what it’s like being a disabled veteran

First, let me start by saying that I absolutely do count my blessings. I consider myself fortunate indeed, and I do live quite “comfortably” (more on that later). I do not want anyone to think that I’m whining, or a victim, but sometimes, a girl’s just gotta rant…

I joined the Navy in August of 2005, was stationed at the ASW base in Point Loma in the spring of 2006, and had my first back spasm that fall. I was lying in bed for about 8 hours, not knowing what was wrong, not knowing how to make the pain stop, when I finally realized that I needed to get up and get help. As soon as I tried to get out of bed, pain like I’d never experienced. I screamed. I screamed and screamed. The window in my barracks room was open, and I was mortified that people could hear me, but something had to be done. Just as I was able to roll out of bed, my roommate came in and told me she was going to help get me to the NMT office for help. I gingerly walked down the stairs, across the street, and into the office, with her help (thank God my room was so close…). I was in tears, I couldn’t bend, twist, or stand up straight. I walked into the office and told them I was in pain and I didn’t know what was happening. One of the Petty Officers there pressed his hand into my back to see what was wrong and I had to clamp my own hands over my mouth to muffle my scream. They called an ambulance, and the EMTs put a backboard up against my back, strapped me on, and tilted me back. It was excruciating, but once I was lying down again, the pain subsided a little.

When we got to Balboa Hospital, the doctors gave me intravenous fluids, painkillers, and muscle relaxers. I was told that due to the severity of the spasm, and how long it had been happening, the muscles had separated from my spine. I had sprained my back. I was told I’d have to keep it strong to avoid re-injury, so I worked out three times a day, every day. 20 minutes on the elliptical in the late morning, weights, and stretching. Class PT, usually volleyball or mock PRTs in the early afternoon. Another 20 minutes on the elliptical after class in the evening, more weights, and more stretching. I was in the best shape of my life, then I went to the ship.

I reported to the USS Chancellorsville in the spring of 2007, we were in the yards, so there wasn’t a whole lot of typical work going on. I painted, sanded, did deck grinding, and lots of cleaning. We pulled out in the fall, and our underway schedule started. We went up to Canada in the winter, that was my first real underway, and it sucked. It was so cold, but I dealt with it, made the best of it. The following summer, we went on WESTPAC, my first, and while it was difficult (I genuinely considered not going because of the abuse I had been suffering at the hands of my division), I adjusted well, and I even got together with my now-fiancé at the very end (while we were in port! No hanky-pankys on the ship).

The winter was uneventful, but the next summer, we SURGEd, and that’s when the real problems started. The metal decks and steep stairwells started to wear on my knees, I was noticing pain and stiffness developing, but just dealt with it. That fall, we went back into the yards, but we had to take part in RAMs (Random Antiterrorism Measures). We were short on gun qualifications, and didn’t have enough topside rovers, I stood 11 hours of watch in one day, from 1130-1630, 1730-1830, 1930-2030, and 2130-0130. That was the day my knees finally gave out. By the end of my last watch, they were the size of melons, so swollen and stiff with fluid that I couldn’t bend them.

After the initial pain and swelling subsided, I started realizing that my chronic symptoms had become much, much worse. My knees creaked and cracked, they caught and slipped, I could no longer bend them and bear weight, I had to choose. Now, everyone knows that when lifting, you’re supposed to use your legs, but that was too painful, I started lifting with my back. Being pretty strong, and working out with the VBSS team, I was no stranger to manual labor, and I had no issue working with the boys doing the dirty work, but after a while, I began to notice that my back was causing me pain too. I would be stiff in the morning, and it was painful getting in and out of my rack, lifting and bending became harder, and my back spasms returned. I also developed sciatica, which caused shooting pain down my legs (mostly my right) and numbness in my feet. I lost all reflex in my right knee.

I expressed my concerns to Doc, but she was busy, tough, and an FMF Corpsman, she didn’t have the patience to deal with complaints like mine, so I dealt with it. We got a new Doc, and while he was a little more approachable, he was less competent, and wasn’t able to help me much. I developed dishydrosis in my hands and feet, and some kind of eczema on my legs, but nothing he gave me helped. He did give me Toradol injections when my back was really hurting, which was several times a week, sometimes more than once a day. He also gave me Mobic, which kind of helped.

I began to get depressed, I didn’t like being in pain all the time, it made me angry, and I would lash out at people, who would in turn call me a bitch and treat me like crap, only they didn’t know that I was only angry because I hurt. In 2010, it got to the point where I demanded to be seen by someone else. The only problem was, we were in the middle of the ocean doing RIMPAC, and the only option was going to the USS Ronald Reagan, but I took it. Doc told me that if I was as bad as I was saying I was, they might send me home, so I packed my stuff, and waited to be allowed to go. People started saying I was malingering, that I was just trying to get off of the ship, because I “packed too much.” It made me even angrier.

I went to the Reagan, told them what was going on, and found out that I wasn’t supposed to be getting Toradol and Mobic because they were both the same type of NSAID. So they took me off Toradol, the only thing that gave me relief for a few hours after a dose. I lost it. I started crying, I told the doctors that I needed better treatment, and I begged them for some real help. They sent me to one of the Chaplains, a rabbi, who was very kind and understanding, he wrote several e-mails to my command requesting that I be seen both by Balboa and Fleet Mental Health. I’m not religious, but he offered to pray for me, and I said yes. He prayed for me in his stateroom, and he asked YHWH to help me. I appreciated that beyond measure.

