VETERANS CORNER: Let’s talk about D.I.C.

by Gary Kennedy

I hope everyone had a very enjoyable Veterans weekend holiday. It’s always great to have three days off in a row to share time with family and friends. Some vets and I see each other every week. Often on Tuesday mornings we will meet in the rear section of the cafeteria and share information. Perhaps one day we will see you there. The coffee is not bad and the company is enjoyable and enlightening.

This week we talked about many topics but the one that drew the most attention was D.I.C.. Dependency and Indemnity Compensation is a VA benefit awarded to eligible VA deceased veterans, spouse, child or parent due to the loss of life of a Veteran who died in the line of duty or the survivor of a veteran who passed away from a service related injury or illness.

Some of the qualifications are you were married to the veteran for more than a year or had a child with the veteran. You would be eligible even if you remarried after age 55 or older. Evidence needs to be made available such as proof that the service member died on active duty or the service member died from the service connected illness or injury. If the veteran was totally disabled they must have had this rating 10 years before their death or five years immediately after military release or one year before their death if they were a former prisoner of war, who died after September 30, 1999. Totally disabling means veteran could not work. You will need to supply some evidence, military medical records, doctors reports, etc.

You should be able to show veteran died on active duty, training or died from service connected illness or injury or the veteran was eligible to receive VA compensation for a service connected disability rated at totally disabling for a certain period of time. If the veteran died from their service connected / aggravated condition and had Covid-19 then perhaps you can secure a connection because of the aggravation.

Another point I would make that isn’t showing up for veterans or dependents review: it has been my experience that you can be married to a veteran with less than 100-percent disability and still receive DIC. One trick that I use is one that isn’t usually sought after or mentioned and that is diabetes. If your loved one had diabetes when he / she passed it is quite possible that the diabetes had something to do with it. When you turn over the body of your loved one make sure you mention that your family member had diabetes so he can put that on the death certificate. I know that sounds a little inhuman but trust me, it can make the difference. This would be the same scenario for Covid.

Now I will try to explain the monetary rates. Benefits are possibly available for you, your children under 18 years of age or 23 if in college, also a parent may be eligible for this benefit. The same would be true of adopted children. The rate this year, 2023 is $1,562.74. You may also be eligible for other money depending on your loved ones Special Monthly Compensation awards. So, make sure you do the legwork to obtain all that you may be entitled. I think I am starting to sound like a social security ad.

Most VA staff are working for your best interest but it’s ultimately up to you to get what is intended and that which your veteran would have wanted for you. So, when this sad day occurs you need to remember what I have said, go to Social Security and report the passing, there is a small amount of money there as well. Then you will have also contacted Veteran Service Officer, (VSO) who will aid you through the process. There is also the possible burial benefit that VA can help you with.

I have given you only a brief as there is so much more in many cases. This will at least help with some of your questions and direct you on how to answer others. VA has a fine staff of V.S.O. officers who are caring, compassionate and really want to help you through your ordeal. I hope this has helped in some small way.

God bless and guide you through this traumatic time in your life. We are here for you.

VETERANS CORNER: Back problems another subject worth looking into at the VA

by Gary Kennedy

Many veterans complain about back pain and perhaps that is one of the most common complaints from our new veterans, especially if they are vets who are retiring after 20-plus years. If you take into consideration the nature of this type of career you will find that many of the venues residing within the military are extremely taxing on the human body. A soldier must be fit or put in shape in order to perform at peak proficiency. Calisthenics for most are a daily necessity. As time goes on this, coupled with the veterans military occupational specialty, MOS, can take its toll on the body. Some handle physical activity with relative ease while others have anatomical structures that don’t stand the test of time. Some bodies reach conflict before they complete even one tour of duty. Unfortunately, there is no way of telling for sure whose body will stand the test of time.

Today we will go over some of the back/spinal issues one might encounter due to their serving their country through military service. As I have mentioned before it is very important how an issue is presented and to what it is applied, if not a stand alone situation. This is also reason to be prepared by acquiring a Veteran Service Officer, V.S.O., to stand with you and guide you through the process. At this point it is assumed that you have a Primary Care Physician, P.C.P. to call your own. This is where you will take your initial complaint and where your problem will be analyzed, developed and referrals will be made. I suspect you will be sent to Orthopedics who, in turn, will order X-rays to see what is going on inside of your back. At this point the orthopedist will arrive at a diagnosis and log all necessary notes regarding your situation based upon what the X-rays and examination show. This will be the inception of a potential compensable claim. The best part is you will receive the medical care you deserve.

Backs are one of the most complicated areas of the human body as they are part of many systems of which affect or are affected by many different problems and/or conditions. Some of the most common addendums to this area are as follows: Sprains-strains, traumatic injury, fractures, herniated discs, sciatica, lumbar spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, scoliosis, etc.

