Jim Strickland's Mailbag: Volume #18 for 2009
NOTE:  Letters in my mailbag are reprinted just as they come to me. Spelling and grammar are left as is and only small corrections are made to improve readability, ensure anonymity or delete expletives that may offend some readers. This is not legal advice. You should always seek the advice of an attorney who is qualified in Veterans' law before you make any decisions about your own benefits.
03.24.09


Letter:
Jim,
Hello. I am a female veteran with MST PTSD which is PTSD due to Military Sexual Trauma. I have been trying for well over 11 years to obtain treatment from the Dayton VAMC for my PTSD...to no avail. The best they have been able to offer me to date is to tell me that I should go to the Tampa VAMC for a 7-week in-patient program. I keep telling them that I'm a single parent, with no help from family members. I just can't up and leave for 7 weeks with a son still in school! So this is taken by the VA that I'm being the "difficult" one and being resistent to treatment.

I've also been contacted by other women vets who are in similar situations...a lack of adequate treatment available at their respective VAMCs or they are unsure who to contact when they are wanting to find a treatment facility that is for women vets only. Currently there is no such list on any VA web-site for women to refer to for treatment options.

I initially contacted Dr. Kathleen Chard at the Cincinnati VAMC (she is the MST PTSD Program Coordinator). She said she could not help me and told me that she was forwarding my e-mail to Dr. Margret Bell, Manager for Education, Resources & Practices, MST Support Team, VA Office of Mental Health, National Center for PTSD.

I figured this was a good thing...the National Center for PTSD! Finally someone who would be able to help with the simple task of getting a list together of all available treatment resources for women vets. I was wrong. My request was denied. Several times. It is the opinion of Dr. Bell that women vets should talk to their PCPs at their respective VAMCs for any MST PTSD issues and then be referred to the mental health clinic.

She still believes this even after I told her that most PCPs are male and women are not going to be comfortable speaking with a male about military sexual trauma issues.

Sadly, even the National PTSD Center for Women Vets does not care about the welfare of women vets to assist with such a simple request that would help so many. I wanted to write to you about this to let readers know what is really going on. Thanks for all you do for veterans everywhere! USAF Veteran


Reply:
Overall, the mental health treatment arenas at our VHA facilities are receiving a failing grade. This isn't any secret, it's public knowledge and frequently on the front page or the national television news.

I'm of the opinion that the GWOT is creating a new generation of PTSD unlike anything we've ever seen before. We're subjecting our military to unheard of commitments using multiple deployments and extended lengths of deployment. In my own family my stepson is back in Iraq for his second tour. He was originally to be there a year which was extended to 15 months and then it was 16 months before he returned "home"...a base in another country. He was at that home for 12 months and is back in Iraq. He was "stop-lossed", a term unheard of prior to the GWOT. His commitment to our military is no longer well defined with a beginning and an end...he's an indentured servant that may be kept forever with no release date required.

The toll this takes on the mental well being of our military can't yet be measured. But you can depend on this: It isn't going to be pretty. We're setting up mental health issues that will trouble our nation for generations to come.

In that group of functionally disabling issues comes a relatively unknown sub-set of veterans who are rarely talked about in public. Those are our soldiers who are victims of MST...Military Sexual Trauma.

The DVA and DOD like that term...MST seems sort of clean and efficient and non-offensive to say. To call it "military" sexual trauma distinguishes it from plain old regular sexual trauma which may be dirtier or more violent somehow. As a clinical diagnosis, saying MST is easy. We can talk about it in an elevator with others listening and they may think we're talking about the common cold or an ingrown nail. "Oh well, you know...she claims MST but I believe that she'll be just fine."

Doesn't that sound all upbeat and chipper?

The DVA and DOD won't use any reality based terms. In my mailbag, we'll call MST what it really is. Let's say them out loud now.

Go ahead, speak aloud to yourself. Take that sentence above and replace MST with any of the following terms in any combination, as in "she claims _______ but I believe she'll be just fine"; Rape. Unlawful sexual intercourse. The forced placement of a penis in her vagina. Unlawful sexual intrusion. Sexual intercourse with a woman against her will. Nonconsensual sex. Sexual penetration. Sexual intrusion. Lack of consent. Forcible compulsion. Kidnapping. Sodomy. The forced placement of objects in her vagina. Stripping her naked. Forced oral copulation. Anal sex. Fondling her sexual organs. Ravishing. Sexual abuse. Sexual intercourse against her will. Gang rape. Attack. Violation. Carnal abuse. Dishonor.

The National Victim Center http://www.ncvc.org/ncvc/Main.aspx  estimates that only 16 percent of rapes in the United States are reported each year. In the military it's probably much less than that. We don't know, the DOD isn't much interested in talking openly of their little dirty secrets and seemingly even less interested in doing anything about it.

