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4 Years

Today, November 20th marks the 4th anniversary for VeteranAid.org.  I am proud to know that in 4 years since beginning this journey that my efforts have changed the lives of thousands, and in return has changed mine far more than I could ever imagined.

Because of the venue that I do this work from, I often fail to realize the impact I have, but a recent event gave me a glimpse into the difference I actually get to make.

I had been contacted by a reporter in the Houston area several months back who wanted to do a story on the backlog of VA claims with the focus being on disability compensation and not on Aid and Attendance.  I was happy to help in whatever way I could by providing some statistics and thought nothing much more about it. She had mentioned that she was referred to me by someone who had contacted her asking her to do the story, and they had told her I had been helpful.

At the end of October, I heard from the reporter again who informed me that she had been given the go-ahead to run the story without an inclusion of a statement from the VA who refused to respond to several request asking for such, and wanted to verify a few more facts with me. The focus of the story revolved around a 91-year old veteran who had been waiting for his compensation award.  What I didn’t know at the time was that the son of this 91-year old veteran was someone I had helped a few years back.

Shortly after the story ran in the paper, I was contacted by another reporter who wanted to contact the gentleman featured in the article.  And then I had that “ah-ha” moment where the name of the 91-year old veteran clicked and I remembered his son. I had an old email from him and was able to contact him and make a connection for the second reporter. A special show ran on the CBS local affiliate regarding veteran’s struggles with dealing with the VA.

After 4 years of dealing with so many faceless people, I got to see Denis Maxson and his 91-year old dad, who due to the article that ran on him in the paper, had “suddenly” gotten his award from the VA.  These were people I made a difference for.  This wasn’t just an email I responded to, a forum posting, or a call I had returned.  This was a veteran who finally got the honor he was entitled to, and I got to be a part of that process.  What I do finally had a face attached to it.

The second reporter who had contacted me was receptive to my suggesting a story be done on Aid and Attendance. He told me if I could find someone who would have the story encompassing the struggle with filing for A&A he would do it.

I put feelers out everywhere, and spent days going back through four years of contacts looking for someone I thought would make the perfect story.

I also contacted the first reporter to ask if in her research she had encountered anyone facing this struggle.  She informed me that there was only one person, and was kind enough to give me an email address to contact her, which I did.

Don’t ever question whether it was the Universe along with my mother that has its hand in this mission for as it turns out, this woman was a regular visitor to the site, had printed off all the forms and followed the step-by-step directions and had read every posting on the forums.  She had been waiting over 2 years for the VA to release her dad’s funds who resides in a nursing home.  For the past two years she has been paying out between $1500 – $2000 a month making up the difference for her dad’s care while waiting on the VA. I knew I had the person for the story.

I had spoken with Cindy earlier in the day getting the background on her situation.  Later that same evening, she called me sitting in her car in the parking lot of her dad’s nursing home sobbing.  My first instinct was that her dad had passed, but when she was finally able to speak, she told me she had stopped to pick up her mail on her way to see her dad and when she saw that yet another letter form the VA was in the stack, she just knew it was going to be another form letter telling her “Sorry for the delay, but we are still processing the application.” What it actually was is the Award Letter informing her and her dad he had been approved for the pension.

After more than two years neither she nor I could believe that the day we spoke for the first time would be the day the long awaited and desperately needed award notification would arrive.  I don’t know who was crying more me or her, but she kept saying “I owe this all to you.  If it hadn’t been for you, I would have given up. If I hadn’t found your site, I wouldn’t have known.”

Cindy kept me on the phone as she exited the car, entered the building and walked down the hall to her dad’s room with that letter in her hand.  Still crying, she stood in the doorway to his room and I told her to give her dad a kiss from this daughter before letting her go to share the news with him.

I know I have helped a lot of people in the past 4 years who I will never meet, but being on the phone with Cindy that night with that letter in her hand has to be one of the most defining moments for me for anything I have accomplished through VeteranAid.org There were a lot of tears that night, along with the understanding of how this had come full circle from a decision I had made 4 years ago to change the ending for someone else. To me there is no question as to the blessing that has been put on my work, and today I stand proud and humbled.

I can’t acknowledge these four years without offering up my gratitude to those who have entered my life through this mission who in their own way showed up just in time to lend their support, expertise, encouragement, and belief in what I do. Ironically all of us have been brought together by more that just a mere coincidence.  It is obvious that a much Higher Power knew the team it would take and the part each one would play. I don’t stand alone this day.

In a category on their own – The Department of Veterans Affairs – Thank you for pissing off the wrong daughter and being the catalyst for this mission

Jay – Without your support none of this would have been possible
Connie
– For your beloved Bill

Denver – My silent hero and the champion of veterans

Mike and Tara – For believing and taking a chance

Chris – For your tenacious spirit and standing up to county officials

Melissa – For sharing a common bond and being a voice

Patty – For your brilliance and determination

Anne Marie – For your immeasurable generosity and goodness

I’m indebted to you all, and I thank you for making this possible and for believing in this effort.

