VETERANS CORNER: Remembering the fallen on Memorial Day

by Gary Kennedy

The last Monday in May is strategically placed as to generate the name Memorial Day weekend. As you can see placing this holiday in this position allows for a long weekend for most of us. Schools, federal and state agencies as well as others will be closed. It is considered a federal holiday. Memorial Day is also considered the unofficial beginning of summer. We still consider June 21 official first day of summer. (Season)

Memorial Day was originally referred to as Decoration Day. This being a time for paying our respects to those who died in battle defending the United States of America. President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, New York, as birthplace of this holiday. Waterloo held an event on May 5, thus celebrating the fallen. However, in 1865, a couple of weeks before the end of the Civil War, freed slaves in Charleston, South Carolina, held a ceremony giving Union soldiers a proper burial.

The first Decoration Day was observed on May 30, 1868, proclaimed by General John A. Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. Flowers were placed on both the Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery, in Washington, DC, with President James Garfield as the guest speaker. In 1868 until this present date approximately 5,000 people gather at Arlington National Cemetery. Flowers were placed on all graves. In 1890 it was recognized by the North and South to pay respect on the same date. This was due to World War I and those fighting in any war. The date of the holiday, if we can refer to it as such, was changed from May 30 to the last Monday of the month of May, thus creating the long weekend.

Since 1950, 1,200 soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry place small flags at each of the more than 260,000 graves at Arlington. They then patrol 24 hours a day during the weekend to insure that no flag has fallen. Red poppies are also often placed on the crosses. As I stated last year, the idea poppies was derived from the poem in 1915 by John McCrae, titled In Flanders Field. The poppy is famous from the battles in Belgium and France and is celebrated by the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Other key remembrances are the candles that are placed by the Boy and Girl Scouts on the 15,300 grave sites of buried soldiers at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Parks. Also, it is requested that all governors of the United States direct the flag to be flown at half staff until noon on Memorial Day on all buildings both foreign and domestic.

Remember there is a difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Memorial is intended to commemorate those who died for country whereas Veterans Day honors all who have served their country. This is just a little information on a very important holiday. We realize for most of you this is the wonderful long weekend. Just remember the veterans didn’t die to create a holiday. They died because they love God, Country, family and freedom. They were all aware that service to their country could be a one way ticket. And for hundreds of thousands it was just that. So love and enjoy your family, friends and God but take a few minutes to give thanks to the men and woman who made it all possible.

Also, say a special prayer for those brave men and women who are now standing up to the tyrannical hand of those merciless killing the innocence of the Democratic Christian country of Ukraine. My heart and the hearts of many other veterans go out to them as we watch their country and people being destroyed. A braver country cannot be found anywhere. Many people are new to our country so they are perhaps not as passionate about the faith of others but they obviously know what it means to be free or they wouldn’t have come here.

I say a special prayer for the Americans that have left on their own free will to fight along side the Ukraine people. I wish I was young again. May God be with you during this sad holiday. Teach your children well as they are our future and I hope they take it on with a pure, loving and compassionate heart. God bless you and those you have lost. Stay safe my friends.

VETERANS CORNER: Grants available to retro fit homes for veterans wheelchair bound

by Gary Kennedy

I met a veteran the other day in a wheelchair and just began a conversation with him. It seems he and his wife are both veterans. I being in a chair myself began talking about some of the difficulties involved. He concurred and explained he had an old house and it was difficult to get around and do things. I told him I have the same problems but applied for V.A. grants which are supposed to help with those problems. To my surprise and amazement he wasn’t aware of these programs.

I was thrilled to be able to help him and his significant other with just some information and advice. There are several grants out there to help make improvements such as bathroom renovation and accessibility for the wheelchairs etc. also there are grants for remodeling your home if it’s not safe or navigable. There are also grants which could build you a small home. (S.A.H Grant) Specially Adapted Home can mean remodel an existing home or even build a home on land you already own. Currently the S.A.H Grant is $101,754. A local agent is Kevin Nash. He can be reached at KEVIN.NASH@VA.GOV. However, he lives in Vermont and does it all by phone.

Although this sounds like a wonderful thing that is being given to the veterans it doesn’t come without its problems. Two by fours are closing in at $9 per 8 per foot and two by six are nearing $19. In any case most well known contractors won’t work with less than one-third down, which is only fair in my opinion. You can’t honestly expect professionals to supply materials and labor without some help from the customer. That is a normal amount required if you are having a home built without V.A. assistance. The VA Grant doesn’t give that. This grant is only given once, so its use must be monitored and protected.

One other grant should be mentioned is the “CAREGIVER GRANT” which is available in levels. The first level is loss of use of legs or an arm and a leg, or just not being able to do certain things on your own. An example would be you need help washing, bathing, dressing, tying your shoes, cooking, feeding, medication delivery and safety. I believe the current stipend that is given is approximately $1,681. This can be paid to your wife or significant other. It is a tax free amount for delivering care.