Back sprains and strains can be rated from 10-100 percent depending on how severe the symptoms, pain and loss of range of motion. Extremely severe pain, loss of motion hit the high end. When it comes to traumatic injuries VA relies on Disability Benefits Questionnaires, D.B.Q. to collect disabilities information. This can be done by the veteran’s doctor or by VA to make a benefit evaluation. I prefer the latter, then comes fractures which are rated by schedules which are primarily based upon earning capacity. Separate diagnostic codes are used from 38 U.S.C.A. § 1155; 38 CFR. Next is Herniated Disc which last less than four weeks in the past 12 months may be able to qualify for 20 percent, episodes that last less than six weeks can be rated at 40 percent. This could go north of 60 percent. Lumbar Stenosis can be rated from 30 percent to 100 percent depending on the inability to move the spine. Osteoarthritis is usually given 10 – 20 percent depending on severity. (Diagnostic Code 5003) Scoliosis is curvature of the spine. Scoliosis is considered an idiopathic disorder. The cause of scoliosis is basically unknown and cannot be cured. Scoliosis can be considered for compensation if it is caused by military service or aggravates a pre-existing condition. It’s beneficial to know that scoliosis can cause other problems to occur such as spinal stenosis and arthritis.

There are three degrees of scoliosis. 1) Mild – less than 20 percent; 2) Moderate- which indicates a curvature of 25 – 40 percent degree of curvature and; 3) Severe – 50 percent more.

Scoliosis proof needs to show a nexus to an in-service event or show aggravation of a pre-existing injury. Medical reports as well as lay evidence can be used to establish a claim. This type of claim is not the most common of claims so make sure you contact your V.S.O. for his/her advice in the matter. They can guide you along. There is much more that we can address next time.

God Bless and have a safe weekend.

VETERANS CORNER: Sleep apnea testing: don’t go it alone

by Gary Kennedy

I had someone ask me this week where our newspaper was. I was at the Cony Hannaford at the time and knew that the location had been changed the previous week. I showed the customer the new location but low and behold the papers were gone. This was on Saturday. I explained this was unusual and I would keep an eye open to see how the paper was being used. I had a couple of extra issues that I ended up with at Togus VA as my wife and I volunteer to deliver them to the various waiting rooms and doctors offices who have requested copies because of interest. We gave them one. Saturday is very early for Hannaford to be running out so we will see what is happening.

Now I will get on with some of the VA business of the week. Many veterans pursue claims on their own. I have warned against this in several of my veteran claims articles. One that many veterans feel that they can pursue on their own is Sleep Apnea. It seems simple but in most cases it is not. I would venture to say that many applications fail the first time. Even if you go through your Primary Care Provider, (PCP) failure in my opinion is probable.

I believe it really shouldn’t be that way but it’s been my experience that many cases have failed even going through a ground level Veteran Service Officer, V.S.O.. The reason that I have discovered is due to the inexperience of some V.S.O.’s. I don’t say this in a condescending way but unless the V.S.O has had years of experience he/she might not have prepared the veteran for the test which is quite detailed and telling. Believe it or not the best advice to give the veteran is to go to the sleep study and act naturally.

Veterans will have questions regarding preparation as, assume they need to act a certain way or do certain things in order to pass/fail the exam in order to get a C-pap machine and/or the monetary benefit that could go along with it. However, it has been my experience that if I am convinced that the veteran actually has the problem it will show up in the study during the night as a natural occurrence and can be evaluated by the examiner as to its validity and severity. This will be the basis to the examiner’s report which will be given a rating by the Bureau of Veterans Affairs, VBA. The sleep study for the most part is considered quite reliable. However, I have challenged the examination results and on more than one occasion have won my challenge.

Sleep Apnea is a disorder that can manifest itself in several different ways. However, in most of these cases it involves the stoppage of breathing. This can be for a few seconds or for more than a minute. If the later occurs than the examiner will approach the bed to initiate breathing if necessary. I have sleep apnea and was told that I have more than 129 apneas and one was for more than a minute. Scary, huh? Needless to say I was given a C-Pap machine which works very well. This all being said, I should add some of the experienced events which generally accompany this event

According to Mayo Clinic this disorder can have several episodic events accompanying it. (Snoring, restless legs, twitching, dreams not remembered, urinary frequency and constant wakefulness). A C-Pap machine will help with these issues.

Polysomnography – is the sleep study which monitors your heart, lungs, brain activity and breathing activity while you sleep. Blood O2 level as well as bodily movements are also monitored. The study can help people who have sudden bouts of sleep during the day known as Narcolepsy. This is an entirely different study or sleep disorder. We will discuss this at another time.

Just remember, if you have these problems you and your family should not have to live with them. Sleep on your side, not your back. This will help your problem and make life in your bed more pleasant for all. Also, it will help keep you safe. I will discuss other issues next week. The final word here lies with your PCP and V.S.O… Don’t try to live with what is controllable.

VA is here for you. God bless you and yours. Always remember we are here and always available to help and guide you. Dial 623-6938 for an appointment. Or you can dial me if necessary at 458-2832. Don’t go it alone.

VETERANS CORNER: VA pay hikes, veterans benefit increases explained

by Gary Kennedy

There is a lot of interest on the upcoming VA pay increases, veteran’s percentage of increase and Special Monthly Compensation (SMC). I will share with you what I know and perhaps extrapolate some to use as filler. However, I should be very close. COLA is Cost of Living Increase.

