Monday, April 14, 2008

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.


KA said...

thanks for stepping up.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Sigh. I've always had a hard time saying no.

Ed said...

I'm sure the vets living over there are rejoicing. If I was a vet living over there, I would certainly want you helping to look after my best interests.

Hopefully while you were here in the states you got to be in someplace nice. Here in the midwest while you've been gone it was cold and rainy.

Anonymous said...

What a great and selfless thing to do; I applaud you. I fought the VA for 10 years and finally did something I had promised I would never do-- I gave up. Even now, when I see an envelope with VA written on it, I feel a physical sense of revulsion so powerful that I can barely summon the strength to shred it and throw it away unread. Thanks again Phil

PhilippinesPhil said...

I've seen vets with mental conditions actually approach the level of suicide in trying to deal with these "people." These decision makers look like people, act like people, they even sound human, but Geez they can make monstrous decisions. For the most part, they haven't a clue as to how infuriating they are, or perhaps they just don't give a crap.

Amadeo said...

Welcome back, Phil.

So that's where you have been. And it sounds like both a very exciting and challenging job.

So can I be recommended? I'm a little desperate. Finally got a reply from State re my Iraq application. Flat-out denial, but with the usual, "hope you contnue to visit and look over the openings". HiHiHi.

Do you hold office in the Manila Embassy?

Off-topic. Have been seeing pics of our lady diplomat (Kristie). She seems so "at home"with this assignment. The locals are taken in by her open friendly demeanor.

Reminds me of the young friendly Jesuits we used to have at school, but with a different gender.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Exciting? No. Wearing? Yes. Technically, its not a "job," since I'm a volunteer and do only what I can do within the limitations of my conditions.

Did State provide a reason for denial, or was it just thanks but no thanks?

Yeah, we have a cube in the VA section on the first floor of the embassy, and an open desk on the third floor where we sit and peruse case files.

I'm sure the ambassador is very charming, but I'm not in the mood to like any of the b......s that work in that building. Arrogant jerks.

Unknown said...

Your efforts are greatly appreciated by many many Veterans.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Thank you David. I'm struggling, but I'm hanging in there.