Gunnery Sergeant Retirement Pay Below Welfare Threshold

When low military wages are discussed, those who know better will call out the fact that marines also receive untaxed benefits, such as those for housing and sustenance. So, let’s clear that out of the way: Yes, a young marine with a wife and/or child will receive untaxed benefits that are decent, like a home on base, or funds to get a home off base. But mentioning these benefits without also noting how hard he gets screwed on the back end turns a fair point for consideration into a debate tactic where a fact is chosen, but not considered in its entirety. And that is what will be done here.

Image result for welfare

 

This article will outline the following:

  • When you are in the military, you do not get paid enough, so you are forced to choose between taking proper care of your family and your sense of pride, dignity and manhood by applying for welfare
  • Untaxed portions of military pay
  • How untaxed pay leads to pitiful retirement pensions, which have now been reduced by 20%

Welfare v. Manhood

For those who read my book, War Poems: A Marine’s Tour 2003-2008, you know we had a lot of financial struggles. As a LCpl, I was married with a child, and had one on the way. Money was very tight, but because we didn’t smoke or drink, didn’t have car payments thanks to my grandmother giving us a vehicle, and received large tax refunds, we weren’t accumulating unmanageable credit card debt.

However, I qualified for welfare, food stamps, and WIC. To understand why, you can look at this welfare article and this military pay chart.

My father told me I should take the benefits, which I found absolutely appalling. After all, I had a job, and my family never missed a meal.

“You’re a government employee,” he explained. “Congress determined your salary, and also the welfare thresholds. This is a part of your pay.”

He continued with how food stamps are part of the agriculture budget, and that this was a way to divert funds from the Department of the Agriculture to the Department of Defense.

Luckily for taxpayers, I was too stupid to see reason, as I imagine many hardworking men and women in the military are. I stuck to my convictions that I had a job, I was a man, and I should have been able to take care of my family by combining the two. Obviously, this is total horseshit due to mathematical impossibilities.

But we can’t gripe about this without addressing the fact that actual military pay is higher than the taxable portion.

Military Pay Isn’t That Low

Many civilians would be shocked to know that among the lazy people on welfare are combat troops, not to mention 50-hour-a-week daycare workers, teacher’s aides, and many hospital employees – basically, those who do the most for us wherever there is a frontline.

A major difference between a LCpl and a daycare worker is that the former can live in a condo on base housing that has great lawn care and a very responsive police force, as well as a nice pool, community center, gym, and many cul-de-sacs for the kids to play safely. For those who don’t like living on base for reasons that include, but are not limited to, past use of toxic Chinese drywall, allowing lead pipes/paint to remain present decades after the risks were known, or because they’d simply like to leave work at the end of the day, there’s a housing allowance.

Those based in Southern California, Northern Virginia, or New York City receive an extra $30,000-$40,000 per year, which is anywhere from 1-3x their base salary, affording troops to live where they are stationed.

And it is this tax-free portion of a service member’s pay that is the problem. None of this is included in retirement. And the 2018 updates to military pensions have made it even worse.

Tax-free Pay = Pitiful Pensions

New military pension rules dictate that the traditional pension for retirees is reduced by 1/5. Instead of receiving half your base pay at 20 years, it’ll be 40%. After 30 years, it won’t be 75%, but actually 60%. This means that troops will not only receive sub-standard wages while in service, but they’ll get 1/5 less in retirement than those who joined before 2018. In fact, the new retirement could keep even a GySgt’s pension below the poverty line.

This is supposed to be made up for by having troops invest in the stock market with a Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), which is like a 401(k). If a troop elects to put in 5% of his pay, the government will match that 5%, but only after 2 years of service.

 

The new military rules for retirement can keep even a 20-year Gunnery Sergeant’s pension below the poverty line

  

EXAMPLE: Let’s say the average career income for a retired troop is that of a SSgt with 10 years of service ($3,500 per month). He retires at 20 years as a GySgt, earning $4,700 per month.

Despite the fact that all other federal employees qualify for a 5% match the first day they start working, members of the military do not. To be crystal clear, if you got a job mopping the floors in the chow hall on Camp Lejeune, your pay would be about that of a LCpl, plus you’d get a 5% match on your TSP. If you are hired to answer phones at the VA hospital, your salary (on day 1) would be the base pay of a Cpl, and you’d get a 5% match on your TSP. But if you join the armed forces, you not only have to go wherever you’re told for basic training and MOS school, and then to your duty station, but you’ll receive a lower salary than the lowest federal employees while being ineligible for a retirement match.

 

Pentagon janitors and White House cafeteria workers qualify for a 5% TSP match from the first day they start working. New marines stationed at the Pentagon and White House do not

  

If the GySgt in our example wants to finish his career on Long Island at the Hempstead, NY duty station, or a recruiting office, so his kids have excellent public high schools and colleges, he’d receive a monthly $2,700 in BAH. Upon retirement, his $88,800 income of combined housing and base pay will now be just 40% of the base pay ($22,560 per year), which is below the poverty line if he is married with two kids.

To just get to even, he would need to land a new career that starts at over $66,000.

If he lived on base instead of getting BAH, he’d be worse off because he would have failed to secure a home and build equity, so not only would he have less by way of accumulated wealth (a common shortfall of a military career due to frequent moves), but he’d have to move homes the same month he leaves his career to start a new one.

