VETERANS CORNER: Is there greater benefit after one receives 100% rating?

Veterans Affairs Regional Benefit Office Togus, ME

by Gary Kennedy

A question often asked is, “is there any greater benefit after one receives a 100 percent rating?” My answer is, it is possible to receive other benefits both monetarily speaking and in services. However, these areas of benefits may not be that easy to obtain. They definitely require advanced knowledge of veteran’s benefits, what is needed and how to apply. If you feel you have hit a wall but you have reason to believe you should be able to receive more, then you may be correct in your summation. The question should not harbor around what other people make but why you feel you have reason to believe you have conditions, with service relationships that have kept you from achieving the goals you have set in life and the reasons you can’t achieve them that most likely have something to do with your time in the military that has prohibited you from achieving your life goals.

If one considers all the physical and/or emotional events that occurred while serving your country, in an honorable manner, you might find something that stands out to the trained eye as a problem not fully addressed within the guidelines of your 100 percent rating. Perhaps it’s time you started asking those very questions to those who have been trained to see those things and are there to help you.

Those in the know are referred to as V.S.O’s, Veterans Service Officers. The acronym may change with time but the service remains the same.

I have heard your arguments. Sometimes you need to shop around to find the correct fit for you and for your situation. We all know there are good mechanics and not so good mechanics, good doctors and not so good doctors. Sometimes it becomes a matter of personality. We all run across those in life we just can’t relate to. However, the one you need is out there and you can find that person if you are patient and tolerant.

We veterans can be difficult to deal with at times, given the circumstances that life has dished out. “Don’t bite your nose to spite your face”, as the old adage goes. Some of those V.S.O’s are veterans themselves. I have found that whether prior service or not most are compassionate, understanding and thankful for your service. You are the reason they are there. Given a fair chance and your cooperation you might be surprised at what can be achieved in regards to your dreams and aspirations.

I find the office of V.B.A to be very friendly and hospitable. There is usually a comfortable seat, a pot of coffee and a smiling friendly greeter to welcome you in with “how may we assist you?” The next step is obviously up to you. You will certainly be directed to a specialist in a private room to air out your questions. I guarantee when you conclude your visit you will have obtained answers to most, if not all of your questions. The area that I am currently referring to is knows as V.B.A.. They are located on the second floor of building. 248. To locate this area you would need to enter building 205. Just inside the door you will be greeted by a big veteran in a power wheelchair. He will direct you from there. Some of you know this building as the one where most of your primary care providers are located. He can also direct you to V.F.W., D.A.V., Maine Vets and Paralyzed Veterans of Maine. American Legion is in another building but is temporarily closed. In any case there are always many veteran assistants available to help with all of your questions. Your initial question of, “is there life beyond 100 percent?” can be answered by those I have previously mentioned.

There are many scenarios that can be addressed. The one I hear most is, “I need help”. Those can be heart breaking words if left on their own. The way I always look at it is, if you’re stating this then there is a serious short coming in your life that needs to be addressed. No one wants you to carry that weight around with you. If you are honest and sincere there is always an answer to fit your needs. It might not always be perfect but it will definitely lighten your load.

I find that to be true most of the time. Some of you have tried before and failed but time has gone by and things always change. Also, you might be dealing with a new entity, program or rule. I’ve seen it many times. I do offer one word of advice, actually there are several words making up one advice: when given some good sound advice act upon it as given. I have seen several take the advice and share it and a conversation pursued on how to improve upon it with another veteran. You went to an adviser for advice; act upon it as given. That’s his or her job and they won’t lead you astray. Unsound advice leads to descent.

In the slang, that’s a downer. Next time I will share some of what I believe to be true regarding programs that can elevate your lot if you in fact qualify. It breaks my heart to see anyone miss out on what they have earned and deserve. Don’t let the government’s tricky words unravel you. A house with no stairs raises hell with a slinky. We will get the job done. God bless you and yours and have a great fun filled week.

VETERANS CORNER: Things at the VA are slowly changing

Veterans Affairs Regional Benefit Office Togus, ME

by Gary Kennedy

Well, things at the VA are slowly changing. The Community Living Center which was supposed to be built four years ago has been started. However, for some reason that I haven’t been able to figure out, as of yet, construction has stopped again. Another construction site has begun in the rear of Building 205. The way things have been going is very strange. When I ask, people just say, “I don’t know”, no one wants to talk. The beautiful hospitality house that was gifted to we veterans and families continues to sink into the ground and nothing has be done. The hospitality houses parking lot has been turned into public parking.

