Living through another pain-in-the-ass disaster

If I could sum up the past week here in Beaumont, Texas, in one sentence, it would be: Natural disasters suck!

The town I live in has been in the news quite often over the week during the tremendous flooding that was a result of first, Hurricane, then Tropical Storm Harvey. The first hurricane I experienced was 12 years ago this month, Hurricane Rita. Three years later, Hurricane Ike, blew in from the Gulf and left a good portion of the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast flooded.

Rita had extensive wind damage and it took quite some time for Southeast Texas to rebuild. As was the case with both Rita and Ike, I was fortunate enough to sustain no property damage from Harvey. I did evacuate Rita though in my hometown some 60 miles northeast, although the damage there was also quite extensive as it was in Beaumont.

The biggest problem in Beaumont I have faced with Harvey’s deluge was having no running water due to the city losing its water supply system. That is, after the brief power outage we faced.

The water pump station is located along the Neches River and draws water from the river as the main source of water for the City’s water system. The City also lost the secondary water source at the Loeb wells in Hardin County. At this time there is no water supply for the City water system. It looked like after going through all of this, my apartments faced evacuation due to management’s concern about water supplies should a fire threaten us. We were given about 24 hours to find somewhere else to live.

But, we were told the next morning that we would be staying. Albeit, it was without running water.

The next day, a somewhat weaker water supply was evident with running water in the taps and in the toilets. However, we are required to boil any water we get from taps. One hopes boiling it will be a good fix because who knows what all kind of pollution is in the floodwaters.

There was a shortage of places to buy needed staples. Those stores are slowly but surely opening. The same goes for restaurants. I had a burger and onion rings yesterday from Willy Burger. Today, I bought a buffet carry-out meal at Golden Corral. It is the water supply that is also hampering regular operations of restaurants.

 

An Army vehicle carries a woman through flood waters in Orange, TX. The troops are from the 1-143 Infantry Regiment, Airborne Battalion. Army photo by Spc. Austin Boucher

Next in my big bag of flooding complaints is the fact that the flooding has cut off Beaumont from pretty much the rest of the world. First, almost every road leading in or out of the city was shuttered due to rising water. Today, Interstate 10 from Beaumont to the Louisiana line is closed mainly due to flooding in an around Vidor. U.S. Hwy. 96 which leads to Jasper and points north is closed due to the collapse of a bridge over Village Creek from flood waters. I-10 from Beaumont is open again, and I will have to use it to drive to a medical appointment on Wednesday at the Houston VA.

While Harvey did quite a lot of storm damage as a hurricane upon landfall near Corpus Christi, it was its unending rain that caused so much damage in Houston. Upon the storm re-entering the Gulf and making another landfall near the Texas-Louisiana border, that rain only became worse. I did see a lot of trees swaying to and fro as the tropical storm moved to the south of us. But it caused little wind damage up here.

There is no doubting that I am very fortunate in not having severe hardships such as requiring military helicopters to pick me up and taking me to some shelter. Just how many homes and other abodes will require repair or rebuilding, it is hard to say. Likewise, the human loss seems to climb every day. The toll has surpassed 60, ABC News reported tonight.

Finally, many societal questions have risen in Harvey’s aftermath. The first responders from across the U.S., and at least one person from Israel, came to help. A lot has been made about the “Cajun Navy” who have come to help. During such a crisis, there is often a tremendous sense of “coming together.” But we are a nation divided that continues down that path, I think, until that moron in the White House is gone. Even rebuilding will be negatively affected by Trump and his fellow assholes. The easy reconstruction process made so easy by ready Mexican labor during Rita will be in severe demand because of the racist moves of the administration to rid our nation of immigrants.

Our newest challenge is once again North Korea which exploded a hydrogen bomb during a test this weekend. The concern that nation is causing makes a 1,000-year flood look like a spring rain.

 

Trump: “Bring me more smoke and mirrors!”

More smoke and more mirrors. I know a little about smoke. In the header-photo above, I am the one on the tail-end of the 2 1/2-inch fire hose. I know 2 1/2 inches of hose does not sound like much of a hose. But it is. A normal uncharged section of 2 1/2-inch hose is not the easiest of objects to maneuver.  But once you charge that hose and the principles of fire hydraulics begin its activities, you have a whole lot of water and weight.

