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.

Now is the time to take good care of our veterans

by Gary Kennedy

Well, here we are in this space and time. Covid-19 is involved in all we say and do. It is true here and it is true in the rest of the world. I have spent the past few months working on projects in Southeast Asia as I usually do. I came home to Covid-19, political unrest, riots and terrorism. This doesn’t set well with me and most veterans who served to avoid living the life of third world countries. Our veterans feel this more than anyone. They fought to keep us free. This is not the definition of freedom.

As you know I work with veterans here, and when I am across the Pacific Ocean I work with veterans there. The American Embassy is massive in Manila, Philippines. A few years ago the USA invested millions of dollars to build, equip and start a very large medical center. They call themselves a clinic so as to be able to avoid some veteran interplay. They have no beds but they have everything else including a dozen or so doctors and a couple of dozen nurses as well as a lab, pharmacy and a modern X-ray department.

Its been a battle since they opened to have them comply to American mandates. Ninety-nine percent of the staff are Asian with only the manager being an American national. I have led the battle on a couple of occasions to maintain veterans’ rights according to American standards. In the pacific we have the Philippines, Guam and the Marshal Islands which service American interests. In 1898 we drove the Spanish out of this area and claimed the Philippines as a territory. Since that time in history we gave the Philippines its freedom but retained strong ties. Most of you don’t know it but we have 350,000 Americans living there in the islands. Many of these are U.S. veterans and their families. The VA there aids the veteran, but unfortunately, the family is not covered. We are trying to work on that now. Medical help is very limited.

We have made a lot of progress on veteran issues worldwide but as great as the politicians would like us to believe they are not getting the work done. My phone both here and there rings a lot. Sometimes I can help immediately but most of the time the requested issues take research development and application. When Senator Olympia Snowe was in office I spent a lot of time there with Bob Cummings working out issues. Bob was a wonderful person with whom to work out veterans issues. I have done a couple of things with Senator Susan Collins’ office but not as much as I would like. The expression “Freedom isn’t Free,” really needs to be realized by those who think that all things are rosey. Those people are ones who usually receive a fat pay check and proclaim, “Don’t mess with the status quo.”

I have lived near the South China Sea and can tell you not all conversations are pro-American. There are forces out there that would love to teach you another language and have you work for $5 a day; that is without any benefits. We are fortunate to live in one of the greatest countries in the world. We need to realize that and not let politics deviate our love of country with complacency. Thanking a vet is a great and wonderful thing but really meaning it is another. Verifying the government’s application of aid is left to your vigilance and watchful eye. We need your help.

Veterans with disabilities aren’t asking for a hand out, only a hand up. Through my eyes, opinion only, we grow ever closer to another war. Being in the South Pacific and my compulsion to watch the news makes me very nervous because of my first hand knowledge to what is going on. Now is the time to take good care of our veterans for they are the example, the bench mark for others to go by. Recruitment is not easy today with America having the highest wage out there. When I tell people in Asia that work at McDonald’s there is $6 a day, and that our people of McDonald’s make $12 to $15 per hour, and some companies even give benefits, they gasp with disbelief. The positive side for third world folks is, even in dispute, they find a way to handle it. They have that old country intellect; make due, find a way.

The U.S currently is doing the veterans a disservice by bragging that we are taking great care of our vets. Even VA has succumbed to be the work-at-home intellect. I had an argument recently with the VA system. A person that is an official at the VA stated that the VA work from home program was working out very well. That made me see fire and brought back memories of my conversations with veterans. I answered this person respectfully even though that statement made this disabled veteran very upset. The person mentioned video conferences were working out surprisingly well. I know several of these work-from-home people and, in my opinion, that program is full of abuse and is very inefficient with only a few exceptions. Just think about medical people staying at home and tending to disabled people. Most disabled veterans that I know need hands-on and serious direction with their health care, the VA needs to be open for our vets. Short of that our vets are being abused.