Now, there is the TSP. This GySgt can have saved money in the TSP with a 5% match for 18 years. But could he really? I can tell you from personal experience that if you have a wife and child, you must save, but likely cannot at the ranks of Sgt and below. My wife and I did not buy alcohol once in the 5 years I served. We only took two vacations (once camping a few hours away, and once staying in a family timeshare) and only after I was an NCO. We didn’t smoke, or have cable or car payments. And the margin was razor thin. Every year we slowly racked up credit card debt, then paid it off with our tax refund.

However, the real problem with this 5% TSP match isn’t that it’s hard to come by that money, but that even in 2013, there was no match, so I couldn’t even have taken advantage of it when I would have hit 10 years of service, and hopefully had some room to save for retirement. Let’s not ignore the fact that the most basic incentive for federal workers to invest in the TSP is only recently available to military members, and only as a compromise to their compromised pensions. On top of this, they are paid low wages, then told to store some away. It’s simple to do so long as you ignore things like “math” and “real life.”

Keeping it overly simple, and using generous numbers, let’s say this future GySgt put away 5% of his base pay with the match from the time he was a LCpl with 2 years in. We’ll assume his average career income was $3,500/month with contributions of $350, and the fund grew at a rate of 7% per year.

Using this retirement calculator,the GySgt (after saving $350/month for 18 years) will have $153,000 in his TSP. Not bad, right? But he can’t withdraw it for another 20 years without a 10% penalty, and it’s all taxable upon withdrawal, so taking out the $153,000 will look more like $80,000 as a lump sum.

This is a system that impoverishes our marines by design. Our elected officials have worked to make low-paid military members responsible for their own retirement without raising their pay while reducing the old-fashioned pension by 1/5.

 

Military members are being made responsible for their own retirement while receiving the same low pay. At the same time, their traditional pensions are being cut by 1/5th.

How This Works out

The GySgt noted above, under the old retirement system, would have received not $22,560 (40% of base pay) as a pension, but $28,200 (50%). If he lives another 40 years, the difference is $225,600 under the new system.

While the TSP could reasonably grow to more than that, it is only the result of the GySgt having sacrificed 5% of his pay on the front end, and then giving up 1/5 of his retirement pension on the back end.

The way it works is that in the first few years of a marine’s career he receives pay that is below the poverty level. He has a house or a room in a place he would not have likely chosen to live, and when he can’t make ends meet, he can apply for food stamps, welfare, and WIC vouchers. And now we’ve got this scheme to reduce his back end benefits – the thing that was supposed to make it worth it. But the reality is that he has less money – money he really needs – that will go into a stock market he doesn’t understand, which is supposed to cover the shortfall he’ll lose with funds he can’t access for 20 years!

Again:

  • You’re lower pension is covered by
    • You paying 5% of the money you need
      • Into the stock market
        • To cover the 20% reduced pension
          • With money you can’t get for 20 years

 

But it’s not too late. We can reverse this by getting this information to our elected officials, getting it to our local American Legions and VFWs, and also by telling any service member we know so that they know not to leave the 5% on the table, if possible. Because single marines have no reason they can’t take advantage of it, and married ones have every reason to at least try.

Leadership Starts at the Bottom

Please note that I had never been a squad leader, and was – very briefly – in charge of a fire team. As a corporal in charge of the Bn Safety Office for 8th ESB, the CO informed the companies that only a SSgt or higher was worthy of reporting to me on safety matters. Before long (WAY before long), I was promtoed to Sgt, and then made the Platoon Sgt in charge of the S-4. If this wasn’t a sign of madness, then I don’t know what is. But one thing can be discerned from all of it, and it’s that leadership starts at the bottom.

And now for a little story.

 

If this was a site about ethics in general I’d throw a good number of groups under the bus. But this is about the USMC, which has commercials about how in the heart of every marine is a promise kept (so sign up Evangelical Christians!), and this one where everything looks totally badass. I’m not kidding, either. Watch that commercial and tell me you don’t want to be a fucking marine blowing shit up, executing Port Arms, and even being one of those old vets just sitting around, likely because your knees don’t work so good after 11 years of carrying boxes around a warehouse when you were 19 to 30-years-old.

Opposite the amazing marketing machine the Corps is, is the day-to-day bullshit and outright lies you have to bear witness to when you’re a hard-working, dedicated patriot, or some kid just trying to earn a paycheck to give a good life to your wife and baby.

But enough with the generalities.

This is a story about

  • An out-of-standard Sgt who forged official orders for his married girlfriend, a Cpl, so she could change apartment complexes before her husband got home from Iraq, and
  • A thieving PFC who worked in the same office as that Sgt

And our adventure to see who should be accountable for the things they did.

PFC YoungAndStupid

PFC YoungAndStupid had the qualities a Plt Sgt looks for: He could PT and didn’t mouth off. I was in charge of the S-4 (meaning I had only 4 people directly above me, a SSgt, GySgt, Lt and Captain) when this and another PCF came in. Immediately, they told me that their previous unit’s NCO would call me to disparage them.

Now, it’s a sad fact that when the S-4 needs a body it often gets people who just failed a drug test, or someone who is unpopular. This is how people are deemed to end up on duty rosters more often than others, and it’s also how “the roster got messed up” when you want training. The S-4 is in charge of moving people and gear across whole oceans, so, obviously, send the worst people if you can help it.