I was sent back to the ship, much to the hateful satisfaction of those who said I was “faking it,” but they had received the correspondence from the Reagan and my chain of command understood that I needed more help. I was referred to FMH and sent to Balboa for an MRI on my right knee. After a few weeks of seeing a psychiatrist (a nice Commander who happened to be from New Hampshire, which was a nice shared bond, seeing as I’m from Maine), I was doing better, I was on medication, and it was generally easier to deal with the pain when I could go home, sleep on a comfortable bed, and my wonderful boyfriend would rub my back until it didn’t hurt. I received the results of my MRI, and went for a LIMDU assessment, where I was told I would never be able to serve at sea again.

When I received my LIMDU orders, my LCPO was disappointed, now that I was leaving, it was clear that I was actually an asset to the division, and he needed me for PAR (I forget what the acronym stands for, but it was a big ASW review of maintenance, operations, and training). I told him I would stay, but that I needed to get out of the duty section, I simply couldn’t stand for hours at a time anymore, my back and my knees couldn’t take it. He said there was nothing he could do, so I said I was sorry, but that I had to leave.

So I reported to TPU (worst command ever, don’t go there, ever…) and eventually got placed in the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) where I served my LIMDU time. When my six months expired, I was still using a cane, in physical therapy, and wasn’t nearly “cured,” but I got stuck in a rather unfortunate loophole, one that did not work in my favor: if one is unable to finish an entire six month LIMDU period before their EAOS, they are not entitled to go on LIMDU (even if it’s a renewal). I asked if I could get a Med Board instead, but they told me I had to complete two consecutive LIMDU periods to get a Med Board. I ended up being honorably discharged, which requires being fit for full duty, and they made me sign my fit for full paperwork with a pen in one hand and my cane in the other. I was told the VA would take care of me.

I was discharged in August of 2011, I had filed my VA paperwork in July, and I didn’t receive a response until about eight months later. I still don’t have a rating on everything! The really fun part is that they are making me start all over again with my treatments. I had to go on the basic prescriptions for pain, depression, and my eczema thing (it hasn’t actually been diagnosed, no one knows what it is).

While I was in the Navy, I was also treated for cervical dysplasia, and had several colposcopies, I hadn’t had one in a couple of years and got one from my PCP, but the results were inconclusive, and now she won’t let me get one until September, and if it comes back normal, I can’t get another one for three years! My mother had cervical dysplasia, she missed a pap once, and the next time it came around, she had stage four cervical cancer and had to have a hysterectomy. I’m 27, I don’t have kids yet, I’m not even married  yet, my fertility is a very important thing to me right now, and I swear to God, if I get cancer because the damn VA didn’t want to pay for a pap every six months, I will sue the shit out of them.

I don’t agree with suing, I think we’re a sue-happy society and that people need to take personal accountability, but I can’t get health insurance because I have a pre existing condition. Even if I could, I couldn’t afford to pay the hundreds of dollars a month for private health care. The VA is all I have right now. The VA is all a lot of people have, and it sucks. There’s too many of us, and not enough funding for them. The VA makes monsters out of decent people because veterans can’t get the care they need. The VA doesn’t cover chiropractic work, which was one of the most effective treatments I had for my back while I was in the Navy, I’m also told acupuncture works wonders, but they don’t cover that either. Luckily, my fiancé received an e-stim at work, which is another therapy I’ve done, and that helps. I have a heating pad, my fiancé rubs my back when it’s sore or stiff, and he even bought me a hot tub last Christmas. Maybe I was “spoiled” by Navy medicine supplying everything, down to over-the-counter meds, but I feel like the VA doesn’t provide us with shit. I had to wait eight hours in the ER once, only to be given an IV with some painkillers and then discharged. I still haven’t been seen for my knee, my back, or my eczema, which has now spread to my arms. Dermatology won’t even see me until I go back and try hydrocortisone. Really? You think I haven’t tried that yet? I’ve had this since ’09-’10, you think I haven’t been there, done that?

I worry that my relationship may fall apart, I get angry, withdrawn, and it’s hard to want to be intimate with someone when you’re always in pain, or itching, or sad, or all of the above. To top it all off is the stress. I am always stressed about something, and I seriously feel like it’s killing me. Last night, I couldn’t shut my brain off about a school project, and I didn’t get to sleep until 7am, and was woken up by my dog at 10:30am. I’m not even tired now, and it’s 3am! I just can’t relax, I can’t be pain-free, I can’t be normal. “Normal,” for me, is pain. I get back spasms now, and I know they’re just as bad as they used to be, but they don’t register as hurting as much because I’m used to it! That is so messed up! My PCP in the Navy told me that I was the most jacked up 25 year old she’d ever seen, and that if I didn’t get 80% service connected disability from the VA, she’d be shocked. Well, I started at 60%, but they did upgrade me to 80% this year (with back pay), and I haven’t even been evaluated on the main issues yet.

This is the life of a disabled veteran, I guess: pain and stress, stress and pain…

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Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

USS Arizona

The USS Arizona.