Currently all physical therapy is shut down. This is one essential that isn’t considered. The pain clinic is in lockdown mode. The chief of the pain clinic isn’t functioning, the chiropractic is not functioning, the acupuncturist is not working, but you can leave a message. Orthopedics is in lock down. Needles needed for knee, hand, back, ankle pain are not being given because of Covid-19. Anything they can call non-essential is not allowed. Unless it is a dire emergency no X-rays, cat scans, MRI’s or other evaluation tools are not being used. In neurology all testing equipment is broken so you have to locate a doctor outside and get permission to go. No dental is being done. Ever had a tooth ache? If your in dire pain physically or emotionally, dial 911. You can’t get through to primary care. They avoid you like the plague. Oh, there are a few exceptions, but very few. Call center has become the norm. Pharmacy makes many mistakes and some employees are curt/rude. Now they are insisting that all prescriptions are to be mailed even if they don’t fit in your box or are restricted. Your scripts might end up in Portland, as mine did and five days late. If you go through the front door you get the fifth degree along with a free face mask and alcohol rub for your hands; not the respect we are use to.

Many calls to departments with answering machines are ignored. I personally have had one neurology appointment way up in Bangor because all the machinery in neurology is broken at Togus. One doctor I know who won’t let his patients down is Dr. Barry Raskin Gastro. I had an appointment because of serious ongoing issues. He examined me and came up with a game plan. I really appreciated that. My primary care physician is a fantastic doctor, but the VA has really given him a heavy load. We do have two neurologist who will refer you out; expensive service.

I just received word the VA will be opening its doors, at least partly, soon, I will keep everyone abreast of that in the next issue of The Town Line. I have had several calls regarding those who need physical therapy. I haven’t received word from the VA yet about the gym and the pool which is where a lot of therapy is received; both monitored and independent. The gym and pool is used recreationally very little these days. This has become a necessary tool with PTSD patients and those with physical afflictions. In my opinion, for strength and well-being emotionally and physically essential.

VA, being built in 1866, has had many faces but the current one is the one that is direly needed by our veterans. It is supposed to serve and should not allow themselves to be used as a political football. Truly give America’s veterans all they deserve. Veterans are advised to make yourselves aware of what is happening in Washington D.C. and address yourself accordingly. Do not be awed by the accolades being bestowed upon you with political agendas. You know who and what you are and what you have given. You don’t need to be told because someone is waving a political banner. You have every reason to be proud and deserving of respect for what you have given for your love ones and your country.

God be with you and yours; One veteran to another. Thank you for your service. God Bless!

VETERANS CORNER: Will veterans receive COLA this year?

Veterans Administration facility at Togus. (Internet photo)

by Gary Kennedy

I will pull myself away from partisan things and devote this article to veterans’ issues in tidbit fashion. The reason being there are many veterans issues in the fire currently. The upfront question that veterans seem to have as well as Social Security recipients is, “Will we receive the (COLA) Cost of Living Benefit this year and, if so, how much will we receive?”

For those of you who are unaware, this allocation of money comes once a year in December. It can be anywhere from 0 to 4 percent (historically speaking). With President Trump being under the gun from all sides, it’s hard to say. Where it is near an election year and veterans being extremely active at the polls you would summarize that a COLA would be given and is fairly substantial. However, not much has been said about this award as of yet. It is still a little early to predict. Usually Social Security is the first to hear. Some don’t know that the VA appropriation is the same as that which is awarded to Social Security. That is as far as that relationship goes.

There are thousands of veterans who spend their winters in Southeast Asia. There is news coming from that area, some which needs to be addressed. Examples are the following: VA in Manila will no longer process clothing allowance claims for those who damage clothing because of service connected disabilities. The same applies to durable medical equipment, glasses, hearing aids, etc. If the item or items are needed for VA rated Service Connected Conditions then they could be reimbursed through the Foreign Medical Program (FMP). If you need further help with these issues contact Daniel Gutkoski, VA medical clinic manager at FYI: there is still an open door/walk-in relationship on Monday – Friday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m..

On October 6, 2019, VA Manila has a new phone number. The new main VA phone number is 632-8550-3888. This will connect you to the VA switchboard.

On a local level, the Fisher House is basically completed and should advertise an open house soon. As far as the house itself is concerned most of my followers and others know my personal feeling regarding that project. The building, which will house guests, in my opinion was built in the wrong place. It is lovely building but is situated in front of building 200 which houses handicapped parking which has always been “an accident looking for a place to happen.” Emergency is just around the corner from said facility and its parking abuts the handicap parking. So, there will be disabled vets backing into guests. There were many solutions Mr. Lilly could have entertained but like always, he didn’t give the project any thought. I checked with the state land use people regarding wet zones and permits necessary to build on such, but no such authorization was given.