Now the picture above shows much more fire than smoke. It’s funny. When my lieutenant and I were fighting this blaze, it seemed to me that the heat, and smoke was much more intense than the blaze itself. As you look in this wonderful photo, you see the house outlined in fire. Thus, I saw much more in that picture of a house blazing than from when the house was right before my eyes.

lt is simple to say, the picture defies reality. What  that means is something entirely different. This afternoon, I heard something that defied  reality. That was when our president was collectively blowing smoke up our asses. It seems that Donald Trump does that quite often.

President Doofus was exercising his almost daily ritual, often times more than once, of blowing smoke and employing mirrors. Why? Well, if a little smoke looks good much more of it has to appear even better. Or so would such an argument — as stupid as it seems — might go.

Today’s grand illusion is the Department of Veterans Affairs.

By employing his weapon of choice, the presidential executive order, President All About Donald can claim all the credit should the VA order turns out to be an unqualified win.  And if matters should fail … Well … ?

There is no doubt that the VA has many problems although  many of its problems fall not so much in the area of health care.

The VA provides benefits to millions of veterans and their families. The third of the three largest branches of the VA handles nothing but cemeteries and veteran burial benefits. Even in the area of health care, a gigantic bureaucracy  looms to ensure the agency will be paid, one way or the other.

It is amazing how many people believe all veterans are due free health care. I once corrected a member of Congress on that fact. Only certain groups of veterans receive free care, among those are those whose illnesses or injuries are connected to the vet’s military service. Then, the percentage of that disability is service connected goes into the equation of what amount, if any, co-pay a veteran will pay.

I am at the low end end of care which is means-based. Last year, quite suddenly, the VA decided I owed them co-payments for medicines and afterwards were charged  for co-pays of actual medical care in addition to those for prescriptions. Many of those who know little of the VA may also not realize that one’s ability to pay is based on gross income. Let’s say my income is $45,000 a year. But I don’t work full-time so I might make no more than $24,000 after taxes. You see the problem there.

I spent quite a few years reporting on and writing about the VA. I saw the agency from a number of vantage points. Most recently I have seen the many views of fiscal accounting, or lack there of, from a patient’s point of view.

There are at least three and possibly more offices one must deal with in settling debts. These offices sometimes do not deal with each other directly.

If the president thinks he can sign a piece of paper and the VA will have its problem solved, then he will definitely require a lot of help. That, and much much more smoke and mirrors.

Having a good ol’ aching, upchucking time in Houston

Just a quick missive from the nation’s 3rd largest city. Sandwiched between light flooding and goofy health issues I have tried my best to learn in our annual steward’s meeting. But the last 1 1/2 days were a bit daunting.

On Sunday, I did a stupid thing that could have ended with serious consequences. I was showering in my tub when my soap disappeared. I couldn’t actively grab it because I didn’t see it. Too late, I slipped on the bar of soap and went down like a big sack of Sakrete. As is the case with these types of injuries it is difficult to feel its full wrath until, usually, the next morning.

I drove to Houston on Monday even  though it was a very uncomfortable drive, to say the least. The next day I went to class and our head honcho, who appointed me as a steward as well as regional vice president and who lives pretty close to me, saw how I was hurting. He also knew my ongoing health issues, so he told me I should see somebody medical.

Since my home is almost 90 miles away, I went to the ER at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center. I won’t waste time with the ridiculous conversation I had with a VA Police officer, except he needs more attention to the fact that people who come by themselves to the emergency room might just be sick or injured.

I was glad to find out I had no broken rib or fractured neck after an X-ray and Cat scans. I was given a shot of Toradol for pain, as well as Robaxin, and left the hospital wearing a light cervical collar.

This morning I felt a good bit better. I ordered a seemingly healthy, and well over-priced, breakfast. I had a poached egg white and tasso hash. I ordered some sausage which turned out to be four breakfast-type sausages. I didn’t care for any of it although I ate the egg, garnished with some type of greenery, and the sausage. I was running late, so I quickly signed the hotel guest ticket and walked to my class.