I assured the PFCs that this was a clean slate.

“Besides,” I told them, “in about two weeks you’re going to reveal yourself for what you are, anyway.”

 

Well, weeks later PFC YoungAndStupid lifted a set of golf clubs from the bed of a marine’s pickup. This was found out when that marine went to a nearby pawn shop to replace the set, finding his own.

“Why did you steal those clubs?” I asked him one day, privately.

“Don’t know, Sarn’t. Wanted a set of golf clubs, I guess.”

“YoungAndStupid, you already have golf clubs. Plus, if you wanted them, you wouldn’t have pawned them off.”

“Oh yeah,” he said like he’d just realized that was a bad story.

As I said, things would be revealed. The PFC hardly ever said anything because he must have learned not to talk. Half of what he said was untrue; the other half was offensive, such as not believing a female could be President of the United States. The Base Commander was a woman as was the Co CO, but that was his belief, and, to date, it’s unproven, so maybe I’m the asshole here.

For his crime the PFC lost pay and was restricted to the barracks.

Sgt Terminal & Cpl CheaterPants

Cpl CheaterPants’ husband, Sgt DUI, was in Iraq when I arrived at the unit. Most details I have are secondhand so I’ll just say that she wanted very badly to change apartments before he got home, but you can’t break a lease without orders, so she presented a set to her landlord who followed up with the command, and it was found out that they were fake..…so where did she get them?

That evening, myself and the GySgt were kept at the office until 9:00PM. The fallout settled after she spoke to the Bn Chaplain for about 3 hours – a shrewd move if I ever saw one.

In the end Sgt Terminal took the rap he should have, suffering shame and worry, but no loss of pay or rank, and no barracks restriction. Cpl CheaterPants came out unscathed if not unblemished.

NCO Antics Continue

As parents we know that consequences can create results. For example, PFC YoungAndStupid learned that stealing didn’t pay. The following year he also learned the importance of punctuality when he got a Page 11 after being written up about 6 times for being late. He did the crimes, and he did the time.

Cpl CheaterPants, on the other hand, would try to be in charge, telling marines that PT was cancelled when it wasn’t, and volunteering to man the phone, which was necessary in the S-4, but not her place to decide. It was causing confusion, so I finally just had to give her a verbal ass-handing about her place in the platoon.

Meanwhile, Sgt Terminal was in Iraq and had been ordered by Lt Citadel never to speak with Cpl CheaterPants again. So he set up a fake email account under the name Serial Killer (I’m not making this up), and then began emailing to CheaterPants’ military email account. I shit you not, this idiot created an account with the name Serial Killer, and began conversing with a federal military member.

His first email (I swear, I’m not making this up):

 

Dear Number 2:

This is Number 1. You are to write to Number 1 on only this account. All transmissions are to be destroyed after reading. Together Number 1 and Number 2 will work to take down Petty Officer and Afro Man…….

 

And it goes on from there.

Number 1 is Sgt Terminal, Number 2 is CheaterPants, Petty Officer is me, and Afro Man is the SSgt I shared an office with, who had shown open disdain for Sgt Terminal, and refused to suffer fools and morons as a general rule.

After about a month of nonsense that alternated between mild paranoia, daily updates about nothing, and complaints about Petty Officer and Afro Man, I read what I determined to be the end of the line.

 

Dear Number 2:

Number 1 wants Number 2 to know that Number 1 is very proud of Number 2. Number 2 is doing a fine job of taking down Afro Man and Petty Officer……..

 

The operation was over. These two brainiacs weren’t hurting anyone, but they had been given a direct order not to talk to each other. And, frankly, calling a black guy Afro Man when he wasn’t a cover artist for the rapper of the same name is racist, and calling me Petty Officer when I’d done 150 days outside the wire in Falluja is just laughable, and very bad for Cpl CheaterPants because she was actually starting to believe I was more like a sailor, and therefore stood in a lower regard.

I compiled the emails, and when Lt Citadel came to my office I gave them to her.

“How did you get this?” she asked.

“I stole it,” I told her, “over the course of about a month.”

“Okay,” she replied, looking to the SSgt I shared an office with, “you can’t do that.”

“You told him not to talk to her; they’re still talking.”

“I’ll address it,” she concluded. “Get rid of all this.”

She left.

“Close the door,” SSgt Afro Man said. I did. “Are you out of your mind?”

Honestly, I was. Due to my wife’s reserve activation I was a single parent on a Marine Corps schedule. Also, prior to this, I’d taken action against a line unit with some terrible leadership, and was simply done taking crap from anyone anymore.

“You can’t do that. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

I did.

“Good. Now I’m going home.” As he left I heard him from the hallway, “p-fff. Afro Man! Fucking idiots.”

Sgt Terminal’s Final Days

Upon coming home from a successful deployment Sgt Terminal was selected for SSgt, but where justice failed, karma prevailed. He was overweight. Despite it being 2008, the year that even Sgts Major were getting re-enlistment bonuses, marines still needed to be in standard.

He was awarded a NAM, thanked for his service, and summarily dismissed from duty.

Cpl CheaterPants’ Final Days

When CheaterPants couldn’t weasel out of training, she began refusing to do so. I was told that counseling her off the bat would look like I was singling her out, but that if I kept a PT log of everyone’s progress, then her deferments to training could be sent to the Co Office where they would handle it.

