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.

VETERANS CORNER: Those we used to depend on, now need our help

Gary Kennedyby Gary Kennedy

This has become a very difficult year for everyone but especially for our vets, as they age during these times of trouble and strife. Attitudes are going, without question, as our politicians are so divided it is scaring the heck out of everyone and pitting one group against another. Our southern border is being overrun and the homicide rate is the highest it has ever been. Some politicians are facing these obstacles head on while others are shying away from the fray.

Many very normal people are very, very fearful with domestic and world threat. I have aligned myself with veterans for many years, and I must say I haven’t seen this much PTSD in our vets than I do now. As we age those who use to be strong, energetic men and woman serving in our armed forces, protecting us all, have been reduced to today’s elderly with many in nursing homes viewing the USA with teary eyes. That which once was sweet, safe and home has become worrisome and coated with copious amounts of anxiety.

However, you don’t have to be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or any other form of stress disorder to feel this way in today’s environment. In any case, the weak now among us are the ones we use to depend on for our safety and freedom. It’s always been understood that we would be there for them when the time came. What does it take for us to realize all the danger we are not only placing our beloved veterans in, but the children as well. We need to stop fighting over who did what or what history might say about us and look around. There are superior negative forces outside that are biding there time to pounce at our weakest moment.

As a humanitarian I travel all over the world and hear and see many things. Some of what is being said is not very nice. We are feeling too safe in our arrogance. In a visit to a local veterans nursing home, not too long ago, I saw some things that broke my heart. There were four of us together this day and as we walked around we saw one man laying on the floor saying, “help, help.” I cornered a C.N.A. and asked if she was going to assist this elderly veteran? Her reply was, “oh that’s John, he does this all the time just to get attention.” She approached him and looked down and said, “If you keep this up I will take you to your room!” (Punishment?) That didn’t set well with any of us. Then we passed a woman sitting in a chair crying. We were told she does that all the time. She just wants attention. Perhaps I am missing something but this didn’t seem right to me. My wife went over and touched her hand and asked if she was OK. She looked up and smiled and stopped crying. We visited with her for a while. She was fine when we continued on.

PTSD can come from many things but in all cases it is so very sad. We all need to be aware when someone is reaching out. Depression is not necessarily a part of aging although some of us have difficulty as the body becomes more and more limited. It can be very difficult for some who remember the day vividly. No one takes aging without some sort of a fight. In any case, depression, or PTSD, can begin at any age. We don’t necessarily come from the battlefield with it. It can start later in dreams, memories or from snapshots in time. This often occurs when an individual finds they have time on their hands and they have never been able to fill empty spaces. Examples: golf, music and other hobbies they acquired over time. It’s not uncommon to see an 85-year-old on the golf course. It’s even more wonderful if the wife/husband has the same longevity and does these things together. Others are not as lucky unless they have a support group which helps fill in the voids.

Advocating for a vet is a very rewarding thing to do. They have a need and you have something to contribute to their well being. When you deal with an open heart and do your due diligence to understand, you could be that vets redemption on this side of heaven. Every aging veteran with no significant other or support group are the ones at serious risk. It doesn’t take much at all to be an advocate. Veterans need a voice and companionship. It’s all a matter of attitude and the desire to fill your life by consuming the holes (voids) which lie with others. Also, it can leave you with a wonderful feeling.

The joy of giving ones time to another can become a life saving bond. I know it makes me feel great to aid another with something I possess. Some church groups are aware of this and do outreach. Often times the veteran doesn’t know how to ask for help. Being alone and feeling disenfranchised is a very lonely place to be. The Veterans Administration has access to many programs which can help heal and fulfill the veteran’s woes. It’s just a matter of the person in need arriving at the correct place at the correct time.

Yes, things are tough right now so that would make this a perfect time to lend a helping hand. The Veterans Crisis Line is 1-800-273-8255 if you find a veteran in distress. Don’t pass by. Remember, it is not what you take with you, it’s what you have left behind. God Bless and God Bless America!

VETERANS CORNER: Phase3 at Togus should have more hands-on and face-to-face communication with veterans

Veterans Affairs Regional Benefit Office Togus, ME

by Gary Kennedy

Well, here it is my fellow veterans. We are starting into the first of spring. Emotionally, many of us are sighing with relief. Winter is always a hardship for most of us, both veteran and non-veteran. When you’re sick, sore and sorry, a breath of spring does a lot for the emotional side. Also those of us with physical problems suffer from those cold, damp and dark days of winter. The days are short and even nature becomes a strange, unpredictable state of affairs. Attitudes tend to change with the seasons.

As I write this for you, I am looking out my bay window and marveling over the number of birds and other wildlife which have come to visit our feeders. There are so many birds that I am unfamiliar with. However, they are all beautiful and sing and play for my entertainment.