We all enjoy the pond that abuts this building. Canada Geese, Coots and other wildlife enjoy that habitat as well as veterans and their families. Director Ryan Lilly, recently promoted to regional director, could have used many other venues for this much wanted and needed facility. One that comes to mind is a drive which would have the occupants of the Fisher House parking in the rear of the house, thus avoiding congestion, and hazardous possibilities, which could result in lawsuits as well as being cosmetically more pleasing. When I questioned the thought that went into this project the answer I received was a grant with walking distance stipulations. In my opinion anything within 50 yards would be considered walking distance. If they had backed the building up 50 feet it wouldn’t have a problem as long as wet land zoning was respected.

We now have beautiful signs giving directions but the roads are full of dangerous pot holes. Also the sidewalks have many hazards for wheelchair and crutch burdened veterans. Some of the doorways are not wheelchair friendly/compliant, even by state and federal guidelines. Having grants given to the VA is a wonderful thing but they should not have personal stipulations attached which are not negotiable, or are they? The drop off point at Building 200 has become a serious problem at times where people are allowed to park on both sides of the entryway thus causing a bottle neck which even the police don’t seem to be able to control.

The shortage of medical personnel is unacceptable. There are hundreds of thousands of trained medical professionals trying to get into this country on working visas but we are too tied up in politics and border wars. The politicians are saying that the veterans are in a great position at this time because if they have to wait more than 30 days they can request to go outside. Some of that is good but it is a temporary political fix. An example that I would give from positive information is dental teeth trays, VA cost is less than $100, but the cost at an outside dentist is $620. Another is spinal surgery, say L4-5 with implants, performed by VA, three to four hours of time and a possible cost of less than $20,000, where the same surgery done outside, with no complications runs nearly $100,000. How far does a budget go?

All this while we add a few new floors to the VA facility. We need all this but it must be intelligently proportioned and managed. VA needs so much equipment which really needs to go to non-functioning departments or at least minimally functioning departments, such as Neurology, a department in high demand now that baby boomers are here by the thousands.

Regarding people who can’t sign: I am personally against the stamp application. Working with disabled vets I find almost none who can’t pen their name in one way or another. If they can’t they most likely haven’t the ability to do so anymore and should not be voting any way. In the remote chance that a person can’t make their mark then the poles should have “volunteers” to help and the person should be known.

Keep the information coming and we will do our best to answer and get it out to those who are suppose to care about we veterans.

God be with you during the upcoming holiday seasons. Be careful and do your part for your countrymen and women. The future of our children and grand children depends on educated decisions. God Bless.

VETERANS CORNER: The veterans pathway to getting medical assistance needed

Veterans Administration facility at Togus. (Internet photo)

by Gary Kennedy

Each veteran who is trying to file a claim for what they feel is a service connected medical condition should seek the formal advise of a service officer from one of the many agencies, American Legion, Veteran of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, Amvets, or Paralyzed Veterans of America. Although clerks and secretaries can give you minor advice you should not rely on anything other than the forms that they may give you.

Although many people want to be of assistance, not all are qualified to give good sound advice. Some of you have probably discovered that there are some that are trained to assist you with your needs and others that can just muddy up your water. In any case, unless you yourself are a trained authority on how the system works, you will probably be doing your case more harm than good.

There are several issues that put you in the ball park for VA help:

(1) You might have a direct service connected issue; something that happened while in the military.
(2) Secondary service connection which is a condition which is caused by a previously service connected condition.
(3) Aggravated service connection and outside conditions that are aggravated by military service.
(4) Presumptive service connection which is a condition that is presumed to have been caused or aggravated by the job the veteran was assigned to do.
(5) VA faulted situation such as, error in adjustment, negligence, lack of a proper skill set, also carelessness and/or negligence.

The government doesn’t allow anything to be easy. So, of course, it would be wise to begin these things with a good representative/advocate to assist you with all the hurdles. All successful cases are based upon honesty and the compilation of all the relevant data that could possibly be necessary. Never assume you have a winner because you know it to be the truth. The government sees the truth only through the eyes of evidence. I used the word mostly intentionally as I previously mentioned the presumptive issue. There are situations that can be presumable, by the nature of one’s injury, the position held by the veteran in the military and the probability of the happening is a few other venues. Examples could be flat or damaged feet of a foot soldier wearing combat boots or perhaps a rifleman with Tinnitus and/or hearing loss. In these cases the story might be the decision maker. There are avenues a good advocate can use to help prove his/her clients case. I don’t want to sound demeaning but like any kind of business, there are good and not so good advocates. Think of your advocate like a lawyer and you will understand what I am trying to convey.