So I began keeping track. She must’ve gotten word, and went from trying to win a contest that didn’t exist to seeing what she could do to escape the punishment she was earning, successfully moving to the S-3.

Half my headaches were gone.

Later, 3 LCpls informed me that she’d gotten drunk at a party on base housing and told people that I was getting Court Martialed for being a coward in combat, that I had “abandoned my marines” while under fire. I asked them to put it in writing, but they wouldn’t, so I did nothing. She also spread a weak rumor that I wasn’t a 1371 (combat engineer) and some boot-ass LCpl took the bait, got smarmy with me, and I dressed him down in front his company and mine.

Alas, Cpl CheaterPants being in the S-3 really was perfect for her, for in the S-3 you can input PFT results, raising your cutting score. She was going to be promoted to Sgt and get a re-enlistment bonus of $34,500. The night before her promotion she must have been feeling especially excellent, because she drank herself stupid – so stupid that her friend called for help. When she woke up at 10:00AM the morning of her promotion to Sgt it was in the OOD hut wearing a set of olive drab USMC sweats.

As the Bn Safety Manager I had to interview her, and it was determined (at her insistence) that it was not an accident. Her friend panicked; “that’s all,” she said. And that was all. Until she saw the Bn CO who non-rec’d her for promotion.

From what I heard she was told that if she stayed in it would be more than the non-rec Page 11 she was getting, and the very last I heard from her she was yelling in the hallway about how she had gotten fucked over.

Where Are They Now?

I tried to look up these NCOs who seemed like Teflon to formal punishment, but found nearly nothing. No LinkdIn page, no Facebook, no seat on corporate or charitable boards, or personal blogs. Cpl CheaterPants is no longer married to Sgt DUI, but that’s all I know about either of them.

As for me, it would be more than a year before the S-4 had a Sgt more junior than I. While I grew into the role that was required, I’d had more experience as the captain of my high school tennis team (10 weeks) than I had as even a fire team leader prior to being in charge of an entire platoon. Senior to me was Sgt Terminal with 12 years in, then Sgt SingleDad, who had just had back surgery, hence his time in the S-4, then Sgt B&E, who was soon sentenced to the brig for breaking and entering a USMC warehouse. In addition to them was a Sgt and SSgt in the armory, both of whom were technically under me.

And, as I mentioned in the beginning, on my first day as safety manager, LtCol Buffalo told all of 8th ESB that “a Staff Sergeant or higher in each company will report to Corporal Pascale.” It was the craziest shit anyone had ever heard.

Getting a VA Disability Rating – How to Do It & What It Means

https://i0.wp.com/i.imgflip.com/oj7uj.jpg?w=840&ssl=1

This is not the end-all, be-all guide to applying for VA Benefits. It is merely one no-bullshit article about applying for a disability rating at the end of active service. I am speaking from personal experience only, not in-depth research, which is why the one thing I’ll say about reservists is merely hearsay.

This is not an article about gaming the system, or stealing from the government. If you’re lucky enough to leave the service with everything as it was when you went in, then you shouldn’t risk buying a 1-way ticket to ShitsVille on the Karma Train. The benefits may not be worth the cost.

In this article I will discuss:

  • What a VA Rating Is & What It Will Mean to Your Future
  • When to Apply for a VA Rating
  • How to Behave at Your Claims Appointment
  • Going to the VA After Discharge
  • Applying for Re-Eval of Rating

What Is a VA Disability Rating?

A VA rating is the percentage rating (10%, 20%, etc.) you will receive based on your injuries and illnesses while in service.

https://i0.wp.com/rgsdesigns.com/p/2017/06/va-ratings-pay-chart-chart-for-va-benefits-pay-chart.png?w=840

Members of the LCpl Underground will tell you that if you have a certain rating, you can’t get a job. I found this particularly troubling when I met a former sniper who was crippled from having been shot in Iraq. He was a parking attendant at a hotel, and was glad to have gotten only 20%, “because” he said, “if you get 30% or more, you’re not allowed to make any money.” Here I was, intact, and this poor bastard was fucked up for life, and getting a pittance for it. Thankfully, I was able to tell him just how untrue it was, and we spent a few minutes researching who he had to call in his city to get a re-eval.

Just to stress how untrue this 30% myth is, a marine who got out before me was rated at 40% while training in MMA. The doctor specifically told him that even if he became a famous MMA fighter, he’d retain his rating, including healthcare, which would come in handy after a night of being kicked in the face. I got out with a 60% rating, and now have a 70% rating. Since getting out, I’ve worked private sector jobs, government jobs, and have had my own business. I’ve done physical labor and sat at a desk. In my best year I grossed $90,000, and it never threatened my VA rating or pension. I once trained for an amateur boxing match (came in 2nd!), and had no fear that engaging in a contact sport would disqualify me from receiving these benefits any more than would recreational skydiving, a terrible diet, or choosing a career where I sit all day long and drink coffee.

The pension is tax-free money you receive for the injuries you sustained while in service. If you end up being forced into medical retirement, you will be given the choice of a military pension (taxable income) or a VA pension (not taxable income). Choose the latter. No sense paying taxes when you can have it all.

What these benefits mean to your future can be the difference in poverty and prosperity. Medical costs, especially prescriptions, can crush any household’s budget. But not yours if you go to the VA.