It is really worth the price of the feed. For you newcomers the animals and birds appreciate the food and grow to depend on it. So once you begin this in the fall you need to remember that many of them have remained because you have cared for them. I have seen four Canada Geese land at Togus pond, beside the new hospitality house. We crossed paths with one very eager groundhog and a skunk that sprayed my yard, so now we must pray for rain. Soon we will plant our garden on paper, rotate all and prepare for seed. The hope is we will be able to get some of the time sensitive plants as soon as after the last frost, which may be very early this year. Maine, however, is a tricky state and I have jumped the gun before. That always requires a rethink.

Veterans’ cases are extremely slow and the process and accessibility to VA becomes ever exceedingly difficult. Almost all employees have been vaccinated. I heard there was a slight slow down due to the lack of the supply of vaccine. According to Togus official’s phase three will begin next month and that should speed up the solution of some pending cases which have gone beyond nine months. If it does not, then there are some of us who are prepared to put pressure on the powers that be.

At Togus, for those who don’t know, we have Tracy Davis and hidden in the back ground, Ryan Lilly. With a new president we are handicapped as he says one thing and does another on most issues. He claims to be 100 percent for the veterans and claims great respect for them. However, from a veteran’s point of view we are suffering greatly. All that had been achieved was removed in the first 30 days. We need to worry about this state of affairs.

We all watch the news and depression is beginning to settle in nationally. The world is watching and many of us feel ashamed and worry about all vets and the greatest country in the world. It didn’t take us long to get this terrible feeling of helplessness. We have never been challenged until recently and now Russia wants to debate our president and China stated, on international news the other night that we weren’t in any position in any way shape or manner to be giving orders to anyone. China’s spokesperson told our spokesperson at the Alaska Accords to just mind our own business. China never had the courage to speak to us in that manner since I’ve been alive. My time on this earth is getting very short and I give 150 percent even in a very disabled condition to our veterans. However, the problems we face are going beyond the individual. Many veterans need our help but our country as a whole even more so. I am too old to learn Mandarin. It’s now time for all of us to be paying attention and speak to our officials about our concerns. We need to stand strong and resolute in order to hold what we have together. Our government is at war with itself. Russia and China are just licking their chops. Remember this is a country of “we the people.”

As I understand it, phase3 at Togus should have more hands-on and face-to-face communication with veterans. Veterans have noticed the security barriers at all entrances which were temporary at first but now have taken on the aura of permanency. What is the purpose for this? For my 47 years in and around Togus all worked fine without this new security measure and its expense. It doesn’t feel like home to many vets. It seems to be a lock out which was conveniently placed during the pandemic. There are so many things that VA needs such as operating rooms and equipment.

On the VBA side there should be more case movement and outreach, just to name a few. Also, what about physical therapy? There was some great need and things getting done in the gym and swimming pool. These places almost take care of themselves. I was in the middle of therapy there when it was shutdown. I don’t know if my and other vets losses can be made up. I will wait until the next phase to see if these things are available. If not I will start writing to the Secretary of VA and beyond if necessary.

Those who are taking these things away are not Wounded Warriors so they don’t feel as we disabled vets feel. The Togus VA is very unique being it’s the first VA, so of course, the oldest going back to 1866, and it has a gym and an Olympic sized pool. Our VA has a lot to offer. We just have to make it available.

An accounting of funding is also something we need to watch. With 500 acres we should be able to be the largest VA Hospital/Admin facility in the nation. Also another pet peeve that some of us have is turning the nature of the VA system into a homeless habitat. That hasn’t worked at other facilities so Mr. Lilly’s so-called idea is not unique. There are plenty of places to shelter homeless vets without interfering with the true VA mission.

May God be with those of us who remain to face tomorrow and God bless this unique country and the way of life it has allowed.

NEWS FROM THE VA: Vaccines available at the VA; and some pet peeves

Veterans Affairs Regional Benefit Office Togus, ME

by Gary Kennedy

Greetings my fellow veterans and friends. After many years of service, on the positive side, I find myself smitten by the need to allow some of the negatives I have been made aware of by phone, text and face to face conversations. Most of what I take in from others I must share, “pet peeves”, as well as general information for all to hear and disseminate to others in need. Before I say things that some of you don’t want to hear, let me try and answer one of our associate writers of The Town Line’s questions from last week’s issue. As I have shared myself through The Town Line for many years, now most of you know much about me. For those of you who don’t, I am a 100 percent disabled, service-connected disabled American veteran who spends most of his time helping other veterans with their V.A. related problems. Also, I try very hard to stay up with current events and share what I research with others to whom it may apply.

Debbie Walker, in last week’s I’m Just Curious article, spoke a lot about Covid-19 and the ever elusive vaccine that Moderna has introduced to the world and in this case, Maine. I can offer a few things that I am aware of, and you or Debbie can follow it up. For those of you who don’t live near the Togus V.A. facility or are not veterans, there are several things you may not be aware of. The first is the Veterans Administration has been giving out thousands of doses of the Covid vaccine to elderly veterans; those vets who are over 75 years of age. First in line were the veterans with serious comorbidities such as asthma and/or emphysema. In both of these cases the bronchi and /or air sacks in the lungs are damaged. This being said you can see the “why” of these cases being first on the list. Covid goes for the respiratory system in a big way. The health caregivers are at the top of the list as well for very obvious reasons. Without them remaining healthy the remainder of us wouldn’t stand much of a chance.

