When There Is No End In Sight

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I understand that many people on this planet rely heavily on stories they see on social media (I.e., Facebook, Twitter, Google+, ect.) as being actual news and that people choose their “side” on an issue based on the opinions of others. Unfortunately, y’all, not all, but many, will agree with me that social media has ruined everyone’s collective perspective on the world around us, a social choice has been made to remain being led by their noses. I did not nor will I superimpose anything French on any profile picture I have anywhere for any reason. This does not mean I do not feel sympathy for the dead or the survivors as many claim, it means I choose not to give in to games people play or the pressure people feel from the presence of “friends” not wanting to be left out. I rarely speak out about my political or religious opinions because, like many, I feel it falls on deaf ears.

But, now I will, now I will jump on my soapbox, now I will say the unpopular things, the insensitive things, the un-fuckingpolitically correct things, and the things that many are thinking but are afraid to say outloud. We, the people of the United States of America, have big problems that no politicians want to solve with already having an open borders policy. I personally live in a city where our homeless, many of which are our veterans, go dismissed on a daily basis because there is no money to support them. Yet, I watch as people flood across our borders get everything they need to survive because they are some sort of “refugee”, a term I will use very loosely here, and have little or nothing to go back to if they are turned away. For some reason it makes me less of a human being when I say enough is enough. There has and always will be some form of some kind of crisis in the world which makes people want to flee their nation, whether it be political, social, financial, natural disasters, or war. In every corner of the globe there are reasons to flee, to start over some place new, and to bring their problems with them. We don’t live in a world where everyone wants to be friends, holding hands by the campfire, and singing kumbaya. We live in a world of conquest, a world where the weak are preyed upon for one of thousands of reasons. We as Americans cannot stop this globally, but we damn sure should give it a shot here on U.S. soil. But we don’t, we reach out to the world to give it a tight hug eventhough we know we will be stabbed in the back. Reading this morning I see even more states have decided to go against the President and refuse to allow refugees, I applaud them, they should have been doing this long ago, we have our own people in need right here and right now. No, not every single refugee is a terrorist, but why take chances, why not be fearful of a sheep in wolves clothing, why not worry about our problems first? I’ll tell you why, fear. The United States of America has some pretty fucked up foreign and domestic policies that the government rams down our throats daily and most people thank them asking, “sir may I have another?”. Why? Fear, that’s why, fear. We are not the world’s police force, our military is a very misused tool eventhough our military took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States of America. I’m getting off base here, so let me touch back a moment, allowing more displaced refugees to enter the United States of America is a mistake, it invites everything everyone says we are fighting against into our backyard. Why? Go ahead, ask yourself why, ask yourself why it is a fantastic idea, and then sit back and watch.

The world is full of terror and terrible people, there is no collective place of safety anywhere, but this is our world to live upon and we need to start standing up and taking back what doesn’t belong to anyone else. But we won’t, its not politically correct, its not the christian thing to do, its not the politicians point of view, and its just plain wrong to sit back and watch. Bullshit. But your wrong if you think I don’t care, because I do, but I have my priorities in place, I put my families survival first, I see no reason at all, not one, why I should put my family at risk. Call me selfish, but their safety comes first, being able to feed them comes first, assuring their livelihood comes first, and seeing that I have others to battle for those things already I have no room in my life for more problems. Yes, I’m a cold hearted motherfucker because I personally don’t want or see the purpose of putting myself, my family, or other Americans further down the food chain because our President thinks it’s a grand plan. We have far too much domestic garbage on our plates, we need not invite more. With that being said, I do feel pain and sorrow for the people of France, for the lives lost and changed forever, and also that now they are forced to rely on the world to help reap their revenge. When will it stop? Where will the line be drawn this time? Your right, it will never end, somewhere there is always war, somewhere there is a government out of control, and the world will continue to lose lives, money, resources as she continues to grow and evolve. But you don’t give a shit about the future, your compassion is called upon once again to guilt you into the belief that we must stop our own lives to accept the problems others in the world have created. But wait, why is the United States of America getting involved to begin with? Asked yourself that yet? The United States of America doesn’t do shit ever unless they there is something politically to gain from it. Not you and I gain something, but the government gaining something. What is it they hope to gain now? Shall they write more checks from our checking account to cover the expenses? There is no end in sight. Let’s now look at what is happening, let’s look at the road we are being led down today, so let’s look internationally a moment at France’s use of Article 42.7 of the Treaty on European Union.

Article 42.7… Much like NATO’s Article 5 Defense Clause, France has chosen to rely on its European neighbors and followed through with Article 42.7 of the Treaty on European Union. So what does this mean? Since Article 42.7 is consistent with commitments under NATO; the only conclusion would be France doesn’t want American involvement; considering Article 222 of the Treaty specifies; “the union and its member states shall act jointly in a spirit of solidarity if a member state is the object of a terrorist attack or the victim of a natural or man-made disaster. The union shall mobilize all the instruments at its disposal, including the military resources made available by the member states.” And understand this, France was attacked by ISIS and American involvement in Syria hasn’t REMOVED ISIS; why? Because the Obama Administration isn’t interested in removing ISIS, this Administration is only focused on a Regime change in Syria; i.e. removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. And this Administrations involvement HAS and WILL make things worse. Consider this, the 5,000 “Moderate” Syrian Fighters being trained in Saudi Arabia will only become the NEW ISIS fighters in Syria within a few months. All at the cost of U.S. Taxpayers to the tune of 15 Billion Dollars. Look at it like this, British Survivor of the Terrorist Attack at the Bataclan Theatre, France, witnessed ISIS terrorist using knives to torture their mortally wounded victims by slitting their stomachs as they lay on the floor. Think about that for a minute… Allow that to sink in a fucking minute. This Administration is continuing to develop the fighters that will fill the ranks of ISIS and WE ARE PAYING FOR IT TO HAPPEN… And you think it ends there? Ask yourself this, how come 2,098 Syrian Muslims are allowed to FLEE Syria and come into the United States but only 53 Syrian Christians have been allowed in? But the President, OUR ELECTED PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES said this at the G20 Summit, “We don’t have religious tests to our compassion. We do not close our hearts to these victims of such violence and somehow start equating the issue of refugees with the issue of terrorism.” And if you TRULY BELIEVE it’s all Obama’s fault, THEN WHY IS HE STILL IN OFFICE? Why hasn’t your State Representative in D.C. filled for impeachment? Why? Because they too DO NOT CARE about you or I. It’s time to wake up and see that Americans are not who they are interested in, because if they were, the United States of America would be a different place right now. Believe me, I don’t blame a certain President, he is not the blame for the state of the Union, but he is responsible for his policies and the continuation of policies from decades of other corrupted politicians. Daily we are asked to put our lives in the hands of people who don’t care about you and I, I only am asking why we still do it, why do we trust people who do not have our interests in mind, and why do we continue to elect people who keep fucking us all over?