When I went to class I chatted with someone while drinking some cold water and waiting to get a cup of coffee. With no notice — well, I did have some mild nausea early — I began puking before there was anything I could do. I opened a door which I thought might quickly exit. In reality, it was the floor’s catering kitchen. I began upchucking every bit of my food this morning until way after there was nothing to vomit. It didn’t escape me that the cooks and waitstaff probably would have wanted me to hurl somewhere else. But they treated me with kindness, gave me a large waste container and some napkins,  as did a classmate who only stuck her hand from behind the door.

After resting an hour or so, in between some unpleasant stomach pain, I felt better. I don’t know if all of what happened is gone because I had some other digestive issues this afternoon. The problem could have been from medicine — both medicines I had orally and  had been injected at the VA hospital — both list nausea and diarrhea — and are listed as possible side effects of both drugs.

I may have had some bad food although I doubt the food I ate in the hotel this morning prompted my stomach problems because I had just finished eating 30 minutes before. The only other food that could have set me off was some fast food I had before leaving the VA. That would be quite ironic if that was the cause.

On returning to my hotel room I spotted a couple of the wait staff preparing to serve a dinner for some function. I felt kind of peevish seeing the ladies but I smiled broadly. One of the two Hispanic women asked me how I was feeling. I said “Fine.

“I’m sorry for barging in this morning,” and proceeded onward.

Hopefully, I will survive the next day and head home on Friday.

 

Just another day in America. Right?

This has been one of those extraordinary days in America.

Two presidents — one white and former president and one black who is the president — spoke on the same page praising work of the five Dallas police officers killed in an ambush following a protest march on July 7.

A former Democratic party presidential candidate and the presumptive Democratic candidate embraced in a showing of party unity.

Hey there, take a look at my neck it's a lot like your's. That is if your neck looks anything like mine.  (It actually is my MRI neck picture) MRI image. Copyright 2016. Dick at EFD
Old man take a look at my neck it’s a lot like your’s. That is if your neck looks anything like mine. (It actually is my MRI neck picture) MRI image. Copyright 2016. Dick at EFD. Oh, and Fair Use paraphrasing Neil Young’s “Old Man” which is a hell of a good song.

The U.S. attorney general was grilled by Republicans who demanded to know why she didn’t refer charges against the presumptive Democratic candidate in a politically-charged scandal over e-mails.

One of eight Supreme Court justices said she could not imagine a presidency under the presumptive Republican candidate.

All of this took place today as I sat in the Parkinson’s Disease clinic at the Houston VA waiting to see my neurologist. Oh, I don’t have Parkinson’s, at least I don’t think so.

I began reading an interesting article on one major problem I do have, that is maintaining balance. The article was in “Neurology Now,” a title I previously didn’t know. But this magazine had an attractive cover layout that pictured the former California first lady, who also was once an NBC television news correspondent, and a member of the famous Camelot clan from which came a murdered, young U.S. president. That lady shouldn’t be former anything and proves she isn’t by speaking out on Alzheimer’s Disease.

The article, which I have yet to finish, suggests Tai Chi and other methods can help older folks to maintain balance. You, the reader reading this blog, may read this article  before I do. I have had concerns over the last couple of years, since my balance had gone awry, that I might get stopped by police and asked me to perform a field sobriety test. I don’t drink and drive, anymore at least. Buy my balance is way out of whack and that would be the first thing I would tell police. Well, I would tell them right after saying: “No,” I would not perform any tests.

Before I finished the article my neurologist, a very nice lady who came from India to help veterans, gave me about 10 shots of Botox. The Botox shots — I have received about four or five sets — have been in my head, neck and face to attempt helping the great pain I suffer from my cervical spine and the osteoarthritis that has savaged my neck over the years.

The shots today were in the back of my neck in a peripheral area of my spine.

My neck felt better, for the first time since I have received the shots, although after the drive back from Houston the neck is back to its painful ways. My lower back has, in the interim, become much more painful among standing and walking. That has been attributed to the diagnosis I was given of a rare disease called “Arachnoiditis.” And as I must always point out, the disorder has nothing to do with spiders.

I will be checking in my self-examination mirror to determine if the Botox has made the back of my neck appear any younger. In the meantime, my doctor said she will say what, if anything, she will do about my lower back.

This was what happened in my day, another day in America.

The VA: Administrative medical malpractice?

