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The History of My Quest for A Service Connected Disability Rating

Another thing that I have gone through over the years, when I deal with the VA and talk to them about my mental health condition being service connected, is that the VA’s pamphlets and guide books to a veteran’s rights all say that a service connected disability is only awarded for “a disease or injury incurred in or aggravated by military service.” There are plenty of veterans receiving service connected disability ratings for mental health disorders. I know veterans with such disability ratings. But, several times VA employees have told me that there are no service connected ratings for mental health disorders. About two years ago, I found a web site that lists the number of veterans in each state who receive service connected disability ratings for depression and other mental health disorders. Unfortunately, as far as I am concerned, in the minds of the certain VA staff, that all does not exist. That’s another aspect of the living nightmare they are putting me through.

I have gone to several different VA psychiatrists about establishing my service connection. The most recent one, at the Greene St. Baltimore VAMC, told me that the VA mental health clinic staff cannot help me with it. It appears that the staff at Greene St. can only help the VA to deny me a service connected disability rating.

My assigned primary care giver VA psychiatrist said that he didn’t know me back then in 1970-71, so he could not make a decision on what had happened.

The next one said that he could not make that determination in the time allowed for an appointment, or several appointments.

The next one, Dr. Jacob Tendler of the Baltimore, Maryland VAMC, took the time to interview me. He had to, because the Board of Veterans Appeals ordered him to as part of my disability rating process.

Dr. Tendler said that my problem was something which I have never been diagnosed with before. Not by the myriad of VA and civilian mental health care doctors and councilors whom I have seen since my army discharge - some for many therapy sessions. He said that I have Adjustment Disorder.

By the definition of Adjustment Disorder, its symptoms begin within three months of a person’s life going through a traumatic change, and then the symptoms last for no more than six months. As far as I know, he never identified the causing stressor, so it must be my arrival in Okinawa that he says caused my traumatic stress. I loved that place. Read my story entitled A Wild Start, that is published on the Japan Policy Research Institute's web site, to see exactly how nicely I adjusted to Okinawa, like a hatchling Snapping Turtle swimming in a creek for the first time.

Copies of my army personal records, that I put in my VA file, clearly state in several places that the symptoms of my problems were first recognized by the 30th Arty on October 21, 1970, on the day after my nervous breakdown, or whatever that terrible event was. Evidently, he is saying that me simply going to Okinawa was the traumatic change, but I had been there for four months, since June 1970, before the symptoms listed in my records occurred. And it is in my records that those symptoms lasted for over a year till I was discharged. That does not fit their definition of Adjustment Disorder - one iota.

My problems from being assigned to the 30th Arty Bgde, and all that entailed, are all similar to what the VA’s, and the Army’s, definition of symptoms of several mental health disorders are. The definitions say that one symptom is that a person with certain disorders makes up lame excuses for not doing their job. Can’t do the job without being supplied the necessary equipment and supplies. That is no lame excuse. The VA doesn’t believe it happened that way. They believe the 30th Arty’s version that I simply quit working.

I am sick and tired of individuals in the VA, such as Dr. Jacob Tendler, declaring me to be lying about the situations which I have described to them quite adequately, at all times.

Tendler also lied about me. He declared that by telling him the details of the photo lab’s placement in the chamber, I was “preoccupied with minutia and details on today’s exam.” How the hell could he understand the strange situation if I did not explain exactly how the photo lab was set up in the nuclear fallout emergency decontamination chamber. It is a minute detail to him that the 30th Arty Bgde photo lab negated the prescribed use of the decon chamber, which - in the event of nuclear war - could have allowed millions of American lives to be lost.

He also declared that I “brought to this examination a prolific amount of evidence that he has compiled over the years, concerns about legal matters, fostering significant frustration and anger how the Army treated him, and he showed to the undersigned copies that he has written to the White House as well as to the Vice President and other public elected officials indicating how the Army treated him and why he should be compensated for.”

That “prolific amount of evidence” was copies of papers that were already in my VA file, but I knew that it would take a long time sorting them out of the large file so that we could talk about them during the examination, so I brought my own copies for us to discuss.

During his examination of me, Dr. Tendler launched into intense questioning about “perseveration or obsessiveness as well as compulsiveness type of symptoms, veteran denied.”

He was trying hard to diagnose me for some kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder or other disorder that I have never been diagnosed with before, something I do not suffer from, something absolutely non-compensible as service connected. Dr. Tendler did all he could to find something wrong with me that he could use to stop my quest for a service connected disability right then and there.