In the end, I’m very fucking displeased with people, in general, right now. The United States of America is being jammed down the toilet politically and financially already, perhaps if the politicians and the people of this great Nation keep flushing it hard enough we will become a place nobody wants to come to legally, or flee to, and we will continue to evolve into a nation of politics and policies which has fucked it’s people into poverty unable to ever recover. Yes I’m fucking pissed, yes I’m done, and yes, if we as a Nation are not willing to unfuck generations of corruption in our government and big businesses then we will never see the end of the greed which we so proudly support. The decision is yours to want to lead or to follow, that choice cannot be made for you, the mistakes we are making as a Nation makes us appear as fools to our enemies. Every breath you take is being watched right now, history books are being written right now, and when we look back we can all hang our heads in shame together.

I’m done posting my normal day to day stuff here for a while, I’m tired of this whole pointless blogging thing, but before I stopped for a bit on the regular shit I had the above to say. I’m not here on this planet for the politicians to decide my fate in life and I have a feeling this post may raise more than one fucking eyebrow, but it all needed to be said, it all needed to be heard, and I stand behind it 100%. If you feel this is the end of our relationship I understand. If you feel that you must bitch at me for “keeping it fucking real” don’t bother. In my opinion, one way or another we are fucked because most people just don’t care anymore. I don’t know if I’m ready to put my soapbox away yet, there is much more I wish to discuss which I have stayed silent about for far too long. It’s all fun and games until the scorpion is backed into a corner. Live well my friends, live well while you still can, and if you read this and you are mad, merely thank me because you are fucking welcome.

Just Slide It In Slowly

Wait, wait, wait motherfuckers, it’s not at all what your dirty damn minds are thinking. Or is it? Is it? It’s actually quite innocent, but, there’s more, it goes much deeper than that, because a conversation with a tech services department really left me questioning the number I dialed when seeking assistance. But now I have jumped to the middle of the story, so let me back track a bit and tell you a story, a true story, a story which happened to me this past weekend. In the end, no matter what, I’m very innocent, my entire conversation reminded me, quite a bit, about the commercial where the guy is talking to his insurance agent at three in the morning when his wife slips in, turning on the light wanting to know what in the fuck he is doing and who in the fuck he is talking to. The difference is I was not getting insurance information from Jake, I was getting information from, wait, nevermind, you have to wait til that part of the story. So, I sense your confusion, so perhaps I need to just start.

A few weeks ago I ordered a set of replacement headlights for my daughter’s older Nissan Sentra because both of the headlights had a crack in them which in turn was letting in moisture which in turn was creating its own set of problems. I try not to plug companies for free here, but JC Whitney was a great help in finding the product I needed. In fact, when I was having problems on line I did call them to request help, the guy I spoke with at that time was Jack, he helped me place my order and I was on my merry little way while I waited patiently for my box to arrive. Within a few days the box did arrive that contained the headlight replacement kit. From the look of it I assumed it was all correct and as soon as I had a day without rain I was going to be all over it. I had a long wait, but this past Sunday was the magic day. I got out my trusty orange bucket to use as a chair, my toolbox, a frosty cold beverage, and the box of headlights. I was ready to go. Home alone, the breeze blowing nicely, and my music playing out of her car loudly. Is 7 in the morning too early to listen to Crazy Train? I didn’t think so either.

Removing the old ones was a bit of a challenge, the manual that was provided mentioned it was the “typical” way to disassemble the existing light housings. But, and this is a general complaint to translated 3 times over instructions, something that I need is always lost in translation, literally. After finding the remaining 2 screws, the housing popped right out into my lap. It was like magic, presto, its out. I felt as though I had beat the car which challenged me with the tiny hidden screws. I need more “victories” like this in my life, they are simple but they are still mine. After completely cleaning both sides out, spider webs and debris caked up over the years, I was ready to begin. Meanwhile my wife is calling me to check up on me, see if I’m bleeding or not, and to inform me that if I need an extra set of hands she will be home in ten minutes. Sure, why not, I can wait, help is help. After fifteen minutes and no wife I decided to brave it all alone and just finish. Within ten minutes the new light housings were installed. That was the easy part. Then I find myself getting just a wee bit pissed. The electrical connection from the car is rectangular in shape, the new lights come with a more square connection. Needless to say I would have been extremely mad, but I found a harness kit in the box, one for each side. I had two choices, use the adapter to crossover or cut the cars wires and install the female ends so it all works. I chose the adapters. Here’s the catch, they still don’t fit. Thinking I’m stupid some how, I redo the same steps multiple times.

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Having no luck, I roll back on my bucket, light a cigarette, have a drink of Dew, and re-read the instructions thinking this shit shouldn’t be so hard. Unable to figure it out I call the 1-800 # for the manufacturer who claims to be open 24/7. I call regretting having to make the call, these things never end well, I’m not looking to speak to someone in a call center halfway around the world. After navigating the rather simple menu I’m on hold for less than 30 seconds and speaking to a woman who speaks fluent English, my guess is that it might even be her native tongue. She has a very pleasant voice, she guided me through finding all the product information she required to find the proper spec sheet and instructions. After reading though them she comments that the way they are written is pretty confusing, a statement which I agreed to quickly. So, now its time to begin, I put my phone on speaker, turn up the volume, and set the phone on the radiator housing. She commented that she liked Ozzy, old school Ozzy like she hears in the background, and she wishes she was alive back in his glory days because she would have been at all of his concerts rocking out. So, we go through the plugging and unplugging routine, still no go, still not working. Then, she asks me if I put on the protective gel on the connectors to inhibit corrosion. Nope. So, this is where it got fun, because my wife comes up behind me quietly and kisses me on the cheek. The operator tells me to hold the male section (I’m still on speaker) in one hand and squeeze generous amounts of lube on the protruding prongs, assuring to push into the crevices with my fingers. My wife is just looking at me with that look, y’all know the look, hands on the hips, ect. I’m asked to put the male part down and pick up the female plug, she tells me to just fill up the entire cavity with the gel because she wants me to see it oozing out when the connection is finally made. Now, I’m instructed to grab each plug, male and female and gently make the connection.

