Monday, September 5, 2011

State Assistance and A Wounded Warrior Family

On Facebook and other social feed sites, you will always see from time to time, a question posted about different things like "What have you learned through all this?" when it comes to living with Wounded Warriors. Being the long winded person I am, I always struggle with just one answer, trying to find the right one that sums it all up. I think out of all of this? My answer is simple. You can't depend on outside help and you have to do it all yourself. The hardest thing of all is not just having to deal with a husband who now has become a second child, but also dealing with all who are involved such as the Army and the VA. Let's face it, living on disability alone is hard. When you go from two incomes down to disability, its to say the least, difficult. This year has brought on some serious financial difficulties starting with my husband's "bottom falling out". With that, he lost his job, is not allowed to return to drill which in turn has turned into a falling domino effect with our checkbooks and our lives. We wiped out our savings last year to keep our home and make up for lost time that my husband wasn't able to work or get paid for.

Being the biggest penny pincher ever, I find creative ways to waste not, want not. My children joke about mom's "surprise soup" which usually consists of misc vegetables left for the week and misc pieces of meat in the freezer. Turns out, that is one of my family's favorite meals to look forward to. We don't eat out and if we do, its at a very cheap place because well hell, its just expensive to eat out! So this year, with a financial planner assigned to us, we have tried to change many things like car insurance, home mortgage, car payment interest rates etc just trying to stay afloat. My biggest fear and our concern is that my husband's disability is only temporary. From learning by others, we can't count on that because it could very well be lowered in January of 2012. One of those changes made, was the decision to bite the bullet and apply for state assistance by means of food stamps.

Being the family we are, we have always taken care of our own and then given to others. I don't think I would ever just stop and say "we need help" from someone unless it was an absolute dire need. Swallowing the biggest pill of pride, we filled out the application. Now, DHS said they would send us a letter that would tell us whether we were over the income level and can't apply so it saves people time and gas money. Makes sense to me as our county covers many areas and for us, it was a 45 minute drive to go there. We applied, filling out every nook and cranny on the application honestly, and mailed it off. It was a week later, we got a letter back stating that we would need to come in "due to the nature of our request" and meet with a caseworker as they take these very issues "case by case". I saw this as good news because hey, it wasn't the denial letter.

Over preparing was probably an understatement but only because we have been turned away so many times from others, that I have learned. They wanted everything but first born and blood type. So the day comes to go down there and my husband of course, has to be in one of his moods. It's been a rough couple of weeks from social security appointments, conference calls, the schools of our children sending us letters, and I knew from pride and self-disappointment that he didn't want to go. We recently received a letter from our kid's schools stating that our children were flagged for being under our state's income as "below poverty level", therefore, they would be adding an additional fruit or vegetable on their lunch trays. For some reason, this set my husband off. He looked at me and said "Is this what I *****ng  served for? Is this what happens to families like ours. We get dropped to poverty level?". I couldn't respond to him because I knew no matter what I said, what could be the right answer to that? I was appreciative of the extra items on my child's trays. It had been stewing for a while to begin with, and he had been holding much in while working with his service dog for three weeks in TX. This particular letter smacking us quickly into reality, seemed to be the straw that broke the camel's back so to speak and he has let things rip the last couple of weeks.

The DHS here isn't a pretty site and has the look and feel of a detention center or jail. The people that were there, were rude and looked at us like we were gum underneath their shoe. It was as if we were bothering them by being there. Much to my dismay, I found that almost all (and by that meaning our car and one other) the vehicles belonging to applicants in the parking lot were newer, more expensive, and really much nicer than our own used 2003 Tahoe. So with my youngest man, Gunny, and my husband....we all went in. The place was pretty full and naturally being in small tight places, most of the women were talking. One of the conversations while we waited and tried our hardest NOT to listen to, was that of a young woman who joked to another young lady with children and was applying for the first time; about NOT having to work as long as she stayed pregnant. She was probably 22 or maybe pushing 25, but young with six kids in tow. That conversation really caused my anger to stew because she was so nonchalant about it all and to me it felt like a huge slap in the face. She could have probably walked up to me and spit in my face and I wouldn't have been nearly as mad as I was then. She talked about having free health insurance, free housing, food stamps and a cash allowance through Families First. Her nails had been professionally done, her hair had been professionally highlighted (we girls know and tend to notice these things) and she was relatively dressed nice although my husband said she looked like a tramp. In my eyes, a Hollister t-shirt and expensive brand jeans means she has got money coming in from somewhere no matter how she wore it. Tattoos and gold rings means that she is spending more on herself than she is on groceries or items for her children.

