NEWS FROM THE VA: Because of your input, changes coming at VA

All gave some…some gave all: Flags line all the graves at the Maine Veterans Memorial Cemetery, in Augusta. (photo by Kevin Giguere, Central Maine)

Gary Kennedyby Gary Kennedy

For all of you who follow our veteran related articles and respond, we thank you for your great response and will answer your comments and concern in the order received.

* There are many issues both positive and negative that affect our veterans. We look forward to your input and we will try to find favorable solutions and information for all that participates.

* I am happy to report that because of our input with VA Togus, the release of information section has reopened. Your response and our action were pivotal in getting the job done. It looked like the new director was getting off on the wrong foot, but perhaps we need to reassess our previous opinion. Now the Veteran Service Organizations (VSO’s) will be able to once again move rapidly with veterans issues by being able to collect Veteran medical information in an expeditious manner.

* Another positive will take affect nationally and that is the cost of living adjustment (COLA) which is evaluated each year along side of the Social Security (COLA). These are usually the same if given at all. This past October 9, 2018, President Donald Trump endorsed Public Law 115-258 which provides an increase in VA benefits by 2.8 percent. This takes affect this December 1 and will be seen in the January 1 check. Also the dependent and indemnity compensation (DIC) for veteran’s survivors will receive the same. This is suppose to protect against inflation.

*Also we have talked about National Guard in the past and it is felt by some of us that they have been given an unfair shake. When you look at a National Guard training record you will see orders for basic training which entails 88 days of active duty. It has gone without question it seems by Service Organizations. This period is two days short of VA medical benefits which requires 90 days. Can you see the pattern here? I certainly can and have taken action by doing a test case to bring it out in the open.

When I served in the Army I was in the regulars and served 90 days in basic plus. So, I would be qualified to be reviewed for medical benefits. In my opinion this is a government way of having their cake and eating it as well. This is a terribly unfair practice by the powers that be.

The guard was originally meant to be a “State Militia and was eventually taken over by the federal government. Some of the guard has been activated to go and fight on foreign soil. Those guardsmen have been compensated. The others were standing by; yet they are not qualified for VA benefits because of two days. We are hoping to change that. We will have some answers in the near future and if we are successful thousands of National Guardsman can come forward. Wish us luck and let us know what you think.

Also, I will mention something in closing that most of you don’t know and that is; some veterans have been plagued with infertility. In vitro fertilization is now a possibility if you qualify. I know that is very important to some of us. Talk to your primary care provider.

Take care fellow veterans and keep the faith. There are people out there that are fighting for you. Thank you for your service and God be with you. Yours in Service.

VETERANS CORNER: Need help? Don’t go it alone

Gary Kennedyby Gary Kennedy
Veterans advocate

Good day my fellow veterans. I am so pleased we have taken this first step in personally solving our own problems with the government and the VA systems. Hopefully we have initiated change. I am in hopes that our interplay with Senator Susan Collins and Rep. Chellie Pingree will bear fruit. When Sen. Olympia Snow was in office, it was an office of action. I miss her very much; there was no bull when you talked to her or John Cummings. I entered her office on many occasions because I needed to or because she needed me to; there was action in any case.

The article I wrote two weeks ago has received a tremendous response, such that I have hired Kismet Computer Service, of Route 17, to set up a private website so that veterans can vent their problems and feel safe in doing so.

Just recently I was approached by a veteran who wanted to speak to me at VA but insisted upon speaking in a private place. I have known this 100 percent disabled American veteran for some time now. He expressed to me his need to approach VA for additional help regarding a matter not in his records. I told him he had the right to ask for the help even if he wasn’t 100 percent disabled. He replied, “I have been told that if I asked for that they could re-evaluate my pension and I might lose some.” I replied, “that is absolutely ridiculous, you served your country and you shouldn’t feel fearful of what you have because you are asking for additional help. That is absolutely absurd.” Long story short, I offered to meet with him and go to VA services with him so that he would feel safe. It breaks my heart that some vets feel that way and that someone of the VA would instill that thought in his mind. What are service organizations and the VA thinking when they cause this kind of stress to our veterans? In my opinion those kind of intellects don’t belong at the VA and we need to dig them out and get rid of them. Together we can do that.

