color: SOME SOLDIER'S MOM: Life After... There Is...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Life After... There Is...

Every once in a while, I get Noah's permission to post an update on his progress... and I apologize to those of you who have read my blog long enough to remember when Noah was wounded and how we (all) worried... and the people like Mr./Mrs. Greyhawk and MaryAnn and Soldiers Angels who helped us through that initial horror... and y'all want to know how it's going...

So here's the most recent chapter...

Noah arrived home last August and he immediately reported to the VA Medical Center and began the process of multiple physical and psychological evaluations. His inclusion in the VA's Priority Group 1 assured that his physical evaluations were conducted promptly, as were follow up testing such as x-rays, CT scans, MRIs. As a result of the lack of psychiatrists and psychologists, his mental health evaluation occurred exactly on the last day possible -- the 30th day. While there is still one "I don't care what you've done for your country or how far you have to travel or how often, this is just a job to me" idiot woman who makes Noah's appointments at the regional medical center two hours away, Noah has received the best and most compassionate care and attention from all the people he has dealt with at the VA.

Frankly, there were no surprises in the findings of these evaluations although there was (is) a great deal of being pissed off on his Dad's and my part that the percentage of disability findings by the VA was so significantly higher than what the Army determined. The [old] Army system of rating disabilities should have been rectified for all the soldiers who were dishonored by the way they were treated by the Army (and Marines, Navy & Air Force, if that's the case). [The Army now only makes the "meets/does not meet retention standards determination; the VA now makes the disability percentage determination -- the Army is out of that business... something they just didn't do well.]

What really sticks in my craw about this is that the Army's determinations adversely affected the lives of many, many thousands of soldiers who were wounded or injured in service to their country: it took money from their pockets (starting them off behind the 8-ball), denied them disability retirement (that they earned the HARDest way), terminated their health insurance for them and their families -- all by giving artificially suppressed disability percentages.

And Congress - that "august" and detestable legislative body -- refused to remedy the injustice foist on these soldiers. While people like Murtha, Reid & Pelosi could find $13.7 million for museums -- including, appropriately, one to jackasses -- they couldn't find an additional $2 million so that soldiers' repayment to the Army of their disability severance payments could stop??? There are still thousands of disabled soldiers medically discharged from the services prior to January 1, 2008 who are still having 1/2 of their VA disability payments taken for these repayments to the Army. Shameful! Infuriatingly Shameful!

Back to Noah. Talk about hitting the ground running: he began college classes three days after his arrival here -- pursuing a degree in Fire Sciences. By Christmas, he was certified as an EMT (that's mandatory for fire departments here in AZ.. and many other western states). He recently received his test scores for Firefighting 1&2 (classroom and practical) and has received his certification!! In between these two sets of intense training, he became a Dad... probably not the first or last guy studying through the night in between diaper changes and baby bottles...

Over his spring "break" he attended the Arizona Wildfire Academy -- AT HIS OWN EXPENSE (well Dad's and my expense) BECAUSE THE GI BILL DIDN'T COVER THIS TRAINING. (More on the problems of GI Bill administration in a minute...)

With the break in classes for the summer, Noah accepted a temporary position as a Firefighter for the National Forest Service. Unfortunately, this means that Noah, who is a assigned to a fire engine company further north in Arizona, is away at least six days a week... sometimes seven depending on the pace of training and whether they are actively engaged in firefighting. For the moment, they spend a large portion of their time chasing down and exterminating illegal camp fires in the millions of acres of National Forest.

Now, for the GI Bill. First, every college should actually be sure that the person they designate the "Veterans' Liaison" or "Veterans' Coordinator" actually has some friggin' clue what the GI Bill covers, what documentation is required, and the benefits available. Noah has wasted more time "schooling" his college's coordinator in benefits. The guy didn't have any clue what a "kicker" is (this is the additional level of educational benefits "purchased" and contained in enlistment contracts), and he assured Noah the costs of the Wildlfire Academy would be covered: it wasn't... no college credit hours & no "certification" (see next paragraph) = no money.