Excuse me ma’am, but how much force do I need to apply, the male section will not go in easy. She tells me to grip both ends firmly and just slide it in slowly with steady straight pressure. Bingo! the parts clicked together. She asked if I needed assistance with the other side. Out of the blue my wife says, “it’s safe to say that I can help him slip his male part into the proper female part now that he knows he was in the wrong position to make the connection”. She looked at me, hit end call, and told me I wasn’t holding my tongue right in the first place. She was a bit confused to whom I was talking to in the first place. So, after I explained to my wife who I called for help we just started laughing our asses off, because this shit was hilarious as hell. Indeed, the other side went in without a hitch. I watched my wife walk off, I hated to see her leave but I do enjoy the show. As I cleaned up, I started thinking that the operator (Amanda) reminded me of that insurance commercial as well as those new erection deficiency commercials that are on the television nowadays, the one with the porn star telling you that you should buy their shit if you are over forty. HA! I’m pushing fifty and still function like a teeanaged boy. It’s like a genie in a bottle, think about it, if you don’t get the relation then you got problems.

In the end, with the aid of some great technical support, I was able to tame the beast and finish the challenge of exchanging the light housings. I’m grateful for Amanda’s assistance and that she was able to have a little fun with me. Now, to explain it better to y’all, it was not my dirty mind who took that into the gutter, it was my wife’s, who needed to share  the story with her sister and her friend, and while I was listening to her version she made it sound I was on the phone with a 1-900 call girl or something. All I can say is I liked Amanda’s approach, more often than not we call the service centers and are left in utter disappointment. Amanda left me with the impression that she knew her fucking job and she was customer friendly. All call center employees need to take notes because it never hurts (to at least act) to like your job. It projects across to your customers fast. Anyway, I just thought you would have fun hearing this story.

Filling In The Missing Pieces

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Y’all might have noticed that I’ve posted a couple of very task specific entries to the blog the last couple of days and might be asking why now, why the push of information about filing a VA claim and the bewildering plethora of related data. Good and fair questions. If you weren’t wondering then that is okay as well, because I’m going to try to explain it all right now. In previous posts I wanted to express to any and all veterans the importance of arming oneself with the proper information. This is very fresh in my own skull since I just re-re-opened my own claim so I can provide additional relative information to strengthen the facts in my own file in hopes that I can get an increase in my own personal rating from the VA.

My process actually started in March of 2014, not with the claim, but with my claim in mind. I fulfilled a large portion of the leg work to eventually get the ball rolling. How so? Up until then I wasn’t in the medical portion of the VA, only in the claims side. But, when I was laid off I soon found myself in dire straights. Forget everything else, I was finding out fast that I was headed for a dilemma which if not contained may have had some major health complications involved. Why? I’m an insulin dependent diabetic. If you aren’t aware of the nature of that beast just look it up. So, my number one priority was to contain that fire before it spread. Since I was already in the system and a VA card holder, enrolling for medical benefits was simple enough, time consuming, yet fairly easy, even for a simpleton such as myself. Good grief I blew through some trees filling out that paperwork, it was insane, it was as if they couldn’t share the same sheet of paper in my file around the office, everyone needs a completely originally signed document in order to proceed. That is nothing compared to the mountain of papers (records and reports) I face at this exact moment. I have mentioned what a pain in the ass the VA makes the process, haven’t I?

As well, at the time of my lay off I was in line to do an exploratory and maintenance surgery on my knee to clear away debris, old hardware, and torn ligaments. Being told beforehand they couldn’t repair anything since it would only complicate things down the road. I had an my surgery date, I had time arranged to be off from work, and then I’m laid off. Talk about coming to a screeching halt, Yea, dead in my tracks, cancel all plans until further notice. Being laid off screwed up allot, allot more than I will mention here. Then, and only then did I considered enrollment into the VA medical program, something my wife says I should have done back in 2000, but I was stubborn, I had private insurance, I saw no need in being in VA medical. For the most part I was right, everyone hears the horror stories about veterans trying to get care, getting the wrong care, how slow the process is, and the same mistakes made over and over. Who wants to be a part of that kind of mess? But then, who do I turn to in my true time of need, who do I expect to be waiting there for me at the edge of the red carpet, you guessed it, the VA. I will be one, of millions who can attest to the slowness of the VA. Fuck their timelines because they look good on paper but have no relation in real time with real people, and that blows ass for every single one of us veterans.

Reluctantly, yet willingly, I got “in line” and jumped into the process. The process wasn’t hard, but it was time consuming, lucky for me, at the time, all I had was time on my hands. I had four months to ride this pony for the big show or it wasn’t going to happen. It took longer, duh, and when I was hired to a new company last October I hated the fact that I needed to take time off here and there to button up all the loose ends, and there were allot of loose ends. I was seen multiple times at the clinic’s version of an orthopedics office, where we discussed my direct interest in seeing the orthopedic surgeon downtown. But there is a process, first the PA has to be convinced of a “need” before we “bother” the busy orthopedic surgeons with what might all be in my head. In my fucking head you say? Let’s review, for the sake of argument, that this PA went through my private sector medical records, my military medical records, started my new VA medical records, the MRIs, the CT Scans, the x-rays, the exams, and so forth, and this motherfucker was convinced ALL of my pain was in my head. Look, I know real pain and I know manifested pain, there is a distinct difference. As well, I know that there is very little help in eliminating the pain of degenerative joint disease, also known as osteoarthritis, and that steroid enhanced visco supplementation injections are a sick fucking joke. There is NO over the counter medications or prescription medications which can stop the pain of bone on bone contact. Just ask me, I have tried many, many combinations, and get the same result, pain. Hyaluronan injections (rooster comb) are nice and beautiful by design, but I don’t just have arthritis is my knee.