I hear that CVS Pharmacy and Walmart Pharmacy will be joining the team in the administration of the Moderna vaccine in the near future. Remember two injections must be given four weeks apart, to defeat this airborne virus. Travel is very complicated to anywhere in the world as the quarantine rules differ from one place to another. It’s much safer to have gotten both injections before planning any journey. In the case of veterans, you can call 623-8411 Ext. 4949 or 4947 for appointments. For general information on a day-by-day info search use the Website (Maine.VA.gov). Also you can call public information at 623-8411 Ext. 2969. By all means share this information with others. It actually helps not only veterans but others to connect for appointments. This in turn helps others and helps our state stay on top of the ladder.

Now for some “pet peeves” that I have been avoiding but find it necessary to share. I have been part of this research myself. Most information I receive I follow up by testing the data myself. It has been brought to the attention of business as well as individuals that some wonderful benefits are being abused. The number one item I hear about is pets being allowed into, grocery stores, hospitals, etc. There are places that animals should not be allowed; no matter how much an individual may love them. Animals can carry harmful things to places of food supplies. Also, it should be obvious to most of us; areas that have sterile and aseptic environments are breached by our pets. A few years back we began a caregiver program for the military which allowed “Service Dogs” which were trained and certified as companions for the veterans who were blind or nearly so as well as PTSD patients. It seems this has evolved in a ridiculous way. Some people carry French poodles, cats and various other animals. This is beginning to cause problems for those with a real medical/emotional need. There are even many people who are allergic to some animals. This has forced some businesses to post signs that state, “Service Dogs only.” If you think about it there are reasons why animals are being barred from planes and places where sanitary conditions must be strictly enforced. If you haven’t seen a picture of pet dander then perhaps you should research it. It’s not pleasant.

Last but certainly not least. There are those who illegally take handicapped parking spots. Also some doctors give out handicapped letters for state licensing use which allow some, not only close to destination parking but negates the legitimate parking of those with a real handicap. I have tested this on several occasions and I must admit some people really disgust me. Also, it’s illegal. (The handicapped person must be in the vehicle). Some handicap permits are used to avoid fees, taxes; again illegal and unfair. Because you’re fat and /or elderly it doesn’t mean you need to take advantage of handicap privilege. You are doing both yourself and those truly handicapped a disservice. Exercise will help keep the old ticker strong. Do yourself a favor and take a walk. Do the truly handicapped person a favor and allow them to shop. Their world is smaller than yours. There are many ways to show love and respect. If you think of each other as family our days will find so much fulfillment and satisfaction. A healthy glow on ones face is the best sleeping pill one can imagine. “Things are tough right now for all of us but doing the right thing is the right thing to do.” Remember someday you will be there as well. God bless and have a safe, thoughtful, considerate and wonderful day.

VETERANS CORNER: Veterans who qualify should contact the VA for vaccine appointments

Veterans Administration facility at Togus. (Internet photo)

by Gary Kennedy

Well here we are again. Most of us especially veterans thought it would be over in Washington by now but much to our dismay politicians are still planning and plotting ways to get the upper hand in one way or another. The Biden entrance exam is under way with stimulus that makes some of us lust and others to drool for more. It seems the big issue is does a previous $600 stimulus plus a new $1,400 stimulus add up to the $2,000, some believe promised, of course, the debt accrual over the long haul is not being considered. Some don’t even care; just give me the money. There is no easy way to give a stimulus to those in need only. There are many people of means who will receive and keep that money as well. Of course, taxes have to go up and some programs have to be shutdown. Veterans watch this very closely as they know what can happen when the country and world are placed in desperate situations.

In case you haven’t been watching the world has been mobilizing while we play partisan politics; a dangerous oversight of reality, I use veterans in particular as they are always on alert when it comes to threats to our country. So if you haven’t been paying meaningful attention there are powers that be out there that are mobilizing in a very serious way. We should be hanging our head is shame. In our arrogance we boast world superiority when it comes to military might. We shouldn’t be so careless. India has just purchased 80 fighter aircraft from the Russians. That’s a lot of sky power. Iran says they can go nuclear now. We thought we had N. Korea at bay but we are finding out that they may have purchased nuclear weapons instead of making them. China has built a powerful base in the Sprattle Islets which actually belongs to the Philippines, but President Duterte says, “what can I do?” The Chinese are too powerful to argue with. Taiwan is a target of China which we need to defend and it seems that the agreement between England and Hong Kong has been broken. If we throw in the Covid-19 problem we are super extended. Who will side with us when all is said and done? It seems we aren’t loved nor feared as once was the case. We might need the second amendment.