Another conversation included a young man with three children in tow driving a brand spanking new Cadillac Escalade who pulled up along side of us and wearing enough "bling" that I was surprised he could walk with that much weight. He was complaining because after two years in the system, he was going to have to take a class on how to apply for a job in order to keep "his stamps". His whole conversation with his wife or girlfriend was how to get around that by telling them he has been looking for a while now and they needed to get their story straight. I kept thinking to myself, "ya know buddy, Welfare wasn't meant to be a career opportunity". My husband who now has a scowl on his face which in turn caused many to stare at him more than they already due to the service dog, was holding my hand as if we were sitting in the bowels of Hell itself.

Out of those younger people in the room, there was an elderly lady who had health issues and only received ten dollars a month for food stamps. Worked all her life until she couldn't anymore, drew social security at very little and a widow. I thought wow, out of all the people in this room...she probably sincerely and desperately depends on that precious 10.00 a month. The remaining people in the room were immigrant farmers and not meaning that in any prejudiced way, we knew because the clerks behind their little window were discussing loudly who to call in to translate because they were illegal migrant farmers and couldn't speak English.

So our name gets called, and we get up. The first thing the caseworker does is say to my husband is "Why do you have that dog with you? Why did you bring THAT in here? What do you need the dog for?" My husband who has already gone past his thresh hold of anger, bristled and replied curtly that it was a service dog for medical purposes. So she said "Oh..well...I don't understand why you have IT here". So I replied nicely that this was a service dog and where my husband goes, the dog goes. Well we knew then, that this day was not going to go well at all. So after sitting down, we go through our story which is a nightmare in itself and present all the required documentation. Shame filled me because the whole time she just looked at us funny. It wasn't like oh wow, what a sad story or perhaps a little sympathy. It was a bored, "would rather be anywhere but in here" look on her face. She wasn't even paying attention half the time because she kept cutting us off asking questions about the dog.

I showed her loss of income, our mortgage, our car payments, utilities and most importantly....our health insurance which we pay for monthly and medical bills which has been a reoccurring expense even before my youngest son was born. ALL of which was required documentation according to the check list I "had to present to caseworker". I showed medications for all family members, breakdown from the insurance company about our $300.00 family deductible which must be met before it even kicks in, and the $1000.00 a year out of pocket and the 15% we must pay on each bill. I brought all the medical bills we owe for this year which is now up to 1700.00 that we haven't been able to pay, so make monthly payments on. We showed her the cost breakdown of food for our youngest son, documentation from the military etc and a breakdown done by the Veteran's Affairs office showing that we only allowed $200.00 a month in gas and $400.00 a month for groceries leaving us with a whopping $42.00 a month out of my husband's disability check a month. Just this month alone, we spent $150.00 round trip/same day to Lexington, KY VAMC so my husband could see a TBI Optimetrist because our area doesn't have one. Due to "clerical errors", which is just a nice way to state that a small box of "Is this a referral?" didn't get checked, we didn't get travel pay the last few times we have made the round trip of five hours. With the cost of groceries and gas these days, this doesn't go very far.

So naturally and probably due to human nature, she inquires about my husband's disability which I felt was rather rude but maybe necessary. As soon as she found out that my husband had PTSD and TBI (which was like explaining how mankind started to her) her whole demeanor changed. She kept looking at my husband as if he was suddenly going to jump up and start shooting up the place! She had huge eyes, and her smile that was fake and plastered on her face turned to a scowl.  She replied "I'm sorry but maybe it will get better". Uhhh ok? After much typing and no responses, she looks at us and says she can't take our mortgage, our health insurance, our car payment, and that we were over the income guideline because the calculations showed that they can't deduct anything as outgoing on VA disability. I didn't understand that because we have one car that is considered for medical usage in which we travel to all of his appointments, we showed every dime, every payment and insurance. She explained that we were short $200.00 from being accepted and that she was sure that "the Army takes good care of their wounded warrior families and you could go back to work". What part of "Caregiver" for my husband" did she not understand? I can't even get my littlest son into childcare because he is classified as special needs and a hazard/liability. I just sat there and explained that last week, we got news that my child will NOT be able to attend public schools for pre-K and the possibility of homeschooling for a few years might be necessary. We didn't qualify for Families First because "Illness or injury does not keep you from supporting or caring for your child for at least 30 days". What part of TBI and PTSD did she not get? Maybe she just didn't understand that I don't leave my children in my husband's care because he just isn't able to care for them.

So wonder what Miss Tatooey's injury is for her to qualify for Families First? The only thing I could figure out was "Injury by tight jeans and glittery thong" allows her to suck the life line out of our state's programs.