It’s wonderful to have copious amounts of support data, which all advocates should have but then again it’s another thing to know how to use and deliver that information. Also, your veterans representative must have time for you. All cases are not black and white and some require stepping outside of the coveted box and do a little extra. I have had many veterans who have applied for help on several different occasions and failed. Some used themselves as a representative and others had an advocate who couldn’t /wouldn’t give enough time. Don’t be discouraged because you have failed in the past. I personally have presented many cases that had failed previously and won. You must follow the appropriate pathway no matter how tedious and difficult. The quality of someone’s life depends on it and the advocate’s reputation relies on it.

When you begin your claim you need to have your form DD-214, you will need copies of your medical records, both military and civilian, especially those which are relevant to your claim. If you need assistance with those documents, visit your local VBA and they will assist you. You will still need an advocate after you receive these things. (Building 248, first floor or bldg. 205, third floor).

As far as administrative records, you can request a form for the procurement of these also. They are usually housed at a different facility. I always look at administrative records for the entrance exam and the exit exam. There is much information that may be disseminated from the admin, file. Cases have been won with just that file. So in conclusion of this brief explanation I will explain the pathway. You are not eligible for VA services and compensation just because you would like it. You need to present evidence that military service was in some way more likely than not the causation of your problems. I probably should mention that being in direct contact with one of the many chemical agents such as Agent Orange can be relied upon in many cases as, Direct Service Connection or even, Presumptive Service Connection, it depends on the situation. Help is available to all Honorably Discharged Veterans. In Maine just call 207-623-8411 and press “0” when you get the recording and explain the nature of your need. The operator will direct you to the correct department.

I am not sure if you will read this article before Veterans Day or not, but November 11 is the day we officially honor our veterans. I honor our vets with information that can help them along the way. “Veterans Day” has been known by several names, Remembrance Day, Armistice Day and now Veterans Day. Veterans Day got its day because WWI. Armistice day ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. In any case, remember, freedom isn’t free even if sometimes it is taken for granted. We owe so much too so many for the ultimate sacrifice they gave to God, Country and those that they loved. God bless all that have served and God bless America. Happy Veterans Day and remember to pray for those who made it all possible.

VETERANS CORNER: For the most part, veterans in a happy place

by Gary Kennedy

For the most part most of we veterans are in a happy place, our pension rate is up and we had a decent cost of living increase this past year. Irrespective of one’s political persuasion, we have had a great past couple of years under this particular president. Veterans along with other service to mankind organizations such as police, fire and rescue organizations, etc., have been recognized and treated with great respect. “Thank you for your service” is heard frequently. This kind of attention should make one very comfortable and pleased.

Recruitment for the military is up and the other service organizations are having no problem with recruitment. It almost seems that the disgraceful political array of issues have brought many people more aware by causing the thought process to kick in. Although some we see lately, people will never change because their world only operates on conflict instead of common sense realism; it is what it is.

This has been a very fast summer. It seems we have actually skipped spring. Everything in my garden is late. I am in hopes for a long warm fall. This year is very rapidly coming to an end.

Getting back to the VA and the veterans, I need to address some of the positives and negatives. Each year the veterans administration is allocated an amount of money which is initially requested by each unit. It takes a lot of variables brought to mind to bring about a proposed budget for this sort of fleeting business.

So many things can happen that require copious amounts of money; millions even billions. I never realized how intense this function could get until this year. Being someone who works with veterans and is involved with staff, there isn’t much that escapes my attention. I have heard so many things such as, “but I broke my teeth because of a service connected disability. I should be covered for that.” (Gray area) Sometimes I agree. Another example is, “thank God for the VA,” I would never have been able to pay this medical bill. This particular bill was quickly approaching a half million dollars. Given just a couple examples and realizing that the VA services thousands of patients, how can you possibly come up with a budget?

The other expenses are much more fixed expenses, electric, gas, fuel, water and repair to that which already exists. Last but not least are all the aspects of growth. New vehicles, buildings and associated expenses. I haven’t even mentioned the ever increasing salaries and benefits. After all the miscellaneous expenses are thrown into this pot, what is remaining and what do we need to do with it. Well, I will tell you my feelings on this end of it and that is making the entire situation, start with what we know is needed.