We are all aware of what percentage we are being paid. Our range is from (0-100) percent. For the sake of argument, zero basically is VA’s way of saying that they accept the applied for condition as service connected/ aggravated. However, it may be used with another value somewhere in your ratings or it just doesn’t quite reach a value of meaningful substance, monetarily speaking. That is one item I always address for clarity with a Veteran’s Service Officer (VSO). This value might change with time or you can ask your V.S.O. about the substance of the matter. I touched on this last week but I will try to clear some things up.

Always keep an open mind and respectful tongue when speaking with a Service Officer as they are on your side and will give you good, professional advice and opinions. For the most part they have great training and carry great knowledge regarding veteran’s issues. You definitely want him/her on your side. In developing your claim they are the doorways to your success, they know veterans, veteran’s issues and many are veterans themselves. Their days are long and hard. They are dealing with issues which require a cool/calm manner and an up-to-date intellect. You want them to be your friends as well as your advisers.

So let me try and explain your pay check for 2024, which is paid on January 1, 2024. So, an extrapolation on my part is the amount of this coming COLA, Cost of Living Adjustment, on top of your current monthly check. This by the way also applies to your Social Security check. I have seen a couple of percentage increases but I choose to use the lesser of the two. “3.1 percent” Example: a 100 percent disabled veteran in receipt of $3,823.89, in this case has a wife. So, you would multiply the COLA amount by that figure ($3,823.89 X 3.1 percent). This should equal $3,823.89+118.54= $3,942.43. I believe I am pretty close with the math. Of course, we realize not all veterans are rated at 100 percent but the process remains the same. Just multiply your current check by 3.1 percent and then add the result to your current check. This will give you your amount of monthly income for 2024. Remember, do the same with your Social Security check and the result will be your SS monthly income for 2024 as well.

In regards to Special Monthly Compensation (SMC) that is an entirely different issue. Some veterans are in receipt of monthly income over and above the 100 percentile of monthly rating. The reason for this is the veteran’s higher rate of need, due to special circumstances such as the need of aid and attendance by someone else or because of a specific disabilities. Examples would be the loss of use of a hand or foot or the need for aid and Attendance. If you have a 100 percent disability and have an additional disability which can be rated at 60 percent or more you could be eligible for more. If you are housebound this would give you a higher amount of income. This means you are pretty much confined to your home. From here it tends to become complicated as some situations can take you to R-1, R-2 which allows the veteran nine to ten thousand dollars per month. If you are confined to a wheel chair and require a caregiver or Aide and attendance you will require special considerations. The V.S.O. can explain all of this.

My advice is, if I haven’t answered your questions then call Togus VA and speak with a V.S.O. You can make an appointment to go in. You can use or call direct at 207-621-6938 and make an appointment to visit. If you go there be prepared with what your mission entails so the officers can be prepared to help you, it saves a lot of time. Also, have a copy of your D.D. 214 and/or your VA card. If you want to discuss something with me you can use

I have shared with you in generality. Specifics are more complicated and are better served by Veteran’s Services, bldg. 248, Togus. If you know a lonely veteran, you know what to do. Sharing what you have will leave you with a wonderful feeling and most likely a true friend for life.

I will discuss more next time. Have a safe and happy end of summer weekend. God Bless.

Gary Kennedy is a freelance contributor to The Town Line. His views are not necessarily those of The Town Line newspaper, its staff and board of directors.

VETERANS CORNER: Good news: building finally under way; bad news: beloved employee retires

by Gary Kennedy

Well, another week has passed and with it brings both good and bad news. For those of you who frequent the VA. The building we have all been waiting for these past few years is finally under way, or so it seems. Pipes have been layed and footings have been poured. We get to see many hard hats during the day. However, the very large sign which use to adorn the site has never been put back (Community Living Center). For me that’s unfinished business. It makes me a little nervous as it could mean there is no commitment toward completion in the near future. There is always hope. We need the building along with the purpose for which it was intended. Admin keeps bringing up money. As I understand it, it was paid for years ago.

At our little meeting this week the issue came up again about the gym and swimming pool. I don’t think this administration will outlive the anger and despair this issue has brought about. It seems to me like most politics today there are two answers to that which is needed and those are the wrong one and the not so wrong one. The letter is usually sweetly frosted to make it easier to digest. Still, it is what it is. This week’s answer to the problem was complicated. Instead of an electrical problem it was a piping problem. However, VA will pay all veterans who would like to use the gym and pool to go to the YMCA. Sounds like fixing the pool and giving the gym back would be the least expensive way and the most honorable.

The cost of the pool was also brought up. It costs the same for 100 as it does for one. Physical Therapy should be encouraged to use the pool for purposes of pain and strength building, not used as a budget item to be axed. Much good could be gained if encouraged instead of discouraged. When I left the pool it was closed for lack of life guards. I spoke with the university life guard and he said he liked the work but not the pay.