Then in all of this we have the President Trump report card. The political parties argue over how much he did and how much can others claim. We are still trying for the second time to impeach. I personally am ashamed of what we have become. I pray that we get it straight soon. The politicians are now fighting over who gets the credit for the vaccine. It hasn’t been given out fast enough some are saying. I heard on the news this morning that one of the western states and Florida are the best states for distribution. I would argue with that as I have been watching Maine and especially the VA Center at Togus Maine which has been giving thousands of doses of Moderna out already.

The caregivers at Togus are complete and many elderly with comorbidities have received the vaccine. There have been lines for two weeks, many elderly vets have been called and appointments given. If you are elderly, especially with comorbidities and you haven’t been called then you need to contact your primary caregivers’ office. Obviously, the vaccine is given out in the order of established need. If you’re a veteran contact the VA center at 623-8411 and push “0”. Ask for advice on vaccine. If you are 100 percent disabled with other serious issues, waste no time.

God bless you and yours and a little extra for bringing us together.

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

VETERANS CORNER: I always admire the night sky

by Gary Kennedy

Ah! Here it is the first week of January and all will turn back to normal soon. The presidential election is over and the race in Georgia for control of the Senate has been decided. The results of these two events will guide this country for the next four years. A few veterans are happy with these outcomes but I fear the result and the road to that result has left disappointment and a sour taste in many mouths. This has certainly been the meanest presidential run in my life time. I pray for our country, our veterans and all that have suffered through this entire ordeal. Many have died needlessly and many small, struggling businesses have perished as well.

We all have our vote. I, for one, hope that we all followed our conscience and good judgment and that the outcome will lead to a successful term. I use to be a strict party person, now I try to read the heart, soul and potential benefit to all my military brothers and sisters as well as their families and those they serve. We are all in this together, so we can’t turn our love for one another on and off organizationally.

As a Maine native, and a former soldier, I have grown faster than the dollar and have grown to realize that the worth of a person far outweighs the value of the ever declining dollar. I have spent the past many years giving back throughout the world, all that I can, and trying to heal some of life’s wounds that I carry, by helping others avoid some of these things.

At night I always admire the night sky as it is the only thing that darkness enlightens. It’s a blackboard of wondrous creation. I’m sure many of you carry the same thoughts with you. The night sky is the most beautiful parchment one could ever possibly find and that which is adorned on it is the greatest art work ever conceived. I am now sure each beautiful sparkle has meaning and many of us strive to be part of the artist’s loving hand. It makes me think of the “house of many mansions.” My wish for this New Year is that we all take a moment to look around, see the wonders but at the same time realize there are many needs. If we selfishly address them, then we will be promoting chaos. When we search the sky we do not see disarray or instability, it’s only when we look here.

It’s true that not all that hold their hands out are in need but I suggest that those who do are among them. Make 2021 a year of consideration and just assume that those who bare their pride just might be in pain. Remember it’s not what we take with us but what we leave behind.

Covid-19 has been a nightmare of massive proportion for most of us but it has also brought us together in many ways. We and the world have developed new medicines which lead to the stimulation of the human brain and its ability to overcome adversity. Often this will bring about adjuncts of various sorts. Many medicines have been precursors to other important discoveries. I think people tend to become lazy and need to be stimulated once in a while. Stimulus checks certainly are helpful in maintaining a course on a temporary level but does not incentivize one to move forward. I believe when thought out most of us would agree.

Many of you are probably not aware that the Togus VA began their vaccine distribution last week. All of the employees are currently receiving this vaccine as well as in house patients. Next should be the totally disabled veterans that come and go through the V.A. doors. I believe by the start of summer the elderly, disabled and caregivers will be finished and the remaining population will receive theirs. So, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

So in conclusion, I personally want to thank all the men and women health caregivers who have placed themselves in harms way and made great sacrifices both to themselves and their family and friends. We can all learn a great lesson from all those who served on the frontline, in particular the scientists who develop these miraculous vaccines. Also, without partisan implication, I believe we can thank President Trump for his Warp Speed reaction to this terrible deadly threat to the USA and the world. Normally, it requires years to find and approve a drug such as this for use.

First and foremost, we are Americans as well as part of the human race. We do these things for the love of human kind and the earth that is but one sparkle on that parchment of the night sky. God Bless and have a very Happy New Year.

VETERANS CORNER: VA Togus partially re-opens to veterans

Veterans Administration facility at Togus. (Internet photo)

by Gary Kennedy

Well, here we are again, my friends and fellow vets. Not much time has gone by but I have been presented with many questions and problems. It seems that the online conferencing which no one seems to know about isn’t going too great.

As of September 21 the VA Togus has partially opened to veterans. This should make some of you happy. However, for the time being VA is only accepting veterans by appointment. That is the same on both the medical and administrative sides. Also, some of the service organizations such as VFW, DAV and American Legion are following suit. Of course, you will have to be examined at the door, hand sanitizing and masks are required. Ward visitation is still limited. If you would like to speak to a service organization or a particular ward call 207-623-8411, 0. Zero will give you a live operator and they will transfer your call from a 8 a.m. – 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. On Friday I would suggest calling a little early for the obvious reasons. If you need benefits information or to make an appointment to see a counselor at VBA you can use my secret number of 207-621-6938. The reason you pay me the big bucks is for information like this.