Remember several years ago I complained about the house being built on wet land and land that is a wildlife habitat and has been for decades. I even filed a complaint with the state. They didn’t do anything, to my knowledge. We have both geese and different varieties of ducks that breed and habitat that area annually. It’s wonderful for our veterans, especially the inpatients to be able to watch the babies being born and taught by their parents the needs for making the trip south in the fall. I’ve watched them for 50 years and never tired of watching the never ending cycle of life.

We have dozens of deer and other animals that habitat the remaining 500 acres of federal land, the wildlife know what they are doing; it’s the humans that have a problem getting their act together.

We have some fantastic employees at Togus but we don’t have, nor can we keep, enough of them. The big question is why? Many departments are under a great deal of pressure. That is true not only on the medical side but also on the administrative side. A good example would be VBA. The pressure on the employees there is great. When I visit that area with a veteran I can tell the minute I walk in how things will be.

Seventy-five percent of the staff there are brand new and still learning. That is difficult for the veteran and difficult for the employee. Don’t take me wrong, they get the job done; it just takes more effort and more time. Also, recently there has been many retirements in the VA system. That means 20 plus years of knowledge and experience are lost. New eyes are good but those eyes have much to learn. Even the Veteran Service Officers (V.S.Os) of the independent organizations have much to do with it as those organizations are not highly paid.

Covid and government upset has really taken its toll and hurt the least of us the most. The medical side isn’t any better off. We are severely short on skilled doctors and practitioners. People are being moved around into areas that, in my opinion, they have no business in; it will affect overall veteran care and leave the employee in a very bad place. Some of our doctors need to retire and the need for replacement is great. I don’t believe administration knows how to fill the gaps.

Recently, as many veterans are aware, the gym privilege was taken from recovering veterans and rented out to employees. I believe that was done as an incentive for keeping young employees. In any case that is a slap in the face of veterans as that gym and pool were built almost a century ago for the welfare of veterans and anyone eliminating that right should not be working at the VA. My letters to Washington will one day be answered and soon I hope. The veterans deserve better than that. Administration in my opinion has forgotten who they are working for. The word “respect” has been lost and replaced with lip service.

Soon we will be having an election and I pray that everyone has been watching what is going on. Everyone out there needs to evaluate what they see and experience and vote. If you don’t vote then you will receive what you deserve. We are all Americans whether or not you put on the uniform in defense of our country. We are in this together and have our family and friends to protect. Ask any veteran, we are in a very bad and dangerous place at this time. We can’t stand idly by and allow our country to be taken over by the worst of us.

I had a woman call me today and tell me that her husband recently passed away and she asked the VA for help, and hasn’t heard anything yet. She is worried as she doesn’t have her husband’s pension anymore. He was a 100 percent Service Connected, Permanent and Total Vet; of course this lady is entitled to help. I explained D.I.C. to her, told her where to go and who to speak with. I also told her if she had a problem to call me back and I would accompany her to the proper destination and person.

This column has many viewers and I am pretty sure the person I am referring to is one of the readers. I know he will give this lady all the help she needs and deserves. There are so many veterans and/or their significant other that don’t use the system that was designed for them. That is a shame and not acceptable. We all need to help one another, even if only a referral.

If you know someone who is struggling then you should guide them to the VA. There are many of us who really love helping. The joy of another brought on by an act of kindness is in itself a great reward. Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind and compassionate to one another”. It doesn’t take much to assist others who are in need of guidance and/or direction.

As veterans we have an oath to one another. There are other organizations who share that, such as Masons, Knights of Rizal, Rotary, Kiwanis, etc. The motto is “Service Above Self”. We all know someone or some organization that can and are willing to help. We really need to get back on the American path.

Next time I will go over some of the questions I have gathered here on my desk. We will try to get your claims on the right path. Just remember to keep your doctor’s appointments and tell your PCP all that is going on so he/she can make the right referrals. That’s the nuts and bolts of a good claim.