Finally, somehow, someway, I convinced the PA to give me the recommendation I was wanting, after a final review I was scheduled to finally see an orthopedic surgeon, 13 months after originally asking. My first visit to the orthopedic surgeon gave me the impression the doctor was blown away with the damage in my knee and he was a little shocked I was still walking. The overall decay within the joint is estimated, by him and one other doctor, to be a 97% coverage. At first he discussed surgery to remove the weight bearing of the joint to shift it more out to the outside, but after further review, eight weeks later, I was told I’m not a candidate because I would need the unloader surgery on both sides, which cant be done. My only option was to have my knee replaced. However, that option is gone as well because it is claimed that because I’m under the age of 50 that the VA will not do that particular surgery. Even though the governing regulations state that age cannot be used as a determining factor but is still an option of the individual physician. Nice double talk, right? Right. In reality, I was told to tough it out, move on with my life, and just try to “take it easy” for the next 4 years. Needless to say, I’m beyond pissed. What a fucking joke! Now I can’t get treatment? Isn’t the VA here to take care of my service connected injury? Seems that the answer is they will do it at their leisure. Hell, I don’t mind waiting in line if that is the issue, I know times are tough, money is tight, and y’all are having your asses handed to you by the media and the investigations right now, but why just tell me flat out no.

I don’t take rejection well. I really don’t. I did my part. I played the game. I followed the rules. For what? For nothing, that’s what. I know, boohoo wo is me. Well, okay, getting up to go to work every day is a bitch. A bitch I don’t mind riding because there are bills to be paid. Plus, I’m not the kind to sit on my couch all day to watch Jerry Springer. I have a drive to get out and work, to be functional on a daily basis. I’m at a loss here. I decided, after a careful review of the entries into my visits to the doctor, where he cites in black and white, that I’m not a candidate for either surgery due to age and complications down the road in the future that “could” happen, and his recommendation is daily, regular doses of over the counter anti inflammatory medications and more quarterly injections. I will have my way, one way or another, so I re-re-opened my claim with the VA, providing all the supporting evidence from day one back in 1990 until now, to include findings from a civilian orthopedic surgeon which I see next week. We’re doing a review of my records to review treatment, and follow up with his recommendations. I really don’t give a shit about the money, I just want to get this knee fixed, hell or high water. It’s never been about the benefits, it never will be, it’s about not being taken of because of one jack asses opinion. In the end, my goal is to rattle enough cages to get my knee replaced, which is recommended by two VA surgeons and two civilian surgeons, so come on motherfuckers, replace it already.

Yes, y’all have found a sore subject with me. I’m tired of doing battle, the VA is supposed to be here to help me and fellow veterans, not give us the run around, not to deny us care, and certainly not to individually bend us over because it is the easier thing to do. They can kiss my hairy white ass first, I came to fight, I came to get what I need, I came to see that the VA does the right thing by me. Hopefully, my education along the way can be used by other veterans who are getting the big shaft. So, my plan is to continue writing and sharing information about how to make sure all your bases are covered. It doesn’t need to be a battle to receive care, the VA just makes it that way. I have friends within the VA system, many of them veterans, and they encounter the same bullshit the rest of us do. Who knows what will happen with my case/claim, anyway it turns out I hope that someone has read some of my postings and figured out how to get through to the VA. I know it is bureaucracy at work, policy and so forth, set in place to curb abuse and better promote the health and well-being of veterans, but it has backfired, and now we all suffer, thanks. Next time y’all think that we are being handed freebies, remember we are people too, we just want to live our lives as normally as possible.

13 Rules Of Engagement

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This is a pretty complete list of 13 things that a veteran must do or more importantly, not do, while you attempt to win your compensation benefits. These aren’t in any particular order, each is as important as the next. I know these are all very important. I know the results of not catching mistakes and of making simple errors.

Following these simple rules won’t win your claim for you but it will help ensure you don’t lose it.

(1) Don’t call the toll free number. Don’t email the VA Regional Office. Don’t use the electronic system to file your claim. Do not ever, under any circumstances communicate with the VARO except by certified mail, return receipt requested. If you break this rule, you are sure to get the wrong information. When you call or email you aren’t contacting your VA Regional Office, you’re in touch with a call center. The call center has access to a computer system that is rumored to be powered by kerosene and data is stored on IBM punch cards. The employees are under orders that you are allowed 3 minutes and not any more. They will tell you anything you want to hear to get you off that telephone. If you insist, try calling 3 days in a row. Ask the same question each time. It’s likely you’ll hear 3 completely different answers, all the wrong answers.

(2) Know who is representing you. You hand over the future of one of the most important legal moves you’ll ever make where the stakes are counted in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and you aren’t sure who the person works for? On the other hand, you’ll walk into any office that looks official, sign over a power of attorney, complete financial paperwork that exposes your weaknesses to the world and walk away not knowing what to expect or when to expect it. Spend much time thinking about your claim and who that representative works for, you’ll be a lot happier down the road.

(3) Be patient. Take 2 hours of quiet time early in the process and read from all the stuff that is available all over the internet. The VA site itself is a wealth of information and will answer a lot of your questions completely. Your application for benefits will follow a process. If you’ve done your part that paper you submitted is going to slowly wind its way to the first step in the process, then the second step in the process, then the third step and so on right through over 100 steps that must be accomplished before it is adjudicated. Whether you think all that is necessary or not doesn’t matter. It’s the process that counts and you need to accept that very early in the game. Once you’ve submitted your paperwork and you’re confident that you have given VA all the evidence that there is, you’re done. There is nothing else to do but wait. Calling the VA (see #1) to ask where your folder is truly a waste of your time. Don’t write any more letters to the VA. Don’t call your VSO to ask if she has heard anything about your claim. She hasn’t.
Do anything at all but think about your claim. Your claim will be adjudicated when it gets adjudicated and not a minute before. Live with that.