The gym was there many times more than the current administration. It’s all about our being the best not the cheapest. Our vets won’t be sharing a pool with the Elderly Ladies League nor would they be able to tolerate all the children running around. I have tried it. We have veterans that are not only physically challenged but many are emotionally challenged as well. The gym at the VA was a great place for our vets both socially as well as therapeutically. Non-veterans just don’t get it. Perhaps the upcoming election will bring about some changes. For me it’s disgraceful to rent out “our” gym. It was built for veterans years ago and its purpose should remain. Perhaps the administrative office will eventually realize the need and the why of all of this.

Some more bad news is our beloved Rhonda Baker, in Release of Information, has decided enough was enough and after 28 years of arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude has been compelled to join the ranks of the retired. We all love her. She was the most tireless and fearless proponent of veterans rights. I have had the pleasure of calling her, friend. When it came to searching for veterans needing information she would take the time to get the job done. Sometimes she would bark out a few questionable words and expressions that would rock the boat but she stood by her guns and veterans rights. We all hope she has a wonderful retirement. We won’t forget her and I know she will never forget the vets.

There are still many doors locked which are not necessary, the door to the Pharmacy and the main door to Veterans’ Services. Covid has allowed the boss to be relentless with stupid and ridiculous policies. Everyone knows and sees it except the powers that be. They have a plan and covid has been a tool. Pray that the new strain of virus doesn’t arrive.

It is looking like the veterans are looking at a Cost of Living Increase of only 3 percent. We’ll have to wait and see what Social Security publishes but from where I sit it looks like somewhere between 3 and 3.5 percent. A veteran rated at 100 percent could see an increase between $111 – $130 per month. That is not too bad if you are at 100 percent with one dependent. However, those with lesser percentage might not even come near inflation. We’ll know in October.

In my last issue I forgot to mention the great addition we’ve been fortunate to bring on board, and that is Dr. Carl Robinson. His specialty is Neurology, and from personal experience, I must say he is very thorough and great at what he does. Neurology is not my favorite place to go but it helps when you get to meet a great doctor working at VA who can help you on the path to wellness. We all hope he decides to remain here at Togus and share his God given skills.

In my narration lies the truth. You be the judge. That’s all for this week. You know how to reach me if you have a need or want to contribute. God Bless and have a safe and productive week.

The views of the author of this column are not necessarily those of The Town Line newspaper, its staff and board of directors.

VETERANS CORNER: Best way to apply for VA benefits is to contact a veterans service officer

by Gary Kennedy

Those of us who have been in the VA system for some time assume that everyone knows how to apply for help from the VA. Unfortunately, that is not the case. I meet people all the time that don’t have a clue on how to become part of the system. That is exactly what you must do to begin with, become part of the system.

The best way to begin is to connect with a Veteran’s Service Officer, (VSO). There are many agencies that can be of help such as American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, Maine Veterans Services and Paralyzed Veterans of Maine. There are also independents such as myself as well as VA lawyers. The latter one is a last resort as it will cost you a percentage of your initial win. However, they have a good track record in financial recovery. Also, as I stated in previous issues the most knowledgeable V.S.O.’s are located at Veteran Services on the second floor of building 248. They now accept walk-ins or you can call and make an appointment. In my opinion this is the fastest way you can achieve your goal. Once again the number is 207-621-6938. Their door remains locked at street level so you will have to enter via building 200 or 205.

VA has made changes since covid. Some of the doctors we have grown to know have either left for greener pastures or retired. Dr. Susan Hage, physiatrist, has gone as well as Dr. Cathy Boulet, both of the PN clinic. They will be missed. However, they have been replaced by some knowledgeable medical professionals such as Dr. Macy, physiatrist. She is very gentle and extremely knowledgeable. They really know their stuff when it comes to anatomy and physiology.

That is a very complicated skill set but take is from me they really have their stuff together. They know what pain is all about and how to deal with it. I have found that department to be very thorough. Also many of you remember Dr. Juta Eichelman, Doctor of Neurology. She was that great doctor with the German accent. I spent a couple of years in Germany and was stationed near her home. Through the years we became great friends.

As most of you know the equipment in that department broke down years ago and EMG’s were all farmed out at great expense. This was very heartening for Dr. Eichelman. I don’t know if she resigned or just retired. I for one do miss her. Since then new equipment has been acquired. Orthopedics has also had some changes. Drs. Beauchene and Olinik have left. Actually, I believe we are still short an orthopedic surgeon and I have heard we could use more operating theatres.

Also, I might add, emergency needs more room, as well as a better access to the emergency room for ambulances. Stroke and heart attack care experience is of great demand at every medical facility. They are disorders that are extremely time sensitive. There has been some turn over at Podiatry, however, Dr. Melissa Williams is still running the show and is an excellent foot and ankle doctor and surgeon. Her door is always open to our veterans. For the veteran that is an area of expertise that is direly needed.