The initiation of fear, false statements and prejudice that existed with the Lilly administration will only come back to bite you. There are people from many different social habits working in the VA system. If some of you don’t realize it, some of your testing and x-ray opinions are farmed out to California. Look at the signature and you will see Japanese, Chinese and even Middle Eastern names. Prejudice is the #1 conflict between veterans and the VA system. Smiling should be one of the lessons taught at training sessions. Yes, some vets are trying hard to deal with but some departments like 3 North know exactly how to defuse negativity in vets. I don’t know who trained them but they stand out in a crowd and in my eyes are very special. I will speak more on that later.

Veterans are in pain and harbor many memories of lost opportunity and life. I would suggest those of you who harbor such feelings should read the books and letters written by Dr. Jose Rizal a Southeast Asia optometrist, who was brilliant, speaking many languages, doing eye surgery and fighting an inner conflict where his countrymen were considered totally primitive and nowhere equal to the mother country of the time, Spain, who held possession of the islands for 300 years. His correspondence with Mr. Blumentritt, an Austrian, helped in the creation of the only government validated service to mankind organization in the world. If you like to research great people and events then this is one of the greatest ever. He died at the age of 35 by a Spanish firing squad. He gave his life willingly and even let the Spanish shoot him in the back; bad mistake for Spain! He became a martyr and national hero of the Philippines. He just wanted all to be solved with literacy in a peaceful way, without prejudice. They have organizations in many countries of the world today, even the U.S.A. He just wanted freedom acceptance and equality in the world. I myself was knighted 16 years ago and this year was promoted to Commander of KOR.

My heart is always for the poor, sick, elderly, and children and, of course, our veterans. Doing these demeaning things to our veterans is like, if not worse, to elder abuse. If you haven’t served, maybe you should visit the thousands of graves here in Maine and read the epitaphs on the stones. We have a great site at Togus you might not be aware of where Buffalo Soldiers are buried, very historical. The Winthrop Library has a good deal of information on Togus.

I myself was a patient at the VA a week or so ago and was so pleased with the core, respect and service that was given to me by the doctors, nurses, aids and even the janitorial staff of 3 North. I was very sick and they brought me back to my feet. There are a lot of good people at VA, but unfortunately, the bad ones as always are on top making bad, self-serving decisions. It has to stop. I shared all of this with the VA’s Patient Advocate Angela McKenny, LCSW. She has heard most of this before and does what she can do when veterans ask for her help. Thank you Angela.

I would be remiss in my reporting if I didn’t mention my experience with the Emergency Department. They ran every test imaginable to find my problem. I went to Urology but it was after 3 p.m., and there was only one doctor. Although I was in agony there was no help for me. The Emergency room was the only pathway. I was dehydrating so they hooked me up to an IV with antibiotics and did so many labs, my arms still ache. I went home that night with my wife and suffered through the night. The next day I received a call from emergency telling me I had to come back into VA. I was admitted and sent to 3 North and I.V’d with powerful antibiotics. So let’s be fair, there are some wonderful people working there with nerves of steel as some vets can be testy. “ Thank you 3 North from Julie and I.”

Last but not least, by far, I want to thank Glenn McDonald for his article of support of the October 18 issue of The Town Line. He was on the money and as adamant in regards to helping and safeguarding veterans as I am. Now we would like to hear from more of you. Perhaps we can be of help. If you can’t write your own response, just give Glenn or me a call. We would be more than happy to assist with your writing and/or your problem, no matter what.

The website should be up and running in a week. It will be a place where we can discuss any issue regarding VA and/or your needs for service. It will be personal and private if you wish or we can share with other readers, if you so choose. Glenn and I are both seasoned writers and researchers. Don’t go it alone. We will keep you informed.