The second level is for one who is wheelchair bound and unable to do other necessary functions of everyday living. I believe the stipend for this level is around $2,600. There are more situations which you should or could apply for. Contact Ms.Tammy Holman at tammy.holman@va.gov at the Veterans Administration at Togus. Her telephone number is 207-623-8411 extn. 5906 or 7987. She can send you a flyer with all the qualifications.

All except the (S.A.H. Grant) are easy to apply for and obtain. If you qualify for the S.A.H. Grant you should have no problem with the remodel or constructions if you are prepared to contribute one third of the needed money. The way I understand it is this upfront money will be refunded to you along the way. If you don’t have it, I haven’t been able to find an option. However, I will check with the Secretary of V.A. for an answer for you. Also if you do receive a loan at the bank, how and when do you get your money back. Make sure you receive an answer. These people are still working at home and refuse to come to you. I have tried. Perhaps with help from my group we can get answers or possible changes.

I probably should mention the Adaptive Equipment Grant which allows the veteran to apply for addendums to his/her vehicle to aid in his being able to transfer into his vehicle which may have been given by the VA. I was given a vehicle and told I could receive a wheelchair lift and other accessories. I called the administrator of the adaption equipment, Evangeline Boyle, who is located at Boston VA Healthcare system, 940 Belmont Street Brockton, MA 02301, telephone number, 508-583-4500. And she told me I would have to drive to Boston for a driving test. I had to forgo this free needed equipment as I don’t drive to Boston because of the distance and the other problems with that long a drive, in that congested area.

The VA gave me a grant for a remodel or new house as well as money for a new vehicle yet they wouldn’t send someone to our VA facility to do what is needed in my case and the case of others. Also, why would I have to take a driver test for a wheelchair lift? I will not allow veterans to be abused not even myself. This process/procedure is not acceptable. I will address this when I contact the National Director. Military abuse has become Elder Abuse.

So all this information being given should lead you to placing the appropriate phone call or email. I know for many of you the initial down payment can be a very big problem. I have been waiting for two years to receive what they say I qualify for. If you qualify, why is it so difficult to receive? That would be a good question unless the government really doesn’t want you to seek this sort of relief. Frank Siller who leads the Tunnel to Towers Foundation in honor of his brother’s death, Stephen, during 9-11, gives his money from the heart. You don’t need to contribute if you’re the recipient. The vets he serves don’t have to pay upfront money also. The difference is there is no politics involved.

I hope I have been of some help. God bless America and also to those in the Ukraine that are having a taste of hell. Some of our great veterans are on their way there now to help. I wish I were one. May God bless and keep them safe. My email is garyek55@gmail.com.

VETERANS CORNER: March 3 recognizes paid and unpaid care givers

by Gary Kennedy

March, named for the Roman God, Mars, must have been a very confused god as he allowed more than a 120 holidays to be celebrated in the month of March. I went through the list and came up with two favorites. The first was National Corn Beef Day. I am a big fan of corn beef and cabbage, with a few other vegetables thrown in and cooked for four hours, slowly. I guess it’s the Irish in me but I just can’t get enough of that great stuff. My mother was great with this dish. She added dumplings, which you have to have a taste for. They are great when they take on the flavors of all that is in the pot, corn beef cooked slowly will melt in your mouth. It becomes very tender, especially if you pick out a fatty one. I can see some of you going, “yuck”. You probably would prefer Vegan, not me.

Well, now that I am hungry, let me go on to the other holiday that I chose and that is Care Givers Day. When I think of this day it places a big smile on my face. Some of my greatest and best friends around the world are not thinking about world domination but the caring of others. Most of these people are humanitarians and do this work out of love and heart. Some also receive a stipend for giving this service.

In any case it takes a special person to perform in this capacity. Most caregivers come with some training which is usually given at some medical level. These folks are usually well versed in the care of those in need of a helping hand. Places such as our VA system give online classes which carry some detail at many different levels, as there are several levels and situations of need.

Unless these folks are lucky enough to come from a wealthy family or inherit a lot of money they will never be among the rich. However, wealth is not necessarily measured monetarily. You can’t buy happiness and that is what many of the Caregivers bring to the table. When you wake in the morning knowing you’ve helped another or about to do that, it’s a wonderful feeling. Our world is in such disarray it sometimes feels overwhelming but you know you must carry on and pray for the best. Caring for the ill, disabled and elderly requires tens of millions of these caregivers. Some of these wonderful people even give up their careers in order to fulfill this mission.

November is National Care Giver Appreciation Month. I personally like March 3 as it picks a particular day in which to recognize and appreciate both the paid and unpaid Care Givers. Some of us do this freely and even spend our own money. This can be a thankless job with even family members avoiding doing it. Also, there are organizations that give a stipend yet they don’t truly offer the support necessary to accomplish the labor of love before them. If you’re in it just for the money you are in it for the wrong reason, and are wasting your time and the well being of others, as you probably don’t know what you’re doing.