It is a day off. Like so many days off I have had over the past year or two, I have to spend it somehow with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Last year it seemed as if I was going to a specialist at the Houston VA every off day I could take. This time, I am trying to fight what I call a grand instance of administrative medical malpractice.

I know medical malpractice is a serious charge. I also know the VA really gets its panties in a bunch when malpractice is alleged. Rightfully so for the VA go in to conniption fits over any kind misdeed. It seems so many problems have beset the nationally socialized medicine outfit that is supposed to help military veterans.

As I have written for many years, a great number of problems experienced by the VA are institutional. The funding from Congress is sporadic and with each presidential administration the Department often floats to hither and yon, often times in directions that just seem impossible to fathom. Likewise, when some big media expose on wrongdoing at the VA surfaces, the Department often trips over its own feet in what is essentially over-correcting screw-ups of its own doing.

All of this may have led to my case which involves what I call administrative medical malpractice. As is the case more times than not, in any situation, money is the root of the evil.

Since leaving my full-time job almost 11 years ago, the VA has been my only medical provider. Although, my pay has gone up over the years, I am still a part-time worker. My earnings per year aren’t particularly stellar despite my gross pay — not the amount you get after this deduct or the other — being about $2,000 over the threshold for a single person to avoid prescription co-pays. Over the years, with various medical problems my medical co-pays now run about $100 a month or more. But because my gross salary exceeded some magical amount, the VA told me out of the blue that I must now pay past co-payments on prescription drugs. Such news was a shock. This is because the VA basically said for the past four years or so that I need not take the so-called “means test” to determine one’s eligibility for VA health care. I asked several people at the VA if I should take a means test and they said, in essence, “Don’t worry about it.”

I was quite surprised when I got a bill a few months ago for nearly $3,000 in back co-payments. The bills I had seen during the recent years showed charges being written off. You would think written off would mean “you don’t have to pay it.”

More than $1,000 was eventually written off after I sent a waiver request. But I was told I still must pay about $1,200 plus the $100 a month for new charges. Although I have had a few thousand dollars in savings that I planned to use to purchase a cheap piece of land and a used, cheap, camping trailer, I make barely enough to do more than sit around the place where I reside, getting older. I have followed the VA’s prescribed methods to settle the charges, though waivers, request for charges to be written off, and finally I offered what I thought was a decent settlement.

I never heard from the VA until receiving another letter and bill saying that because I make too much in gross salary, I will now have to pay back co-payments for medical visits as well as those for future ones. In most cases over the last several years I have been seen  by physicians assistants instead of doctors or even specialists. Sometimes I would be seen by a nurse rather than a doctor and still be charged as if I was seeing a doctor. Finally, I decided last month to dispute my bill.

The “Notice of Dispute” was sent in to the Michael E. DeBakey Medical Center in Houston. I told them what had gone on over the years and that I now disputed the bills in total because I was never given any idea that I would have to pay those past bills. Had I known that, I would have sent in waiver applications each month as I once proposed to a billing person at the Houston VA. But they said I wouldn’t have to do that.

I received a letter from the Houston VA the other day signed by the interim director of the facility, a Christopher R. Sandies, MBA, FACHE.

The letter acknowledged my letter of a month ago, which was actually the dispute notice. The letter told me the reason why I must pay a co-payment for prescriptions — but didn’t address the co-payments for medical visits. Nor was their any mention of my previous settlement offer. Then the missive listed a couple of the options I had: either pay or waive the balance, such measures which I had already tried ad nauseam. I was told I could talk to the facility billing manager who I’ve tried to contact for more than a month and still cannot reach.

In the meantime, I owe more than $2,600 which I suppose may be collected soon from my salary if I don’t do something quick. I am planning to file for disability soon and will likely have to reduce my working time to between 16 and 20 hours a week. I may need to stop working at all because of my disabilities. At least I will likely need not worry about paying for my VA care then.

I consider it ironic that some people are happy to get work just to acquire health benefits for their family. It seems I will have to leave work soon in order to obtain health care benefits.

(Oh, I also once filed a complaint about my problems with my local congressman Republican U.S. Rep. Randy Weber of Texas. My situation seemed to deteriorate as time marched on and I never heard anything from his office.  Thanks for nothing congressman!)