Dreading it, but back in the "barrel" I go...I’ve been out of pocket for a few weeks. Anyone dropping by the site might have noticed that. The “why” is mostly explained below.
Basically, I’ve been drafted back into the service officer arena. About a year and a half ago I was “let go” as a Department Service Officer (DSO) due to philosophical differences with the senior DSO, a well intentioned man that I had been working with for four years. I wasn’t all that upset by that slightly nasty turn of events, since I was about used up from the stress of dealing with VARO Manila anyway; a VA regional office that in my opinion tends to assess veteran’s claims unfairly due to an institutional attitude that states that all veteran claimants are fundamentally fraudulent. Perhaps since we live in the Philippines, it's a case of guilt by association. Nevertheless!
The DSO who let me go was never one to challenge the VA and its questionable decisions. Consequently, once I was no longer available, some veterans began to stop using his services and instead begged me to provide my brand of advice, which is all about strategizing to preempt VARO Manila’s unjust “games” of “deny first and ask questions later.”
A few weeks ago one veteran-turned-activist saw me skulking about the local mall and basically shamed me into considering making a comeback. He told me that there was a plan afoot to put pressure on those in charge to force out the one remaining service officer, at which point the plan would be that I would throw my hat in the ring to replace him. Both things took place, although I was hoping that the commander would hire another fellow; especially considering my reputation as an over intense loose cannon. Alas, I was pretty much the only veteran willing to strap in. When I learned that I was indeed selected I most assuredly did not celebrate. Instead, I looked to the heavens and muttered a quiet prayer, ‘Father, let this cup pass!’
Why wouldn’t I want to be a service officer here? Well, I’m disabled; mentally, emotionally, and physically. The job requires a full time commitment, yet it is not paid, not that I would want money to do the work anyway. As I hint above, the local VA Regional Office is one of the worst three or four in existence as far as not complying with the intent of their own procedural code, which states that if a claim is at all feasible then the VA MUST assist in developing that claim. Instead, its raters, none of whom are Americans, not to mention that not one has ever served even a moment in ANY uniform, much less an American one, consistently deny claims, seemingly without giving much regard to the evidence or the facts. Over the years it has become evident to me that their credo is to comply with the letter of the law (in the wrongheaded way that THEY see it!) and to hell with the intent.
Admittedly, over the four years I struggled to advocate for my veterans, I had a pretty good record of success; just the same, the local VA’s ways has a way of wearing you down after awhile. It’s either that, or take up a similar VA mindset of “bahala na,” or “let God decide.” The only problem is that evidently, as far as the VA adjudicators around here are concerned, God is NOT on the side of most veterans.
And so, in very much a last minute way, I was sent by my service organization to the US for training to get recertified. I returned just yesterday and now I am doomed to have to climb back up into the agonizing service officer saddle. I do so with no little anxiety and with great reluctance.
My back is in spasms from the long stretches in tiny airplane seats, not to mention the long days of sitting in the classroom with hardly a break to rest my aching lower spine. Lucky me, I also managed to catch a head cold on the way; that, along with jet lag made my time in class an utterly agonizing ordeal. It's been a long time since I've looked at my watch so many times per hour; hell, make that per minute. Dang, it feels good to be home where I can rest, take my meds, and have my back massaged at a moment’s notice. In that respect, God bless the Philippines!
Aside from advising and advocating for my vets, one of my first priorities will be to find my replacement. Truthfully, it takes at least a year, even two, of training and experience to properly spin up a department level service officer. Knowing that is the primary reason I unenthusiastically agreed to climb back into this punishing torture barrel in the first place. Thus, the sooner I can find someone willing to fight for vets and to aggressively challenge the VA for them, the sooner I can go back to being a "hurting slug."
The primary reason I agreed to try this at all is that a small team of fed up activists in my service organization convinced me that they will provide all the physical grunt work when my weakened body begins to falter, and falter I will. So, based on their assurance of help, plus knowing that I am the only guy around with enough background in the task to be able to step in almost immediately, I’m willing to give it a hesitant go.
So, here’s a heads up: with all the above in mind, I should imagine that my posts will now become even fewer and farther between than they have already been these past few months.
Wish me luck.