When it comes to our veterans I fight to the bitter end and try my best to expose the inadequacies of the system as well as the individual care. I try to get the word out to all our vets, especially those I work with. They most likely are in need of aid and attendance if they are asking for it. Its only common sense that if one of our soldiers reaches out, he or she is most likely in need. We have programs out there now for them that are relatively easy to get but are not properly run. You’ve heard me mention the “Peter Principle” in the past and that is where the buck stops. Those that get placed into positions they have no business being in are the ones that damage and can’t manage these much needed programs. When you ask a question relative to their mission statement and they answer, “I don’t know”, then you know you have just met someone who has succumbed to the Peter Principle.

If you are a moderate to severely damaged veteran, either physically or psychologically, then perhaps you are in need and qualify for a caregiver. The caregiver can be your wife or a significant other. Most likely they will qualify for a stipend of at least $1,600 per month, tax free and possible benefits. That person will receive some caregiver training via online. It’s well worth looking into. For veterans, call 623-8411-0 and ask for the Veterans Advocate and then the booklet on the eligibility for the Caregiver Program. Don’t let your veteran go it alone if he/she needs a little or a lot of help. It will be very beneficial for the veteran and rewarding for you, so there you have it.

This is my conversation over a great Corned Beef Dinner. You will respect this meal on St. Patrick’s Day. I will remind you. Take care my friends and God Bless America and those others who are suffering in the world. Also, pray for our brothers and sisters under siege. God only knows they need much more than our prayers. One more thing: since I write “Veterans Corner” I address the needs of veterans. However, the state and federal governments have programs as well which address non veterans. Stay safe and take “Care”.

VETERANS CORNER: Last couple of years have been hard on veterans

by Gary Kennedy

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

The past couple of years have been hard for us. Our veterans have found it to be extremely so. I have lost many friends and more are preparing to meet their maker. It’s a time when we pray and hope that for the most part we got it right. It’s a heart breaker to say good bye and rely on what comes next. It’s a time to make amends and seek forgiveness for those things we know shouldn’t have occurred or we should have not been part of or allowed. I had someone I have loved for a very long time ask me, “Gary do you think that I have been a good enough person to be allowed to have another chance to prove myself?” What would your answer be? Mine was, “you have always had a good heart and never went out of your way to hurt anyone. You gave when others were in need. I’m sure those things are taken into account and used in the ultimate assessment.”

I find myself staring up at the night sky often now with extreme imagination and wonder. I am amazed at the beauty and perfect harmony the celestial bodies display when the sky is clear and my heart is wide open with questions.

I try my best to make sure they are represented in a now political way and that promises that are made are promises that are kept; whether you’re a Democrat or Republican. I believe after God and family should come those that have given their all so that we may live. There is so much we can and should do for each other but it seems we are still doing battle with those who want things to change in illogical ways. We have our politicians choosing causes to wrap their political position around. For the most part we agree on most things but we can’t look at each other and agree. To each his or her own seems to be the way of things.

Think about all the negatives we are living through and see how many of those things we actually agree with. We want our children educated properly; we want food and clean air and water. We all want work and opportunity and the chance to accomplish our dreams. Every country has its venue and has to transcend the growing pains that walk hand in hand with accomplishment. We are aware that some countries live under extreme and severe conditions. No one knows this any better than our veterans who have lived and died in some of these sad depraved places and conditions. Soldiers see it all and for the most part wish they could really make a change. We can influence but the people have to be the ones who see change through. We are undergoing some of those ourselves currently.

Recently, Covid has brought us together as well as torn us apart. We are a nation of freedom living under a constitution that some brilliant men with hindsight and foresight put together to salvage almost any situation for their people and their need for guidance and direction in future events. There are those who would toy with that which has been proven to be an honorable document built on principle and the love of God and our fellow man. Unfortunately, it is being put to the test currently by some who hate America and would love to see us fail. It saddens me and all the veterans that I know who have given their best to eradicate the worst, thus allowing the future to have the chance at the best and to prosper.

War in the world creates Veterans Administrations and those V.A.s need the support of honest men and women to carry on and show the future that what has been promised will come to pass. If you have no fear of the Russians sitting on the Ukraine border or China’s threats on a great place such as Taiwan, then you had better learn another language because that is the only way you will possibly survive. Along with our government, our Veterans Administration has been allowed to become weak and undependable. We hear all the time that our veterans are really receiving the best care possible. If you are involved and look more carefully you will see the sad state of affairs we are going through.

Our southern border is open with millions of aliens coming through with drugs, child abuse, prostitution and crime of all sorts. Many of these are criminals who have been convicted and released by our courts. At last count there were people from 150 plus different countries coming through the Texas Wall. The local law enforcement has fought day and night to stop this but they keep on coming. At the cost of our arm forces and veterans these aliens are being supported. Inflation is the highest it has ever been. Look at our grocery stores, and ours are nowhere near as bad as other states. The drugs are killing our children and we are at an educational stand still. I have been to Southeast Asia and seen the poverty, slavery implemented to build an empire; and an empire they are successfully building. In China, they have built future cities with no one living there yet. The normal Asian people are wonderful people but the governing principal is that of evils.