It’s hard to imagine her standing proudly, towering above the waves. She rests so quietly now, just beneath the very water that once kept her afloat. The USS Arizona. Her name brings a slow solemnity over one’s heart, and to see her, an eerie sense of calm. The chaos and destruction that brought her to her knees, dragging a thousand sailors and Marines down with her, smoking and burning. Now look at her.

Softly sitting beneath the calm waters of Pearl Harbor, she looks both proud and sad. Everything above her main deck is gone, her gun turrets stand empty, just out of the water, rusty, and a reminder that she was once the most powerful class of ship in the United States Navy. Buoys mark her bow and stern, the better for visitors to gauge the true size of this ocean monster, but they do little but offer a small piece of reference. A ship is more than its length. A ship is its crew, and this ship continues to weep and bleed for the men she lost. Looking out over the quiet water above her deck, it’s easy to spot the small droplets of oil, rising to the surface in an amorphous tumble, and spreading into little pools as they break the surface. It’s easy to watch the USS Arizona cry. It’s hard to look away. It’s hard not to weep for the men who undoubtedly fought their ship till the end, and will lay with her forever.

The USS Missouri stands behind her, two sisters, marking the beginning and the end of World War II. The Missouri watches over her older sister, her bow facing the Arizona. She is a reminder that we do not forget, that we will never leave our shipmates alone and in the dark, even in death.

So on this day, many will remember the USS Arizona, children will learn of her in school, and people will visit her in person, 4,500 of them, as there are each day. I feel privileged to have seen her while I was serving my country. I feel she has special meaning to those who have served in the Navy. Those are our brothers down there. As close as those who stand beside us on our own ships. It’s a beautiful sadness. The pain that we feel at their loss, but also the pride, that their sacrifice was not for nothing. We remember those who fought on the USS Arizona, and all over Pearl Harbor today, and we thank them for their service and sacrifice, for many, the ultimate sacrifice.

STG2(SW)

USN 2005-2011

I wanted to post something for Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, especially since I’ve actually been to the Arizona.  I went there in 2009 for a friend’s re-enlistment onboard (well, in the memorial building).  I took a few pictures while we were there:

entrance to the museum

Memorial Plaque

list of names

list of names 2

flag at half-mast

forward gun turret

viewing area

oil on the water

oil on the water 2

oil on the water 3

oil on the water 4

sun shining on Arizona

I want to thank any active duty, retired, or veterans (like me) for their service, their sacrifice, and their fulfillment of duty.

how to succeed in the military without really trying

20120705-123433.jpg

Recently, I’ve noticed that my boy and I are getting a lot of snide comments from people, mostly stemming from jealousy and ignorance, and concerning our lifestyle. He and I both own our (relatively new) cars outright, have purchased a house, and currently have no debt, but for our mortgage. People tell us it “must be nice” and “I wish I had that much money!” and typically, they make about the same amount that we did when we were both Second Class Petty Officers collecting single BAH. They want to know how we did it while they are struggling to pay rent and live paycheck-to-paycheck. So for those of you looking to join the military, are just starting out, or maybe you’ve been in for a while and just don’t know what’s going wrong, here’s some tips (civilians can follow these guidelines as well, but it will be more tailored to the Serviceman:

1. Live within your means.

Some people are thinking “duh, lady…” and others will think “I’ve heard that a million times, and I’m not sure I know what that means…” Well, here’s the down low: you can’t spend more than you make, and in order to do that, you need to prioritize. We all know that the E-1 to E-3 crowd is usually hurting for cash. They have to live in the barracks, where there’s nothing to do, so they buy things to keep them entertained: stereos, cars, fancy phones, and let’s not forget booze. Single junior sailors tend to drink a lot, I did, and why? There was nothing better to do! They aren’t thinking about saving for E-5 when they get single BAH and have to come up with the cash for renting an apartment and furniture, so half of them won’t have the cash to do it right away, and the other half get married to get the BAH that will get squandered on more stupid stuff, or lost in a nasty divorce. The solution is to budget. Living in the barracks is an excellent opportunity to save money, if you know how.

2. Don’t get a damn car!

You live on base, you can walk to work, wtf do you need a car for? Make friends with the married people or the E-5’s that have cars and bum rides, that’s what I did. If you bring something to the party (like an excellent personality, not like a case of beer, cuz remember, you can’t afford it, so only do that once a month) people won’t mind swinging by the barracks to pick you up on their way home on Friday and let you chill for the weekend. Also, if you go this method, you should be cooking, cleaning, or otherwise earning your keep. One thing I found about being a couch-surfer: if you feed people and help clean up after, you will always be invited back. Cars are just to expensive, because you start out with no money, so you’re financing the whole thing, you’re young, so your credit sucks and your interest rate will be like 14%, also your insurance will be high, again, because you’re young, and gas, maintenance and repairs will suck you dry. I know people that bought their cars, and then it sat there because they couldn’t afford to drive it! Is that what you want? No! Of course not! So you wait…

3. Build your credit.

Obviously, you’re going to buy stuff sometimes, I’m not saying you can’t hit up a bar once a week (preferably dive, because they’re cheap, and usually more fun, because who wants to party with bougie douchebags?) or that you always have to eat at the galley (honestly, I never ate there, when I was in the barracks, I lived off off sandwiches, Ramen, and EZ-Mac). So when you do buy stuff, use a credit card.

