A few weeks ago I wrote a piece called DD214, which described the process I went through to obtain copies of my discharge papers from the military, for the purpose of applying for health benefits. Because our school district insurance was due to elapse this August, both Annie and I have known for years now that we were going to hit our “old age,” without being covered. I am still unclear how it all came down, except that this is an unfortunate time to find ourselves insurance-less.
The first thing that comes to mind, is that the Veterans Administration might not promote a lot of confidence. I try not to focus on that aspect of the whole package, because I do not know what to expect, and I do not like to resort to catastrophizing. I do know that the individual who has been facilitating my paperwork, is an advocate, and that my psychologist is also an advocate for veterans, so I am withholding judgment. Beggars can’t be choosers.
When I first heard that the Veterans Administration provides health benefits for veterans, I was very skeptical. How can they do that? There are a lot of veterans. However, I did not know that this was an option, and am still not all that confident, but am stuck between a rock and a boulder. Besides, I had insurance for many years, and expected that it would remain in place. Just having to shell out almost a hundred dollars per session at the shrink’s place, is enough to investigate this other avenue.
I must confess, however, I have mixed feelings. Though I served honorably for twenty-one months, I was not a happy soldier. On the exterior, I presented one face; on the interior, I harbored quite a different one, one that was bitter, resentful and depressed. I know that I was depressed while in the military, now, even if I was unaware of it during the experience. I was smart enough to take seriously, the battery of tests that we had to take multiple times during my induction, so that I ended up working in a personnel service company while overseas. That was infinitely better than many of the other available options.
When I say I have mixed feelings, it’s more like my feelings have just been put through the blender. I have been cogitating for the past forty years (I entered the service in 1972), over the unfairness of it all. I was inducted the last year that a draft was in place, I was the only guy in my circle of friends who got caught up in it, and my time in the military irrevocably changed my life. Sour grapes? Probably, but two years of one’s lifetime is a lot to give, when conscripted. Many of my brothers in the service also hated it, but had no one to blame but themselves. There’s just something about me, which has always rebelled when told I have to do something. I like to be asked.
I used to liken my time in the military to a prison sentence, only I did nothing to deserve it. In a perfect world, I would have fled to Canada, like my friend Michael. The truth is that I did not have the cojones. It takes a lot more courage to flee to another country, because of your principles, than it does to simply go along with the program, even if you hate what you are doing. I was scared silly of the drill instructors, even though some were only two or three years older than me. It all added up to two years of torture.
I know that does not sound very patriotic, but when you have walked the walk, you do not have to talk the talk. I would rather have been an unpatriotic schmuck, and paid my taxes, and not gone to school on the GI Bill, and not bought a house through the Veterans Administration, and not have medical coverage now, a month away from my sixtieth birthday.
Be that all as it may. I AM turning sixty, I DO need medical coverage, and I earned it. So I am waiting for my name to appear on the “list,” so that I can schedule an orientation with a VA-sanctioned physician in Ukiah, and commence to draw health benefits. It’s better than drawing a blank, which is what I’d been fearing, once our district insurance ran out. Who would have thought that I would have ended up relying on the military for health coverage, after a twenty-one month stint, rather than on the school district, after a seventeen-year run?
When I figure it out, and know the answer, I will remove my feelings from the blender, and replace them with something more geared to happy times than to hard times, something that goes well with salt on the rim. It’s time to replace the salty attitude with a salty rim. I’ll have some guacamole and chips with that, please.