My research has led to many conversations and, of course, all goes back to management. Who is running the show and do they know what they are doing or are they just a ladder appointment. A good question is, do you know the person that preceded you? You would be surprised where that will lead you.

I don’t want to sound like this is a cynical situation but motivation can be so important regarding these situations.” Murphy’s Law” is alive and well in the VA system. Just look around and ascertain what you would do in situations you will discover. Examples: A doctor is hired and stays for less than one month, why? You are sent to a specialty department and the equipment needed to effectively operate that department is all broken, so the patient is outsourced and we pay the dysfunctional doctors in these department as well as the out sourced practitioners. This doesn’t make much sense, does it? (Expensive). Sensitive surgery is performed only to find it can’t be completed because of lack of equipment on the surgical tray; a veteran’s money is given control to a third party due to the veterans inability to handle his/her own affairs without total due process and/or understanding.” These are just a few things that I have noticed. I should also add overbooking is common and patients are allowed inadequate amounts of time in many cases. Don’t take me wrong, some outsourcing is necessary because of complexity or distance.

The VA needs so much in all aspects of its existence yet we are praising the government for all they do, VA is over extended with not enough doctors, nurses, specialists, and equipment. Now we are being shipped out to places that have almost as long a wait as we experience at Togus. It’s time we bring in the thousands of professionals who would love to come here, from other countries, especially doctors, nurses, physical therapists and dentists. They are happy with less and we could sure use them. We have 500 acres that the administration just plays with. We know this works as we have brought these folks into our military and they have made fine soldiers. We just offer them citizenship for several years of faithful service. It’s a great opportunity for them and a wonderful solution for us. I hope I didn’t ruin your day. There is a always a light at the end of the tunnel. I wish I was the smart guy who thought that up. There is always a solution and a better way. Have a great week and God be with you and yours.

VETERANS CORNER: Farming out veterans’ services is avoiding responsibility

Veterans Affairs Regional Benefit Office Togus, ME

Gary Kennedyby Gary Kennedy

As a Disabled American Veteran, Rotarian, and Knight of Rizal, I hear, see and speak about many things that address veteran issues but also people issues. It’s the information that folks like yourselves offer or query each day that brings about a formulated question for analysis. I personally believe that this is the greatest venue possible in searching for a common sense result. A situation always needs a result; even if the formation sought after is segmented.

So many of you have noticed in the media so much appreciation for the services of our military, police, fire department, etc.,however, from what I am hearing some if not most is just word of mouth. Some are asking, do our elected officials really care or is it just political lip service. I am 100 percent service connected disabled veteran and as many can tell you at VA, I do my best being part of the solutions to the woes of the VA’s short comings. I have a very deep affection for veterans mostly because I have been part of their trials and tribulations for some 40 plus years. One of the things I am trying to communicate is, nothing is too trivial to address and remedy. I hear reminiscence in so many of the conversations I have with my fellow veterans. Comments such as, “I remember when,” are a very common occurrence. Most of these are reflections of better times. Why is that I would like to ask our readers?

Today veterans are being given so much respect as are our police and firefighters. So many people are saying, “thank you for your service.” This definitely gives one a sometimes much needed morale boost; most people really mean it. This is also a great advertising tool. Many young men and women are being noticed to join the military. There are many positives for joining our armed forces, such as medical benefits, education, maturity and even self worth. For some it’s a way to achieve dreams through giving service. I have many issues with military as well as the VA system, however, I wouldn’t trade what the military and the VA system has given me. I am just an X soldier who likes to write and address issues that I and others feel need to be addressed. I will continue to do this until I cease to exist or the negatives are corrected.

Don’t pay me lip service unless your lips are moving towards a solution. Togus Veterans Administration was built in 1866, if my memory serves me well. It was the first and has the greatest history. We have historical cemeteries which even have “Buffalo Soldiers” buried there. We have art work and old buildings. Every inch of Togus VA has a story to tell. However, this narration is supposed to be about what we don’t have or don’t do. I have just waited until now to mention a few of the negatives that have been mentioned to me. I firmly believe that the leadership of the past has been very delusive in the way they describe the conditions of our veteran’s safe haven.