GASP!

Yes, I’m telling you to get a credit card. Shocking, right? But don’t run out and get one yet, let me explain…

Hopefully, when you were in bootcamp, you were smart and signed up for a credit union and not a bank (because banks are for-profit and credit unions aren’t, you don’t want someone making money off of your money in the form of dividends), but if you didn’t, it’s okay, you’re not doomed. What you do now, is you apply for a credit card with rewards, and if you’re smart, you’ll get a card with airline rewards… See what I’m sayin’? You gotta fly home to see Mom and Dad once a year, right? Why not do it for free from your credit card? (I’m smiling really smugly right now, just to let you know) So you’re looking at cards right now, right? Good. Once you find the one you want, make sure there is no annual fee, that shit’s stupid, don’t pay to have the damn card. Now look at the interest rate. Whoa! Right? Pretty high? Double-digits I’m guessing? Don’t worry about it, the interest rate doesn’t matter, it could be 100% and you will never have to pay it.

Now you’re really confused, aren’t you? 🙂 I thought so.

If you pay the entire balance every month when the bill comes in, you don’t pay interest to the card company. They don’t want you to know that because if everyone did it that way, they wouldn’t make any money. But you know it. So you can stick it to the man and deny them your hard-earned money! Put everything on that card, just make sure you’re not spending more than you make, because the more you use that card, the more miles you’ll get, and the more likely that plane trip home on Holiday Standdown will be free, maybe even first class! 😉

4. Don’t finance anything!

On the subject of paying interest, here’s a fun fact: you will pay more for any item that is financed than said item is worth. Let me say that again: if you finance anything but a house, you will pay more (a lot of times significantly more) than that item is worth. Don’t finance a computer, save for it, don’t finance that awesome new car stereo and spinner rims, save for them. You can bleed yourself dry financing all these nice things, and it’s so much more beneficial just to save for a few months and pay cash (or, in your case, credit, because you now have the money to pay off that card balance when the bill comes in). Technology especially, is not something you want to buy on credit, because it’s pretty much obsolete within three months of buying, so why pay even more for that iPhone? Everything except a house depreciates in value (meaning the value goes down), a house will appreciate in value (usually), I know you’re all thinking “what about the housing market crash?” Well, yeah, that happens, but as a general rule, real estate will gain value, which brings me to my next point:

5. Save, save, save!

This one’s easy, trust me. Make a list of your expenses in a given month, all of them, anything you spend money on, list it (another perk of the credit card is it does this for you, if you put everything on the card, your statement is this list, you just have to separate it into categories) food, beer, clothes, gas, insurance, cable, whatever you bought, list it. Now compare that to your monthly take-home. Is it more? Less? About equal? Obviously, we’re shooting for less here, the lesser the better, but be realistic, if you’re thinking “oh, well I just won’t spend money anymore.” you’re an idiot. Don’t do that, just be reasonable. If you’re spending $200 a month on Starbucks, then yeah, maybe you should start making your own dang coffee, you know? So you track your spending for a few months, tweak things here and there, and arrive at a number. This number tells you your cost of living, and it shouldn’t be as much or more than you make, if it is, suck it up and cut more stuff out of the budget, you’re not a baller yet, and you never will be if you insist on acting like one when you don’t have the means. So you have this number, and you subtract it from your take-home, and you look at the difference. That is what you need to be putting in the bank every month, it should be about 20% of your paycheck (more is better, but that’s a baseline) so if you make $1,000 a month, you should be able to bank $200 of that, easy, and you still have four times that amount to spend, so if you’re thinking “that’s too much, I can’t do that,” stop it, this is how people like me own houses and cars and have no debt at 26.

6. Stay the $&#% out of trouble!

When I joined the Navy, my recruiter gave me the best advice I’d ever gotten from a military member: “do the bare minimum, and you will go incredibly far.” It totally sounds like a lazy man’s cop-out, right? But he’s right! You don’t have to be a hard-charger to do well, you just have to do three things: follow instructions, show up on time, and be in a good uniform. That’s it, that is literally all you have to do! I followed those rules (with two exceptions that led to two DRB’s and a Mast, but whatever, it was like a right-of-passage when I was in) and I went from E-1 to E-5 in 27 months. That’s not bad. That’s actually really good, and I was not a hard-charger. I made STG2 about six months after reporting to my first command, and was out of the barracks as soon as we returned from deployment the next year, and because of the money I saved on that deployment, I was able to put down first and last month’s rent, and buy all my furniture with my credit card, and pay off the balance, with plenty to spare to pad my bank account.

Speaking of bank account-padding, you want to have at least half of your yearly salary in the bank at all times, that way, if you suddenly lose your job, you have six months of income to live off of while you regroup and find another one. This really came in handy when I was PTS’d out, I didn’t have to depend so much on my boy, a fact which probably saved our relationship.