Now I will try to answer some of the big questions: Is emergency open? The answer is Yes, but remember if you have a medical emergency dial 911.

Is the store and lunch room open? The answer is Yes, but you still have to go through screening if you are coming in off the street.

Can I file a claim? The answer again is Yes. You can use the Myhealthyvet app, or you can make an appointment using the number I have supplied above and make an appointment with a claims representative. Some of us aren’t comfortable doing it on our own, so the experts are still taking appointments, these men and women are the backbone of the VA system, and for the most part are vets who really want to help you. Don’t ever be afraid to ask as it would only be you who would lose. These folks have changed the lives of many vets in need. They have heard and seen it all. You can even get a free pen.

Next, and a very important issue to so many, I went out of the comfort of my home to a little research. This is a very contentious issue between me and VA. It is my opinion that areas such as rehabilitation are not doing their job. It is my opinion that those in the know are not dealing with many issues in a pragmatic manner. I decided to visit some of the rehab areas around Augusta and found that most rehab centers were dealing with this pandemic in a very pragmatic way. I visited both YMCAs and they were functioning in an almost normal day to day manner. It is my understanding that if you need what the “Y” offers, you should speak to your PCP and ask for an outside membership. If it is something that you require in your medical regimen, V.A. will pay for your membership. Don’t give up on your daily need without asking one of us for some direction. It may be available to you.

There are some serious issues coming down the pike like, why are doctors refusing to take me on? Not all of the beauty of Veteran’s Choice stands the test of validity. Until four to five months ago doctors were enjoying a full fee based position. Well such is not the case anymore. None of the politicians seem to be aware that physician fees have been severely cut to the point of contention between the veterans. Physician fees have been cut between 35 – 51 percent of the original billed fee. So doctors are more and more refusing to take veterans. This problem is going to grow and affect many veterans. I currently have a letter out to President Trump. I don’t think he is even aware of this new problem. I am not sure if this is an isolated problem with Tracye Davis, Ryan Lilly or all the way to National Director, Secretary Robert Wilkie. In any case I will find the answer and let you know.

This makes me as angry as it does you. I, like you, rely upon some outside doctors. This indicates to me that we will soon be reverting to our previous way of doing things. I always felt it was too good to be true. I was just informed that a previous doctor wouldn’t see me anymore because of this fee problem. So, for me to get similar care that I need, I will have to go to New Hampshire. VA will pay for it but I believe that the difference in cost between my current doctor and a new one in New Hampshire is going to be negligible, when they add in travel. A six-hour drive round trip is not a good program by a long shot. I expect to be hearing more from our vets in short order.

In these trying times many of us are pinching pennies. I know I have. My wife and I are very fond of canned Spam. It’s not considered top of the line but we like the low salt variety. Well, let this be a warning to you. Recently my wife and I purchased several cans to keep as reserve. My wife opened one yesterday and it was blue inside both on the meat as well as the upper lid of the can. We wrapped it in plastic and refrigerated it. We have contacted the company and we will inform the store. We also took photos of the product and looked it up on the computer. The Chinese have a 40 percent ownership in both Hormel and Smithfield pork products. I don’t know about you but I become worried when communist countries buy into our food supply. I will let you know how this turns out.

Be ever vigilant my friends. Perhaps we all need to have a conversation with our leaders. We took photos of this product and its barcode. Be safe to you and yours and God bless.

VETERANS CORNER: Election, SSI and COLA time

by Gary Kennedy

This is election time and also an SSI and Veteran COLA time. (Cost of Living Adjustment). The veterans historically receive the same as SSI recipients. This is usually what occurs in the fiscal year, October 1. As it stands now the percentage relied upon is using the Consumer Price Index and as it stands at this time it looks like the increase will only be 1.6 percent which is not a whole heck of a lot. Defined, this is an increase in Social Security benefits to counteract inflation. This automatic annual COLA began in 1975.

The largest COLA was in 1980 at 14.3 percent. The new COLA will affect 69 million Americans. I personally believe this COLA is based on a better quarter than we are in. In any case veterans will receive the same. So the way I figure it veterans will receive approximately an additional $38.80. Not a thrilling amount and that is based on 100 percent service connection. If your check is less, then, of course, that amount will go down. Just multiply your check by 1.6 percent and that will be your increase. The origin of this was basically a grocery issue. Not news I like to share but that is the way of it.

Bernie Sanders in 2015 found that the cost of living amount if any was outrageous; I have addressed this issue with Sen. Susan Collins and with President Donald Trump. We’ll have to see what the outcome is. I believe someone should take issue with this as in regards to our elderly, disabled and veterans. The amount given to SSI recipients is based on an average of approximately $1,500 monthly, with an increase of $24. The maximum base is fixed for SSI at this figure. Most Vietnam era disabled veterans also receive SSI so they receive both.