We need skilled craftsmen badly. They are paid at a higher scale than the men and women in suits, if you can find one to help you out. The future is in the trades. I am a father of middle income children and they work days and night to do it. They were taught respect and work ethic. They live a good family Christian life. My heart breaks at this world’s possible outcome. Test missiles are being tossed around and a race to space has begun. Also Covid was no accident. Millions have died and multi millions of hearts have been broken.

The V.A. has put security on its doors and send a very large percentage of their patients (veterans) outside for help. The VA is paying the outside doctors approximately 35-51 percent of the billing of those doctors and state,” that is the maximum and to not bill the veteran”. So what does that say to you? Well I have experienced this first hand and have been very fortunate. Some doctors, as V.A. knows, are now refusing to take veteran patients. V.A. knows this but they are pushing this as far as they can. Top of the line doctors will not be dictated to regarding their fees. I have researched this and have been told, “We are professionals and so is our staff, so we must pay them a professional wage”. Long story short, they can’t take anymore veterans at VA’s dictated rates. If you think about it you will see the rational of their situation. It’s not that they don’t want to help veterans but they are being asked to foot the bill.

VA is building lots of structures but they aren’t paying a fair wage to their doctors and they aren’t staying current with the need for new and modern equipment. If it’s a specialty procedure you need you have to be sent outside of the V.A. system. Many doctors have left the VA to work for some of our coastal hospitals. It would not be unusual for a veteran to be sent to a doctor that use to work for the VA. I don’t know who they think they’re kidding with this game that they are playing. VA is using a middle man called OPTUM, a Community Care Network at 3237 Airport Road, La Crosse, Wisconsin 54603. If you don’t have an approved prior consult they won’t authorize the payment of your bill. The good part is for the most part you don’t have to pay if it was authorized on this end. If not, you may later see the hospital or doctor’s office billing you, claiming the authorization rested with you. They could have a strong case if they relied upon previous on-going procedures. I have been a victim of this in the past myself. It took a lot to save my credit. I am working on some of this currently to help protect veterans that I have stood for, in the past.

It should be obvious that the problem rests with upper level management for going this route and allowing the V.A. system to run at only a small percentage of its capability. You have heard me in the past couple of years complaining about the VA’s partial shutdown while all other hospitals and rehab centers are running. We have one of the greatest rehab centers in New England that is mostly shutdown. The example I have given in the past is the VA gym and swimming pool which serviced many rehab sessions. They will pay you to go to the YMCA but that doesn’t work for most disabled vets especially with PTSD. All is open but VA is shutdown. They blame it on Covid. The gym and pool are in a separate section of VA with a private entrance in the rear. (No excuse). They have a plan of their own and not one to benefit the veterans. Management and the plan need to be looked at. It is for veterans they exist at what they do and the plan should be shared with veterans.

I always appreciate your input. It helps all veterans. We need audience with those who allow this to continue. To be a veteran is a proud thing. If we are disabled because of service we should wear that also with pride and dignity. Maybe it’s time for VA to take a different course. We don’t need more non-experienced advocates we need to search for the answers to the problems. Please share your experience with us. We really want to help. Communication is a two way street, let’s use it. Stay safe and God bless.

VETERANS CORNER: Too much money spent on a nonsensical direction

Veterans Administration facility at Togus. (Internet photo)

by Gary Kennedy

Since we last communicated V.A. at Togus, Maine, was in the middle of rebuilding some roads and sorely needed sidewalks. Recently they have, for the most part completed that segment of their construction plan. There are currently two buildings under construction, one of which will be an interior extension of building 200. Building 200 is the main medical entrance to specialty medical areas, emergency, operating rooms, dental, x-ray and medical supplies etc. The new formation of the Veterans Advocacy department as well as the pharmacy is located there on the first floor. Most advocates have been replaced.

The new security area that I spoke about is located in front of building 200. The other secured entrance is where the doctors’ offices and some business areas, such as Veterans Benefits Administration are located. This is important information as many of you are very upset with the new security protocols. I have only been here at the Togus facility for 47 years but I believe the VA facility was built somewhere near 1866. What’s strange to many of we veterans are in all the years we have been using this facility we were never denied access. Most of the time we use the VA for medical purposes of one sort or another and in other cases our visit to the V.A. was just to go to the store or have a meal with friends in the canteen.

Also, a few of us used the gym and some the pool. Covid has been an excuse to shut down these areas for the past couple of years. This is very sad as it has always been a place for veterans to do physical therapy with a P.T. associate or a caregiver.

The administrative rumor has been that the real reason was the lack of a life guard as the administration only wanted to use one part time. It has caused me personally a lot of harm as I have great need for the exercise aspect of that facility. I have spinal damage which requires a certain kind of exercise which the gym and pool supplied until it was shut down. I have been offered free access to the YMCA facilities but they were overrun by children and elderly folks just passing away the time of day. That was dangerous for me and an interruption to what I needed to do.