(4) Don’t ever display any anger to a VA employee. Yeah, OK…we’re all pissed off. Every last veteran I know can feel their blood boiling at the mention of how the VA treats those it’s supposed to serve. We were trained to be angry. Extreme pain was a sign that weakness was leaving my body. My most basic and most important job was to kill people and destroy their stuff. We were not emissaries of peace, we were warriors. That was then and this is now. If you show your angry side to a VA employee by yelling, expressing your displeasure at waiting, slamming your fist down on a desk, cursing, storming out of a room and slamming the door or making a direct or veiled threat…you have created trouble for yourself and all those who have to follow in your footsteps. Most, not all, but most VA employees at the clinics, hospitals and regional offices want to help you. They’re usually every bit as frustrated as you are at the bureaucracy they work for. They have the same problems of paying bills, raising teenagers, flat tires and headaches that you have. Many of them are veterans. Many others weren’t born yet when you were injured. The bureaucracy wasn’t intentionally made tougher for you by that 23 year old student intern sitting across from you. A lot of these people are afraid of you. I was born with a scowl. At my happiest, my brow is furrowed and my eyes narrow down to slits and I sigh a lot. I’ve been told often that I intimidate people so I work hard to overcome that. Before you interact with a VA employee in person, on the phone or by letter, take a deep breath and let that anger go. The amount of courtesy, respect and smiles you give is directly correlated to what you’ll receive. Otherwise, you may find that your record is flagged to warn others about your erratic, threatening behavior and if you think you have problems with getting things done now, you haven’t seen nothing yet. Worst case scenario, the VA police are serious. Most VA police officers are real cops, not ‘security guards’. The handcuffs they use are pretty much guaranteed to show you what they think of your attitude. Think before you open your mouth. You’ll be glad you did. The rest of us will appreciate it too.

(5) A well written letter is your best friend. When you moved and changed your mailing address, it appears you told everyone but the VA Regional Office that handles your folder. Neither the toll free number nor the IRIS email system is at your regional office. Your VSO can’t be relied on to run errands for you. If you had written a letter, mailed it to the correct address and used certified mail with return receipt requested and kept the receipt along with your copy of that letter, it is very likely the address change would have happened just as it should have. If it didn’t, you have good evidence that you did your part correctly and timely. Without that little green postcard, you got nothing. This action applies to every action you take with the VA. Any time you want VA to accomplish anything for you, you must put it in writing and you must be precise in telling them exactly what it is you want. When you put your request in writing, you’ve just created a piece of evidence that can be held in the hands and reviewed by another person months or years down the road. It’s real, it’s solid and if it disappears from your folder, you have a back-up copy and that little green post card to prove it was delivered. A telephone call is a faint memory the moment the connection is broken. An email may roll up and off the screen, out of sight and out of mind. Emails are often purged whether by accident or intent. Your letter and your copy of that letter are the most powerful tool you have. A single letter that is brief and tells the reader just exactly what you want is more potent than a hundred phone calls. There is just no reason for you to communicate with VA by any other method than a letter.

(6) Don’t call your Congressperson or a Senator. Your elected representatives in Washington makes laws, they don’t enforce them. Each of them maintains a number of very busy offices staffed by a dozen or more people. In that mix are “Military & Veterans Liaisons” or an individual with a similar title and responsibility. When you write or call to complain about the VA and your claim, your call is routed to that person. He or she will ask you to complete documents that allow them to view your folder, privacy issues must be addressed as you have medical records in there. Then they send a “Congressional Inquiry” to your VARO. The VARO maintains a team of people to respond to such inquiries within 45 days. Your folder is located, pulled out of line and examined for any particular glitches or errors. Then it may be sent to the Representative’s liaison for a review. If the folder and your application are merely going through the usual routine of numbingly slow progress, that’s what you’ll hear. If there is missing evidence and VA can’t find records or something is lost, they’ll assure the Representative that they’re doing all they can and that message will be passed on to you. Your Congressperson or Senator won’t be aware that you’ve done any of this with their office. They each have hundreds of these requests every year. Often enough, the impatience is rooted in ignorance. The vet doesn’t understand the process and nobody told him that his claim may take as long as 18 months. Some requests and complaints are filed with these offices because the veteran is in dire financial straits and is depending on a compensation benefit to save the day. The wolves are at the door, the car is being repossessed, the credit cards are maxed out and the vet needs the money right now. This is probably the worst reason to call as an inquiry may cause even more delays. Your folder could have been next in line to be distributed to the desk of a Ratings Veterans Service Representative (RSVR) and you caused it to be pulled out of its place in the line.

(7) Don’t ask advice from everyone you meet. Once you begin the journey to that compensation benefits award, you should soon develop a plan and stick to it. An integral part of the plan is where you’ll get guidance from. Have you decided to use a Veterans Service Officer who you trust?  Are you going to DIY? Are you in an appeal and you’ve signed some agreements with a lawyer? Whatever path you choose, stick to it. There is no one perfect answer to any of the thousands of questions that may come up during the course of your claim. Different people will have different experiences and those experiences will shape the way they will advise you to handle your claim. This happens in appeals too. The veteran speaks with a lawyer who agrees to take him as a client. Papers are signed and the lawyer begins the process by notifying VA of the new POA and requesting a copy of the folder. Six months pass and the veteran hasn’t heard anything so he calls the lawyer to discover the VARO only delivered the copied folder 2 weeks ago. The veteran once again starts looking for advice elsewhere and the result is always the same, the vet is lost, confused and unsure of what to do next. Changing representation in the middle of the process may be one of the worst actions a veteran can take unless there is a very good cause. That the claim is taking too long or the lawyer isn’t calling you every week to tell you nothing has happened isn’t good cause. You should only change your POA in a circumstance where you’ve discovered and can prove incompetence, your representative is on an extended leave or the representative dies. Even then, you will want to give a lot of thought to upsetting the flow of progress, as slow as it may be. It’s perfectly reasonable to believe that it’s better to allow the claim to proceed to a denial than to try to make a course correction during the process. When you make the decision to file a claim, give a lot of thought to how you’re going to proceed and choose your representative carefully. If you’ve done your homework up front, when you hit those bumps and delays that come with working with VA, you’ll remain confident that it’s just the routine and you’ll be happier for it.