The public face of our military has plenty of women up front and working hard to defend our country and our freedom. Behind the scenes, the macho character of the military isn't quite as accepting of women in the ranks. Oh sure...they make great nurses (better than those male nurses we all suspect of something funny) and an occasional woman as company clerk is OK but it ends there. Women, like homosexuals, have no business in a man's world and what happens to those who force their way into it is pretty much what they deserve, right?

It's the military way. If we step over a line and we get beat up in a barracks party, we brought it on ourselves. If a woman is forced to disrobe and violently assaulted by one or more young men, well hey...why the hell was she there in the first place? She should have known better. We all know young men have urges and given the chance, our supercharged soldiers will find outlets for all that extra energy. The female soldier was warned to protect herself. She didn't and now look what she caused.

The military way carries over into the DVA. The attitude that rape isn't a combat injury, it's only a little sex, is prevalent. There aren't any visible scars so how can you be suffering all that much? Get over it sweetheart.

The female USAF veteran who wrote to me above is one of dozens who have contacted me. They each have a similar story to tell. It begins with an unsuspecting woman doing her duty for God and country and a male (or males) who decide that she's an object, not a soldier, and they use her in their strange search for power. If she reports it, the command is first concerned with the command. Then the concern is the future of the men accused. Finally the female is thought of as a problem child...efforts are mostly how to get her the hell out of the command. She's trouble now and best shipped off to another place.

Once into the male dominated VHA system, she gets an offer for PTSD therapy...maybe. The PTSD therapy is usually related to combat and the treatment center is dominated by male combat veterans...the same macho men that assaulted her in the first place.

Sending a female rape victim into a room full of males for PTSD group therapy might be compared to sending the male Vietnam combat veteran into a room full of NVA regulars for his therapy. It may seem expedient and cost effective to some administrator who is watching the budget but it's only more trouble for the future. It just doesn't make sense.

It's time that our VHA got serious about the existing female rape victims. Let's stop using "MST" and call it what it is...an ugly crime perpetrated by thugs and sanctioned by our DOD. Let's set aside whatever resources are required to help these women to return to as normal a life as they can after the violence that's been put upon them.

Then...let's make it clear to DOD that this isn't acceptable. Unless we want to operate like a Taliban society where women are 3rd class citizens, DOD must put a halt to all such activity and if it happens, the guilty ones should pay dearly for their crimes.

Finally...if you believe the above was ugly and distasteful, wait for it. I'll tell you of the numerous rapes of male soldiers by other male soldiers that I know of.

MST? You bet your life...and it isn't just another isolated incident.

(Are you a female military rape victim? Want to talk about it to another one in confidence? Send an email to womenvets@gmail.com  for more info.)
HATE MAIL #3
Letter:
Jim,
I cant tell you how much your words on the issue let me know that you are not a veteran and do not care about the veterans in general. You are either backed by a law firm or married to a lawyer/Judge. If you cannot see how this is disabling the veteran twice.......I wont take the time to talk with you.

The biggest problem here is the state's are going after the veteran.......and the veteran is standing alone. What should be happening is people opening their eyes to the real story. When the Veteran gets injuried and is rated for his disability......that is his or hers for their injuries. Congress was smart enough to realize the Veteran might get married......and also have kids someday and allicated more for the dependants and wife. When they get divorced, the spousal allotment is cut off and the dependent allotment stays.

Do you realize that when the Veteran and his spouse are married no one is complaining about the amount she receives and they receive for their dependents.........its only after that all the groups get involved here. What should happen is all these advocate groups blaming a government who is not paying enough for the dependants.........its not the veterans fault.

Another thing that I almost find funny is: Our society in general is saying about raising kids is its all about money. We forgot that some of our most famous leaders grew up in poor house holds. This is all about money and nothing to do with the kids, where are the morals and values of teaching your kids life long lessons and the old saying ...you cant take it with you when your gone.........or even money cant buy happiness?

Congress intended to reward a veteran who was injuried in the line of duty for their country.........point blank.........and is the veterans to use where they .....man or women see fit.

The states have made alot of money off divorces, 2 household homes, and what happens to all the money in these programs allicated to help single parent homes? Does this go back into a general fund? Where does all this money go? Is this money to give our state workers raises at the end of the year or where?

All I can say to you Jim Is.........Look at it from a different view..........their is more here than trying to be on the side of programs and judges/lawyers and lobbiest saying the veteran doesnt want to pay child support. Hopefully you are smarter than that. There is a problem here that is bigger than what we are narrowing it down to. Why not work together and see that both kids and the Veteran/ex spouse are reaching their full potentials.

Have you ever taken the time to read the Americans with Disabilites Act? We try to Normalize people with disabilities lives and give them the chance to live a full life......or basically we are trying to normalize the disability and make the person feel normal. Maybe this doesnt make sense to you.........but I choose to look at the problem in a different light.