I ‘turned the tables’ on Tendler during the examination, and outlined for him what it would be like if the VA did the same kind of thing to him as had happened to me. The man became very indignant, looked askance at me, leaned back slightly, as if to put more distance between us there in his office, he looked down at me and haughtily declared, “I would sue them.”

I said, “Yeah, you see what I’m talking about? By me applying for a disability is the only way that I can sue them for what happened to me.”

He became intensely indignant then, stood up to shuffle some paperwork around his office, and nearly tried to back up away from me all the way through the wall behind him and then blurted out, “You can’t sue the VA! You can’t sue the Army for this! You can’t sue the government at all! You can’t sue anybody! You don’t know what you’re talking about!”

I had no reply to that idiotic outburst.

Dr. Tendler’s misdiagnoses of me having Adjustment Disorder has been declared by the VA as non-compensible. But I have seen lists on the Internet of the numbers of veterans who receive such a service connected disability.

I have been trying to establish a service connected disability rating from the VA ever since the mid 1970s.

The first time that I asked a VA employee to begin my paperwork for a disability rating, I was in real bad emotional condition. My depression had overpowered me, and it looked like I could travel no further on the road of life. I dropped off a hand written note at the downtown Baltimore VA Regional Office which was a serious cry for help. The note briefly explained my frustration and anger over the way that I could not stop feeling depressed ever since Okinawa, the way that my army photography job situation had turned into a nightmare, and the way that VA staff had dismissed me as a person of merit. After leaving that note at the reception desk, I went out and walked around downtown with a rather dismal, dejected look draped about my person. A few passersby walked a wide path around me.

I waited three hours, then called the VA. They wanted me to come in and talk to them. The first employee that I spoke to was a wise-ass; he was not concerned about my problems at all. I hung up the phone and called back a half hour later. That time a fairly decent guy spoke to me. I tried to stand my ground and hold out for a guarantee that they would begin a full investigation of my claims about the 30th Arty Bgde, and begin the disability claims process for me. But they talked me into coming in to their office without that.

When I sat down next to the desk of the fairly decent VA employee, the first thing that he did was to wave my note in front of my face, poke his forefinger into the written words on it, and with a friendly, earnest smile on his face he said, “Look at this! You can write in complete paragraphs! We have guys who come in here who can’t even write a complete sentence. You don’t have any serious problems. You’re an intelligent man. You’ll be all right. Those other veterans don’t have a chance, but you can do whatever you set your mind to do.”

That flabbergasted me. I had no problems? Because I could write a full, high school English class acceptable paragraph?

Wasn’t much that a dragged down, depressed guy could do in the way of instantly formulating an opposing debate against that nonsense.

They set me up for an appointment with a psychiatrist, and I went on back home a still depressed, and even more dejected man.

The VA psychiatrist, whom they set me up an appointment for on that sad day, turned out to be the only VA staff member who has ever truly understood me. He was Dr. Hadir Babaturk.

Dr. Babaturk was a great guy to talk with, we got along fine. He had a good, positive attitude about life in general, his profession and his patients. He was the only one who ever put any merit upon what I have to say about that 30th Arty Bgde situation of mine. Up until just now, I had forgotten about Dr. Babaturk, I suppose that I should now rewrite this whole thing and say that all but one VA staff ever believed what I say in this document about my 30th Arty experience, but that would take too much time, so just consider it done the best I can. Besides, his opinion of me doesn’t seem to hold any merit in my quest for my records to be set right and a fair disability rating to be established for me.

One day, as I was just sitting down in Dr. Babaturk’s office to begin our appointment for that day, a young veteran stuck his head in the still open office door and spoke to the good doctor. Dr. Babaturk then reminded the young man to go get his shot. As the doctor closed his office door, he discreetly informed me that the young veteran was so severely mentally ill that he had to receive potent psychiatric medicine once a week by a shot in his arm.

The doctor then turned to me and said, “He’s getting the disability checks that you should be getting for what happened to you over there. He never made it through his basic training, he had to go to the recycle platoon. You know what that is, right?”

I replied, “Yeah, that’s where they put men who can’t make it through basic, and they keep training them over and over till they get it right. Our drill sergeants used to threaten to send guys there who tried to act incompetent on the firing range or something or just act stupid because they thought it could get them out of going to Vietnam.”

“Well,” said the doctor, “that guy was discharged from the recycle platoon and given a full disability for being so mentally ill. But he was like that before he went in. He never should have been allowed into the Army in the first place, but he gets full disability pay for life. It's not fair for you. Did you try to apply for your disability again?”

I told the good doctor that I hadn't.