(8) Prepare for the worst. Approach your claim as if it is already determined that you’ll lose and have a lengthy appeal. There are no reliable, precise statistics that allow us to predict which claims will be approved or the ones that are doomed to failure. We know that even when you submit a perfect claim with perfect evidence there’s a good chance that you will be tied up for a year or more and then receive a denial letter. When you get that denial, you’ll be stunned as you read along. In the required explanation from VA you’ll see that it’s almost as if not one single person actually read your evidence and/or they just ignored it all. The language they use might make you think that they’re speaking of someone else’s claim, not yours. You may read incomplete sentences, pages that don’t seem to connect from one to the next or the date on your letter may be days, weeks and even months previous to the day you get the documents. The truth is that it’s entirely possible that your complete folder was never examined for all the evidence. It’s possible that evidence you delivered wasn’t ever matched to your file. It’s not rare for papers from one file to be accidently included in another file and your denial may be based on a single page of a report from another veteran’s medical record. If you are already in need of the financial help that you deserve when you take that first step towards compensation, you must begin to develop your budget as if you aren’t ever going to see any help from the VA. I have met many vets who are suddenly unemployed or underemployed due to their service connected disability when they decide to file for a benefit. They hear from friends of the retroactive pay and that monthly deposit and the free medical care and they file and sit back and wait for it. It’s very unlikely that you’re going to find any sympathy for the knee injuries that you’ve asked for and been denied 3 years earlier. Even if your claim is valid and you’re unable to find work, unless you have a situation that is life threatening, you probably won’t see any help at all from VA. No matter what your situation, after you’ve completed your filing of the paperwork for your claim, you must then address your long term finances. You should involve your family in the discussion so that everyone understands that you’re facing a long road ahead. If you start the process knowing how you’ll pay bills each month until the point that you are awarded your deserved compensation, the time you wait will be less of a stress on you as well as your family.

(9) Read the fine print. Each time the VA writes to you you’ll find a page that applies to your claim and a number of pages of boilerplate instructions regarding your rights to appeal and other matters. Too many of us get to the part that reads, “We propose to reduce your benefits…”, or “Your claim for compensation is denied…”, or any one of a number of messages that we didn’t want to receive and we never read past that. The blood boils up in the brain, eyes cloud over and we get tunnel vision and we never see the instructions that can save us time and trouble. The fine print included with a VA letter is as good as it gets. Often enough it will detail why a particular action is taking place and once you understand that, you can correct the problem in short order. In a denial letter you may see that they didn’t consider an important piece of evidence that would have supported your claim and you have an instant reason to appeal. The most important detail you’ll find is that of timing. Your VA is obsessed with timing, yours, not their own. That fine print will tell you that if you wish to halt the apportionment of the money your ex is trying to withhold from your compensation, you must take certain actions within 30 days or 60 days. If you ‘timely’ reply you can request a personal hearing that can halt proceedings for months while VA makes room in the schedule for you. This can give you valuable time to gather evidence or get advice on how to fight a proposed negative action by VA. Reading those pages of legalese will provide the veteran with almost never-ending routes of appeals, hearings and opportunities to prevent decisions from going against us or to reverse decisions that aren’t favorable. Using the law to enforce your rights is smart. Getting smart beats getting angry every time.

(10) Get involved. You served your country. You wore the uniform, took the oath and you agreed that if ordered to do so, you would lay your life on the line for the principles we believe in. That isn’t enough. You aren’t done yet. When you were active duty, you could vote and that was about it. Now you’re a veteran and you have the knowledge and experience required to understand how our military forces need the support of the civilian leadership that control them. If you haven’t ever written to your elected representatives before, don’t embarrass yourself by thinking that they should jump up to help you when you have an issue with the VA. You Congressional representatives want to hear from you on an ongoing basis. Your Senators each have an easy, simple section on their web site for you to write them a note to let them know how you feel. Once each month, it may take all of 5 minutes of your busy schedule to write to say that you support some piece of legislation for veterans. If you do that on a regular basis, if you aren’t a ranter, and if you are contributing your thoughts to them even when you don’t need their help, they’ll pay more attention when veteran’s issues come before them. Today, the younger veterans need your wisdom, your guidance and the benefit of your experience. When you returned to the world in 1969, there were few people who were willing to offer you a hand up. If you haven’t lifted a finger to help our newest veterans but you have time to bitch and whine and cry about your own benefits, you need to reassess the situation you’re in. Giving your time to assisting these warriors will give you something to do while VA muddles around with your claim. You won’t get the sort of reward from the VA that you’ll discover helping a young veteran rebuild a life.

(11) Learn how to use your computer.  If you’re reading this, the odds are you’re reading it on a computer. It’s often said that filing an application for disability compensation isn’t a spectator sport. It’s time for you to get in the game. How can a person who manages to log on and use email not know about that phenomenon known as the Google search engine? The Internet is as amazing an invention as the wheel or sliced bread. To have Internet access is something most of us couldn’t have imagined in our wildest dreams as we entered our military service. Today’s soldier can’t recall a world without the Internet. If we take it in it’s simplest terms, the Internet is nothing more than a library that houses information. We all access the same Internet. It doesn’t matter if your portal is AOL or Bellsouth or Comcast, those are just doors that open to allow you access. Once you step through the door your Internet Service Provider (ISP) has for you, you are surfing along the same “Information Superhighway” as everyone else. Once you’ve arrived on the Internet, the “library” is full of billions and billions of pages of information. That information is piped up into the Internet from other computers, called servers, from colleges and governments and private citizens and even businesses that want to sell things to you. If you want to see what they have to offer, you have to be able to arrive at their Internet address and then view the information they provide. To get to a specific place or find specific information on the Internet requires that you know the exact address of the place you’re looking for. If you don’t know where you’re going, how on earth can you find your way among those billions of addresses? Thankfully, that was made easier for you years ago by the development of the “Search Engine”. The first Internet search engine came about 1993 and has quickly evolved into today’s Google. While there are plenty of competitors around, many consider that the Google engine is the best available. How do you use it? Simple. If the Google search bar isn’t already a fixture on the landscape of the web page you’re looking at, go to the address bar of your browser and type in http://www.google.com and you’re ready to search. Bingo, you’re on a page that shows you the results of the search by the engine. It may tell you that it found hundreds of thousands of “hits” of pages that are relevant to your query. The engine, being as smart as it is, has listed them in the order it thinks you’ll want to see them. You’ll see the main page of the DVA site (http://www.va.gov) and also the main page of the VBA site (http://www.vba.va.gov) Congratulations! You’ve just learned how to use a search engine. You entered a “search term” and then directed the engine to find a likely page of information for you. Once at the DVA web site you’ll see links to almost everything the DVA has available. A “link” is a word, phrase or symbol that you may click on that will take you to another place on the Internet or within the pages of the site you’re on. To find the facts about dependents benefits is easy once you’re on the VA site. Look around, you’ll see links to benefits, from there links to dependent’s benefits and so on. I recommend the DVA web site as a first stop for almost everything you need to know about the VA. The site is massive and it can be complex but with a little time, you’ll soon discover all you ever wanted to know about VA.