The pension could, in theory, be put away for the future. I’d love to say that’s what I’ve done, but I’ve never done it once. Supporting a family of 6, my wife and I have always needed that money, especially after we moved to Long Island. But the pension has given me CHOICES. My second job out of the military was a terrible one. I stuck it out for a year, and then left. When the job I’d been looking forward to fell through, it was a letdown, but not a catastrophe. I was able to work weekends and enjoy time with my family for 3 months before another full-time position came through – right in time, too. Most people are less than 1 month from being in financial trouble, meaning that they’ll miss payments, be in collections, etc. For me, even with little savings, it was 3 months, and I never once considered taking money from the Roth IRA that could have gotten me through another month, if needed.

When I left the next job, it was with a 6-week gap. This wasn’t saved sick or vacation time; it was unpaid. While I wasn’t rich, I had the stability of a guaranteed payment on the 1st of each month. Again, I didn’t touch my Roth IRA, which now had enough to get me through 2 months.

In spite of having had many times that I’d been stretched for money, I’ve never been desperate. I’ve never missed a bill, never missed a meal, and never missed a payment – even for the little rental house I kept in Jacksonville, NC, which once had a 4-month vacancy while my rent in New York was $2,100.

When to Apply for Benefits

The LCpl Underground will say you can’t PT after applying for benefits, which for some marines is simply untenable, so they wait. This isn’t true. If you severely injure yourself while working out, you may want it added to your claims, which would be inconvenient, but I PT’d until my last day before terminal leave, and it was while on terminal that I got my VA rating, meaning I EAS’d on April 20, 2008, and received that first payment on May 1, 2008.

Step 1 of this process is to go to SEPS and TAPS. These mandatory classes take about a week, and are held at the base theater. You have to go. Some of what you hear will be complete bullshit. For example, there was a Sgt whose billet was actually to help separating marines get jobs on base. This dickhead got in front of us and threw out huge numbers for how much money we could make, like $50k for driving a bus. A month later I went up to him at a job fair where he was standing with 2 higher ranking marines, and after I asked a few questions he said, “well, what do you want, exactly?” and I said, “I want to make fifty grand,” and he laughed like I had just said the dumbest shit he’d ever heard.

So take what valuable information you can, but approach these classes like they are checks-in-the-box, with the major benefit of helping you get mentally ready to leave the military.

If you have some idea that your job is too important for you to make claims while in, you need to disabuse yourself of that notion. I don’t care if you drive the Base Commander around, are in charge of the S-4 working party, or if you’re personally planning the death of Kim Jong Un. You can’t tell me that you’re not allowed to go to an appointment, especially since a scheduled medical appointment, per military orders, cannot be missed.

I had this mentality. I was bogged down in making sure that the paperwork for the platoon I was in charge of was all squared away, and that the safety office would be ahead of schedule for the quarter. Thankfully, the SSgt I worked for, and the CWO who was the Co. CO, told me that waiting until I was on terminal leave was the wrong thing to do – that I needed to (A) go to medical to get anything not-yet-documented in my record, and (B) make my claims.

So that week I had neck pain and back pain added to my medical record, and also went to a pulmonologist to address an asbestos exposure, as well as all that crap I breathed in while deployed.

The next week I was at the VA claims office on base.

How to Behave at the Claims Appointment

First and foremost, be normal. If you’re not crippled, don’t act like you are. As I said, they rated me at 60%, and I walked in and out of that place like a guy who ran 6-minute miles and did 20 pull-ups. You don’t have to put on a show, like one liar I heard about.

Story of a Liar: While I was going through the Pulmonary Function Test (PFT), I started asking about the kinds of people they see there – specifically, I wanted to know what tipped them off that someone was faking it. They told me about a marine who was saying his back pain was so bad that he actually could not blow into the PFT machine, which requires a full measurement of one’s lungs. He kept insisting that he couldn’t take a deep breath, nor could he exhale vigorously. And then as he left the building, they saw him, through the window facing the parking lot, run and jump into his Jeep that had oversize tires.

“What can you do about that?” I asked. She said that they made a note of it in his medical record, stating that he claimed he couldn’t breathe because of back pain, but seemed to have no problem leaping into his vehicle.

Having said that, if “normal” for you is being a tough guy, you need to drop the pretense. You wouldn’t be making a claim if you never went to medical for anything. And if you are legitimately a tough guy, then you’ve had some pain over the years.

This is the most important thing: for everything you have been to medical for, you can make a legitimate claim. For what you haven’t, you can’t, and may be denied treatment for at the VA hospital in later years, according to a person I spoke to at the VA. For each claim the doctor will say, “do you feel pain in your [body part]?” Your answer should be, “yes” with no qualifiers.

For example, you don’t say, “yes, I have pain in my right knee when I carry a SAW ten miles.” The answer is just “yes,” because that right knee of yours likely hurts, also, when you’re watching TV, washing your car, or playing with your kids. Just answer the question in as few words as possible.

I claimed, and got percentages for, my right knee (10%), left knee (10%), right hip (10%), left hip (10%), back (10%), neck (10%), and right ankle (0%). I also made claims for PTSD (10%), COPD (10%), and eczema (0%).

If you’re adding up the ten-percents and finding they make up more than 60%, it’s because the VA has its own system for adding, and it’s unimportant right now.