There has been some retirement in Release of Information but Donna, Ruth and Sandy are still able to keep the door open and the flow of needed information available to their veterans. Their job is probably the most stressful positions in all of VA as they are responsible for not only VA medical records but social security issues as well. Unfortunately, they are always shorthanded. Be patient with them as they are doing the best they can, with limited staff. I hear a lot of people say “if I were running the show”, I would do this and that. If I were running the show with the VA budget I would prioritize and implement that which is critical. However, that is too logical a solution. In any case we veterans need the VA system even with its flaws.

The administration should know that 75 years ago, or so, veterans were given a pool and gym in which to work out their physical and emotional problems. That was considered important then and hasn’t changed to this day. We have been sending letters to Washington in order to gain some support and also remove the non-military obstacles that plague veterans receiving the care they need and deserve. That facility is the home of thousands of physical therapy interventions and should be considered alongside the other support venues that should be available to veterans.

A new school of thought is needed regarding this issue. Many veterans still talk about this loss, taken by the administration. If enough of us stand for our rights the powers that be will disappear and things will go back to normal. Administration has opted to make our bricks pretty at the cost of just repairing the pool which is needed for spinal therapy and emotional therapy. For some of us veterans this is a home away from home and serves to help us live longer, and more pain free lives. We need Washington to step in. Please give the gym back to the veteran and open the pool. It is now being used to store hospital beds. Very sad!

It is a slap in the face to veterans to rent our facility out to employees and deny veterans access. While at the same time tell veterans VA will pay for them to go to YMCA. We always shared the gym with employees on scheduled days per week. Now the director is saying it should be used as an employee perk. There are 500 acres at VA. Let them perk somewhere else. There perhaps should be more veterans employed in the administration office. For sure, that office is not listening as they didn’t listen about building the Hospitality House on wet lands.

As you know, I did file a complaint with the State of Maine before they built it, in order to eliminate the follies and to protect the wildlife habitat there. They built the building and now it is shutdown and sinking, after only one year. It’s a shame and wasteful spending of other people’s money. I send my thoughts and feelings to D.C., and at least, they will know we are watching.

In closing I will share a couple of things that I had forgotten. The first would be we lost a great man, Nathan Laverriere, Chief of Business Service Line (BSL) at Togus. I believe that’s considered an over sight committee. Some employees have discussed this. I can’t elaborate as I am not personally familiar with this person, only what I am told. What I do know is he is sorely missed by the staff of Release of Information but was transferred to the Boston Office.

Elections are coming up and we wait with anticipation regarding the change of the guard. We are hoping for recognition and change before too many of the ‘Nam Era Vets expire without the peace they seek.

Vets meet weekly so hopefully I will have some more news for you next time, perhaps of a more positive nature. I know we all need it.

God bless you and yours.

The views of the author of this column are not necessarily those of The Town Line newspaper, its staff and board of directors.

VETERANS CORNER: Addressing veterans’ concerns about facility abuses

Veterans Administration facility at Togus. (Internet photo)

by Gary Kennedy

Welcome back readers. I want to thank you all for the great response we received regarding our last couple of issues. I hope you continue to read and comment as that is the way we draw attention and also get things done. There is a right and a wrong way to do things and we hope that attention leads to doing things which lead to the right way.

I will address some of the negatives that were presented to me this week and then get on to things which hopefully will aid all our veterans in the path they would like to take. This path will lead to better care and hopefully much deserved financial gain.

The first thing I will mention is veterans and especially non-veterans taking advantage of the “Service Dog Allowance”. Service dogs began a few years ago when it was discovered that man’s best friend was truly that. Some veterans were all alone without any support to aid them through loneliness. It was noticed that animals could fill that role if properly trained to negotiate the hurdles involved with dealing with the public. Dogs were and are the number one pick. The old adage, ” Man’s Best Friend”, is truly the case. However, that being said, some dogs are not and never will be able to cope with the public. Also, some are very difficult to train. That is why some wear signs saying, ” Dog In Training”. You are not supposed to have any interplay with these dogs as they are in the learning phase and should not be confused or distracted. The time will come when they will greet you as will their masters. After all, both are being trained by each other.

The other issue is the abuse that some people take regarding the rules of the system. The first thing I heard was, the small areas of lawn were being used as bathrooms for all dogs riding with veterans to their appointments at the VA. This shows ignorance and lack of consideration for others who use these lawns for break time, lunch and just lounging around. I have seen this all myself, so this is not news to me. I just needed you readers to see, and object to it before I brought it up.

It used to be, and still is supposed to be, that the owner of the dog would carry a scoop and a bag for this event. It’s now being taken for granted. If it continues, only certified companion dogs will be allowed. Also, the abuse continues when civilians bring in show dogs on multiple leashes. We have allowed the initial intent to become abused through the allowance of these things. Several people I know are allergic to dogs and after all, it is supposed to be a hospital. You don’t see this at other hospitals. In years past you only saw a dog leading a blind person.

Now anyone can say, I have stress, x-military or civilian. I have actually seen dogs urinate in building 200. This is the entrance to the emergency and the main treatment rooms and hospital. It is popular opinion that this is an issue that needs to be addressed. Don’t get this writer wrong, I love all animals as you can tell by some of my previous articles. I have owned many pets in past years. I believe you have to agree with the veterans who brought this to me.