COMMUNITY COMMENTARY: Kennedy’s observations spot-on correct

by Glenn McDonald
Combat disabled Vietnam vet

I wish to commend The Town Line newspaper for performing a public service in publishing the excellent Community Commentary by my “brother veteran” Gary Kennedy in the October 11, 2018 edition.

He is a highly-respected veterans’ advocate and I can confirm that everything Gary said about Ryan Lilly and the new (hopefully temporary) director at VA Togus is spot-on correct and the absolute truth.

There are more than a few of us – I am a 100 percent combat disabled Vietnam vet – who have legitimate long-standing complaints about the very well-paid V.A. Togus “leadership.” But because of the way the “system” works there, some of us have felt helpless and hopeless that we can successfully expose what has been going on. No longer. United we stand, divided we fall.

Like Mr. Kennedy, I wish to hear from any veterans out there that have had less than satisfactory treatment from Lilly and his fellow bureaucrats at the top of the V.A. health care system. After the election, and come the first of next year, I will be in a much stronger position to make a positive contribution to preserving veterans’ rights.

I served in the military over a span of 33 years (1966 – 1969 in Vietnam) at first, as a very young NCO, Army combat correspondent, and later, company-grade and field-grade officer in the Regular Army, Army National Guard and finally, Army Reserve. I’m a life member of the DAV, American Legion and VFW. Please e-mail me at: mcc.majormac@gmail.com. Thank you.

Community Commentary is a forum The Town Line makes available for citizens to express their opinions on subjects of interest to our readers. The Town Line welcomes, and encourages, supportive comments, differing opinions, counterpoints or opposing views. Keep the rebuttals positive, and informative. Submissions containing personal attacks will be rejected.

COMMUNITY COMMENTARY: If you have VA questions, I will find the answers

Veterans Day parade in Waterville 2016

by Gary Kennedy
Veterans’ Advocate

I have been a contributor of The Town Line news for a number of years now. I am a 100 percent service connect American veteran and have been aiding veterans in the development of difficult cases by all service organizations standards. I have seen VA refusals many times because of cases that couldn’t/ wouldn’t be developed, too time consuming or very difficult to prove. Most things can be proven if not frivolous. Your records were lost in a fire was the popular excuse. Some were in fact destroyed by fire but many were preserved and protected. Anyway, I am writing this to give my opinion based mostly on hearsay. However, when there is a lot of hum there is usually a hive. Lately the Veterans Administration has undergone a lot of trauma. I would like to share a little of that in hopes for feedback.

Veterans’ need media to vent their feeling and concerns. I can assure you this veteran will search for the answers for you. Whether you agree or not you will receive an answer. For those of you who aren’t aware, the Togus Pharmacy will be partially down from October 22, 2018, for approximately nine days because of a flood. Also another of my pet peeves is the fact that orthopedics is hurting for doctors and they have nowhere enough service rooms for the vets in need. The executive director Ryan Lilly could have prioritized the expansion of the medical side but elected to do almost nothing. Now there is a new director who has started off on the wrong foot; so I don’t see longevity there.

However, the VA, in its infinite wisdom, elected to promote Mr. Lilly to the head of the region and demote Kurt Johnson, the assistant director, to a paper pusher. He use to be the head of pharmacy but his friendship with Mr. Lilly somehow got him promoted to assistant director. It is fairly well known they are/were close friends.

There is a federal case involving prejudice involving Mr. Lilly and Mr. Johnson. The power-that-be overlooked the situation or have no knowledge of it; which means they didn’t do their homework. It was sad for me to see Senator Susan Collins and Rep. Chellie Pingree joining forces at the new homeless housing complex developed on federal land. I am a veteran and support veterans with unfortunate circumstances but I don’t believe housing should be built on the 500 acres at Togus. It should be done but, in my opinion, is in the wrong place. That is a medical facility which could develop into the greatest in our country. I have said that many times. Lilly made the statement and believes that he had more land there but wasn’t sure what he would do with it. Some of that land is wetland and the habitat for various many wildlife and fish.