What is important is that you need to:

  • Schedule & Attend SEPS/TAPS
  • Go to Sick Call for Anything Not Documented
  • Schedule Claims Appointments

Then when you get out, you need to check in to your local VA Hospital.

Check in to the VA Near You

When I got out, my wife went from reserve to active duty, and was then stationed in Louisiana. Being a military spouse, I didn’t need the VA; I could go to the base hospital, which was much more convenient since the drive from DeRidder, LA to the nearest VA was about 2 hours.

However, I heard that if I didn’t check in within 2 years of my EAS I’d never be able to go. Is this true? I actually don’t know, and couldn’t find an answer in a search that led to this VA Myth Busting Article. The 2-year thing is probably false, but it’s best to be in the system, especially when prescriptions for bronchitis can cost over $100, leading you to make choices between which one is most necessary, and which you can live without.

Among the reasons you’ll want to check in at a VA is because you may find that you should have a higher rating.

Getting a Benefit Re-Eval

I have been re-eval’d twice since getting out in 2008. Once for my lungs (COPD), and another for PTSD. The COPD test concluded that my lung capacity is continuing to diminish, but not yet enough to raise my benefits rating. The PTSD re-eval led to a test for Attention Deficit Disorder. What had happened was that I was working as an accountant and found that I just couldn’t sit still. Now, I’ve experienced more commonly known PTSD symptoms, but getting up every 20 minutes wasn’t normal, and was completely counter-intuitive to the work. As an accountant, you really have to just sit there all day, staring into the glowing box of death while monkeying away into a spreadsheet like a good little drone. With a Red Bull or coffee I could maybe go 45 minutes, which is a great solution if I was cool with crushing my adrenal glands and saying goodbye to erections in middle age. I wasn’t.

Seeing the results, the doctor said, “You didn’t have ADD as a kid.” I hadn’t. “I can tell because of the way the test results came in,” and then he explained that someone can actually get ADD as a result of trauma. “I’m going to submit for your benefits to be raised based on PTSD,” he explained. “The VA is going to deny it, and then you have to appeal. During the appeal, it will get approved.” In my case, it was raised from 10% to 30% without having to appeal, and my overall rating went from 60% to 70%.

Last Notes

I mentioned in the beginning I’d say something about reservists. I have no idea about any benefits for reservists.

A marine I worked with was married to a former reservist who was rated 30% when he got out, and was receiving the standard rate noted in the chart above. She speculated he got that because it was sustained while activated and deployed. I have no idea if that’s true.

Image result for what are my benefits and how can they help me achieve my goals

On How Much You’ll Really Get: I got out when I was 26. As a veteran rated at 70% with a wife and 4 children, I am currently receiving $1,702. As the kids age out, the amount will drop, so to keep it simple, let’s say it’ll average out at $1,500 per month, and that I’ll live to be 86-years-old. That means I’ll have received $1,500 every month ($18k/year) for 60 years, or $1,080,000. Would it be better to be so healthy and strong – without even the slightest bit of knee pain – that I didn’t rate a pension? I think so. But since I’m not, I ought to recognize that I am looking forward to receiving about one-million dollars post-USMC in cash. This doesn’t account for possibly $1,000,000 in medical care, the $50k in tuition from the GI Bill, and the roughly $3,000 I received in BAH the month it ran out in 2015, not to mention that when I was first going to college I qualified for the Pell Grant since I had such a low taxable income, and that New York State has a scholarship, even for graduate students.

Most people won’t get a rating like mine, but even a 10% rating can make a big difference over the course of a lifetime?

A family friend of mine has a 10% rating. During the Vietnam era he was on the rifle range as a coach, and has tinnitus. He is now about 65-years-old, and has received $180/month ($2,160) for about 40 years, or $86,400. Would he prefer to not have a slight ringing in his ears until he meets a sweet, quiet death as the final bell tolls? I imagine he would. But that’s how it went down, and he’s receiving benefits as such.

On Waiting to Make Claims: Don’t. Every day you wait is money you are denying your family. If you have no family, would you be better or worse off without this money? If you’re denying yourself out of some sense of nobility, perhaps you’re right to do so. After all, if you’re sitting on a trust fund, then maybe it’s best to let it go. But if you fucked up your knee, shoulder, back, or mind as a result of having served your country, then you deserve to be compensated. I’d have likely incurred some of the damage in my knees, hips, back and neck simply from being active had I not joined, but instead of running marathons or dancing the night away in an attempt to be someone’s last call, I trained for war. In the course of such zeal and fidelity, I was injured. And for that, there is a means of remuneration.

Don’t waste it by denying yourself and your family. It’s not like the government has any better use for it than you do. After all, if you put it all away, it’ll grow, which is good for everyone. If you use it to make house payments, you’ll gain equity, which is good for everyone. If you use it all to buy groceries, you’ll support local jobs, which is good for everyone. If you don’t get it, it won’t even be a drop in the ocean. If you do, it will change your life for the better with positive results that extend beyond your lifetime.

“Thieves Edition”: Marine’s Never Lie, Cheat or Steal

We were in the locker room for swim qual – gear a-ready – when the instructor told us to leave everything and follow him to the pool – leaving the gear adrift. [Sorry not to build suspense into the scene of the crime, but the real story comes in a bit]. Returning to the locker room, my Kevlar helmet and that of a corporal’s was gone. We continued with our training.