The veteran’s dog should be what is allowed and if you are a guest you shouldn’t be bringing your animals because you don’t want to leave them at home. This facility is about the care and well-being of our veterans, respect the rules and laws. Our police force needs to see this as a threat and danger to guests as well as patients. One dog bite will lead to a lawsuit, we don’t need that. We also don’t need a contaminated hospital facility. Check other hospitals and you will see what I mean. The Administration is not doing his job.

I mentioned last week that I would check on a couple of things. I have spoken with several regarding the Fisher Hospitality House and its supposed sinking/listing to one side. It seems to be true. If you approach the rear pond side of the building you can see it is listing to that side.

VA has initiated a cover up by keeping the area well groomed, with lights all on and allowing the Fisher House parking lot to fill with non-resident cars and trucks. This only makes things worse as it adds to congestion that I tried to warn them against three years ago. As our readers may recall I went to the State of Maine and filed a complaint regarding “Wetland Violations”, they took my report and said they would get back to me regarding any action taken. I never heard from them. I didn’t think I would, but occasionally you meet some honorable people who take these things seriously.

I didn’t want to see our pond disappearing, nor the ducks leaving. Many of us enjoy them coming every year and raising new families. It’s very nice for us to watch. Wildlife is very healthy within Togus’s 500 acre property; you can see most anything. I visit almost every night. I visit our graveyards also, just to see that all is well. I noticed a “No Dogs Allowed” sign has been placed outside the gate there. Lately, my wife and I have observed some rabbits. We haven’t seen those here for years.

Our charity event in Sidney went off very well. People had a great meal, met new and old friends, as well as donated to some of our ongoing projects for the least advantaged among us. Also, I had a couple of veterans approach me and ask for help with some issues. I never can say no to a veteran in need. I feel everyone with the ability to help should.

For some reason some veterans are very shy when it comes to asking for assistance with an issue. Veterans should never feel that way. There are many things that VA can do to help, but you must let them know. Togus VBA has some of the most knowledgeable Service Officers anywhere. I for one am very proud of the staff we have acquired. You will feel welcome from the very first minute you arrive. Also, you probably will leave with what you came for. You’ll even get a free pen to mark the first day of the rest of your life.

God bless. Until next time.

VETERANS CORNER: Don’t think you qualify for VA benefits? Check again

by Gary Kennedy

I become more and more surprised at how many Veterans in their 80’ and 90s who believe they aren’t qualified to use the V.A. system. I have hooked up with two such vets recently and many over time. The two veterans that I refer to were convinced by the system more than 50 years ago that they were not qualified for V.A. benefits. One I have worked with for a few months and not only was able to get him into the system but he is now in receipt of 90 percent disability. I am sure that will be a hundred soon. The other veteran I am just beginning with. However, I am sure he will do OK as well. When I am referred to veterans such as these I am heartbroken. Think of all the time they gave and when they gave it. They have gone all their lives struggling to get by and all the time this wasn’t necessary.

First contact with the V.A. system is where this life affecting belief has its origin. This is/has been mostly because of lack of training of the employees, “especially those of first contact”. This in my opinion is the first most important person a veteran will make contact with. This could be a front desk clerk to a Veteran Service Officer (VSO). They should not be addressing veteran issues they are not familiar with. This can and does affect the remainder of this veteran’s life. If he or she relies upon what they have been told at this point, then people like me will end up assisting a veteran in need 50 years later. That is sad as there is no way to get that time back, even if I am successful. The veteran may receive medical aid and even lots of money, but what is the quality of life at this point. It only takes a five minute conversation to effectively destroy one of America’s finest. I have seen, many heart breakers.

So, all that being said what do we do? A vet has a couple of choices. 1) He or she can visit a service officer; there are Veterans of Foreign Wars (V.F.W.), Disabled American Veterans (D.A.V.), American Legion (A.L.) and other state and federal government agencies dealing with specialty disabilities located at Togus. Also, you can visit my personal favorite, V.B.A. which has career trained specialists who can help with any situation. In my opinion they are the best of the best. I don’t say this to demean the other service organizations but they are career Veterans Service Officers (V.S.O’s) who are forever in training to keep up with all the current legislation which they impart to the other service agencies. They are infact the in-house advocates for all veterans and programs. For the first four that I mentioned you would dial 623-8411 and when you get the computer generated person, push “0” and you will get a live person. When you do, just ask to be connected to whichever agency you are interested in. For V.B.A.’s direct line, you will dial 207-621-6938, state your purpose here and you will be directed accordingly. If you are a walk-in the outside door continues to remain locked. You will need to take the long walk.

By following this instruction you will receive all the information and help you seek and someone like me will not be waiting to correct the path you have been mislead to follow. You were here for your country so your country should always be here for you.

In closing I should mention a couple of things. The first is it appears that construction may have begun in earnest as Williams Construction Co. seems to have some iron workers laying rerod for columns and footings for the Community Living Center. Perhaps they will be pouring concrete for the new building soon. We are all anxiously awaiting.

