My PTSD Story: A Sad, Frustrated, and Disgusted Veteran Tired of Seeing Veterans Homeless, Sick, and Dying
The Story of the Birth of a No-Holds-Barred Veterans’ Advocate:
What The Hell Is Going On?
I’ve recently heard that lots of people have been crying over the death of a fictional “superhero” in some popular movie they’ve watched. As a veteran, I just don’t understand that mindset. In my nearly 59 years of life, I’ve seen lots of families and friends of veterans and other types of real-life heroes crying over the loss of their loved ones who died in action, or who died later after suffering injuries during their heroic acts. Where the fuck are the people crying for movie heroes when real-life heroes die? I don’t see them much unless the “hero” is someone they’ve personally known and loved. And I’d like to know how can so many people cry over the loss of one fucking fictitious movie character they’ve never met, and yet miss the thousands of veteran heroes dying in front of them each year because of neglect? (Yes, I’m angry about it.)
Here’s My Story:
On September 20, 1985, I reported to the United States Air Force recruiter’s office in the East San Gabriel Valley, about 36 miles or so east of Los Angeles, to catch a bus to the MEPS — Military Enlisted Processing Station in Los Angeles California. It was early on a hot SoCal morning, and I was told by the recruiter that I would be there all day.
Processing into the Air Force was an experience unlike any other I had ever experienced. The day was spent signing forms, being probed, examined, and herded like angry sheep being led to an abattoir. The day culminated in taking an oath to defend “country” and “constitution,” or something similar to that — some of the details are blurry in my memory all these decades later. However I vividly remember a “doctor,” with Einstein-like hair and an evil scientist expression, who gave us all prostate/hernia exams, with his single rubber glove and single sponge with alcohol on it. I was thankful to have been second in line during that joyous event, behind someone who at least looked clean.
The bus from the MEPS left late in the afternoon for Los Angeles International Airport. The flight from Los Angeles to Texas, where Lackland Air Force Base is located, was to be my first ever flight on an airplane. The bored Army Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO’s) at MEPS had designated one of us to carry the orders, tickets, and other paperwork to the airport on behalf of all of us. I had not sought out that responsibility, and when the NCO’s asked for volunteers, I didn’t jump up.
After we had been at the airport for a while, I was glad that I hadn’t volunteered. Our scheduled flight was cancelled, and the person designated to be responsible for the paperwork spent maybe an hour or so anxiously talking on the phone with the people at MEPS, apparently working to make alternative flight arrangements. I can remember thinking during that process how glad I was that it wasn’t me in charge of “fixing” the situation. Even though the designated “leader” asked for my help, I was not all that ambitious in stepping up to offer any help not been specifically asked for. I was actually just being a snarky asshole. I was young and it just seemed like the “right thing to do” since I didn’t like people who always “volunteered” for responsibilities. And yes, the irony of that situation was lost on me.
We eventually boarded a plane for San Antonio Texas, the city that hosts Lackland AFB. Since we left so late, we were told that we would be allowed extra time to sleep and recover once we landed. However, my first airplane flight turned out to be a foreboding example of how much of my time in the military, and sadly the majority of my life, would go. It was a Point of Inflection in my life that I didn’t understand until many years later.
We flew into a vicious thunderstorm that created “air turbulence” that caused the plane to gain and lose thousands of feet of altitude frequently. The other young men on the plane took advantage of the flight crews’ willingness to ignore the age restrictions on serving alcohol, but I didn’t. The pitching and lurching of the plane didn’t frighten me, but the experience did inspire an intuitive of feeling of impending doom — only that feeling pertained to the rest of my life rather than that moment of uncertainty on the plane— and I was actually more afraid that the plane wouldn’t crash than I was that it would. There have been isolated moments since then when I’ve wished it had.
Once we got to Lackland AFB, none of the promised “extra sleep time” materialized. First, we played the military’s version of “Simon Says,” in a barracks meeting area. That involved picking up and putting down luggage on demand, and being screamed at for not making gravity move faster. We were awakened an hour or so after finally being allowed to sleep to a half-assed and garbled public address version of “ Reveille” that sounded like it was being played by one of the zombies from George Romero’s cult classic movie, Night of the Living Dead (1968).
The rest of basic training went as most Air Force members would likely remember it — save that I made a lot of phone calls to my fiancée at home. I had enlisted primarily as a way of making up for a poor start in life after piddling around in college and dead-end jobs while collecting little more than lots of unrelated college credits. The Air Force was my way of establishing steady employment, and that’s mostly what I viewed it as. Basic training was no worse than growing up in an area with heavy gang activity had been, and I kind of enjoyed some of the activities we engaged in. However I really didn’t enjoy the fucking early morning wake-ups, and I never want to hear “Reveille” again in my life — at least not unless they make an electronic dance music or ambient music version of it.