Other issues which veterans have discussed with me regard the political theater in this election year. I advocate for veterans to help them get health care as well as monetary benefits. I do a lot of that, and I have for 47 years. I have always used senatorial offices to aid my veterans. I was very impressed with our first female senator Margaret Chase Smith. She was the first female senator and she didn’t play games. There were several things that impressed me but the one that started my relationship with that office was, she was given the designation of “Mother of the Waves” for her efforts to advance women in the military (Navy).

I started using that office when Sen. Olympia Snowe who was the second woman and of Greek origin, become senator. She was easy to deal with and didn’t care about my political stand. I don’t believe in all the years I dealt with John Cummings, her right hand man, I was ever asked about my political views. I went there only for veteran issues, with much success.

Now we have Senator Susan Collins who likewise has aided me and veterans that I have sent there with very good success at dealing with our issues. She gave her blessing to the homeless housing and the hospitality house at Togus V.A. I have never found others to be as accessible.

Sen. Collins said in the beginning she would only serve two terms but has served 23 years, to date. Veterans and S.S.I. recipients have benefited from this. Many veterans fear they might lose this support as this will be the second time she has stepped away from her party. The race for the Senate looks like a dead heat between her and Sarah Gideon. Whoever wins, I promise I will remain loyal to my commitment to veterans and will seek the aid of whomever to benefit them and SSI.

Since veterans also receive SSI, I have asked the proper questions regarding this and Medical Stands. Nothing will change to harm you. Unfortunately, politics can be a nasty business as we have seen in both state and federal elections. Just because we are retired we should not live in fear. There are many good politicians out there that have elderly family members. I am very active with all of this and more and I see no negative changes on our horizon. I, like you, depend on my check and Medicare. Veterans, I hope this gives you information and answers your questions. Don’t worry Maine, all will work out. God bless you and God bless America.

VETERANS CORNER: Clarifying veterans’ dissolutionment and confusion with VA shutdown

by Gary Kennedy

So many veterans are dissolutioned and confused by the VA being shutdown. For vets VA is a safe haven, a place that gives feelings of security. My phone and computer are active all the time. I have a relationship with vets not only here but in Asia as well. We have VA facilities in both places and more. In Asia American holidays and shutdowns are in force but also in other countries VA celebrates their holidays and shutdown rules as well as their own. That gives big gaps in service and we still pay for it.

I will just address home as most of the VA related rules both medical and administrative are basically the same. The big difference that I would answer here is, if getting medical service in a foreign country you can still go outside the VA system if you are service connected for the problem. However, make sure your condition is a service connected condition and that you go to a facility that accepts VA patients.

VA would have a contract with them and you would not have to pay out if pocket. If you are in a remote area where VA isn’t covered you will need to pay up front and file for reimbursement. Make sure you know the rules. In some cases you need to be a 100 percent Service Connected Disabled Veteran. Clarity is key here so check with the local VA system or check with “My Healthy Vet” on your computer or smart phone.

VA here at Togus is still seeing some patients but the rule of thumb is, if you are given an unacceptable wait time then you can insist on being farmed out. We are now dealing with a double edged sword in many cases. We received this benefit originally because of having to travel long distances and/or long wait times. Now however, some of us here have to travel great distances for our new outside appointments. I, for one, has recently been given an eye specialist appointment with choices of Fairfield or Portland. The research I will do on this one will be; if we have such a large eye department at Togus and our doctors are working anyway, why don’t we just make specific strict time appointments at VA? All the protocols could be met with no problem from the front entrance.

I was at the VA yesterday and everyone was on conference calls. The U.S. government is saying how wonderful they are treating us but we don’t have any input and we are the reason they have a job. Salaries at Togus are in the millions. There should be some veteran interplay in the process. I believe we would feel better and the administration would have some input from the veteran’s perspective. Right now I really don’t know how long the government can sustain this practice they have put in place, from a financial point of view. We still have all the doctors at VA and now we also have “Veteran’s Choice”. How deep are the government pockets?

Actually, I see very little good happening at this time. Our country is spending money we don’t have, we are under attack by Covid-19, a Chinese concocted virus which has killed millions. Our veterans in nursing homes are suffering and dying, yet we are being told that we are getting great treatment while at the same time our pensions are as weak as is our social security. At the same time we are praying for a fast cure to this pandemic. The government as well as some of the people don’t seem to realize how vulnerable the elder veterans are. Some give up and some go in hiding.

We are watching our country, that made us veterans, be desecrated by radicals from within. It’s a political year and the politicians are worried about what to do without upsetting the apple cart. The #1 program on TV as of late has been the battle of the news companies. It has been so sad to see the desecration of our flag, monuments, buildings, ships, and forts and in general, our way of life. All that we have fought to protect is being torn down and now we are too old to help stop it. Does anyone out there really know how hurt, angry we are? The fact of the matter is most of this is being caused by people we have allowed to call this country home, legally and illegally. (Not born here). Our two political parties are at a stalemate and we can’t get anything done. Other countries are either laughing at us or feeling sorry for us. If we aren’t careful we will be speaking another language soon.