7. Renting, while necessary, is bad.

I realize that no one can go through life not renting at some point (unless you’re a trust-fund baby, and to you I say: “get a fucking job and contribute to society instead of leeching off of your parents’ legacy, you piece of hot garbage.”) but I strongly recommend that you do it for as little time as possible. I realize that in the military, it can be difficult to stay in one place and that sometimes renting is the only option, but check it out: if you spend $10-$20 thousand dollars a year on rent, it’s gone, you don’t get it back, but if you’re paying that money into a mortgage, it’s like a saving’s account. As the real estate market recovers and property values come back up, that’s like earning interest on an investment. And one extra payment a year (I think October 1st is a good date, don’t you, people who have SRB’s?) takes seven years of payments off of a 30-year fixed mortgage. So imagine you’ve got yourself a little lady (or fella, in my case) and you both can afford to pay the full mortgage every month, in addition to both making an extra payment once a year… You see where I’m going with this? The less time you spend paying off a loan like a mortgage, the less interest you have to pay, but since houses appreciate in value, if you’re smart about it, you can make that interest back when you sell it, so there’s no money lost, unlike trying to resell an old computer or tv, you will always lose in those ventures. So rent for as short a time as possible, and remember that even if you do get transferred, instead of selling, you could always rent the place out, and you might be able to generate a little extra income for yourself. 😉

8. Don’t run out and spend your tax return/SRB installation/windfall cash.

In April and October, everyone in the military always suddenly has something new and cool, because that’s when they get their tax returns and their bonuses. This is stupid. You should not be including this money into your budget, and instead, throw it into your savings (and yes, I consider a mortgage a savings, and that’s why I say to add that extra payment in during bonus time) and keep on with the budget. Now, if there’s something you really need to do (pay down credit card debt or a personal loan, your car needs tires) go ahead, but make sure it’s an investment and not just a purchase. Make sure you’re really going to benefit from whatever it is that you’re spending that money on (like your tires, if those are bald, you might die, so new ones would, in fact, be a good investment). My point is, just try to be smart with your money, don’t be frivolous, you’ll end up miserable. Money can buy happiness, if you manage it wisely, but if you don’t, you’re screwed.

Incidentally, I learned about 80% of this information from my mother, who has always been very successful with her money, 10% from the Internet (and only because my mother told me first, all this information is there), and another 10% from personal experience. If you start off smart with your money, life can be a lot easier, but if you’re already in a bind, it’s not hopeless, you can get back on track, it just takes commitment, and a lot of prioritizing.

how the navy is still %&$#ing me seven months later…

FTN.  A fond acronym that anyone that’s done time (or is the spouse of someone who has done time) in the Navy knows well.  Along with BOHICA, which also applies here…

So.

When I was in the Navy, I was on a ship.  I did back-breaking work the entire time I was there because I thought I was tough, and I didn’t want to be thought of as the “weak girl” in the division (I was the only girl, so it was even more important that I pull my weight).  Anyway, after a while I started to hurt.  A lot.  Everywhere.  My knees and back especially.  And I got check out by the doctor and lo and behold – I had tendonitis caused by arthritis in my knees, and three ruptured intercalated discs in my lower back.  Brilliant.  Just lovely.  So I was taken off of the ship, and sent to a LIMDU assignment on shore duty.  I hobble around with a cane, was on painkillers, muscle relaxers, sleeping pills, antidepressants, and all manner of physical therapy.  I was at Medical about every other day.  This was just before Christmas, 2011.  I was on a six-month LIMDU, and when June rolled around, and I wasn’t better, I marched (well, hobbled) my butt into Medical again and said “I’m not better, I need another LIMDU period, please!” and they said “okay, we’ll do another assessment, come on in, Petty Officer!”  So I did.  And I failed the fit-for-full exam, which says I need another six month LIMDU period.  Then they saw my EAOS was in two months.  “Have you reenlisted?” they ask, “no,” I say “I was denied PTS because of a mistake my Command Career Counselor made on the ship.”  “Ah…  Wait one moment, STG2…”

So I waited.  And I waited.  And finally my PCP comes back out and says “STG2, we can’t give you a second LIMDU because it conflicts with your EAOS, I’m going to have to give you FFD…”

I was flabbergasted.  My jaw hit the floor.  I was standing there, leaning on a cane, and they were telling me that they would have to put me FFD??  “Don’t worry,” she said with a sincere (though now I know it to be naive…) smile, “the VA will make sure you’re taken care of, everything’s in your record, right?”

Uh, yeah, but isn’t that still messed up, lady?  Apparently not, because that’s exactly what she did.  She wrote that I was just fine, and that I was fit for separation with no medical issues.

Wow.

I walked back to my office in a daze, I went straight into Chief’s office and placed the paper on his desk and stood there.  He saw my face and didn’t say a word until he read the report I’d put right next to his sandwich.

“Fit for Full?  Are you kidding me??”  He looked up at me, his blue eyes blazing.  I shook my head, and I felt tears welling in my eyes.

“I don’t know what to do…”  I said meekly, sitting down and wiping my tears with the cuff of my NWU’s, I’d just about had it.  “Neither do I…” he said, sitting back and staring out his window.

That was a rough day.

So I immediately started my VA claim and made absolutely sure every little thing I could get compensation for (and probably a lot of stuff I couldn’t get compensation for) was in my packet.  I did everything I could to make sure the VA knew that I had been discharged a very, very broken little girl.