The other issue I get asked about a lot is; can any veteran gain access to dental care? The answer is no; you need to be a 100 percent disabled veteran for access to this benefit, or you need to have a service connected disability. Currently 92 percent of veterans are not eligible for dental care. However, like everything at V.A. there are exceptions to most rules. So, that being said, call and ask if you might be on exception. I wish I could say all vets are eligible as Dr. Jeff Walawender and crew are second to none when it comes to knowledge and care of our vets at V.A. It’s a friendly professional atmosphere staffed by the crafts finest. Dr. Walawender, DDS, graduated from University at Buffalo, New York, and completed his residency at the Togus VA. After years of experience he has become the Dental Chief of Staff. He also sits on several boards, community dental and also North East Delta Dental. We are/fortunate to have such talent at Togus.

See you next time. Stay safe, God bless and have a great summer.

VETERANS CORNER: Veterans express concern at not talking to physician

Veterans Administration facility at Togus. (Internet photo)

by Gary Kennedy

I mentioned in last week’s issue veterans concern with availability of direct contact with their physician’s service desk. You have to go through a call center, which is located in someone’s home and give your information, some of which you prefer not to, in order to get through to your doctor. The response can take days. I am sure this will die a natural death but Covid has caused a lot of misery in more ways than one. This in my opinion is not very professional and is also a disservice to our veterans. Some do not handle this very well and become angry with the party on the other end. This can end up very badly for the veteran as the call center employee will just hang up. I personally have checked this procedure out and have experienced the veteran’s problems.

The last time I made one of these calls myself the young lady on the other end was very nice but obviously hadn’t been trained very well in how to handle various situations, especially in the area of urgency and even location. I ended directing her as to what would be the pathway. She admitted she was new at her job. Also there was a baby crying and a dog barking in the background. I said to her, “I bet it can be difficult working from home?” She responded, “You got that right.”

I know several work at home employees both at VA as well as at the state level. My opinion is the same as locked doors, they had their day and now it is time to open up and get back to work in a professional manner. Veterans deserve far better than what they are receiving.

Vets are still very angry about their loss of the gym and swimming pool. VA claims the pool is broken in some way and yet they have rented out the “veterans gym”. They don’t have the right to do that but they are still getting away with it. We are writing letters to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and getting nowhere. We are close to a political year so we will see if things will change. In the mean time it’s up to we vets to keep the pressure on and try to change this administration to a more veteran friendly and professional one.

It is popular opinion that veterans should be considered for some positions available at all V.A. service centers. They have experience and know how to deal with other veterans. Of course, there are many positions that require the best candidate irrespective of whether or not they were in the military. Another thing that I am familiar with is there are so many foreigners that have served in our military that have filed paperwork and paid the hundreds of dollars to begin the process yet they have been waiting in their countries for months and even years to get here. Also, there are those who have arrived here legally and have been refused employment even though they may be highly qualified. Why you say? The reason is they are not citizens as of yet, even though they very much desire to be so. The hypocrisy is very evident when you see Middle East professionals being employed without this requirement. This occurs when our government deems their MOS necessary or critical. State level positions allow you to be employed if you have obtained a Green Card. Also, our vets are certainly not stupid; they always mention those allowed to cross into this country via our southern border. We have added this argument in our correspondence with Washington D.C.

I mentioned in previous articles that I would touch on some of the benefits disabled veterans might not be aware of. I will, as brief as I can explain one here as it is very important and I receive many calls and comments at meetings pertaining to the need that many aren’t aware exists. The one I will discuss in this article is “Caregiver” availability and requirements. Remember first, there is always an exception to some rules which we can discuss later.

Post all events brought about the New and Enhanced VA Benefits Program the Caregiver and Veteran Omnibus Health Services Act was established under President Barrack Obama in May 2010. It’s been 13 years and they are still trying to get it straight. However, even with it’s down sides it still offers many great benefits to families of need. (1)The veteran needs to be 70 percent or more disabled, (2) The veteran must need in-person personal care services for a minimum of six continuous months due to inability to perform an activity of daily living or need supervision, protection or instruction and (3) Personal care services will not be simultaneously and regularly provided by or through another person.

The basic eligibility criteria is, (1) a family caregiver must be at least 18 years old (2) be either the vets spouse, son, daughter, parent, step family or extended family member, someone who lives with the veteran, (3) be able to complete caregiver education and training, or the veteran isn’t able to perform activities of daily living, needs help each time to complete one of the following tasks: Dressing or Undressing, Bathing, Grooming, Adjusting Prosthetic/orthopedic appliances, toileting, feeding problems, mobility, etc.

There are two levels of stipend. The first depending on geography is 52.5 percent of the monthly stipend rate. (Maine this year is approximately $1,600, and second level is approximately $2,800 based on 100 percent, also for Maine. This is tax free and paid monthly by direct deposit. You will need to download or go to your local VA and get a form 10-10CG. You can bring the form to VA for processing or mail it to: Family Caregivers, Health Eligibility Center, 2957 Clairmont Road NE, Suite 200 Atlanta, GA 30329-1647.