The sad part is we are one of the only V.A. facilities that have such a wonderfully needed area such as this. I am told it will reopen soon and V.A. doctors can make referrals to this place, which helps many of us. I am sure that with a little imagination this could be the focal point of many wonderful things for veterans and perhaps for others. V.A has hired more advocates to handle veterans’ problems and complaints but I doubt that is the answer. Unfortunately, VA administration has not taken seasoned veterans on their offer of help. I firmly believe that many great ideas could come from the joint efforts of veterans and administration working collaboratively. I believe it is a great innovative way to solve mutual problems. I suggested this in the past and it seemed to have been received with positive enthusiasm. However, with the change in administration came the advent of a different direction which I find to be adverse to the positive outcome previously envisioned.

I believe there is too much money spent on a nonsensical direction. A collective of opinions leads to a great result in the end, but if led by arrogance the outcome will be sure failure. I am a strong believer in involving those you are attempting to serve. The outcome will favor the individuals you are trying to make life improvements they so direly need. I hope those that this pen is intended for are reading this. You might need men and women such as us again. Don’t make promises that you have no intention of keeping. We are intelligent human beings.

The advocacy section has been totally replaced either by resignation or by discharge. Doctors hooked to the VA in years past as it was a safe haven for their skills. The civilian world became sue happy and VA gave some very fine doctors a safety net. However, even with this great umbrella of protection we have lost so many great minds. I have been here 47 years and there are some doctors/clinicians that I really miss. VA has been very fortunate, as have I, to have been under the care of some of the best. Unfortunately, the pendulum moves in two directions so some weeding needs to be done. I work with many veterans and hear many stories; they remain such with me until researched and proven. There are many VA employees that feel that a very large burden has been placed on them and eventually the burden becomes too heavy to bear. I am a strong believer that VA has to allow some of the load to be borne by the veterans themselves. By feeling like part of the solution the result will most likely be a very positive one.

As it is told to me I share with you. Allow veterans and employees to be part of the solution not just being considered the problem. Our world as we know it is under siege so let those who have been there and done that be part of the solution. We are as a family and the success of a family is the collective resolution of diversity. Don’t make this an administrative problem or only the few will participate and the result will be more socialistic then democratic. For some, VA is employment, for others who make this all possible it’s their life’s blood. When a veteran comes through the doors with humble bowed head he/she is seeking the best possible outcome and a longer and more comfortable life to share with those they love. If the shoe were on the other foot how would you look at it? Remember, what has been given for that which is being sought. It’s all in the attitude which hopefully originates from the heart.

Finally let me say Happy New Year to you and yours.

New AARP survey reveals veterans are more likely to lose money to certain scams than non-military

The statistics we hear about scams and fraud are nothing short of staggering and a new AARP survey shows that scams targeting veterans are on the rise. Scammers will stop at nothing to steal veterans’ benefits including pension payments and much more. Please consider the following scams and take a look at the survey results. Of those who lost money, the top scams reported include:

  • Benefit Buyouts: Turning over U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) pension and/or disability benefits for a supposed lump-sum payment that never materializes (47%).
  • Fraudulent records scam: Paying for updated personal military records (32%).
  • The fake charitable giving request: Donating to fake veteran charities (32%).
    Other key findings include:
  • Military/veteran adults reported losing more money than civilians on the grandparent-impostor scam (more than twice as often) and financial phishing schemes (nearly twice as often).
  • Nearly half of military/veteran adults reported they are not using a robocall blocking service and over 1 in 4 have not registered their phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry.
  • 81% of military/veteran adults have not placed a security freeze on their credit report.

If you are a veteran, you are unfortunately a target, so be mindful of this reality in your day-to-day transactions. Remember that The Veterans Administration will never call you, e-mail or text you to verify or update your information. Only work with VA-accredited representatives when dealing with VA benefits; you can search for them online at the VA Office of General Counsel website.

If you would like a copy of the Veteran’s Edition of the AARP Watchdog Alert Handbook: 10 Ways Con Artists Target Veterans, you can download it for free by visiting www.aarp.org/veterans or call AARP Fraud Watch Network at 1-877-908-3360.

Another important way to protect yourself from scams and identity theft is to place a freeze on your credit report. Identity theft can be devastating because once armed with enough personal information, a scammer can access their victim’s credit report. With access to the credit report, an identity thief can then open a credit card, apply for a loan or even apply for government benefits, all in the name of their victim.

The best way we can protect ourselves from identity theft is to prevent criminals from obtaining our sensitive information in the first place. This is why placing a credit freeze with all three major credit bureaus is considered the most effective way to block identity thieves. When the freeze is in place, our credit reports are protected. Contact the Maine Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection for all the details by calling 800-332-8529 or visiting https://www.maine.gov/pfr/consumercredit/file_freeze_info.htm.

As a veteran, you have protected our country with your service. Now let us help you protect yourself from scams that target veterans and your guaranteed benefits. As with all scams, vigilance is your number one weapon.

Jane Margesson
AARP Maine Communications Director

FMI: Visit www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork or call our toll-free hotline at 1-877-908-3360. It’s free and available to anyone of any age whether you are an AARP member or not.