That was seven months ago, and I still haven’t gotten the results of my claim.  And I just got a letter in the mail informing me that I needed to register with the Individual Ready Reserves or face revocation of my Honorable Discharge and my Post 9/11 GI Bill.

Holy shit.

I’ve been trying to call everyone I can think of, the base Command Career Counselor, the one that signed me up for IRR, but didn’t understand it because if he had he would have realized that me signing on the dotted line with a pen in one hand and a cane in the other was a mistake.  Allow me to explain that particular debacle:

An e-mail was sent out just before I got out about IRR Severance Pay, and I had kept it as an LPO because I knew as soon as I deleted it, some idiot would ask me for it.  I hadn’t given it much thought since I was under the impression that my enlistment would be extended for me to finish my LIMDU and get a Med Board.  Silly me.  When I found out that I would be discharged anyway, I began to panic; what the hell was I going to do?  I couldn’t work, any job I could take wouldn’t hire me with a cane, and I hadn’t finished college yet, so my options were severely limited.  I remembered reading that E-5 over 6 get a $20k severance for enlisting in the IRR, so I jumped on it, if only as a temporary solution.

What they don’t tell you is that if you take a severance, and then apply for disability, you have to pay the severance back before you can collect said disability.  The Navy says it’s being compensated twice for the same period of service.  I call it fucked up.

A fellow from the VFW where my mother works told me this little tidbit and said “do whatever it takes to get that paperwork stopped, do not spend that money!”  I quickly tried over and over to call PERS-93 with no answer.  I left messages.  E-mails.  No response.  When I didn’t receive the bonus, I was confident that they had taken care of it and just hadn’t contacted me about it.  So I relaxed.

Stupid.  Stupid.  Stupid!

So now I’m stuck: register with the IRR by Friday and stay out of a metric fuck-ton of trouble, or don’t register, have said ton fall on my head, and be totally screwed for the rest of my life.

I guess I’ll register then, eh?  Hopefully I can get this shit sorted out later.  I’ve tried to contact the base, PERS-93 (again), the VA, the VFW, no one will take my calls!  But I refuse to give up.  I served my country honorably for six years, goddamnit.  I will get my just compensation, if I have to knock on my Congressman’s very front door, I will straighten this shit out.

Put the word out: anyone seeking disability from the VA should not file for IRR and severance pay – DON’T DO IT!

continuing in the “gay rights” vein…

I randomly found this video today: Megyn Kelley DEFENDS Booing of Gay Soldier, and I was pissed.  Whomever this Megyn Kelley (spell your damn name right, idiot) chick is, she’s yet another ignorant, nosy, Republican moron, that makes the decent Republicans look like intolerant assholes (which they’re not, my Dad’s a staunch Republican, and you know what? he’s a decent, kind, accepting man).  The whole “booing” at a political debate pisses me off too: aren’t these supposed to be professional affairs?  Where people put their Big Boy Pants on and grow the hell up to talk about important matters in a civilized way?  Good job, dumbass!  I’m sure Santorum will appreciate your assistance in destroying Republican credibility (I honestly hope that dude is a Democrat who is purposefully making an ass out of the Republican Party, which, if it were true, would make me much less sad about him running – STEWART/COLBERT ’12!).

The thing that occurred to me after posting how dumb that anchor-bitch was, is how difficult it is for someone gay in the Armed Forces to vote, and here’s why:

Republican Agenda:  Stomp out gay rights/increase military funding

Democratic Agenda:  Establish gay rights/decrease military funding

By the way, the “military funding” part includes paychecks, benefits, pensions, ability to reenlist for 20 years and retire…

Get it?  Someone gay in the military pretty much has to choose between their lifestyle and their career when voting for a president.  This is really the only place where the two mix, because as I’ve said numerous times, your sexuality has no place in the workforce, including the military, because it doesn’t matter.  Call me a hater, but I think DADT actually protected a lot of gays from their shipmates, namely, the ones that really enjoy flaunting their sexuality in everyone’s faces, which I hate as much as a straight guy or girl doing it.  Again, because there is no place for it in the workforce.  So if you’re gay, and you’re in the Good Ol’ Boy network of the military, don’t you think it’s kind of stupid to be all in-your-face and make the sheltered, ignorant people from places like Iowa uncomfortable enough to kick your ass?  It’s those people who I believe DADT protected, basically from their own stupidity.  I’m not saying it’s right to kick someone out for being gay, but if your gayness is so flamboyant that it’s really screwing with the minds of the straight guys that can’t handle it, and can’t get away from it, then you just need to stop.  Be smart about it.  Some people are okay with it, other’s aren’t, and they have the right to not be okay with it.  It doesn’t matter.

So a gay military member gets to choose between having equal rights outside of the military and freezing his pay/losing his pension and benefits/not being allowed to re-enlist, or not having those rights and be unable to marry the person s/he loves, but keep the military funding up so that they’ll have a decent job with benefits.

Shitty.