My advice would be to speak to an advocate so that your filing would be correct and affective. It you make mistakes it’s easy to appeal. However, try to avoid mistakes by speaking to one of us. We are always happy to assist you. VA is 623-8411, press “0”, when you get the recording and ask a live person to transfer you to VBA. I can be reached at 207-458-2832.

In my next issue I will try to give all of you more in depth filings. Take care, God Bless and have a happy and safe weekend.

VETERANS CORNER: Community living center needed at VA — Why has construction stalled?

by Gary Kennedy

If you’re watching television you will see that the entire world is uneasy. That being said, you can imagine how our veterans must feel. You know, if you aren’t a veteran then perhaps you don’t really know how our veterans are feeling. The old expression, “the natives are restless”, is very true for them. For many vets right now, the smell of gun powder permeates the air. Ex-soldiers as well as avid gun enthusiasts know what I am referring to. In the military, as well as on the rifle range, there is a strong smell of gun powder. However, the non-veteran actually enjoys the smell of gun powder as it indicates fun on the range. To the veteran it’s quite another thing. For those who have seen action it is indicative of war, fear and death.

This war in Ukraine bothers them deeply. They can visualize the aftermath of battle. Men, women and children are scattered on the ground; some dead and some barely alive. Once you’ve tasted battle its image never leaves you, thus, P.T.S.D. Anything else is either a nervous condition or anxiety. In any case, in the past, they have been treated the same. The powers that be are beginning to realize that although they are treated relatively the same they have different origins. If you give it some thought you can see the difference. So when a veteran says to me, “I’m OK”, but in all actuality they aren’t, I feel they are living in denial or they just don’t understand why things end up the way they do. Help is needed.

This problem is often times brought to the front by the wife or a significant other. This is bad in several different ways, (1) life is not good; (2) the other part of significant is not being treated well; (3) denial negates help and; (4) help and benefits are not supporting the family unit. We all know when something is not right; it’s just a matter of facing it and asking for the help one needs and deserves. It doesn’t take much to set a veteran’s dark side off and some of us talk about it every week. I will try to give you some examples in Veterans Corner section of the past few weeks, which actually harbor beginnings of several years ago.

Several years ago (four – five) the United States government put a lot of money aside for the building of a Community Living Center. This was needed by veterans with serious problems for shelter and medical help of a long term nature. It’s been more than four years now and all that has been accomplished is some excavation by McGee Construction and some pipe laying of some sort by Williams Construction Company. The VA campus is riddled with plastic pipe and storage trailers. For those of you who go there often it is viewed as a real mess. The sign that proudly announced the advent of this wonderful project was taken down after two years. This was a blow to the vets who really needed it. At a recent get together it was stated, “Where is the money”? I think that is a good and valid question that should be asked and hopefully answered. Most employees do not have any knowledge about this situation, and VA doesn’t share with us vets.

Another issue that was brought up was the bottle neck the Fisher House has caused. If you remember one of my articles of a few years ago I mentioned tight parking, close proximity to the Emergency Room and it being built on protected land, right beside of the duck pond. I took this problem to the state, had a meeting and filed a complaint. I guess my words fell on deaf ears. The ducks and people on the park bench would have to share the wet land.

Our gathering of last week was interesting when someone spoke out and said, “The Fisher House is sinking”. If true the Fisher House is sinking into the wet land. I haven’t visited that yet but I’ll check it out next week. Next, came a comment on lack of police attentiveness of the hospital front door, Building 200. People pull up under the canopy and park causing a jam. This is not only inconvenient for those with spinal conditions and chemotherapy appointments but it causes anger among some of the veterans. I called the police one day myself as I was trapped in that section by vehicles front and rear. It took them 10 minutes plus to come to the scene and speak with the people. There is plenty of parking on the campus and a mini taxi to give them a free lift. There is no need for that sort of dangerous situation. An ambulance could not have gotten in. The patient would have to be carried from the street. After all, there is 500 acres of land there. Instead of security inside they should be directing traffic. Catching speeders is important but securing the facility is more important.

Another issue that came up was, the covid restrictions were lifted and security was removed from the doors. However, the Administration has only released two doors. All the remaining doors remain locked forcing our wounded warriors to take the long walk or have their caregivers push them throughout the hospital and/or administrative building. VBA is where a veteran would go to file a case or seek advice. It is located in Building 248. That is in the middle of the campus on the second floor. They have a direct door. That door is locked. You would have to go to Building 200 or 205 to begin your journey. That is inflicting unnecessary hardship on disabled veterans. I have been entering those doors for 47 years, so I know it’s hard on some who have no help and perhaps are not as strong anymore. Obviously, it is not veterans running the VA. Last but not least is the work at home program which I will try to address at another time.

These things don’t only affect those with PTSD but also those with other medical conditions. Veterans know when they tell me, these things I will not only address but also share. This is how we make things better. You can send your comments to God bless. all my brother and sister-veterans. There are always others who will help.