NEWS FROM THE VA: It seems the negatives outweigh the positives

Veterans Affairs Regional Benefit Office Togus, ME

by Gary Kennedy

Well, here we are again and I wish I had a lot of great news to share with you but these are trying times and, unfortunately, it seems the negatives out-weigh the positives. It seems even some of the positives are masking negative intent. I have received much anxious correspondence lately, it causes me some very deep thought; I never thought I’d see what appears a good thing masking as something else. It is so negative to be searching for an ulterior motive for what would normally be taken on its face as a good thing.

Recently, VA’s center Director and Regional Director made rapid decisions with a very large amount of money lying in its coffers. There are some of us who have a great deal of knowledge regarding V.A. and its history and needs. We have watched this Covid epidemic used in what some believe to be a distorted way. It has been authorized to build roads, sidewalks, two very large buildings while at the same time take advantage of the Covid epidemic and shutdown and/or eliminate some very essential path-ways to well being.

During this time of calamity, while there are those who think no one is watching, veteran services are being undermined, even destroyed. Some examples would be the veteran outreach program which is doomed to self destruct. Originally, the politicians sought a way to service all veterans in a like manner. Some veterans live in remote areas. Two things come into play here and they are the distance veterans still have to travel for care, but most importantly it should be quality care.

Vietnam era vets such as myself are now reaching the end of the line, so in order to grab those last few years, we need quality help. Reducing distance is only good for the menial of medical problems. Those of us who have suffered through cancer and many other trying medical problems need a large medical facility with MDs, specialists to help us achieve the edge we need. Instead we find life and death decisions and treatment are being handled by nurse practitioners, PAs and other such medical people, who are great to a point but that point should and must have its limits.

We are even importing medical people from India, Pakistan and the Philippines to name only a few. Don’t take me wrong, some of these medical people are specialists who will work for less money and the ability to become American citizens. Although this is unfair immigration, realizing there are paid waiting applicants, who are waiting their turn, it does give us quality needed people.

Until this past year we were paying outside practitioners exactly what they billed for their service. Well, in less than a year that came to a screaming halt. I spoke with medical representatives who now refuse to take veterans because the VA had cut the fees to between 35-51 percent of the bill they submitted. I had one office manager in Portland say, “we are a specialty operation and we have to pay our people a top salary as they are all professionals. We can’t do that on what the VA has limited us to now. We just can’t take veterans anymore.” That is something that is going to become more frequent. VA knew what they were doing and it is coming back to bite them.

What started out as a potential good thing is rapidly turning sour. Look at the wait times now. I personally was given a clinic appointment which I kept and was told I would be seen in a couple of weeks to finish it up. That was just the paperwork, information and partial exam. I received a call last week stating my wait to finish just the interview part would be three more months. My condition was/is serious and service connected. I used to be treated for this with weekly injections, or as needed. As you know I also work with veterans and help them with their cases to get medical help as well as claim resolution. Even though I have near death situations on my desk I will still have to wait.

Recently the Veterans Administration hired V.A. Advocates. When that program first started I offered to volunteer and that was considered great. That was the last conversation we had. Oh yes, there is money to hire. There are signs everywhere but still our men and women vets are being farmed out to strange facilities. Some vets have been going to Togus VA for many years and feel comfortable there. Another point I’d like to make is given the average age of Togus patients, Neurology is a very important department. Recently, the most knowledgeable neurologist who had worked there for many years decided to retire. I had a private conversation with her about what was going on and that we would miss her. She said, “Why? I really can’t do much for you.” She explained she could do some basic stuff but the rest would have to be done somewhere else. I asked, “Why?” she said, “we talked about this before”. We have no EMG equipment; it’s all broken and VA chooses not to replace it. What good is a carpenter without his hammer? I finally remembered I had addressed this before and had written a short letter as well as paid a visit to the director’s office. I received no response from either.

The last thing I will mention today and only because I hear about this a lot, and that is physical therapy. The therapy room itself is empty on most days. The most important and least expensive is the gym and pool. We are one of the only V.A.s with such a great set up in which therapy with caregivers can be accomplished without paying all but one person and yet the benefits it gives we older veterans are immeasurable. There is need for a lifeguard but the benefits to those of us with limb problems are great.

I would be remiss in my reporting and responding to the veteran’s questions if I didn’t mention the clever way that security stations have been placed at all entrances. Veterans use to be free to visit their home away from home but now they don’t feel comfortable. Also, there are many phones not being answered, thus causing walk-ins. The security booths were originally set up temporarily but now they are obviously permanent paid positions. All clubs and gyms with pools are open but are not user friendly to our vets.

I hear much about this and I believe action is being taken on behalf of the vets. If you have been harmed in anyway by this unnecessary act please share it with us so we can address it. We don’t want the VA being treated politically.

Stay calm and safe my fellow brother/sister veterans. You are not alone during these trying times. Just because the Service Organization doors are closed doesn’t mean there isn’t help. Call your organization for help and Senator Collins and King’s office are still working. I go there and you can as well. Like I told you in my last column, don’t let the news stations get you down. There is more reality in the cartoon stations these days and they won’t depress you.