Reply:
I know when I receive an email that begins with, "I wont take the time to talk with you" I'm in for a long read.

I'll remind you that you have the right to remain silent. If you have nothing important to say, please avail yourself of that right.
HATE MAIL #2
Letter:
Jim,
Because you were not and are not a lawyer, you are not in-titled to give your interpritation of the laws, a lawyer and a judge can not interprite the laws and they do not make the laws, they are supposed to care them out. You sound more like a bleeding heart liberal that is trying to gain fame in trying to say "I paid the price because of my lack of understanding" so why should they start following the laws now. It goes to show how ignorant you really are. You didnt even take the time to read what I had to say. Do you know what PTSD is or what the effects on a person is? How does he get back to normal and reach his full potential when the person who is not disabled is wanting a free ride. You are nothing but a blow hard that wants to whine about how important your words are. From one veteran who deals with many...........I can tell you alot of us think you are a phoney......and trying to gain fame and using children as a way to do it. You should be a politician. This has nothing to do with children you remf............and if you understand that.........these are my last words to you.. I tend to hang out with smarter people. Ask the legislators in Washington DC that have agreed on the intent of Congress...........you blow hard.

Get a real job...


Reply:
Thank you for expressing your opinion so clearly. Well said!
HATE MAIL #1
Letter:
Jim,
To Whom it may concern,

I just thought I would write you once to see if you were a professional or could speak with any conviction on the topic of the federal laws. But I found out you dont research anything and you are lead by something else.

Do not bother to return a letter, I dont have the time to deal with a clown or blow hard like your web site.


Reply:
I'm sure that somewhere deep inside I have a snappy retort for your interesting note. I'll publish it the moment it comes to me.
EDITOR'S NOTE from Larry Scott: 

On March 16, 2009, Jim Strickland wrote an article about "5301" ...  and how some states are including veterans' disability compensation when computing support.  That article here...http://www.vawatchdog.org/09/nf09/nfmar09/nf031609-1.htm

The article generated lots of discussion and, as you will see below, some really great hate mail to Jim.

Please vote for your favorite hate mail, and we'll see that the person receives a dictionary, a thesaurus, a writing style guide and a copy of "How to Win Friends and Influence People."
Letter:
Jim,
My dad passed away Feb 21st 2009. My mother is in need of aid and attendance and is applying for survivor benefits. I just downloaded forms 21-534 and form 21-2680. my dad was 100% service connected and 60% disabled. he died of a serivce connected illness. He was getting 2833.00 per month. We also applied for month of death check. My mother needs assistance daily due to macular degeneration of the eyes and very bad confusion. My question is do they ask for all her assets and what she has for money? Or does it have nothing to do with getting compensated. Would appriciate you help. Thanks!


Reply:
Survivors benefits are very complex. I'm fortunate that I've recently befriended an attorney who is in a firm that practices both "elderlaw" and is staffed by lawyers who are certified to practice VA law. As an extra added bonus, they're veterans and work not far from the Atlanta VA Regional Office.

I asked Drew Early of The Elder and Disability Law Firm of Victoria Collier, P.C. if he would address this one for me and he replied;

"She really has two claims here--let's distinguish them. One is a claim for Pension with Aid and Attendance and that claim will require asset and income disclosure in order for the VA to make an award (since pension awards are made determined on a needs-based basis). That is a separate and distinct claim from any Compensation claim involving survivor's benefits accruing from the veteran's service-connected disability--no needs-based determination at all; simply uses the veteran's disability award as a starting point for determination of the final compensation claim."

When you begin to apply for survivors benefits or benefits such as Aid & Attendance for an elderly veteran at the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), you will often face requirements for financial information and medical diagnoses that are significantly different than those that are required for a simple compensation decision.

All too often the veteran or survivor won't have good records or they're confused and over time they may have lost track of their accounts. The requirements for reporting income from savings, certificates of deposit, insurance dividends, annuities and real property ownership will quickly become incomprehensible to the lay advocate.

Even the slightest error in calculations or reporting of financial data can result in a long term disaster.

Reporting too much income without consideration whether it may be excluded (medical expenses) can result in a denial and a long appeals process.

If one errs to the other side of the equation and reports too little income, an overpayment may bring about a debt and subsequent recoupment from future benefits payments. The VA is often slow to catch such errors and the debt can add up to a substantial sum. The payback can deplete the much needed income of a nursing home or housebound veteran to a poverty level for the remainder of their lives.

I often advise that unless the friend, family member or advocate who is assisting the veteran or survivor with nursing home or A & A benefits first make a call to an attorney who is qualified to practice elderlaw. The time and fees spent up front can prevent a lot of trouble for the future.
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