After basic training, I spent the next six months or so studying Spanish Language at Defense Language Institute (DLI), on the Presidio of Monterey, California. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever lived. It was also where my first indications of what life with a security clearance would be like. Even though those experiences were mostly comprised of completing the initial paperwork for background investigations, the security staff began indoctrinating us to the “OPSEC,” or Operational Security mindset. In short, this meant trusting no one, and mistrusting everyone. It was kind of like the mindset that one has when walking the streets where I grew up, minus the regularity of violence.
While I was at DLI, I briefly flew back home to the Los Angeles area and was married. My wife and I returned to Monterey and moved into a small shed-like apartment behind the home of an Air Force officer that was about the size of a large walk-in closet. It was expensive even in 1986, at $445 a month. The area is famously beautiful, but adjusting to military life and life as a newlywed while studying a foreign language at one of the most prestigious military schools in the world was . . . challenging. Somehow, I managed to pass my coursework, and avoided destroying my newly un-boxed marriage in the process. I even met one of my lifelong friends/saviors while I was there. He was, and remains, one of the few people that understands how crazy my life was and is. All of my closest remaining friends, that I’m not married to, are veterans. It’s just kind of worked-out that way over time.
From there, I was sent to “Advanced Intelligence Training” at Goodfellow Air Force Base, in middle of “Tornado Alley,” San Angelo Texas. Aside from drinking heavily and watching the heat crack both the sidewalk and the wills of the people studying there, the town was everything in life I had tried to avoid in life. Unless one really loves beer commercials, going to church, and listening to country music, Texas isn’t the state for them. I certainly liked the beer, but I wasn’t Christian, and I hated beer commercials almost as much as I hated listening to drunk people talking about them.
By the time one is admitted to the literal “vaults” that contain the classified materials that are used for study at Goodfellow AFB, the first part of the background investigation has been completed. That means that you’ve been granted a Top Secret clearance. That isn’t the highest level of clearance I obtained, but I’ll explain how that works later. And for the record, studying in a vault is about as much fun as walking home from a bar after you’ve peed your pants while you were drunk.
The people who initiated our formal OPSEC training were fond of reminding us that we were expendable. “If a base is overrun, you’d better run from the SP’s. If they catch up with you, your head’s going in a box.” Oddly enough, they thought that was funny. I thought it was a sick joke, but it was only halfway a joke at all — or so I found out later — but that’s a story for another lifetime. It was the first time I’d ever encountered Stone Faces. Anyone who’s served in Intel or other Special Ops would automatically know what I mean. It refers to the people hardened to living a life in the shadows of a reality that only a select group of people know about. They nonchalantly played it all up like it was ghoulish theater, and that sinking feeling I had experienced on the plane flying to Lackland AFB deepened while I was there. I knew I had stepped into something really dark, and I struggled like hell to be okay with that.
The studies there were intense, and so was my off-duty drinking at that time. While I never went to work intoxicated, I did go to work hung-over occasionally. I was not used to the culture of West Texas, having been born and raised in Southern California. San Angelo Texas was my first real taste of “Murica,” and it threw me for a loop. I really hated cowboy hats and full-sized pickup trucks. I just couldn’t pretend that I liked them. They always reminded of . . . lynchings. What brown person likes that? Even so, San Angelo had great food and plenty of insanely hot weather and tornadoes to go around. But, I never wanted to forget that I was in the South, and many of the local residents were happy to oblige.
I ended up being “recycled” to redo part of my training — more because of my sense of culture shock and resulting mental sluggishness than an inability to understand the training — plus I was drinking far too much while off-duty. Drinking was the norm in West Texas — save when the bars and liquor stores were closed because of the local “blue laws.” And I was stunned by the fact that there were people doing illegal drugs at Goodfellow, and it baffled me how they didn’t immediately get caught. But, I wasn’t one them. I had enough sense to avoid that. There was one Air Force Tech Sergeant there who even had an extra long pinky fingernail. What kind of fucking idiot makes their drug abuse that obvious? And worse, why didn’t anyone from his command notice? I graduated from my training there just fine.
My first and only permanent active duty station was at the National Security Agency (NSA), at Fort George G. Meade in Maryland. It’s a place that a lot of Overripe Hippies, TBN Rapture Wrestlers, Hoodie-Hidden-Holstered-Keyboard-Hacker-Spies (HHKHS), and Tin-Foil Conspiracy Wonks are scared shitless of. The NSA was made infamous by alleged “Whistleblower” cum Russian Operative Edward Snowden, who now lives the life of a True Patriot in Moscow Russia.