When Dr. Tendler was interviewing me, he said that he had read all of my VA file. After relating this Dr. Babaturk story to Dr. Tendler, I inquired of him whether Dr. Babaturk’s notes were in my file, and if he had read them. Dr. Tendler was standing and shuffling paperwork around his office at that moment, and he got all bent out of shape, I mean it, he literally got physically bent out of shape, as he said to me, “I don’t know if they’re in there. We (the VA) didn’t bring all the files with us when we moved up here to Greene Street from the Federal Building. I don’t know anything about those files.”

I recently received a full copy of the file that the VA is using to decide on my disability case, and Dr. Babaturk’s notes are indeed in the file. But there is no mention in Dr. Babaturk's notes of him believing that I should be receiving a disability. When he had said that about me deserving a disability, it was during what was more of a casual conversation about that seriously ill young veteran than a part of our doctor-patient session.

I can remember filling out the paperwork to apply for a disability in the late part of the 1970s, up at the Togus, Maine VA Hospital.

A weird, burnt out looking old psychiatrist helped me to fill the paperwork out, because I told the staff in administration that I didn’t know what to define my disability as. The emotionally shrunken acting shrink and I were up on a heavy duty psyche ward at the time. As soon as we sat down at a desk to start on the paperwork, a severely mentally ill patient walked by us and muttered some indiscernible words to the old doctor. The doctor looked at me, shook his head, pointed to the patient, and said, “Look at him. He doesn’t even know what day it is. He has no idea when his birthday comes around. Do you know what day it is. Sure you do. What day is it?”

I told him.

“What is today’s date?” He added.

I said what it was.

He added, “You know when your birthday is, right? What is it? ”

This seemed to me like a bad start, as I said, “July 2. I was born on July 2, 1950. But I don’t remember a thing about it.”

He continued, “You can talk normal? Right? Sure you do. You’re talking normal to me right now. You have no problems, he has problems. You really want me to fill this out?”

Yes I did.

“OK,” he said, “what is your disability?”

“I don’t know what to call it, that’s why they sent me up here to see you,” I replied.

Then I briefed him about the 30th Arty photo lab thing and told him a little about my Oct. 20, 1970 nervous breakdown.

“Well?” he says, with the usual VA staff style dismissive attitude towards me, “let’s put down nervous disorder. Do you think it’s a nervous disorder that you have?”

I was getting aggravated with his attitude as I replied, “Yeah, I guess. I had that nervous breakdown. You’re the doctor. What is it? What do you say?”

He put down nervous disorder.

That term is neither defined, nor mentioned in anyway, anywhere, in any official VA disability guides. It is not recognized by the VA as a term for any disability. He was a VA doctor, he knew that.

That weird old, burnt out shrink purposely sabotaged my attempt to establish and receive my service connected disability rating.

About five years ago or so I applied for a service connected disability again.

Two VA administrative staff helped me to fill out the application. I did not know then, nor do I know now, what the correct term is to describe my disability. It may be depression, depressive disorder, I do not know. And my VA doctors won’t tell me. One of the two VA administrative staff saw one of my former civilian mental health care worker’s notes which had in them that I have PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. That staff person put down my disability as “acquired psychiatric disability, to include PTSD.” Those two VA staff were very nice to me, they were kind and considerate, they did what they considered to be right. Unfortunately, they did not look to see whether the VA’s requirement of a direct life threatening incident for a PTSD diagnosis was present in my file. The civilian mental health care councilor who put the PTSD diagnosis had made that determination using a civilian definition of the disorder.

(Crap! They have it in Internet news stories about VA PTSD requirements that a direct life threatening event must have occurred. Vietnam Veterans are denied PTSD claims because they have nothing in their records to support the direct threat requirement even though they were in a combat company. Now I see nothing on the VA’s web site about a direct threat.)

From about 1993 to 2003, I was treated by a civilian mental health care worker. She diagnosed me as having depression and anxiety disorders. She also put into my file that I have PTSD.

I used to tell her over and over again about my 30th Arty Bgde problems. It’s a wonder that she didn’t tell me to take a hike or move on with my life in some other way. She was excellent at her profession, she always got me to talk about that day’s goings on in my life, but I inevitably gravitated back to talking about the army photographer thing.

PTSD can be caused by several different types of traumatic situations. She agreed with me when I told her that it was a thoroughly traumatic thing which I had endured in the 30th Arty Bgde. She agreed that due to the fact that I believed that because the photo lab negated the decontamination chamber’s intended use, in my mind tens of millions of lives were in jeopardy. They were. Maybe not in terrible danger of nuclear annihilation, but that weak link in our chain of defense, which was where my photo lab was, that link should have been maintained properly. That had indeed caused me uncalled for traumatic anxiety. I may have been a dupe for believing in the 30th Arty Bgde’s missile systems’ importance to America’s defense, but that shouldn’t mean that I’m the bad guy.