Then the Caseworker explains that we can't get help because she can't deduct our insurance, medical payments, prescriptions etc because it's not Medicare. If we were paying into Social Security, then we would be eligible and therefore be able to claim subtractions from our income. Because it was military insurance, which she is sure that they are providing for us, (head banging inserted here) it doesn't count and because VA disability is unearned. WHAT? So then I got upset, my husband is red faced and here I was sitting in that chair bracing for a blow up from him. I told her that if we HAD social security, we wouldn't be applying for Food stamps or any state assistance. I became so upset and just started gathering up our papers so we could leave. By this time, I am choking back the tears. I knew it had been a mistake and how stupid of me to make my husband come down there with me. How dumb was I to think that they would help us? I knew too, that as soon as we got out of the building my husband would go on this tirade and after January? It scarred me for life, and you never know what will make him explode so I was worried. It was a kick to an already downed dog.

My husband started immediately asking her "Ma'am, I may not be understanding but I don't know the answer to this; perhaps you can help me to understand. What did I go overseas and serve my country for? What did I risk my life every single day for? The man out there driving the brand new Cadillac? The young lady who is bragging on how she is taking advantage of the system? Or maybe I should have been an illegal immigrant so I can get all sorts of help. Maybe you think the military takes care of their wounded warriors, but they don't. There are many many of us families losing our homes, not able to make it from month to month yet my wife can go to the store and stand behind someone who is buying steaks with food stamps and junk food. Things that I would love to give my family. I didn't want to be here because both of us come from a long line of family that takes care of our own and to help others. I came because I am not able to help my wife and if this relieves just a little stress on her? I will do whatever she needs and for our children. So explain to me what is it that I worked for, paid taxes into, went to war for and was injured for because I am confused."

I waited for her response, in which she promptly inserted foot into mouth before speaking. "Sir, I am going to stop you there and correct you. I know that there are many many organizations who help wounded warrior families pay their monthly bills and help with groceries. Second Harvest Food bank will give you a bag a week. Wounded Warrior Project I donate every time I visit Cracker Barrel and they help families just like yours by paying mortgages for months and provide resources. I would like to correct you on the illegal immigrants because if they do not have a social security card, they can't collect benefits. However, because they come into the country and have their children born here, yes they can receive a substantial housing allowance or free one, they can collect a higher amount of food stamps and receive dental and medical insurance because their parents are migrant farmers. If have a complaint about Department of Human Services, maybe you should write to your Governor."

By that time, I was infuriated and felt the need to "correct" her as well. "Ma'am now its my time to clear up some confusion. If there was ALL this help, why do we have so many military families falling through the cracks? I just showed you ALL the help we are getting and because we are Reserves, there isn't ALL these programs that will help. Even the ones that do for Active Duty only help ONCE and that's it. There isn't ANY programs that will help monthly at all. Second Harvest Food Bank can help us monthly with one sack of groceries containing what is available at the time. Much of that is whole grain wheat cereals/bread which my children can't have. There are usually eggs, whole or powdered milk if possible, peanut butter or other cookie/bread type items that have byproducts of peanuts in them which we can't have at all in our home. Any one of these could potentially kill my youngest child. Wounded Warrior Project I am a huge fan of and I am sure they have helped many families, but so far, the ONLY thing I have gotten through that program is a trip for caregivers and  resources anywhere near us. They don't pay for monthly bills like you are misunderstanding and they don't pay for monthly housing etc. Now is a time for you to look up some of these programs and see just what the qualifications are, what they do and how they serve. While I appreciate your time, and correction about illegal immigrants...the best thing you could have done was NOT explain to us in length why "Anchor" babies to illegal immigrants get all the benefits when you are turning a Wounded Warrior away. Seems like the ones who really need the help, can't get it and yet the losers out there in society are living high on the hog. And by the way, I will be writing a letter to the Governor." I will copy this blog and send to every state representative, congressman and anyone else who wants to read it.

By this time, my husband was gathering Gunny up and looking like he couldn't get out fast enough. Myself? I stuck my chin out, straightened my spine and with tears running down my face I walked out of there. The ride home was long. Very very very long filled with shouting, crying and disappointment mixed with wounded pride and humiliation on his part. As I listened to his ranting while driving home, I did wonder myself....what do our military serve for? Did they know when they joined that they would come home and just be pushed to the side because they can't do their jobs anymore and not by their fault? Other than the obvious freedom, protecting our country etc...what did they get in return? I had to inwardly laugh to myself because I thought...I was just as naive as that caseworker was before my husband came home broken. I really did think that things would be taken care of. Instead....seems like the leeches of society instead are the primary reason people and families like ours can't get any help and the military and VA systems just don't care. We have to fight constantly to get anywhere, then once there....we must fight once more to stay and not get knocked back down again. I wonder sometimes if my husband knew then what he knows now, if he would have been so eager to sign up for dear Uncle Sam? Pride for our country and the call of duty would probably make him say he has no regrets and I would probably state the same. I have to wonder sometimes though....was it really worth something to many or just some?

Still Dreaming About Welfare Paid Lobster and Jeweled Thongs In My Size,

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