The dark beauty of the internal workings of the NSA is that it’s unlike anything anyone else has ever experienced before. 60 Minutes did a story on the NSA, immortalizing its secrecy by asserting that people there aren’t even allowed to marry each other. As it turns out, that was total bullshit, but it likely sounded good to all the adventure-groping couch potatoes that watched 60 Minutes at that time.
What 60 Minutes did get right is the level of obsessive secrecy and paranoia that exists inside the nation’s premiere Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) and Communications Intelligence (COMINT) collection agency. The mistrust and paranoia there are literally palpable. There are lots of details about life inside the NSA that are Reality-TV-Level interesting, but most of them are also classified. What I can say is that, whatever the technology is that you’re interested in knowing about, there is likely at least one example of that technology inside the NSA and no one inside is ever going to tell you anything about it.
And, for the record, private contractors like our alleged “patriot” Edward Snowden would not have had the run of any NSA facility — not the one in Hawaii, nor the one in Maryland, nor any other. The level of compartmentalization is far too high, and the checks on one’s security status are far too frequent. Mr. Snowden likely had some special help gaining access to the records he stole, and it didn’t come from any Heavenly Angels — unless those Angels had perhaps been trained by God’s Secret Handlers from the GRU and/or the FSB.
As I mentioned before, there are levels of clearance functionally higher than Top Secret. I personally held a TS/SCI (Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmentalized Information) clearance, with two additional “Accesses” that I am not comfortable discussing in any detail. I held one of the highest sets of clearances that an enlisted military member can hold. With as far up my sphincter as the background investigators crawled before I was granted any clearance, it is extremely unlikely that Snowden, with his sketchy past, would have had a level of clearance sufficient for broad access to much. One has to build a special rapport with the system before being granted access to anything worth stealing — at least if one is following the letter of the law.
Since I’m not at liberty to offer a lot of specifics about what I did, the best I can give anyone is a link to the current sanitized version on the Air Force website. The official job title was Cryptolinguistic Specialist, (though it’s been slightly altered now) and I was a Spanish linguist (at the time, an AFSC 20832-LA). I was a specialist focused on U.S. interests in Latin America, and I assisted our people in doing some really unpleasant things on behalf of our country — or any entity we deemed to be a partner to our interests. The job was a stressful and necessary one, but we were not always cooperating with the highest caliber of people in the region. So, without going into specifics, let’s just say that a lot of what we saw, said, and did was epic ugly — in a truly mind-warping manner.
There really is no comfortable way to fully describe what we did at the NSA. It involved constant exposure to and awareness of every fucking war and conflict on Earth, political lies, sociopathic and self-serving policies, unimaginable acts of torture and deaths of innocent people, especially children, epic reality-distorting propaganda, and knowing that people you worked with could just disappear (which actually happened a few times during my time there) from the face of the Earth — their families told to go away and stop looking for them. We were sometimes pulled away from our duties, mercilessly accused of horrible acts of treason, then returned to our jobs as though nothing had happened and without any explanation. That was SOP at the NSA.
There were a few true believers who got off on the sickest fucking aspects of what we did. They often spun-off to work at other agencies or related professions. I personally received a few offers to join Air America that I almost accepted. Were it not for a few really thoughtful people who were kind enough to clue me in on the dangers of working for an employer that believed that being captured and being fired and forgotten should all happen at the same time, I might be fertilizing rice fields somewhere in the tropics right now.
I worked in a joint-services environment (all branches of the military in the same office), and the only thing that kept me from blowing apart was the humanity, intelligence, and decency of most of the military members I worked with. Occasionally, I would notice tears run down my face, and to their credit, my coworkers would conveniently not see that. Anyone who’s been in the military knows what I mean.
To my discredit, I learned to laugh at a lot of the ugliest shit I saw and did as a way to survive. When we supported live operations, I learned how to stop breathing until all our “assets” were safe. I clashed with people at times over the nature of what we did, but I always did my job as best I could. We frequently supported special operations that didn’t officially exist, and saw realities that few people outside of Latin America saw. That’s where the sense of unreality I’ve lived with since then originated.
During the course of my regular duties at the NSA, I encountered activities that were not activities that everyone wanted me to encounter. I now know that the nature of those activities was questionable, and once the parties involved realized what information I had collected, I was pulled from my duties and treated like a “hostile” for a period. Suffice it to say that things were said and done to me that were not conducive to my good health and hygiene. A lot of it wasn’t even close to legal. However, after the many days of the “Over the Top— Fuck The Suspected Enemy Up” exercise was done, I was returned to duty, much worse for the wear.
I was told, throughout the entire episode, that a major policy maker of that era, who has unfortunately once again risen from Hell into the limelight, had personally been angered by something I did. This person thought that I willfully disregarded procedure and/or protocol and produced the only record on Earth of what was being done on behalf of one of their policies. I will avoid mentioning that person’s name or other identifying information, because I agree with the people of Latin America that they suffer from Psychopathy, and I like breathing air. I don’t know if the parties involved were saying that as a way of enhancing their efforts against me at the time, or if that person actually was upset with me, but the net effect wasn’t all that great for my health either way.