(12) Retrieve and then organize your own documents and evidence. The VA has a duty to assist you. The obligation to help you includes a reasonable effort to track down records and to notify you of your rights. The word you want to pay attention to is “reasonable”. If 10 years have passed since you were treated at the infamous Our Lady of Pain and Suffering Medical Center, located in beautiful Dog’s Breath, Georgia and you want those records, you better work on getting them yourself. That VSR may fire off a letter in the direction of that hospital and include a copy of your release but there is never any guarantee they’re going to respond. He may even try again. After that, it’s your problem, not his. Many hospitals today have medical records outsourced to a vendor in another city and state. If the VA writes to the hospital asking for your records they may get a message to contact the vendor. In turn, that vendor may require a stiff fee to research and copy records, and yes, they can do that. The vendor may require a photocopy of your driver’s license or other identification for security. Their rules may require all of that and then they must send the records back to the hospital where the hospital releases them to you or the VA. Upon encountering those kinds of barriers, the VSR at your VARO will note his attempts and move on, only without your important records. If you were treated by a handful of different physicians over the years, practices may have changed hands, doctors may have moved on. If you were treated by Dr. Quackenstein 12 years ago and his notes will prove your disability, you’ve got problems if he gave up medicine and is now a back-up singer in an unheard of band. Your file may be in storage, it could be that the entire practice moved to another building or that the practice, including your chart, was sold to another group of doctors. The VSR may send a letter and might even make a phone call on your behalf. If that isn’t productive, he’ll move on. In the circumstances above, had you taken the initiative yourself, you may have been able to track down your record. Yes, it may have taken you 30 phone calls and days of frustration but if you are persistent and you find the right person, the one with the keys to the storage facility, you may get that single piece of paper that wins your case.

(13) You’re not in the military anymore.You no longer have to accept answers you get as if it was handed down from authority and, or through the chain of command. Question everything. If the answer or decision is not favorable to you, disagree with it. Our government’s agencies do not always get things right, do not have your best interests in mind, and will not always tell you everything you need to know. If you think your claim has merit, and your belief is based on facts, law, and evidence directly on point to your claim, then appeal and persevere. Do not shrug your shoulders, give up, and think the VA must know better and, or must be right. They make wrong/bad decisions all the time; hence, the incredible backlog that exists in the VBA claims process today.

Read this disclaimer: The above information is provided to you to describe general processes and procedures that occur during the application for disability compensation and pension and other benefits within the Department of Veterans Affairs System. You are not being provided with any legal advice. Any information provided here is not intended as and should not be construed as legal advice. The DVA laws and regulations are subject to change. I cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of any of the information provided, or any results or outcome as a result of the use of this information.

Uphill Battles & Gaining The High Ground

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Many of you have been around here long enough to know I’m a disabled United States Air Force (AF) veteran who has been in an uphill battle with the Veterans Administration (VA) since the day I got out of the AF. I’ve asked why it must be a battle to receive veterans disability benefits, I’ve asked why there must be so much red tape, and repeatedly I find myself with the same damn answer, because this is the way it is, just accept it. Well, I’ve called bullshit, and that answer is not only un-acceptable to me and shouldn’t be acceptable to any living breathing veteran on the face of the planet. The word needs to get out, we need to share what we know with everyone, the more information we are armed with can mean the difference of one’s success or failure with the VA. So, here’s my personal challenge to all of you, veteran or not, disabled veteran or not, family members, friends, and co-workers, share this post on your web page, your blog, Facebook, Google+, and so forth. This following information will help you whether you want to file a claim or you wish to re-open an existing claim. But this information needs to get out there, the word must be spread. I won’t mention her name here, she knows who she is, who she is to me, but she knows first hand the battle veterans fight in the VA system, whether it be on the medical side or the claim side of the VA. We have spoke extensively and I want to be the one that gives something back to my fellow veterans. She has been an inspiration to me to keep my head held high and keep fighting. I owe her a debt of gratitude for lending me an ear and being a dear friend. So, again, the more this information is shared with everyone the better.

There is information within the walls of the VA which is very important to each and every veteran. I’ve spent many years just taking the VA’s word for it about my personal disability claim, but I’m done with that nonsense, real done with it, everyone who is a veteran needs to come to the very moment I did, and just flat say that enough is enough, its time to get to higher ground, its time to win my battle and claim the high ground. I didn’t do this alone, I’ve had help along the way, I’d love to mention each person out but I would rather thank all of them in mass for they each helped me in their own particular way or supported me when I thought it wasn’t worth fighting for any more. But why do we need to fight? Why can’t the process be easier? I’ll tell you why, it has the appearance that the VA makes the process of filing a claim overly complex and hard simply to discourage veterans from filing a claim. When, in reality, it should be just the opposite, our Veterans Administration should be helping us, not fighting us at every turn, they should want to be there for us as we have been there for them. But, we all know it to be very different, a scenario that resembles a battle plan with contingencies to set in play for the setbacks. Again, we must be prepared, we must be three steps ahead, we must have a hand in the grand scheme, and the only way to win any battle is to be well informed.

I have read many blogs, web sites, forums, reviews, papers, and government documents than one single man should ever have to endure. I’m no lawyer, not by any means, and this post will only point out your legal rights as a veteran, but in no way constitute any form of legal council. And, for the purpose of the contents of this post I offer you my disclaimer. The information you obtain on this blog or this post specifically is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney or advocate for advice regarding your individual veterans claim situation. This blog post is intended for informational purposes only. Got it? Great, lets move on then, there is much to cover. The following information has been researched by me personally, shared with me personally, all for the purpose of being better prepared to do battle with the VA. With that being said, I’ve collected quite a stack of useful information. Today we will talk mostly about a veterans “C” file or claims file, it’s contents, and why the information might be the single most important resource a veteran can have.