Last but not least, the director that replaces the promoted Lilly has just closed down the Veterans Record Retrieval window placing a state of mayhem there with a considerable workload shift on those employees. New people to the records who do other things will try to pick up the slack. The more they squeeze to make themselves look good to Washington, the more they eat on veteran services. They spend their money on bad who knows what; but it isn’t something you can see. They are building a small new building directly across from emergency to further congest and demean the beauty of the Togus facility. With 500 acres you can do better than that.

Many of us are getting “farmed out” now because they don’t have time for us or they don’t have the proper room, tools, ability and doctors. Thanking a vet is not enough. You need to learn respect, responsibility and remember why you don’t speak Korean, Japanese, German or Russian. We are the land of the free, home of the brave and no matter how bad we hurt we were there for you. The oversight of VA and how it evolves for the vet is the first priority. There is much more but this is enough for now. You can call me at 458-2832 and I will try to assist in anyway I can. We can keep our affairs alive through media.

Community Commentary is a forum The Town Line makes available for citizens to express their opinions on subjects of interest to our readers. The Town Line welcomes, and encourages, differing opinions, counterpoints or opposing views. Keep the rebuttals positive and informative. Submissions containing personal attacks will be rejected.

NEWS FROM THE VA, Week of July 27, 2017

Gary Kennedyby Gary Kennedy

This is the era of the realization of the value of the commitment of our men and women in uniform and those who have retired their uniforms. There has been no more advantageous time in our history to seek benefit befitting the sacrifices that our defenders have given. “Thank you for your service” is heard by so many veterans today but only recently has this been equated to an actual, tangible benefit in the lives of those who have been willing to sacrifice all so that we remain Americans and enjoy the freedom that so many countries around the world don’t enjoy.

An example that I am familiar with is our “Blue Water Navy,” which were navy ships anchored or patrolling off the shores of Vietnam while defoliates (Agent Orange) were being sprayed over the country side to kill the vegetation so the enemy would be exposed. For approximately 40 years the government denied any relationship between these chemicals and the diseases that our military succumbed to. Our government took the stand that the chemical only involved the soldier that had “boots on the ground.” Now because of great advocacy by our veteran advocates and political leaders such as Senator Olympia Snowe and current Senator Susan Collins most of these issues are being treated as service connected and compensated.

All states have great advocacy groups such as Disabled American Veterans, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Bureau of Veterans Affairs. Also there are some independent advocates that work behind the scenes. Here in Maine our advocates are located, for the most part, at the Veteran’s Administration, Togus, Maine. Their phone number is 207-623-8411 if you would like to contact someone.

I would be remiss in my reporting if I didn’t mention the #1 affliction to especially combat veterans, although there are other military personnel that have this problem for other reasons, P.T.S.D.. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). For many years this was the most difficult problem for which to receive help. However, recently there has been a push to take a closer look. This new attitude has resulted in many previous denials to now be acknowledged as accepted and those thousands of veterans who once were lost are now found and are receiving the help they need. So, if you are one that was denied in past years it might be advantageous to visit your VA center once again.

There are so many things that have changed in the VA system that benefits our veterans. It is well worth the time to visit the VA and speak with a veteran’s advocate or service officer. They have a wealth of knowledge and can steer you in the right direction. I have written/developed cases for more than 35 years and can assure you that things are very user friendly these days.

This is the time of year that we salute our men and women in uniform and pay our respects to those who have given their all. It’s a time to think about all the dreams and aspirations that have been ripped away, never to be realized. Just think about it for a moment. Perhaps one of your friends, family or ancestors made the supreme sacrifice. What would they have achieved had they lived? We’ll never know but we have so much opportunity because of their sacrifice.

I have traveled this world and have seen so many people who have looked at me with longing. It’s not because I am great to look at, it’s that I am an American and they can see the freedom in my face, what I am allowed to do and where I am allowed to go. Most observers in the third world can only dream of having that kind of freedom. I have learned that my being an American is precious and worth any price that I have ever had to pay. It’s a fact that some take freedom for granted every day; that is just the way it is. However, when you pass a veterans cemetery, you will start to realize that your freedom isn’t really free at all. Someone paid a very big price for that. Take care and God Bless America.