Turns out that someone eventually figured out that the “mistake” made wasn’t on my part. So, without all the appropriate apologies that should have been issued, and with a “Letter of Reprimand” in hand for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, even though they eventually acknowledged that I had done nothing wrong, I was returned to my duties. I owe my life to my Navy Petty Officer supervisor who stuck her neck under the blade with me in a way that few other people would have. She offered the best response I’ve ever heard to an insanely wicked situation when I returned to duty after my clusterfuck ordeal: “Did you enjoy that?” As odd as it might sound, that was exactly what I needed to hear, and the humor softened the blow quite a bit — at least in that moment.
Eventually, I was promoted to other duties which made me even more uncomfortable (which I, to this day, believe were not entirely kosher — in a violating international law sort of way), so I applied for an early release from active duty under an Air Force program called Palace Chase. Knowing that shit rolls downhill, and I was smack dab in the middle of the “Valley of the Readily-Available-Scapegoat,” I left when my application for an early Honorable Discharge was granted.
As per the terms of the Palace Chase program, I served additional service in the California Air National Guard (CAL ANG) as a Services Specialist. Seeing as how the people who had promoted me to those questionable jobs inside the NSA weren’t too thrilled that I wanted to leave, I believe I was directed to that job as a way of showing me what a “huge mistake I had made.” (Yes, it was considered a shit job. That turned out to be for good reason: it was a shit job.) Sadly, I had no idea how far that “punishment” would travel until much later on in life.
I served my Weekend Warrior time in the Air National Guard, and was discharged from CAL ANG as well. In the meantime, the first Gulf War happened, but I was not activated to serve in that conflict. There are a few other details related to that which I will explain in the context of what happened after I left active duty. For that, I will actually backtrack a bit to explain.
My first experiences after leaving active duty were surreal. I had been papering the world with completed copies of Form SF-171, which is the form for those seeking federal employment. I also was anxious to report to March Air Force Base to complete my California Air National Guard commitment. I was a ball of anxiety about every aspect of my life, but at the time I wasn’t fully aware of why my life always felt like a movie that I couldn’t escape.
The administrative officer who checked me in at March AFB’s command was, to be polite, a total fucking asshole. I had been told by my command at the NSA that my commitment with CAL ANG was to be twice the number of months I had remaining to serve in active duty, which was slightly over half a year when I left the NSA. Captain Totally Anal, or whatever the fuck his name was, informed me that I had three years of commitment to CAL ANG, and told me I could “go back to active duty,” or “Africa” or wherever, if I didn’t like it. He actually did throw a couple of racial slurs in, likely for poetic emphasis.
Within a few weeks of being a semi-civilian again, I had my first panic attack. At the time, I thought I was having a heart attack or stroke or something else really frightening and weird. I had never experienced anything like it before. It turned out to be a dead canary indicator of the dangers my life moving forward, and the bane of any chance for peace or happiness I might have had.
After going through some medical exams via private healthcare providers, I was eventually directed to some therapists who offered talk therapy, and I was offered an early-generation anti-depressant by their psychiatrist for what I then learned were panic attacks. The shit made my mouth dry, but didn’t really do a fucking thing to stop the panic attacks, nor ease the depression.
One of the jobs I had applied for was a U.S. Customs Inspector at the Otay Mesa border checkpoint in California. They called me in for two interviews, and unofficially indicated that I would likely get a job with them. I was totally jazzed. I figured that I was perfect for the job. I was militarily trained in Latin American affairs, the use of weapons, and I had martial arts (Pencak Silat and Japanese Jujitsu) training from earlier in life. Even at that time, Otay Mesa was a hotbed of drug-smuggler inspired shootouts and other confrontations that stupidly appealed to me at the time, in spite of my issues with anxiety and panic attacks.
On the third interview, which was supposed to be a pro-forma confirmation of my impending employment, I was told off the record that though they had intended to hire me, they had received negative information from someone at the NSA about me. Because of that, I was not going to be hired. That news hit me really hard, and it was first time I realized how dramatically my life was going to be haunted by my encounters at the NSA.