Back at our company we had to fill out a missing gear form so as not to be helmet-less in combat. The corporal and I had to see the Company XO, Lt. Gremlin, named as such because she resembled the sexy gremlin in the classic holiday film, “Gremlins 2.”

Waiting outside her hatch the banal conversation between she and the corporal was brief, and concluded with her signing off on his new Kevlar helmet. All seemed well with the world. He left, I entered, stood at attention, reported in, and was then put at ease, which really meant modified parade rest, so I was not actually at ease; nor should I have been.

“Why are you here?” she asked, displeased.

“My helmet was stolen at the pool.”

“What do you want me to do about it?”

“I was told to fill out this form and see you,” I answered – feet shoulder-length apart, hands behind my back, which is a truly appropriate position for a verbal slapping.

“So,” continuing with all questions and no answers, “you think you shouldn’t be held responsible for losing your gear?”

And that’s how it went. She concluded that even though the corporal and I were in the same place at the same time for the same incident that he should have his helmet replaced, but I should have to pay for a new one.

She dismissed me. My platoon sergeant, the one I reference in the “Tradition” story, got a helmet for me.

Lt. Gremlin the Thief

Now, Lt. Gremlin didn’t just get her name because of her appearance. Honestly, the sexy gremlin in that movie was kind of hot; I mean, she was certainly down to get down, and wasn’t shy to make her feelings known. Lt. Gremlin earned this nickname for being repugnant, just as others earned good ones with their virtue.

Standing outside the company office around this time she is talking to SSgt BadAdvice about a fender bender she had been in. Out loud, in front of many junior marines, she is trying to talk through how she can parlay her minor accident into major repairs, which some people – like claims adjustors – would call insurance fraud.

What, does she think she’s not responsible for fixing her own car?

Does she think someone else should pay for things that are hers?

She did.

Why Be a Leader? Become a DI Instead

One of the best SNCOs I knew said, ‘the drill field is the one billet where you can be successful without displaying any real leadership qualities.’

Like all of us, I have quite a few boot camp stories, and don’t hate the ever-loving shit out of the DIs I had. For instance, if one was on fire, I’d cross the street to piss on him. But that’s just common courtesy.

Having said that, let’s get to a couple of examples of the finest leadership in the world.

SSgt BlueFalcon

SSgt BlueFalcon was our 4th DI. Being new, he was a bit clueless. He talked with a voice like a buzzer so everything he said sounded fucked up without having to yell, and he may have actually been a GySgt the month before we got him in phase 2 of our training.

I’m not kidding. This motherfucker showed up in phase 2 with all his gear marked in Gunny chevrons. Now, it’s totally possible that he just got a helluva deal off a retiree, or maybe found stuff in his size at a second-hand shop, but there were signs that something shady was going on, and that my SDI was babysitting the shit out of him. Honestly, for me to notice, it had to be painfully obvious.

So there we were one day with Gunny – I mean SSgt – Blue Falcon in charge of us. I hadn’t eaten lunch and there was a tray from the chow hall for me. I kept requesting permission to eat, and BlueFalcon kept saying no. So I kept asking, because (A) I wanted to eat, (B) fuck him, and (C) I wanted to eat. It got to the point that other recruits were telling me to stop. Apparently, my wanting lunch was getting annoying for the fed.

Eventually, we were forming up to get a class at the movie theater, and I still hadn’t eaten lunch, nor would I since dinner was right around the corner. While there I went to my SDI, who had his own to go tray from the chow hall, and asked him for permission to eat lunch as SSgt BlueFalcon stood behind me, glaring indifferently over my shoulder.

“You haven’t eaten?” he asked.

“No, sir.”

With an incredulous look at BlueFalcon, who honestly could not have given less of a crap, my SDI handed me his own food, which I took because (A) fuck him, (B) I wanted to eat, and (C) fuck him.

I took it outside, where another great act of leadership occurred.

SSgt Charming

Since dignity can be foregone for hunger I sat on the cement facing a brick wall to enjoy my lunch with a swarm of delicious sand fleas, but who should be out there but a male/female DI duo, talking about some such shit. I can’t recall the conversation, so I’ll fill in the blanks the best I can:

“Yeah,” he said, “so I started eating my Chef Boyardee raviolis with a K-Bar.”

“Hmm,” she said, listening intently, her blonde hair pulled.

“It’s a real time-saver, because now I don’t have to tactically acquire my weekly supply of plastic ware from mini PX like I used to.”

“I converted old tea bags into Maxi Pads,” she chimed in, not wanting to seem less thrifty than him, “and vice versa.”

“Hey you! Continue reading “Why Be a Leader? Become a DI Instead”

FSNB: Proof the Corps Couldn’t Care Less

Fleet Marine Life talks about Fort Sill National Bank, as does RipOffReport, and PissedConsumer.

In a nutshell, it’s a shitty bank that every recruit on Parris Island is set up with for their direct deposit. By funneling tens-of-thousands of captive recruits to this hellhole the USMC is damaging both troop welfare and mission accomplishment. Low-income troops losing money to needless fees hurts their focus as a fighting force, and poor finances can lead to someone losing their security clearance.