What is in a C-file? When I casually say everything about you, I truly mean it. For simplicity purposes, let’s separate the contents of a C-file into 11 different categories so each one of them can be examined. Your claims file is being reviewed by the VA to evaluate your case, it is your legal right to have a copy so each party has the same information. See what is missing, see what is being overlooked, and provide yourself with ammunition to fight back, you need a page by page copy of your entire claims file, without it you have already lost your battle.

Miscellaneous: Basic information can be found here like birth certificates, employment information, and more.

Military Administration: This area pertains to everything from your discharge to your awards and personal records.

Compensation and Pension Exams: Any records pertaining to your C&P Exams.

VA Medical Records: Record for any occasion in which you have sought treatment at any VA facility.

Private Medical Records: Any medical records from non-VA facilities, or from your active duty period.

Military Medical Records: Any medical records from your time in service.

Entrance and Separation exams: These exams are performed when an individual enters and when they exit the military.

Ratings Decisions and Statements of the Case: This section is rather large and will contain your application for benefits, appeals, decisions, statements of the case, and so much more.

Statements in Support of Claim: Any statements or questionnaires that you may fill out will be located here.

Transcripts:  This simply pertains to transcripts from hearings.

Transcripts: Any applications, decisions, and records pertaining to Social Security.

The claims file is kind of like the lifeblood of your case. A C-file is something that every Veteran has once a claim is filed with the VA. Some C-files are small, and others contain more 7000 pages, but no two files are the same. Unfortunately claims files are not currently electronic, and they arrive from the VA unsorted. One of the first things to do when your claims file arrives is sort it into the eleven categories above. Those eleven categories contain all of the essential information about your case. So, how does one obtain a C-file? That part, unlike the review, is simple. All you really have to do is ask for it from the VA. Remember, the word simple with the VA is a relative term. As I mentioned earlier, the files are not electronic. They are paper.  As they are paper, they are stored in filing cabinets. Further, depending upon when you served, where your case is in the process, and which Regional Office is handling your claim, the file may be in multiple locations. Because of this, it takes time to get your file together.  Also, it is important to note that only one copy of your file is free. If you request additional copies you will be charged. I recommend, if you have the technology, scan it all, scan everything, make that digital copy for your records, store it on a thumb-drive and/or burn it onto a DVD or CD. Saying that your claims file is important to your VA Disability claim is an understatement. Honestly, the records found within the claims file really determine your eligibility.

I mentioned above that a veteran just needs to ask for his/her claims file, below is an example of what I used.

———————————–

(Date)

Privacy Act Department

Department of Veterans Affairs Regional Office

6900 Almeda Road

Houston, TX 77030

Re: (Veterans Name) Claims Folder FOIA Request

(Social Security Number or Claim Number or Case Number)

Dear Staff:

I hereby request a copy of all documents contained in (Veterans Name) claims folder, including, but not limited to, all documents in the right flap, left flap, and center flap, and the reverse side of any documents with writing on both sides.

Please note that this request for documents is being made pursuant to the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552, and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552a, as well as 38 C.F.R.§1.550 and 38 C.F.R.  § 1.577.  Your agency has a duty to respond to this request within TWENTY (20) DAYS of the date of this request pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552 (a)(6)(A)(2)(i).

Additionally, although an extension of time to respond may be requested, it may only be granted for “unusual circumstances.” “Predictable agency workload” is not typically considered an unusual circumstance as stated in 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(C)(ii).   Moreover, even to the extent that unusual circumstances could be demonstrated in this instance, the time limit for the extension is limited to “10 working days” pursuant to 38 C.F.R.§ 1.553(d).

Please also be aware that your agency’s failure to respond to this request within twenty (20) days may result in the filing of an administrative appeal with the office of the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs pursuant to 38 C.F.R.§ 1.557 and 5 U.S.C. §552(a)(6)(A)(2)(ii), and potentially, the filing of a federal lawsuit to compel the production of the information.

This may subject your agency to contempt of court and a fine, including attorney fees and litigation expenses in compelling the production of this information pursuant to 38 U.S.C. § 552a(g)(l) of the Privacy Act, and 38 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B) of FOIA. Thank you.

(Veterans Name)

(Veterans Signature)

(Veterans Contact Info)

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Hand write the request, type it out, print it, be sure to sign it, put it into an envelope and send it. But, wait, be sure to send it certified mail requiring a signature. Why? You will be notified of the date, time, and person signing for the letter. Why is this important? Their time to reply starts on the date signed. Remember its business days, excluding weekends and federal holidays. Once you get a copy of your claims file, categorize it, read it, get to know it frontwards and backwards, then use the information to better prepare your initial claim or to help you re-open your claim. Personally, I’m in the information collection phase of my battle, soon I will soon be finished preparing my package to be submitted to the VA. I will continue to update this blog with my progress and/or road blocks. Remember, the more this information is shared with fellow veterans, family members of veterans, co-workers of veterans, and so forth, the better we, as veterans, can better prepare. If the playing field is level then the veteran once again has a fighting chance. The resources are out there, the information is out there, and the almighty answers are all out there, find it all and live a better life.

VA Medical Malpractice Information

The following information was borrowed from the Veterans Administration Medical Malpractice Information website in an effort to share places for veterans and everyone else to review up to date and relevant information.

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Information on medical malpractice by VA, or Veterans Administration hospitals, physicians, and clinics run by the Department of Veterans Affairs. While many veterans receive satisfactory medical care from the VA, others do not. This site is designed to provide information to those veterans, who have received negligent medical care, from a Veterans Administration hospital, doctor, physician’s assistant, surgeon or other VA medical provider and to encourage discussion about this problem. The VA is responsible for the US paying  out millions of dollars a week for medical malpractice claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act. It would be better for our veterans, and for the taxpayers, if the VA chose to provide better medical care instead.

Decide Which Halloween Mask For Me

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While out and about today we stopped in our local Halloween thrills store, a place I wish was open year round, and I can’t decide which mask I want for this upcoming Halloween. To vote, simply type #1 or #2 in the comments below. Tell me why if you want, but not necessarily needed to vote. Yes, both pictures are me.

Thanks in advance.

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