Then, during the time-frame of the 1st Gulf War, which didn’t ring right to me, I decided to fight to avoid serving in it. I meant no disrespect to any of the people who served, and I completely understood those who disagreed with my assessment of their reasons for serving in it. Saddam Hussein was a horrible dictator, and invading Kuwait was a total dick move. I just wasn’t thrilled that what I thought were obvious lies were being told to speed our entrance into a war with Iraq. It turned out later on that, while Saddam was horrible, much of the rhetoric coming from Kuwait turned out to be lies, and many of their own military-eligible assholes ended up pulling a big-ass Draft Dodger Party by bolting to Egypt, leaving the U.S. military to do most all of the heavy lifting in expelling Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
Again, that in no way diminishes the valor or dedication of the U.S. troops that served there, nor does it mean that we should not ultimately have gotten involved. It just means that I didn’t feel comfortable participating in that conflict— especially after all the surreal lies and deceptions I had seen while at the NSA. I just couldn’t get past the feelings of betrayal I had felt via my NSA experiences, and I knew that governments do lie to their citizens very often.
Ironically, I was already exempt from being activated to serve in Iraq because of having been diagnosed with Depression and Panic Disorder. However, being the idealistic idiot I was, I asked to be taken off the medications and put on “Available Status” by my unit’s Flight Surgeon, who was certain that my sporting for a fight was a sure sign that I wasn’t at all rational. To his credit, he resisted taking me off the anti-depressant, and pushed hard to get me to think more clearly. But, I had a hard-on for being a fucking Pseudo-Hippie Hero, and I persisted until he figured I wasn’t going to be stopped. Honestly, in hindsight, he was probably right.
I just didn’t want to be excused from serving because of medical reasons when my objections were ideological. I went to lawyers, and sought the help of Air Force JAG officers, and I ended up never being called for activation at all. My act of stupid and youthful bravado had been for nothing at all, other than the vanity of my own belief in “doing what’s right.” It was a belief that ignored the fact that I probably wasn’t fit to serve in a war at that point had I been forced to go to Iraq. It was a reality that just didn’t occur to me at the time. People suffering panic attacks are not a good resource on any battlefield, but I had my balls in a tizzy-fit to be an ideological bad-ass. I ended up being little more than a self-righteous jackass.
As bad as things seemed at that time, they only got worse as time went by. Oddly enough, aging doesn’t automatically imbue one with wisdom. Plus, my experiences at the NSA had caused psychological and physiological injuries that were getting worse over time. The panic attacks were increasing in frequency and severity, and the depression was deepening. I was having increasing suicidal thoughts, and I was unable to find employment in law enforcement or the defense industry. (Industries that normally hired people who had my military experience.)
As more time went by, I began to daze off involuntarily, (something called Derealization), and my memory had huge holes in it. I would sometimes get confused by simple concepts, and I was having severe nightmares (Night Terrors) on a nightly basis. In formal, clinical language, I was a “Fucking Mess.”
The only jobs I could find were dead-end jobs. It was only many years later that I realized that I had been blackballed for years by someone via the NSA, and I wasn’t going to get any reasonable jobs. There were people who eventually confirmed that for me via other official channels, but I won’t go into that here because . . . well . . . I don’t want to.
My wife got a job as a Police Dispatcher with a policing agency in the Los Angeles area, and she worked there for about ten years. Unfortunately, just a few months after she began working as a Dispatcher, I began to notice her behavior shifting. She became more distant, moody, and confrontational. She became more secretive and we began having money issues. I suspected that she may have been having an affair with one or more people where she worked, but I couldn’t prove it at the time.
I began working on developing a nonprofit organization focused on using the arts to assist “At-Risk” communities. I started the organization, but was never able to develop enough funding from it to draw a salary from it. We accomplished a few really nice things, but the nonprofit funding community in Southern California very insular and corrupt.
The offers for funding frequently came with requests to do highly unethical things. The other “ailment” that I suffered from was an overdeveloped sense of grandiose justice, and to my credit or discredit, depending on your moral beliefs, I refused to take money simply to waste — though we were offered fairly large sums of funding resources. Most of those offers came from entities who simply wanted to spend a little of their larger budgets to justify renewing them, but without doing anything that would trigger a review of effectiveness of their overall expenditures. But, I couldn’t do that, and my spouse, whose behaviors were becoming increasingly bizarre, couldn’t understand my hesitancy to cooperate in such corruption. It was pure joy.
What we didn’t realize at the time was that she was showing advancing symptoms of Bipolar Disorder. In the meantime, at my wife’s insane urging, we took in a teenage foster child from El Salvador, who had a history of violent and disruptive behavior. My wife wanted to adopt him, and I wanted to . . . well . . . not adopt him. I had issues related to having worked against people just like him in El Salvador, and his issues weren’t actually helping mine. The situation was set to explode, and it did.
One night about a year down the line, the boy was in a foul and violent mood and I had reached a point where I was no longer willing to tolerate the violence nor the other related issues. I told him that I was done and we were going to work on finding him a different situation. That quickly devolved into him attacking me. Some genius in his past had provided the young man with martial arts training. (Fairly good training, just as a point worth mentioning.) Luckily, I had more and better training, so I quickly restrained him. My wife was manic, and insisted that I release him. Stupidly, I did. When I did, he grabbed a television remote and clocked me with it, giving me a concussion. I immediately reapplied a Jujitsu joint-lock restraint on him, while waiting for the Sheriff’s deputies to arrive. My wife had experienced enough clarity in the moment to think to call them. This time, I was not going to release him from my control until someone could help me with him.