My personal pain goes to my children and grandchildren. When I am in the South Pacific, I hear some terrible things. It always seems that no one cares until it is too late and they have to wear the yoke. Has anyone paid attention to the fact that in the past three months gun sales have increased some 300 percent. I watched a TV program the other night and a gun store had only one rifle left on the wall and no ammunition. That’s scary. Are they to shoot each other or are we preparing for war? The public doesn’t realize how this all affects our nation’s veterans. We are terrified and angry at the same time. Remember the song, “You don’t believe we’re on the Eve of Destruction.” If you are too young to know it, you should pull it up on your computer.

Back in President John Kennedy’s era the statement was made, “we’ll take them from within,” referring to the U.S.A. That statement was originally coined by Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev after Kennedy found the Russian missiles down in Cuba. I would ask the readers; what do you think he meant by that? (Inference to our power grid, our food supply, germ infection, etc.) Think about this. Are Americans aware that the Chinese have bought into some of this in our country? Hannaford just stopped buying a brand of pork products owned by China. I think it was Smithfield ham and pork products. Ask your store manager.

When I am in Asia I hear many negative things and the one I have just mentioned is still very much alive. In Maine, we don’t have as big a problem as is shown in other places, especially big cities, of the U.S.A. So when you are thinking of the state of affairs and especially the treatment of veterans, remember how and why they exist as such. Everything we love and enjoy is because of them and always has been and probably always will be. Most of us have lost some one defending us and this country we love. Don’t let those who live among us destroy that. You know, we all know, who and what they are. If you don’t love this country and the time proven Declaration of Independence, as well as the Constitution of the U.S.A., then I guess you don’t belong here. Some people have actually said, “America has never been any good.” This should break your heart and it does to many veterans. If you’re about what you had and what you now have, we really shouldn’t be having this conversation. Some people just like trouble and sick attention.

Having any health problems, you can reach your primary care provider by dialing 207-623-8411 and when you get the recording press “0” and tell the operator who you would like to speak with and their representative will set you up. (Secret) Hope you had a great 4th of July and remembered your veterans.

God Bless you and God Bless America.

VETERANS CORNER: We hear on the television and radio that veterans are receiving the best care and benefits ever. How can that possibly be?

Veterans Administration facility at Togus. (Internet photo)

by Gary Kennedy

I will share with you what I know and I will try to answer the many questions that you have. The political side of the VA system tries to appease you with an occasional conference call which they pack in as many vets as they can. For those of you who are privy to these calls you must realize that the moderator is very vague, and 75 percent, or more, of the time passes you off to someone who will give you a future phone call, or so they say. The reason for this is obvious. To some, if not most of you, it’s because the answer is not readily available and this service is just supposed to act as a pacifier for the VA and the government.

You will hear Senators Angus King and Susan Collins names being dropped to seem to give a sense of validity/legitimacy to this conference. However, these senators are not present nor privy to these confrontations. With our distressed, disabled veterans, who in many cases can’t articulate their problems in a way that is totally understandable; they are more discouraged after the call. So, the reply you hear most of the time is, “I am sorry to hear that,” but because of the complexity, lack of records, or other information needed to assist you, I will have to have someone call you back. Such is not the case when the doors to service officers and/or V.B.A. are open. Almost everything around our state is open, at least to some degree, but VA keeps its doors locked for the most part. There are some medical exceptions but very few.

We hear on the television and radio that veterans are receiving the best care and benefits ever. How can that possibly be? If you have a medical issue you can contact “My Healthy Vet,” on your computer. Do you have a computer? Are you computer literate? If you say yes then you can make a third or fourth party contact and some time in the future you should get a phone call from a call center, asking what you would like to accomplish by this contact. If you were talking to your medical provider that would be the answer to your problem as he or she would direct you with authority to the next point of necessity. There is nothing that can replace your contact with the source, VA.

Years ago, when I found really complex issues pertaining to veterans, I would take them to Senator Olympia Snowe’s office and there I would sit down with John Cummings and we would discuss the issue and take it to the next level, if need be. Those were the good old days, as the expression goes. One way or the other, we would get the job done.

Today, I see so many discouraged veterans who gave up years ago but found new solutions using different venues today. The government believes that these brief video or phone contacts will pacify most of the veterans. However, they aren’t seeing the real picture. They are just patting themselves on the back and saying, “Job well done for now.” What you really need are definitive answers coupled with hands on. The VA is saying we are not taking any elective procedures at this time. Shots in your joints which you have had in the past for mobilization and or pain is elective? Some veterans have been having these procedures for many years along with chiropractic manipulation and acupuncture. Baby boomers are synonymous with Vietnam Era Veterans. The majority of those who are serviced at VA, currently are of this time slot. There isn’t much in front or behind this group of veterans, with exceptions.