God bless you all, stay strong and help one another.

VETERANS CORNER: Veterans who served protecting this country are very fragile as time leaves them behind

by Gary Kennedy

This has proven to be a very hard time for active military as well as our veterans. I am a veteran myself as you know and I have family and friends both active military and veteran. I have worked with veterans for more than 40 years and have never seen anything as heart wrenching as the happenings of late. The world is placing our military in a very shameful state. Our men and women in uniform have always walked tall with pride representing the world’s elite enforcers of justice and freedom.

Many of you with veterans at home know the pain and anguish that our veterans are going through. Almost every visit to Togus VA has, as a part of its screening, the question, “do you have feeling of harming yourself”? Non-veterans don’t realize how sensitive Americas finest are. The pride and love that went into adorning one’s self with the American uniform is second only to God and family.

Everyone has been advised to be on potential suicide watch. Men and women who gave their all protecting this country are very fragile as time leaves them behind. Those who never served or who don’t have someone close who did don’t see what’s happening to our country through similar eyes. Now is a very conflicting time for our military and veteran populations. Now is your time to support these people from your heart. Thanking them for their service is a very respectful thing to do but sometimes it might require more. A gentle touch, an understanding ear can make a lot of difference in helping those who gave their youth for the sake of our country.

There are those who turn their back on our flag and take a knee in protest. Those people obviously don’t care how the peace keepers feel or see the price that was paid by hundreds of thousands who gave it all for them. Respect isn’t in their vocabulary. Most of us feel it is shameful the way things have been lately. Do we deserve our freedom or should Mandarin be considered in the school curriculum? If you ask a veteran, he or she will tell you that things are about to get really bad. How can you be convinced that you won’t like being under the rule of another country, especially Marxist or communist regimes? Look at other countries that are ruled under Socialistic, Communistic governments. Some of us have been in such countries where they can shoot you, your family, take your children and/or your women. I believe some of you haven’t thought this through. Do you want a government who counts your children?

I pray for America each night after watching the horrors on the news channels. It’s bad and it’s real my friends. You can see it for yourself. My heart goes out to those living it. I can hear their fear and despair as I try to fall asleep. I must watch to be informed but for you I recommend cartoons.

During this nightmare the VA hasn’t been much help as they try to pull a switch on the vets. Covid shutdown has allowed them to keep vets away; then came construction to elongate the distancing. At this time the vets noticed security being implemented to further distance them from a place they think of as a safe sanctuary for them. It was a clever way to place Togus on lockdown, the security stations became permanent. More and more veterans are being farmed out but that will only be for a short time, I believe, as the cost is far too great. We have new buildings, sidewalks, roads and a new Community Living Center being built. However, it has been several years since new operating theatres for orthopedics and general surgery and also the need for EMG equipment, which has been broken for years, goes without notice, yet a new neurologist was hired, as well as a nurse practitioner to work with diabetic patients. Eventually they all have to be referred out. These are things which are never addressed by D.C..

The best gym with a pool for both emotional and physical therapy remains shutdown mostly for “lack of a life guard”. However, we are starting to look good. Last but not least the records section has become difficult to access because of staffing, shortages. Perhaps that’s not important with all Veteran Services’ doors being shut. Be mindful of what’s happening and do your best to be part of the solution, not the cause.

God bless our troops and watch over our vulnerable veterans.

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

Gary Kennedy can be reached at 458-2832.

NEWS FROM THE VA: Vets should be made aware of the changes that are being made

Veterans Administration facility at Togus. (Internet photo)

by Gary Kennedy

Well, it seems most of our veterans have received the vaccine. Moderna and Pfizer were the vaccines used. It seems all reacted well to both shots. In most cases the significant other had to wait a bit but all in all it was accomplished. Supposedly VA is in phase 3 of the shut down. I have been told that during this phase physical therapy should reopen. Most of we vets have noticed it has become very difficult to go inside of the VA. I for one believe that this is part of the master plan. VA is being transformed into a different place than what we old timers are use to. When you walk through the doors you are met with, “What brings you here today”? An appointment is what they are looking for. Under Director Ryan Lilly’s watch security and restriction seems to have become necessary and it seems to have been planned out very well. You don’t see this in Jamaica Plains or Boston. Time to speak with President Biden.

There are four booths for processing inside Building 200 and two at Building 205. There you are still screened for Covid and questioned regarding your purpose for being there. When you see all the great things that are being given the vets it would lead one to believe all is good. I noticed that Covid has been addressed and as the last shots were given the construction trucks started rolling in. They are now blocking things in and tearing up the road. Some vets notice and worry about the restriction. VA doesn’t share what they are doing with the vets. I firmly believe the vets should be made aware about the changes that are being made for their sake. VA is sacred ground for many veterans who have depended on it as a life line. Some vets have nervous disorder such as PTSD and change can upset them. Only trained, loving eyes would realize this. During this Covid ordeal many changes have been conveniently implemented. Perhaps some will turn out OK.