Not long after that, we had him removed from our home to a different situation. In her manic psychosis, my wife blamed me for the failure of our attempt to adopt him. His social worker, being a fucking meddling genius who missed the obvious signs of my wife’s mental illness, insisted that we have a child of our own. At the time, I was beginning to get the idea that my wife was seriously mentally ill, so I wasn’t so gung-ho about having a child. But, I eventually gave into pressure from both of them to have a child. In the mid-1990’s, our son was born. In hindsight, I am so glad we did, because my son was the greatest gift of my life. However, having a child only pushed my wife further into mania, and other severe symptoms of Bipolar Disorder, and symptoms of full psychosis ensued.
My wife’s issues became so bad that she lost her job, and we had to move in with her parents. They lived in a relatively nice community in the San Fernando Valley, in the Los Angeles metro area, in an expensive home. They had never been fond me. I am brown, and came from a gang-ridden area of Los Angeles. My wife was raised as a middle class Anglo who didn’t seem to be plagued by racism. Her parents . . . well . . . in the interest of peace I’ll just say that they were different than her, and hope that they never read this.
Shortly before my wife lost her job, we lost our private insurance. I was having worsening symptoms, so I went to the VA medical center in the “Inland Empire” region of California where I was promptly misdiagnosed with a number of different ailments. I was given medications that made me sick, and I gained more than 100 pounds. My cholesterol shot up to 550! The misdiagnosis made me unemployable, and things were really bad. My VA psychiatrist there had 900 veterans on his caseload. My 5–10 minute visits with him consisted of him asking me if I was still alive, and then checking a box. He reminded me of the Less Nessman character from the TV show WKRP in Cincinnati, only with far less charm — no seriously, he was that bad.
We became eligible to receive public healthcare so my wife, to her credit, sought out assistance. She was beginning to realize that something was wrong, but had no idea what it was. At the time, I thought she suffered with Schizophrenia. The psychiatrist that was assigned to her, and this is not an embellishment, was a Russian immigrant who was trained at a medical school in the old Soviet Union called the “Leningrad Medical Institute of Sanitary and Hygiene.” (It has since been renamed to the Saint Petersburg State Medical Academy.) Needless to say, the treatment she gave my wife only made things worse. In her quackery, she tried to sell us a $4,000 “Ionized Water Generator,” because she said it would make us “generally healthier.” So much for public mental healthcare in California. California has some of the most lax rules on mental health practice of any of the 50 states.
My wife’s Bipolar Disorder was reaching a critically dangerous level. She had found a low-paying job after we moved there. She ended up having high-risk affairs with strangers, mismanaging money in many dangerous ways, and being distant and hateful towards myself. I had always been the primary caregiver for our son because my wife was unable to participate much in daily components of his rearing. She wasn’t mean or aggressive with him, but she was rarely rational. She eventually moved on from that job, and then another after that. I tried, but couldn’t find work. My in-laws blamed me for everything — fucking everything. They even blamed me for my wife’s affairs, and my wife’s insane Soviet psychiatrist and inept therapists were only reinforcing her insane behaviors.
The VA in the Los Angeles area passed me through a succession of psychiatric residents who were all being overruled at every turn by a literal cocked-eyed (his eyes pointed in different directions) psychiatrist supervisor who they complained was rewriting their write-ups of patients visits, and diminishing the severity of veterans’ issues. The second Gulf War had been going for some time by now, and I overhead that idiot supervisor complaining to a coworker that he thought that all the veterans were “faking their psychiatric issues” — even those that had lost limbs via IED’s and other forms of combat. I complained to the VA, but to no avail.
I finally resolved to move away. I was feeling done with all of it. I wanted to move to the Southwest, figuring my wife would stay behind with her parents, and I would eventually work to get my son to move in with me down the line. I had been the primary caregiver, and I knew that he had issues with my wife because of her bizarre behavior. To my surprise, my wife said she wanted to move with me. I can’t say I was initially happy, but I decided to make the best of it. Her parents helped us out some, and we moved to New Mexico.
My wife’s Bipolar Disorder symptoms increased as we arrived. Her psychosis peaked, and she began chatting with different men on Facebook, having cyber-affairs with them. Eventually, one of them got her to load up monitoring software on her cell phone, and nearly convinced her to fly out to meet him in another country. As luck would have it, he was a human trafficker. At a point, I got tired of the situation, and took charge of the situation, shutting all of it down by using some grey-area Intelligence techniques, and got help after contacting my old bosses in Intel, to make all the bad guys go away.