Your VSO will write your case according to what is located in discovery. Your military story needs to be known to your doctor so he/she can place you on the path that you need to be on. Sometimes a case takes awhile to develop. Just be patient and don’t give up. The wheels are always turning. God bless and have a great week.

VETERANS CORNER: Excellent news in regards to several Veterans VA cases

Veterans Administration facility at Togus. (Internet photo)

by Gary Kennedy

Well, for all of you who follow Julie and me, we have returned home safe and sound. I noticed the past issue of the The Town Line, my old friend Peter Garrett was honored with a nature trail being memorialized in his name. He has always been a true nature lover and great Rotarian. He certainly deserves to be recognized for his love of Maine in all aspects. I was very pleased to see the article and seeing my friend looking so well. The Town Line always tends to showcase the best of us. Perhaps someday even me.

Julie and I had a very successful journey to S.E. Asia. Until the very end, the temperature remained comfortable. We came home this month and the temperature had a bad streak of 103°-106°F. I can’t tolerate those temperatures. I was anxious to leave and come home. We always leave wishing we could have done more but our means are limited. Julie and I were honored with plaques and certificates as well as simple “thank you very much”, what more do you need?

Always during this time I start dreaming of lobster, scallops and clams. There is nothing in the South Pacific that can compare to Maine seafood. It was in my dreams every night before we left. What made it worse was I have some veteran friends/clients who are fishermen that know how much I love that stuff. So, they send me tease messages making me aware they have these things fresh and saved for Julie and I. These are the incentives we need to pay attention to our itineraries and not miss the plane. We have a freezer full of these tasty treats now. Also, to make things worse, Hannaford has just put lobster on sale for $7.99 a pound. That is cheaper than steak, who can resist? Not me, that’s for sure.

I also had some excellent news in regards to several Veterans VA cases that I wrote just before I left. (100 percent) unfortunately I had some that didn’t turn out as well but that can be expected. We’ll jump right on those and try to make them right. If you happen to be one who had a V.S.O. submit a case for you and it didn’t turn out well, don’t be discouraged. It’s just the beginning of several steps. More fail the first time than don’t. It’s imperative that you follow up with your Primary Care Provider (PCP).

Much of the time if you are just beginning you probably haven’t built up much of a history. Your PCP must know your in-service record. This is very important in “case creation”. Your in-service medical records are very important as well. These not only give your medical situations but aid your PCP in your treatment plan, which is most important to your future health. It also gives the doctor a benchmark in which to build your pathway to service connection as well as the benchmarks for future treatment.

When you have medical issues the connection can be related to your military issues and thus connection for compensation as well. Just remember your defense is your service connection. If you have it you will not fail. If it is not readily visible you must pursue it in different ways. Witnesses to in-service events are acceptable and even those who knew you, prior military, can be very helpful to help show that your medical problems most likely were the result of your military service. Leave no stone unturned. All information from different sources can be of value. Your Veteran Service Officer (V.S.O.) can guide you on this path.

We often send for veteran’s medical records and either receive no reply or someone will tell us they may have burned in a records fire. I have been doing these cases for 47 years and find this to be only possibly true. I have had many veterans, who never received their records upon our request, however, when we filed, VA was able to pull them up and make a decision. That on its face is wrong but it does happen. Just stick with your V.S.O. and keep your case going. Positive results can occur. If you just drop it and walk away, you lose. You need to be persistent and speak again with your V.S.O.

He/she will lead you down the correct path. Eventually you should succeed with your claim. When you know you’re right, don’t back down. You have too much at stake. Just continue to keep doctor’s appointments and follow the instructions of your V.S.O. Eventually you will be successful.

Next week we’ll begin answering your questions and helping you with the development of your case forward. You served your country, now it’s time for your country to serve you. Stay strong and push forward. God bless you and thank you for your service.

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

by Gary Kennedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Gary Kennedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Bless and have a safe weekend.

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

by Gary Kennedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VETERANS CORNER: VA pay hikes, veterans benefit increases explained

by Gary Kennedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Gary Kennedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Gary Kennedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless you and yours.

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

VETERANS CORNER: Addressing veterans’ concerns about facility abuses

Veterans Administration facility at Togus. (Internet photo)

by Gary Kennedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless. Until next time.