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Veterans Day

We will always remember

We will always remember

Tomorrow is Veterans Day. There will be parades held across the country to honor those who have and do make the sacrifice of service. There will be visits to monuments, and for many there will be quiet reflections and tears for the price that has been paid for our freedom. There is a common bond that binds these soldiers and their families who share this journey, and it is one that is deserving of more than just one day of recognition, but on this day, we say with a grateful heart, Thank you.

The following story cannot be verified, and the author to the best of our knowledge is unknown, but something about this story makes you want to believe deep down that it’s true. Either way, it’s a touching story and a reminder to all of us as to the costs and burdens borne by those who rise up to the “call of duty”. I hope you’ll take a moment to read it and fully appreciate what it means to pay the price.

Cemetery Escort Duty

I just wanted to get the day over with and go down to Smokey’s for a few cold ones. Sneaking a look at my watch, I saw the time, 1655. Five minutes to go before the cemetery gates are closed for the day. Full dress was hot in the August sun. Oklahoma summertime was as bad as ever — the heat and humidity at the same level — both too high.

I saw the car pull into the drive, ‘69 or ‘70 model Cadillac Deville, looked factory-new. It pulled into the parking lot at a snail’s pace.

An old woman got out so slow I thought she was paralyzed. She had a cane and a sheaf of flowers, about four or five bunches as best I could tell. I couldn’t help myself. The thought came unwanted, and left a slightly bitter taste: “She’s going to spend an hour, and for this old soldier my hip hurts like hell and I’m ready to get out of here right now!”

But for this day my duty was to assist anyone coming in. Kevin would lock the “In” gate and if I could hurry the old biddy along, we might make the last half of happy hour at Smokey’s

I broke Post Attention. My hip made gritty noises when I took the first step and the pain went up a notch. I must have made a real military sight; middle-aged man with a small pot-gut and half a limp, in Marine Full Dress Uniform, which had lost its razor crease about 30 minutes after I began the watch at the cemetery.

I stopped in front of her, halfway up the walk. She looked up at me with an old woman’s squint. “Ma’am, may I assist you in any way?”

She took long enough to answer. “Yes, son. Can you carry these flowers? I seem to be moving a tad slow these days.”

“My pleasure Ma’am.” Well, it wasn’t too much of a lie.

She looked again. “Marine, where were you stationed?”

Vietnam, Ma’am. Ground-pounder. ‘69 to ‘71.”

She looked at me closer. “Wounded in action, I see. Well done, Marine. I’ll be as quick as I can.”

I lied a little bigger “No hurry, Ma’am.”

She smiled, and winked at me. “Son, I’m 85-years old and I can tell a lie from a long way off. Let’s get this done. Might be the last time I can do this. My name’s Joanne Wieserman, and I’ve a few Marines I’d like to see one more time.”

“Yes, Ma’am. At your service.”

She headed for the World War I section, stopping at a stone. She picked one of the bunches out of my arm and laid it on top of the stone. She murmured something I couldn’t quite make out. The name on the marble was Donald S. Davidson, USMC, France 1918.

She turned away and made a straight line for the World War II section, stopping at one stone. I saw a tear slowly tracking its way down her cheek.

She put a bunch on a stone; the name was Stephen X. Davidson, USMC, 1943.

She went up the row a ways and laid another bunch on a stone, Stanley J. Wieserman USMC , 1944.

She paused for a second, “Two more, son, and we’ll be done.”

I almost didn’t say anything, but, “Yes, Ma’am. Take your time.”

She looked confused. “Where’s the Vietnam section, son? I seem to have lost my way.” I pointed with my chin. “That way, Ma’am.” “Oh!” she chuckled quietly. “Son, me and old age ain’t too friendly.”

She headed down the walk I’d pointed at. She stopped at a couple of stones before she found the ones she wanted. She placed a bunch on Larry Wieserman USMC, 1968, and the last on Darrel Wieserman USMC, 1970.

She stood there and murmured a few words I still couldn’t make out. “OK, son, I’m finished. Get me back to my car and you can go home.”

“Yes, Ma’am. If I may ask, were those your kinfolk?”

She paused. “Yes, Donald Davidson was my father; Stephen was my uncle; Stanley was my husband; Larry and Darrel were our sons. All killed in action, all Marines.” She stopped, whether she had finished, or couldn’t finish, I don’t know. She made her way to her car, slowly, and painfully.

I waited for a polite distance to come between us and then double-timed it over to Kevin waiting by the car. “Get to the ‘Out’-gate quick. I have something I’ve got to do.”

Kevin started to say something but saw the look I gave him. He broke the rules to get us there down the service road. We beat her. She hadn’t made it around the rotunda yet.

“Kevin, stand at attention next to the gate post. Follow my lead.” I humped it across the drive to the other post.

When the Cadillac came puttering around from the hedges and began the short straight traverse to the gate, I called in my best gunny’s voice: “TehenHut! Present Haaaarms!”

I have to hand it to Kevin, he never blinked an eye; full dress attention and a salute that would make his DI proud. She drove through that gate with two old worn-out soldiers giving her a send off she deserved, for service rendered to her country, and for knowing Duty, Honor and Sacrifice.

I am not sure, but I think I saw a salute returned from that Cadillac.

Instead of “The End”….just think of “Taps”.

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