In the midst of that, I made a suicide attempt. While my wife and son were visiting family in the Los Angeles area, I had remained in New Mexico. My wife’s psychotic interactions with me, along with my ongoing depression, panic attacks and so on, sent me over the edge. I walked out of our home with pills and set out to find booze so I could walk into the desert and die. I told my wife what I was doing, and she had enough presence of mind, which had been a rarity at that point, to call the police. My son made me promise not to move forward with suicide, and the local police picked me up and took me to a local hospital. One of the officers also saved my life, along with my son, by being caring and compassionate. He was well-trained, and was essentially an angel in uniform.
When she got home, and after a several months of extreme effort, I got my wife into effective treatment, and worked with her provider to get her the right medicines. She was eventually declared 100% disabled by a Social Security Disability Judge, after a multi-year fight with them. Some of the corrupt local Social Security “Gatekeeper” officials that had lied about her situation even ended up being disciplined or fired because of recommendations from the judge. I was appointed her caregiver by the judge, and I still am. She is doing very well, and is my best friend.
My son got treatment as well, in light of the circumstances, and graduated from the local university with honors in a double-major in STEM-related studies, and is now on a full scholarship towards a Master’s Degree in a STEM major at a highly rated university in the East of the U.S. I’ve left out any details related to him because I’d prefer his story be his to tell.
I was finally properly diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder by a VA clinic in New Mexico, and eventually filed for VA Disability. I have been in the process of application and appeal for years now. That story is a fun and happy one that could only be topped by . . . anything. (Yes, that was sad and pathetic sarcasm.)
I saw a VA doc in New Mexico after I was having panic attacks so severe that I was afraid to drive any longer, and a few veterans on social media suggested that I might have PTSD. The VA doc (who coincidentally looked just like Wesley Snipes’s lost twin) gave me an initial PTSD screen, and then sent me to a VA Intake Social Worker who preliminarily suggested I might have PTSD. After a tearful conversation, she scheduled me to see another VA social worker for therapy, and a VA psychiatrist to make a clinical determination.
The VA social worker I saw for therapy was kind of amazed by the breadth of the challenges I had faced, and actually kind of made me feel a bit worse (only for a few moments though) by telling me that my situation was one of the worst she’d ever seen. She offered a number of very soothing and helpful insights for me as well. She also said she wanted to wait until she had conferred with the psychiatrist I was to see before offering any specific diagnosis.
I saw a VA psychiatrist via their “Telemedicine” system, and she kept me for two hours for the first session, and then scheduled another two hour session a couple weeks later. At the end of those sessions, she issued a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, with Panic Events, and Chronic Depression. I saw her and my VA therapist for quite some time before switching to a private Ph.D. level psychologist for talk therapy. That therapist concurred with the PTSD diagnosis and advised me to file for VA Disability. In connection with filing for a Medical Cannabis card in New Mexico, and additional Ph.D. level psychologist confirmed the PTSD diagnosis. I continued with the same VA psychiatrist as a medicine manager for a few years.
I filed the “Intent to File”paperwork for VA Disability not long after that, but was finding both the process of seeking my records, and reliving the events that led to the PTSD overwhelming. I unwittingly let the year of leeway lapse before turning in the paperwork, so I ended up having to refile another “Intent to File” form later. My wife really came through for me and helped me compile all the paperwork necessary to file. After filing the paperwork, I requested that one of the U.S. senators from New Mexico monitor the process.
Since I had included more than 25 years worth of history in medical records and more, I thought that my claim would be a “slam dunk.” My only concern had been that I couldn’t provide details of what happened at the NSA, since the specifics of the incident remains classified. I was assured by the senator’s office, via their “congressional liaison,” (read in “Fucking Idiot” here) that there were provisions in place to deal with that situation. I found out about four months later that I was wrong. My claim was denied, and it was related to my inability to provide details of the traumatic events. The VA does not have single person with a security clearance, and they can’t request any classified records. Most people don’t know that, but they should.
I was devastated, and started having severe suicidal thoughts again. I wandered aimlessly in my mind through my own life not knowing what to do. I finally settled on getting a lawyer, since they work on a contingency basis. I found a lawyer and filled out the paperwork, and it took the lawyer a couple of weeks to accept my case. The first thing he did was to file a request with the Department of Defense (DoD) for verification of the specifics of the events that led to my PTSD. I had no idea such a process even existed, and apparently neither did the senator’s assistants. The VA, sure as shit, didn’t tell any veterans about that.