Can you imagine having to make that choice?  What would you choose if you did?

the navy and tattoos

Okay, so a friend of a friend gets this anchor tattoo, she’s in the Navy like me, so I thought “cool, Navy tattoo, alright.”  Then I find out she’s got a swallow.  She’s been in for maybe two years, and has never been to sea.  A swallow.  For those of you who don’t know, the swallow tattoo is a Navy thing that civilians thought was cool and stole.  Civilians with swallow tattoos don’t really bug me, because they don’t really know the meaning behind it, so I just chalk it up to “hey, that looks cool, I want THAT!”.  But, if you’re in the Navy, and you get all these tattoos, you might want to know what they mean before you start thinking you’re Joe Cool…

Swallows:  Initially, Sailors got swallows before they went out to sea, because swallows always come home; nowadays, one swallow means you’ve sailed 5,000 miles, and two means 10,000.  There’s a ton of hoopla about “flying fists” and other dumb stuff, but in the US Navy, it means you’ve done some time at sea.

Anchors:  Depending on the way it’s done, it can mean a Boatswain’s Mate (it’s their rating badge) a Chief (it’s their rank symbol) or, the original meaning, that you’ve sailed across the Atlantic.  There’s also ties to the Christian Church, however, so this one is kind of iffy.  But it’s pretty much understood that if you’re in the Navy and you have an anchor tattoo, you’re either a Boats, a Chief, or you’ve at least gone underway at some point…

Dragons:  Means you’ve served in the Far East.  There’s a ton of people with dragon tattoos, and I totally wouldn’t rag on someone for having one, because they’re everywhere, and the Navy stole it from the Asians they met there, so this one is less of a big deal whether you’re in or out.  Again, the style has something to do with it as well.

Pig and Rooster:  Probably one of my personal favorites, the pig and rooster tattoos would be applied one on each leg (sometimes on the knee, sometimes the foot) to keep a sailor afloat.  Back in the day, when live roosters and pigs would be shipped overseas in wooden crates, they were often the only remains left of a shipwreck, so it was believed the tattoo would help you stay afloat and get to land if the ship went down.  If you have this tattoo and you’re not on sea duty in the Navy, or at least a hardcore mariner, you’re an idiot.

“Hold Fast” and/or Rope:  It’s a deckhand thing.  Helps you hold the rope, show people your profession, yada yada, not a whole lot of people get these anymore, and if I saw someone  with “HOLD FAST” across his knuckles, unless he was an old, salty-ass Chief, I would laugh my ass off and probably die laughing.  [EDIT: People are getting pissed off at me for saying I would laugh at someone with “HOLD FAST” on their knuckles, so let me explain.  The Navy is no longer using sailing ships.  Hell, we don’t even use steam ships anymore.  We use jet engines.  Sure, we still need to handle ropes in order to dock/moor, and we have all those fun flags we fly, but let’s be honest: Navy sailors just don’t do the rope work they used to!  If you’re a literal “sailor,” and you actually sail, this is not directed at you, okay?  Calm down…]

Jolly Roger:  You know, the black flag with the skull and crossbones?  Well, usually it’s a pirate thing, but I heard once a while ago that it was a symbol for getting in trouble and going to Captain’s Mast.  I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t really want to advertize that shit.  Unless you’re one of my former Commanding Officers (who shall remain nameless) who kept black anchors on this ship to show what a badass he was for not getting fired during an official inquiry – you go, Cap!

Full-Rigged Ship:  You’ve sailed around Cape Horn.  Back in the day, when ships were actually powered by wind, you were also allowed to get a blue star on your ear, and if you did it five times, you could get one on your other ear, because it was that badass to do it and survive that many times.  Nowadays though, a lot of people have full-rigged ships, but most of them were, actually, in the Navy at some point.

Mermaid:  Ahhh, the mermaid, everyone gets mermaids now, so it’s kind of the same situation as the dragon tattoo, but Sailors would get these cuz, hey, it’s porn you can’t lose.  There’s also some linkage to the draw of the sea (“homeward bound, seaward drawn” type thing)  These were really popular back in the day, and when the Navy banned nudity on the pin-up tattoos, they actually created a huge revenue for the tattoo artists because Sailors went back in droves to get little shell and starfish bikini tops added on in order to be in regs.  Ask any tattoo artist that knows his history, and he’ll probably chuckle a bit.

Hula Girl:  Similar to the mermaid, they’re sexy to look at, but it also means that you’ve been to Hawaii, nowadays I would say it means you’ve beenstationed in Hawaii, cuz let’s face it, it’s not nearly as hard to get there today as it was in the 1600-1700’s, so there you go.

Shellback Tattoos:  Those of us that have been through Wog Day never want to go through that shit again.  It’s embarrassing, you’re basically getting IT’d all day, and you’re in so much salt water that you’re pretty much a raisin for the next week and about 17 layers of skin will peel off of you.  In the “kinder, gentler Navy” Wog Day is nothing like it was, we’re not allowed to make you crawl through garbage, or beat you up, or tie you down for hours and torture you.  But it still sucks.  So what some Sailors do is tattoo the date, time, and coordinates of their Shellback initiation on their lower leg, so come Wog Day when the Shellbacks would tear into berthing at 3am ripping people out of their racks and telling everyone to “show a leg” you would literally “show a leg” and prove that you’d already done it, so they’d leave you alone.  Ahhhh, Navy tradition! 🙂

Nautical Stars:  These can be five- or six-pointed, and usually have a light side and a dark side, it’s unanimous that they originated with sailors, but there’s so much debate over where and when and why and all that, but the two meanings I really think are the most authentic are these:  Sailors used to navigate by the stars, using a compass.  There you go.  Covers them both.  Musicians use these symbols as well (usually five-pointed) but that’s mostly because of Sailor Jerry and how everyone thinks it’s cool to get old school sailor tattoos (I can’t blame them, they are pretty fuckin’ awesome).