For those not familiar, the GI bill provides (or is supposed to provide) -- among other things -- up to 36 months of education benefits to eligible veterans for college, technical or vocational courses,
and other job training. If you are being trained on the job, you should be eligible to get GI Bill benefits during the training to supplement meager apprenticeship training wages. States are responsible for certifying schools and employer-sponsored apprenticeship programs in their states as meeting the VA standards and such... but no one seems to know how to get a FEDERAL program certified!! Noah has diligently been trying to get the the VA to certify the firefighting positions with the U.S. [National] Forest Service (actually, it's under the U.S. Department of Agriculture) as on-the-job training... and the paperwork is stupefying! And it can take UP TO SIX MONTHS to get the certification.

Now I understand some of the fly-by-night "schools" that have, in the past, duped veterans
of their benefits and the VA of funds for legitimate training programs: BUT THIS IS TRAINING AND EMPLOYMENT WITH A FEDERAL AGENCY. Have you seen the news on California wildfires?? And the predictions for Arizona wildfires?? And the concern about vacancy levels?

And, of course, there are hundreds of vacant positions for the National Forest Service and other Federal agencies involving firefighting and fire suppression. Do you think this might be one of those "win-win" (dang, I hate that phrase) situations? Allow veterans to apply for jobs and acquire skills that serve the public welfare and safety AND that permits the Forest Services and other Federal land agencies (Bureau of Land Management, Park Service, etc.??) to fill open positions?? Where are the people at the Veterans Administration working at this? Or the Agriculture Department? Or even some of the Veterans organizations??

I'm certain there are other Federal jobs that could also be certified as training programs -- medical personnel? VA counselors? Seriously, the process for certifying these programs needs to be modernized and streamlined. There needs to be one place to get answers... it wasn't until Noah had the local Veterans Center call all their contacts at the VA in Washington and the regional office to find out how this happened from the VA side... the Veterans' liaison in Senator Kyl's office was helpful in getting Noah in touch with the people at USDA -- although it took too long to get a response from USDA and the response wasn't exactly on point... and the people at the NFS seem/seemed reluctant to designate the firefighter positions as apprenticeship slots... but unless you can walk into the jobs and do the job without hands on training, it should be a no brainer.

On the personal side, Noah is organizing his life as a single Dad... Physically, he has plateaued -- neither worse nor better... every once in a while a piece of shrapnel still works its way out of his scalp but the stuff in his chest remains... his knee gets sore now and again and the sciatica occasionally flares up although the episodes are less frequent. He continues his counseling for his PTSD -- now he and his counselor talk by phone since he can't get in for appointments right now.

So that's all the news... so far. Well, except for this little guy... who just gets more handsome every day!

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At 6/20/2008 7:01 AM , Blogger David M said...


Once he is fully certified he should head right on over to the nearest Mil base and apply for a position in the Fire Department. He can also apply online.

It's a federal job with all of the inherent benefits and he most likely will be working a 24 on 48 off schedule. Which should afford him plenty of time at home with the wife and kids.

Good luck!

At 6/21/2008 6:11 PM , Blogger Guard Wife said...

Noah looks terrific! Always a sucker for a man in uniform--and fire duds are some of my faves!

The little man look absolutely smooshable. I would LOVE to give him some big hugs!! Could you handle that for me?

At 6/21/2008 7:32 PM , Blogger Some Soldier's Mom said...

yeah, I can handle that for ya... in fact, I'll give him extra smooches from Auntie M!!!

At 6/24/2008 9:26 AM , Blogger kbug said...

Noah looks great and his son is a doll..... :) I'm glad to hear that Noah is pursuing such an exciting career...he looks like he really enjoys it. But don't get me started on the GI Bill. Kevin is still waiting for the helicopter school where he got his private license to work things out with the VA so he can continue his schooling (he needs a commercial and instructor license so he can actually get a job flying). Supposedly, Uncle Sam will cover 60% of the rest of his schooling...he had to pay for his private license himself. After 9 years of active duty, I think they owe him at least that much.

At 6/25/2008 2:13 PM , Blogger Army Wife said...

very handsome son, and that baby....I want to smooch all over him!! ADORABLE!!!

At 6/27/2008 1:17 PM , Blogger Sean from DocintheBox said...

I'm glad to hear things are getting back in order over there, I should be out before too much longer and to the blog expo too:) Say hi to everyone for me.

At 7/01/2008 8:17 AM , Blogger Lavine said...

I am so happy and proud for Noah, God Bless him and his family.....Thanks for the update..


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