My lawyer had me fill out the specific details, and they were submitted to the appropriate DoD officials at MacDill Air Force Base. My lawyer said it would take 2–3 months to review. However, about a week later, I got an email from my lawyer saying he had “good news” and to call. He was surprised, but the DoD had confirmed (which in their language translates to “it’s plausible”) my accounts of what happened. He was surprised because of the uniqueness and extreme nature of situations. He thought I was nuts, until the confirmation came back.
In the meantime, the VA had scheduled what’s called a “Compensation and Pension Examination,” (often abbreviated as a “C&P Exam”) in spite of the fact that they had recent clinical evidence from multiple therapists of PTSD. I attended, and their Ph.D. psychologist agreed with the previous conclusions. There are problems with the VA’s use of these additional C&P Exams, and it was actually the subject of a recent class action lawsuit. However, I’ll save that for another time.
That should have been enough to ensure approval. It wasn’t however. After submitting an appeal, it was denied. This time, the VA actually ignored the collected diagnoses of five board certified mental health professionals, including a VA psychiatrist, three Ph.D. level psychologists, and a VA licensed clinical social worker. I was gobsmacked.
What they did was accept the advisory of another outsourced psychologist in California, who had never met me, and who had only reviewed redacted medical records for an hour. That contracted “expert” said that, everyone else was wrong, and that I didn’t have PTSD at all, and that even though the DoD confirmed the trauma, that trauma hadn’t caused any PTSD. (Denying that it met Criteria A from the DSM-V’s guidance on PTSD.) The odd thing is, she had no idea at all what the asserted trauma was because it was classified. Congress passed laws requiring her to accept their determination. Apparently, facts don’t matter to some people.
That psychologist, as it turns out, had obtained her “degree” from a for-profit “degree mill,” (thank you corporate assholes like Betsy DeVos) and made her living exclusively as a hired “Gatekeeper” for the VA and a few other agencies looking to save money by denying valid disability claims. There were numerous complaints against her from other veterans who asserted that she lied about their situations, but the VA tends to completely ignore such claims for reasons only they could properly explain.
So, I had to go and obtain another evaluation from a Ph.D. level psychologist to get a more detailed rebuttal of the determination issued by this quack that the VA used as a hired gun. The latest evaluation was a seven page long rebuttal of the quack’s evaluation, and used all the relevant DSM-V criteria to make the letter qualify as a “Nexus Letter,” which establishes a direct relationship between my military service and my PTSD. That letter was submitted to the VA as an additional “Supplemental Claim,” so now I am waiting for that to be evaluated. The VA moves very slowly.
Based on the latest volley of information that was sent to the senator’s office, there is no basis for the VA to deny my pending supplemental claim. Just for shits and giggles, it’s fun to note that the information the VA sent to the senator’s office actually had asserted that no determinations of PTSD had been made by anyone at all. I sent the senator copies of letters from three of the five providers who had previously offered a definitive diagnosis of PTSD.
I also asked for the senator to request an audit of the VA related to all practices employed in hiring outside contractors for the purpose of evaluating the disability claims of veterans. I also pointed up to the senator that the VA had actually lied to their office, and that they should demand an explanation from the VA on why they felt it was okay to lie to a U.S. senator.
Subsequently, I have been engaged researching and compiling information on how veterans are being treated. I have also been looking at public perceptions of veterans, and how little the general public is aware of the facts related to how veterans are currently treated. The level of knowledge, public participation, and the lack of a sense of urgency in light of thousands of veteran suicides per years is ABYSMAL.
So, an Aggressive Veterans’ Advocate was born.
I have been engaged in minor advocacy for veterans some time, but I feel like I have found a cause that I can’t let go of and I need to dive into the deep end of this issue. I see that the chartered organizations and advocacy organizations engaged in advocating for veterans, no matter how well-intended nor how diligent and passionate they are in their efforts, are constrained by many important factors in how they can approach veterans’ issues. They have established protocols, and hard-earned relationships with people in positions of authority and power that they need to protect. The approach they take is a vital and valuable one, and I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, criticizing them for their approach. Without them, no long-term gains could ever be made, and they provide many vital services to veterans.
However, I’m just a single solitary asshole who can make as much noise, and approach the situation in any way I chose. I have no incentive to be polite, and even less incentive to accept bullshit excuses as to why things are happening. I don’t expect any of the people in authority to like me, but I do expect them to react, one way or another, when I act. I would like to work in concert with those great veterans’ organizations, and seek to use a “by any means” approach to moving attention and resources to the issues and challenges faced by veterans. They will always be the more logically restrained and widely accepted agents working on behalf of veterans. I will always be . . . whatever the fuck I am.
Please take a peek at the Veterans’ Advocacy information on my website, and consider helping me out if you like what you see!
Thanks so much!
*Nothing I’ve discussed in this piece comes anywhere close to revealing any classified information. I am ALWAYS very careful to make certain everything I discuss is publicly known, and if I am uncertain, I shut the fuck up about it.