It is said that video and audio appointments are very appropriate and well received by both the veteran and the care giver. Such is definitely not the case. Nothing can replace hands on health care. If we go that route we are all losers. For some covid-19 is a blessing, a weeding out process; VA will have less employees and veterans will get less than robotic care. Out sourcing money will run dry soon.

When you are given a phone number to call for service, you are actually getting a call center which houses people with minimal amounts of training and a hand book to use for quick reference. Don’t buy into that even though the person on the line is very kind and sympathetic. They are trained to do that. You still have your senator, so don’t be afraid to use her. I personally don’t have faith in the rest. If you are an amputee, there are some wonderful programs and people out there. For the younger generation, there are more programs and possibilities, and that is as it should be but we older vets must be acknowledged to a degree as well. Don’t abandon me in my few remaining years. Most of us just want respect and comfort. We wish we had your paycheck and benefits.

I was on the government conference call this week because I wanted to see what they had to offer. I really hated hearing, “I will have someone call you.” I think Paul Lawrence and his team need some training. (Under Sec. for Benefits) By the way the National Call Center’s number is 1-800-827-1000, good luck with that. Call centers have general rules of a time limit of eight minutes and most have never been a service officer (VSR). Most are no more than retained telemarketers which are extremely overwhelmed with millions of calls. These folks have limited, scripted answers. True!

There have been several questions veterans have repeatedly asked only because they are nearing the end of the line and are extremely concerned about those they will leave behind without their guidance. We may not be the brightest bulb in the ceiling but we feel we are.

The questions that Paul and his team have the most difficult time with should be printed in understandable terms and made available to all vets in a simplistic written format. Where formulas are involved they should be layed out in (example :) format. One problem I have seen, the answer to mass questions is very simple; write a pamphlet. The most asked questions are DIC explanations which involves benefits to their surviving spouse and dependents. Since they already pay these benefits, they should be able to explain them in lay terms. Lay terms mean different things to different people. Some people need more help than others, via explanation. “Don’t take your audience for granted” should be the golden rule. There are those brighter than you and some not so.

Regarding DIC, this use to be based on a 10-years marriage or more but such is not the case anymore. There are many variations but basically if the vet is permanent and totally disabled and dies from his service connected disabilities in any way shape or manner and is married for one year, he or she should be eligible for DIC benefits of somewhere in the ball park of $1,340.14. A child with no parent $565.84. Aid and Attendance has variations from $284.57 to $332.00. I believe house bound would be $155.33. A spouse remarries after age 57 can collect DIC if after 12-16-03. When they use the word totally it doesn’t necessarily mean 100 percent, but means unable to work. Each child under 18 is entitled to a transitional benefit of $286 for two years only; each child over 18 for a limited period can receive a DIC Apportionment Rate of $332.00. This info should give you a talking point.

Don’t rely on my above opinion as these things change often. I also concur that a better explanation is necessary but this is a good bench mark from which to begin your search. If you really want to get into it you can purchase a CFR Title 38, Pensions, Bonuses and Veterans Relief. I believe you can also acquire this in software format. Check your computer or Barnes and Noble. They are fairly expensive and for some perhaps difficult to understand. However, with all the hype out there you need to be informed to the best of your ability.

So, to reiterate what wasn’t answered on our conference call is the following: Permanent & Total refers to veterans whose disabilities are (total = rated 100 percent disabling by the VA) and (Permanent which is zero or close to zero chance of improvement). (Permanent and Total ratings are protected from being reduced and may entitle you and /or your loved ones to additional VA benefits. This definition is as of 2017 and like everything else is subject to change. Once a veteran is granted Individual Unemployability (IU) or TDIU) which is short for Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability, you are disabled with less than 100 percent service connection but rated as if you were because of inability to maintain meaningful employment.

These are just some of the queries I was privy to. I hope these responses are of some help to my brother and sister vets out there. We are all in this together and should help each other to the best of our ability. Last but not least, when you enter the VA you will notice that safety measures are in place as they are in many other businesses. Respect these areas but don’t be intimidated by them. If a person is talking behind a shield or plexiglass barrier, they are protected especially since you are wearing a mask as well. Report any and all disrespect you receive while visiting “your” VA. They work for you. Anything that is sent by the mail is not protected. You should sanitize anything you receive like this. I personally witnessed a UPS driver wipe his nose on the back of his hand then enter an Augusta pharmacy without a facemask. The door of this pharmacy was clearly marked, “No Entry without a mask.” Obviously this is not being enforced by them and many other businesses which I have been monitoring.

We can’t get back to normal if we don’t follow protocol. Believe it or not, Walmart was the best I surveyed for mask and distancing. Make it our quest not to digress, participate. In conclusion, we have nice trimmed lawns and new buildings but we still have no equipment in neurology. So for testing you must be sent outside. I do believe we have a new neurologist. I guess we just need to be creative with spending.

God Bless.