I knew when I signed up I wouldn’t be eligible for benefits. I was eighteen, young and naive. Little did I know how the military would play the game, denying me benefits for so many years.
Like many, I signed up Reservist. My brother had gone in, loved it, then hated it when he went to active duty. Me? I figured I’d just take a taste. 180 days of training, then get cut loose – one weekend a month, two weeks in the summer – six years and I’d be done.
Turned out the Marine Corps had other plans. (Was it my test scores?, I wonder. I did awesome in their views. A Marine with a brain: unheard of. But they wanted one. Me.) And yes I was a “wonder”. Not many Marines make E-5 (Sargent) in five years, and I got a couple of awards . . .
Turns out they could run me 180 days – give me two or three days leave – then run me 180 days more (always “training”) – and deny any benefits when I got disconnected from the Corps.
No one ever explained. I went on several training exercises (quite a few, actually) – doing my 180 days, getting released for a few days, and then they’d call me back again. (shrug) I didn’t see anything wrong with that.
I was injured – not once, but several times. The Marines train for real. Each time the doctor told me: “Take two Tylenol, we’ll see how you are in the morning.” (Alive or dead.) That was it. As far as writing in records: nada. Nothing.
That was because he was under orders not to write a thing. This was explained to me by a friend, also a fellow Marine, who worked for him. The doctor had been told: don’t write down anything. It might make us eligible for benefits later on.
That’s the truth of it. Really hard to swallow now that I’m fifty some odd years old – and I’ve been disabled due to my injuries for the last six or seven or so. (and constant pain.)
I don’t receive a dime from the Marines. I do get a $128 for my ears. After eight years of fighting the VA I finally got that – nothing for my back and right shoulder, which is disfigured due to muscular atrophy due to nerve damage. The VA didn’t even look at that. They just tested me for tinnitus (ringing of the ears) due to the guns I fired, the explosions I was around. (I’ve also got scars on my face from one of those – like acne pits, only a bit deeper and bigger around.) They never looked at my back or tested me, though Social Security says (after many tests) I’m completely disabled and cannot hold a job. (Which disturbs me – I loved solving problems, fixing things.)
I went from my Marine Corps career to others – worked for the Army for eight more (contracted), then put myself through college to get an engineer designer’s education – but I was in pain from the time I was 24. All due to the accidents when I was in the Corps. (Not written down – see what I wrote before.)
Now I hear the Navy SEAL who got Bin Laden is getting screwed. He, too, served 180 days and so “contractually” he’s not eligible for anything more. I’ve been in that boat; still am. And it hurts. (Reaching for some Percocet . . .)
My family paid dearly for my transgressions of joining the Corps (still do). I can’t say how many times I’ve had to bow out of trips, playing with my daughter, going to family events . . . I even lost my job (a good one!) due to those long ago injuries.
Thing is – I’m not complaining (okay, maybe some) – but that guy did his job (just like me) – and got screwed in the end. Apparently I’m doing better than him – but it took a number of years (and ran me into the poorhouse).
I’ve seen that more times in the military than I can begin to count: guys getting screwed due to some secrecy issue, or contract which the military didn’t ignore so much as screw you over with.
They never told me they could run me 180 days, give me a few days off, then 180 days again – over and over again. I thought: 180 days and I’m done. Then a few days each month: some fun. Ha ha. What fun it was (sometimes . . . not!).
I guess he did that, too.
I feel for him. He’s not disabled (or at least not yet), and if he becomes disabled you can bet the Navy won’t be supporting him. They’ll blame it on someone else, something else, deny him benefits. And a lot of it – well, I wonder if anyone in any official capacity ever wrote down a thing.
A lot of guys get screwed due to their contractual obligation, and then get screwed some more. We served because we were proud to serve, believed in our country and their willingness to take care of us if something went wrong. I served because I wanted to, not because I was drafted. I did it because I believed I owed my country something – after all, my dad fought in several wars, and my mom’s dad, too. A lot of men died so I could live here, “free” and proud.
Well, I’m still proud, though not so free, and by the books I’m poor (SS plus the VA check barely gets me over the poverty line – another scam in my own opinion – just enough not to qualify for welfare or food stamps). I manage my money quite well, thank you (and I have to), and I’m glad my wife has a job (self-employed: only she can fire her). Smart girl. (I’ll take a bit of credit in that: I got her started in her own business – gave her the notion that she could).
But . . . our servicemen have suffered – a LOT sometimes. Don’t believe it? Go down to your local VA and look around. And those are the lucky ones. The others (like us, 180 day wonders) – are forced to remain silent and it’s unsaid: we did our duty, and they treat us like we’re dead.
Life is hell – and then you go on living the very best way you can.
Even if the military and VA won’t ever give you a hand.
Get used to it, soldier. As I have.
(and yes: I’m somewhat bitter about what I gave for my country – but I realize: at least I’m getting something, which is more than many others – such as this Navy man.)
NOTE: (Added the next morning):
Contractually, this is how it works – or worked – for the military:
IF you what you do is listed as “training” AND is less than 180 days – you are not eligible for benefits. On my records it says: “Training” with only a few stints of “active duty”. Officially I was injured during training – but the Marines “play” rather real. (Men were killed on every maneuver I went on.) Had it been “Active duty”, I would have been eligible for benefits. Had they ran me over 180 days, the same.
That Navy SEAL? I’m sure he wasn’t in “training” – what he did was real, and benefited not only many Americans, but the world as well. Why isn’t HE getting benefits of some kind (as I’m sure he will).
Reservists be sure to check this out – don’t let them screw you the way they did me. And being “old school” – well, they didn’t tell us stuff, and we didn’t question it. Worked out for the Marine Corps – not so much for me.
I’m hoping he has better luck than I.
(and PS: yes – I remember their panic at Camp Johnson near Lejune when the buses were running late to get us off the base. They knew, we knew: if they didn’t get us off in time we be eligible for benefits – but the buses arrived in time . . . barely. Sigh. And there’s always the question of the contaminated water – which has caused several people to die.).