazing the trail, and the lighter duty training, there are at least five times as many Woman Marines that serve our nation today! So while it may not have been a long time, it was an import, challenging and historic time!
Many were called, but few were made!
While, sometimes, this type of injury can be corrected by surgery, often it is not. During that exact time of my injury, tennis player, Billie Jean King, was suffering from the same issue. She elected to have the surgery. She spoke about it at an event in Palm Springs, that I attended. During this time I was on convalescent trying to decide if I wanted the surgery and she stated that if she had to choose again, she would not have elected to have the surgery. She has since had to have both knees replaced. I chose not to have the surgery and, sadly, consequently took the 10% disability rating and my Honorable discharge and said goodbye to my beloved Corps.
The injury is a recurring subluxation of the patella. The V.A. tried to fix it, after it occurred during my first job after the Corps, with Southern Pacific Railroad. I jumped from a locomotive in the roundhouse to the deck and there it went. I laid in painful agony, as my entire knee cap had destabilized and was now on the side of my knee! I waved goodbye to my job at the railroad and took the long ambulance ride to the Los Angeles V.A. The next six months were spent in a full leg cast to stabilize the region. Talk about a pain!
For six months I had to bathe with a garbage bag and needless to say, getting around was a chore. When the cast was finally removed, my leg had totally atrophied and I dared not wear shorts and show it off! But once I regained strength in it, it seemed to have healed, for that moment in time.
Later in years, I started a business where I built fixed-wireless Internet networks. It was a physically rigorous business, climbing high rises and towers. But it had its rewards of bringing broadband to areas where it had never existed and I enjoyed the challenge.
The spring morning of 2008 was beautiful and sunny, I noted, as I was strapping on my climbing gear, and was thankful for the good visibility. Visibility was important, as we were verifying ‘line of sight‘ to another location that we wanted to connect a radio link and open a new service area. The climb I was about to embark on was a 120’ water tower. Water towers, to me, were a bit scary as one has to climb in a dark tube and there are heavy hatches that have to be opened along the way. I was lucky to have my favorite climbing partner with me, Norm, as he was a very strong fellow and could handle these hatches with no problem. As I checked my gear, I lightened my belt of unnecessary tools and whatnot’s, I grabbed an energy drink from the cooler; thinking it would be my reward after the last hatch had been popped and daylight was once again visible.
The climb was uneventful up to the 80′ level when that pesky ‘war injury‘ decided to revisit me … I raised my right leg onto the rung and put pressure on it and it gave way! Norm was busy unlatching the first hatch when I yelled out, “Norm I am in trouble!” … he replied “Whatever you do, don’t look down!” … Too late, I had already done so! As I was hanging by the rung, I actually had visions of me falling and breaking my back thinking … ‘who is going to take my daughter to the orthodontist?‘ … Wild what ones mind will think of when they are in a stressful situation. As I gathered my ‘calmness‘ and my Marine, I reached for my pelican clip so that I could clip off to the next rung. The darn thing was stuck, frozen, the clip would not open! … I yelled this to Norm … he said, “Where is your WD-40?” Of course this was one of the items I left behind … I told him “I left it in the jeep and put a Red Bull in its place” … he yelled back “Drink it, it will give you wings!” as he tossed his can of WD-40 down at me.
Needless to say, this was my last tower climb, as it showed me I was getting too old for this type of work, as well as the fact that the old injury was back in my life.
The V.A. never awarded me compensation for this injury and in fact denied it when they put me into the full leg cast in 1975. I did not challenge it, because it appeared to correct the issue for sometime. However through out life, it has clearly been an issue for me. I decided when I got the time I would refile on this disability, but I did not want to do it during the Obama administration … after all, he had the IRS chasing Tea Party groups, what would they do to a patriot Marine? And now that I have waited my knee has deteriorated with age. Arthritis has set in which I am pretty sure is triggering sciatic nerve attacks. I tried to be seen last summer at the Poplar Bluff V.A. and waited in the emergency room for over four hours. I finally checked with the E.R. physician and he told me that there were eight people still in front of me and he was the only physician on staff. I left, so the others could be seen. It was only, non-life threatening, pain I had to deal with not like, potentially, the other veterans. But I became very aware of how our V.A.’s have been compromised. In fact in 2015 there was $1.4 billion cut from the V.A., so I have been very discouraged.
“Last week, the House Appropriations Subcommittee marked up the 2016 Veterans Affairs funding bill, and slashed more than $1.4 billion from the president’s requested budget for America’s Veterans. Today, VA Secretary Bob McDonald appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee to discuss that budget proposal.”
And now we see that President Trump has rehired part of this same administration.
Dr. David Shulkin will be the first to serve as Secretary of Veteran Affairs who is not a veteran. As well as it is concerning that this appointment could lead to the privatization of the department of Veteran Affairs, which to many veterans is unacceptable!
… “Sadly our great veterans have not gotten the level of care they deserve, but Dr. Shulkin has the experience and the vision to ensure we will meet the healthcare needs of every veteran,” Trump said in a statement.
The appointment is puzzling in that Trump has long touted his commitment to veterans and criticized the VA for treating veterans “horribly.”
So yesterday, the day of President Donald J. Trumps inauguration, I filled out my claim using the V.A. online system called eBenefits. The V.A. now has a program called ‘Fully Developed Claim‘ (FDC) … This is where it is up to the veteran to gather their information and submit to the V.A. This is great, it sort of cuts out the ‘middle-man‘! The previous year, in knowing I was going to refile, I had already started the process and obtained my Service Record Book (SRB). Although it took over six months to receive, I do not have to add that time now to my FDC, so that is a benefit right out the door for anyone that already has their paperwork!
“The Fully Developed Claims (FDC) program is an optional initiative that offers Veterans and survivors faster decisions from VA on compensation, pension, and survivor benefit claims.”
“It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots!” ~President Donald J. Trump
Is President Trump’s V.A. going to be any different than any other president? At this point I do not know. But I do know that he has made us a promise that it will! And in fact, ‘Veterans Affairs Reform‘ was part of his political platform:
As I travel down this path, I will keep our readers updated, as our country may have changed in the past and maybe about to embark on a bright new future, but I have always been a patriot and will keep watch!