My mental health councilor’s diagnosis of me having PTSD is based on the fact that I suffer from many of the universally recognized symptoms of PTSD, as a result of my 30th Arty Bgde experiences. Those experiences include that nervous (?) emotional (?) break down experience of Oct. 20, 1970. Or whatever that tragic event was. The only problem is that she was using her civilian definition of PTSD. The VA’s definition requires a direct life threatening incident.

Last night, at this point in my writing, I stopped working on this manuscript and went onto the Internet to find some links about PTSD to put in this when it is published. What I reread, I hadn’t seen these web pages for about eight months, has now confused me more as to why the VA refutes my PTSD civilian diagnosis.

On the VA’s own web site, I found this:

Who is most likely to develop PTSD?

Those who experience greater stressor magnitude and intensity, unpredictability, uncontrollability, sexual (as opposed to nonsexual) victimization, real or perceived responsibility, and betrayal.

Those who report greater perceived threat or danger, suffering, upset, terror, and horror or fear.

Those with a social environment that produces shame, guilt, stigmatization, or self-hatred.

I say:

I was traumatized by real or perceived responsibility about tens of millions of potential deaths in a nuclear war, and I was betrayed by the 30th Arty Bgde soldiers who had forced me to work in a job that was not authorized by the U.S. Army, and then when blamed me for not having the equipment and supplies to do my job. It sure as hell was a fairly uncontrollable situation for a young, 20-year-old soldier.

I perceived a great threat of danger to American defense against Communist aggressors, I was in fear of the consequences of the photo lab negating the decontamination chamber’s intended use. I certainly was intensely upset about it all, and I suffered everyday on Okinawa, in the form of severe depression.

The army social environment produced way too much unearned shame and guilt in me.

I am still stigmatized by the false information in my personal army records, and my General Discharge for unsuitability.

I have hated myself ever since I did not stop the 30th Artillery Brigade on Okinawa from making me pay for the camera equipment needed to do my army job, and from keeping me assigned to the unit when there was no slot for me, but mostly because I had not gone to my Congressman or Inspector General and made them take that photo lab out of the emergency decontamination chamber.

The VA’s PTSD web pages also say:

People who suffer from PTSD often relive the experience through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping, and feel detached or estranged, and these symptoms can be severe enough and last long enough to significantly impair the person’s daily life.

I say:

In this document, I have adequately described most of these things to be a debilitating part of my life.

To the VA’s way of determining PTSD, the bottom line is a direct life threatening event.

My situation was an indirect threat to tens of millions of people, and the indirect threat of me dying for no good reason. I was willing to die for freedom at anytime, but to know that I may die because some other soldiers wanted pictures taken of themselves at work and play, at the possible expenditure of tens of millions of American civilians’ lives in a nuclear holocaust, caused me great traumatic stress at the time.

I experienced traumatic stress at the 30th Arty Bgde. Until the Veterans Administration acknowledges the truth about what certain individual soldiers of the 30th Arty Bgde did to me, they cannot give a correct diagnosis of my mental health disorders. That is the true bottom line in my quest for a fair VA disability rating.

That brings us up to where my case for a service connected disability rating is today. It has gone all the way up through the appeals process to the Board of Veterans Appeals. They say that they believe that I believe what I say about my 30th Arty Bgde experience, but that it may or may not be true. That is as close to the truth as the VA has gotten.

There is one serious dilemma in this. No lawyer will take my case because of the lack of VA required direct life threatening event to support the PTSD part of my claim. The two VA employees who helped me to fill out my application for benefits should have known that this would happen. The application is in the handwriting of one of them. I don’t believe that it is their fought though. They should have been trained to look for the VA’s required life threatening incident to be documented in my file.

They put down “acquired psychiatric disability, to include PTSD,” as “The Issue” which I am seeking “entitlement to service connection”. That makes me think that proving that I do have a VA recognizable acquired psychiatric disability, even though I may have PTSD which does not fit the VA’s definition of it, I should be eligible due to the acquired psychiatric disability. But the VA has their strict ways of seeing things, and I may have to begin the process all over again without “to include PTSD” included.

Pile those two mind boggling VA disability rating written requests on top of the times that VA employees have told this veteran that mental health disorders are not grounds for a VA recognized disability rating, because they are neither a disease nor injury, even though I knew of veterans receiving disabilities for problems the same as mine, and now the VA is processing my claim that is based on my mental health disorder, top that off with the two recent times that VA doctors had lame excuses for not allowing me to speak to them about my desire to establish a service connected disability rating, add all that up and you have all that is needed to thoroughly depress any veteran.

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