The Rose:  HA!  Bet you didn’t know that rose tattoos got their start in the Navy, didja???  Well, it’s true, they got popular when Sailors would tattoo a rose on themselves to honor their wife or girlfriend they left behind (well, it was a nice gesture anyways, we all know the rumors about sailor infidelity, I can neither confirm nor deny the purity of any actions of my shipmates while overseas, and there’s even a term for the wives left at home here in San Diego – WESTPAC Widows).

And then there’s all the rate, rank, flag, eagle, etc stuff that is self-explanatory, or is quite simply an obvious military tattoo, the first two you should definitelyonly have if you’ve served, otherwise I’d say that borders on impersonating a member of the armed forces, or at least being a major poser.  And I think any patriotic American that likes tattoos would get a bald eagle and an American flag, you don’t have to be in the military to have it.  But let me just say, if you want to get a tattoo, awesome, but please don’t be that guy that gets it only because it “looks cool” without doing your research, tattoo’s mean stuff, in tribal societies they’re literally magical, don’t shit on them like Russel Brand’s character from “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, go watch the movie right now, because it’s awesome).  I don’t have any Navy tattoos yet, and you want to know why?  I don’t know exactly how I want them done, I want to make sure they’re perfect because I want to make sure I don’t regret them, just like my other five.  I thought long and hard before I got mine, because, especially as a chick, I don’t want to look at them when I’m 40 or 50 and be like “oh… why did I do that… Crap.”  So THINK before you INK, and now maybe you’ll even have new respect for that salty dog in the corner of the bar with all the Navy tattoos, because now you know what they mean 🙂

Also, if there’s other types of Navy tattoos that I’m forgetting (and I’m sure I am, I didn’t spend days researching this, you know) put them here, and what they mean, thanks!

you’re never totally out of the navy…

It’s been three months. More than that, if you don’t count my terminal leave as time in the Navy. I’ve got a nose ring, pierced my ears two more times, and dyed red streaks into my hair. But even if I look decidedly un-military on the outside, I’m still very much a sailor on the inside.

I have a new job, teaching, in fact, and it’s so completely different from the last six years that I’m still having trouble adjusting. It’s hard to remember that my coworkers aren’t sailors, that the students are just kids, and in their world, there’s no such thing as a “direct order,” and especially no real punishment for disobedience. I find myself tempted to hand out ass-chewings and eight-counts as forms of training and punishment, but that’s ridiculous, especially at the school I work at. This place is so different from the Navy, these children treated so differently from the way I was treated as a child, that it’s hard to keep up.

I have a few friends that are still in, and I’m actually dating a sailor that I met on USS Last Ship, but they are my only link to the world that I knew for the last six years. I envy them. No, seriously, hear me out! Yes, there were parts of Navy life that were unbearable, that’s why I wanted to get out, but let me tell you, getting out is a LOT harder than staying in. Allow me to explain:

Money. My paycheck has been quartered. QUARTERED. That means I make 1/4, or 25%, of what I made when I was enlisted. I made FOUR TIMES MORE IN THE NAVY. That’s ridiculous. Try paying bills when you only make like $250 a week. In freaking San Diego.

Healthcare. Yes, I was separated due to PTS, so I got six months of TRIcare Prime, meaning that I still don’t have to pay for health insurance. But my version SUCKS. I’m sure any dependent can vouch for me when I say we basically have nothing, and it’s only good for horrific accidents that require immediate admittance to the emergency room by ambulance. It takes three weeks to get appointments. By the time we can get seen, whatever the issue is will have gone, or it’ll be too late. It’s ridiculous.

Simplicity. Everyone says the Navy’s the easiest job ever. They’re wrong. It’s not easy, it’s freaking hard! You never get sleep, you have crappy living conditions underway, your working hours in port suck, and there’s a ton of douchebags and losers everywhere. But it is SIMPLE. It’s so straightforward, a four year old can understand: you do what you’re told, or you get in trouble. THAT’S THE ONLY RULE! HOW hard is that to figure out?? In civilian-land, everything’s complicated, it’s delicate, and you have to know things like customer service, even if your job has nothing to do with it (case and point: ridiculous parents that make all these excuses for why their kid is a waste of space, and woe betide you if you tell them their kid isn’t a perfect angel – they freak).

Job Security. Okay, yeah, I got separated due to PTS, which is like getting laid off, but there were other stupid reasons behind it that I’ll get into later that should not have caused that outcome. Regardless, it’s pretty hard to get kicked out. Unless you’re a f#%&up. And then you deserve it.

I find myself torn between missing the Navy, and kissing the ground in gratitude that I got out. I suppose it’s possible to lament some things and not others, however. I guess I’ll just have to remember the good times, and be thankful that I don’t have to deal with all the bad stuff anymore, even though I now have all new bad stuff to deal with which, at the moment, seems WAY worse…