Now some veterans are being farmed/transferred out to the private sector as an escape from the responsibilities of the largest and oldest facility in our nation. Do you really think that it is cheaper or more efficient to farm out responsibility? Where does the money go that is allocated for the care of veterans? Why are we waiting months to be seen? Why are we not able to acquire more doctors and other professionals? There are some situations where farming is necessary but serious conditions need a home base. Severe medical problems require an advanced medical facility.

The regional director brags about all the money the local director will have at her discretion. It is strongly believed there is enough money but it is being used by unskilled hands. Look at the potholes in the roads and sidewalks. Look at the lack of treatment rooms for orthopedic, for example. How about the holes and broken slabs in the sidewalk. Which several veterans have had accidents; another great example is Neurology. This is a department badly, sorely needed right now as many of our veterans are from the Vietnam era. Most of these veterans are in their 70s. This is a time in life when bone, muscle and nerve conduction studies are very much in demand. Well, I hate to tell you, but we have some good doctors although not near enough. But they don’t have the equipment for their specialty. Equipment to perform EEG (Electroencephalogram) also EMG (Electromyography). We have the doctors but haven’t had the equipment for a very long time. So, farm it out at great cost. That is certainly the easy way for a 500-acre medical facility to be run. (Examine here, execute there).

I personally had a bad experience not too long ago in which I had a torn retina. The doctor at VA was more than capable to do the surgery necessary and gave it his best shot, however, at the very end of the surgery the doctor discovered that he didn’t have the tool to complete the last phase of the surgery. So, I was sent to Portland to repeat the surgery. Don’t take me wrong, out sourcing is not necessarily a bad thing in many cases and situations but certainly is not the least expensive and efficient way to doing things when you have an existing facility that could be second to none if we just put our leadership and money where they should be. Our system and the welfare of our veterans need to be looked at in a different way. It’s not what we see, it’s what we do.

God Bless all men and women in uniform, military and civilian. God Bless our wonderful country.

VETERANS CORNER – A love story: saying goodbye to a dedicated professional

Veterans Affairs Regional Benefit Office Togus, ME

Gary Kennedyby Gary Kennedy

We veterans of many years don’t really like our visits to the Togus VA facility, however, there is a bright side to this happening, especially for those of us who frequent this facility at least monthly and through the years have had to be admitted for periods of time for both physical and in some cases emotional situations. For disabled veterans this is a way of life.

For most of us, we are thankful for the aid and assistance we receive in helping father time stay his hand in regards to our time here with family and friends. Some vets as seen through the eyes of the medical team can be very difficult to deal with. It takes a big caring and understanding person to look through eyes of compassion and understanding but many do. There are some veterans that actually feel love because of those who try to understand.

With all the new systems that have been put into place recently many things have changed. More and more vets are being allowed to join with private practices and are also being allowed to pick up prescriptions with three months supplies. Here I am addressing all veterans but in particular those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The reason for this is veterans suffering with this disorder get use to life being addressed a certain way and hopefully for them, no surprises or negative changes. When things do happen that negatively impact a veteran’s life it can be very threatening. Most veterans will tell you that they are use to things being done a certain way and by certain people. I understand that very well and so does Togus VA.

When my doctor of many years retired, I was beside myself with anxiety. I began an extensive search through the system to find a physician that could replace the one I had lost. I was a lucky guy and found one that turned out to be caring and compassionate and who had my best interests at heart. We have all had our share of bad experiences and most of us have found an alternative to the past.

However, along the way a person or persons will enter our lives which we never realized could mean so much to us until they are gone. I have recently spoken with some veterans who were beside themselves because they had just realized they had lost a friend. Most of us know of this event but there are still some who do not.

Marilyn Farley Emery, whose beautiful smile and warm caring words, recently passed away. Most of us didn’t know she was sick and she wasn’t about to tell us. Marilyn joined the VA Pharmacy team some 25 years ago at age 55. Her husband was the late Robert Emery. They had two children and several grandchildren. She was a member of the Randolph United Methodist Church and has family here in China. So most of this event is known by her family.

However, there are still some veterans who aren’t aware and hopefully this article will be a gentle way of letting them know. I, for one, will miss Marilyn’s beautiful smile and wit. It was always a joy to spend a few minutes with her. She knew us by name and always looked out for our best interest. No, she can never be replaced but hopefully her replacement will have the same passion for veterans as she did. If this becomes an issue for you, use the blog site and we can talk. Thank you Marilyn for the many years you gave with love and care to the veterans. God be with you our very dear and missed friend. You will always be one of us.