One of the big concerns has been the violation of the “Duck Habitat” next to the new hospitality house. We counted as many as 100 geese feeding on the rich habitat pond. The Canada Geese have felt so secure there that they have decided to nest. So far we have counted a dozen chicks. It is a wonderful place but it is getting very crowded. There have been some complaints made to the state but there seems to be no response. Still more construction goes on around the pond. With 500 acres you would think the imagination of the Lilly’s team could spread out a little. It takes more than brick and mortar to comfort the sick, wounded and weary. Some people don’t see the big picture. They don’t get into the heads of those they are supposed to be serving.

Togus is a wildlife lover’s paradise and that all adds to the healing process. I for one love watching the deer frolic in the meadow in the evening hours. My wife and I park there and just relax and watch. The folks who bring loved ones to have procedures stay in the hospitality houses and get to enjoy this beauty while waiting for their loved ones to be returned. Still not all is as great as Washington would have us believe.

During this pandemic veterans have been OK’d for outside doctors. This was always desired by vets, especially those living in remote areas. However, accepting this brought about teleconference VA appointments and has lightened the in-house load at VA. V.A. likes this procedure as it requires less time. I believe it will only last so long and the quality of the veterans care will deteriorate.

I spoke with a couple of doctors and found out VA was only paying between 35-51 percent of the billed accounts. At that reduced rate quality care will not last very long. Have a good week my friends and God bless.

SPECIAL TO THE TOWN LINE: Memorial Day about fallen soldiers

A close-up view of a tombstone at the Arlington National Cemetery, marking the grave site of four unknown crewmen assigned to the battleship USS MAINE (BB 2). The Marine sank after exploding off the coast of Havana, Cuba, killing approximately 260 crewmen. The sabotaging of the main precipatated the American declaration of war against Spain in 1898.

by Gary Kennedy

Memorial Day is a federal holiday which is celebrated on the last Monday of May, each year. To me Memorial Day indicates a day of memory. In our case it is the American realization that our freedom isn’t free at all. Young men and women have gone to war to protect the American way of life for several centuries now.

Fortunately, for those who did not serve in a military capacity had the support of those who would give their all to protect this great country and the residence who resided in the place they called home. This day is full of “do’s and don’ts”. The don’ts are what we need to avoid. Research shows five things we should not do on Memorial Day;

  • Don’t wish anyone a “Happy Memorial Day”. Memorial Day was not born out of happiness and joy.
  • Don’t thank the current troops. (Thank you for your service) it’s not about them.
  • Don’t regard the sale at Wal-Mart as a tribute to our deceased brothers and sisters. Be respectful.
  • Don’t forget it exists and why, explain it to the children.
  • Don’t let politics sway you from the respect that is deserved to those who gave their life for you. If you don’t respect what was given, then life means very little to you.

It’s very important to remember we are not celebrating veterans here; we are memorializing those who gave their lives. In 1868 General John Logan declared the day for paying respect to “those who have died”, defending our way of life with flags and flowers. As you can see there is an important distinction. Thank you for your service and wish you were here are very different. Even though some of us may disagree with the politics of war; that is not the issue of the holiday. We are showing thanks for our existence and respect for those who died securing that. No one could give more than his/her life for family, friends and country.

Historically our flags are flown at half staff from dawn until noon. You can put flowers on the grave of any fallen hero. It is customary to pause at 3 p.m. and say a little prayer. Wearing a red poppy is a symbol of respect which began early on when Memorial Day was known as Decoration Day. (May 30, 1868).

The Ohio Congressman and future president, James Garfield gave the first speech which took place at Arlington National Cemetery. This began as a Civil War event, in which over 620,000 men and women died. Later this was expanded to include all wars. Remember, Veterans Day honors all that have served in the armed forces but Memorial Day honors those who gave their lives. The late Billy Graham said, “Courage is Contagious”. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are stiffened. President James Garfield stated, “For love of country they accepted death.” Nathan Hale stated, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”

There are so many famous quotes surrounding this holiday. “In Flanders Field” probably is the greatest of them all. It was written by a Canadian physician during World War I, Lt. Colonel John McCrae. McCrae was inspired to write the poem while presiding at the funeral of a dear friend. Later he discarded the poem believing it to not be good. It was retrieved by another and published giving credit to McCrae.

In Flanders Field was first published on December 8, 1915. It is one of the most quoted poems to this very day, and applies to all conflicts of war and has even been used in advertising. In the U.S.A. we use it with Veterans and Memorial days. It was used as a recruiting tool during the romance period of war and was written in order to give a voice to the dead. A simple wooden cross in a field of poppies is where it received the breath of life from the mind and hand of one trained to save life. Bury your friend with a raincoat for cover. War is hell. When will we ever learn? Don’t forget this and be sure to pause at 3 p.m., and whisper your prayer. The world is in a bad place, even now. Enjoy your day off with friends and family and remember those who have allowed you to do that.

God Bless and stay safe.

In Flanders Field

The Larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce head amid the guns below

We are the dead. Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders Fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high
If ye brake faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Field.