FSNB = Fees-Fees-Fees

For the privilege of having an account, they charge needless fees knowing full well you can’t change your banking until your graduate, and a good portion of people do not do so right away because they don’t want to spend part of family day at Navy Federal Credit Union opening an account.

I have had two experiences with FSNB. Upon trying to close the account at MOS school they said I was overdrawn and charged me a fee for it. I sent them a check for the NSF overdraft, and they said I was still overdrawn because of the monthly fee hitting, prompting another NSF fee, so the account could not be closed. I sent them another check and told them to close the account, and that a copy of the letter was given to my command.

A few years later my wife went to close an account she had when we moved to Camp Lejeune. She went to the branch at Wal-mart and they cut her a check.

FSNB Will Overdraw You

“Show me the balance on the account,” she said, suspecting something fishy.

Now she was overdrawn. This fucking asshole overdrew the account on her so that there would be an NSF fee, then a monthly fee, which would prompt another NSF fee. So my wife gave her the difference and asked for a receipt, plus a printout of the statement showing that the balance was at zero.

“You don’t want that,” lady-banker-fuck told my wife.

“Of course I do.”

“If you take a paper statement, you could lose it, and then your personal information will just be out there.”

“It’s already out there. Con artists like you have it.”

After some cajoling she got a receipt for the deposit, bringing the balance up to zero, plus a statement showing the balance at zero.

“I want to speak to your manager,” my wife said, “I’m going to make a complaint about what you did.”

The manager told her that to make a complaint she had to call customer service from a phone on the wall.

If the USMC Cared, They’d Have Already Done Something

Fort Sill National Bank is not the worst bank in the world, nor is lady-banker-fuck the worst banker in the world, but this is the exclusive bank for marine recruits on Parris Island (and probably soldiers at Fort Sill, Oklahoma), and it is one way that the Marine Corps is actively ensuring that the lowest paid troops are being victimized by a financial institution. These young troops make very little money, live far from home, and endure great hardships. All the while this bank is stealing from them.

If anyone has something positive to say, please share. I’d love to hear something good about the bank, and not that it donates money to something, because that donation is funded in full by the fees scraped off the top of a marine recruit’s meager paycheck.

I’ll be forwarding the link for this post to people at FSNB and MCRD PI, and suggest you do the same.

A True Story of DI Abuse & General Fuckery, by J.L. Williams

 

The following story was submitted by a former Marine and edited by Chris Pascale.

I don't really hate the Corps as much as I sincerely dislike it - for a number of personal reasons:

(1) Lying and manipulative military recruiters who prey on naïve young people who lack personal goals and direction in their lives
(2) Abusive and sadistic drill instructors
(3) No guidance or help on a personal level offered by officers [when I was in]

I enlisted back in 1976 during a very optimistic and PATRIOTIC time in America. Things looked very bright indeed and hopeful.

The anniversary of our country's founding in 1776 - I had very high hopes for a good life as a glorious Marine! I was so young and naïve, and very ignorant of the reality of life in the Corps.

During basic training at MCRD San Diego, Platoon 2093, Sept-Nov, 1976, I was physically abused repeatedly by a drill instructor named Sgt SchizerVideo while serving as a "house mouse," which is the clean-up maid for the DIs in their duty hut, which is against regs but they do anyway.

He bit my ear hard during marching at the parade ground one time because I held my M-16 too high on my shoulder. He sprayed starch in my ear during qualification day on the rifle range. After initally UNQ-ing I then made sharpshooter because he wasn't there to torment me. But Sgt SchizerVideo never let up, and he let me know he hated me at least on a daily basis - that is, when he wasn't reading "Soldier of Fortune," spitting Copenhagen into the water fountain, and granting us the pleasure of his favorite phrase, "fuck me to tears."

He was a bastard, but so were all the other DIs, too, like SSgt MurderRapist, an extremely ugly short little ogre of a man with a thick neck and gapped teeth, who laughingly recounted his tour in Vietnam, particularly the part where he saw a marine stick a flare tube up a pregnant woman's vagina and it exploded! I'LL NEVER forget his deranged personality and twisted smile, as well as the heavy stack of medals and ribbons on his chest.

And Sgt Jewel, another very strange, sadistic and nerdy looking guy with black-rimmed glasses whose favorite pastime was screaming at us from the top of his lungs for an hour straight!

And Cpl GullNuts. He got REALLY mad one time and hit a recruit with a large rock in the mountains at infantry training. There was an investigation and that recruit left the platoon, and I never saw him again. They changed our DI's several times.

I was very tempted to report Sgt SchizerVideo to headquarters, but then he would have REALLY gotten it out for me. I should have - after basic training was over - but just wanted to forget it and go home on leave.

I also witnessed SchizerVideo assault a private after the recruit was caught smoking in the head late at night. He grabbed him by the collar very aggressively, pushed him up hard against the barracks wall, and threatened to "beat the shit out of him." It was in front of the entire platoon.


It's Better After Boot Camp, but It Ain't Great

Apart from all that, there was always the feeling of disappointment and dissatisfaction that plagued me like a curse from hell. Knowing that I gave myself over to this awful and screwed up outfit for an enlistment of 3 very long years, and finding out that life in it was just plain tedious, unfulfilling, and a nit-picking bullshit affair was somehow worse in some ways. Getting knocked around in boot camp seemed like a potential necessary evil to win wars, because the enemy would be much worse, right? 

While stationed on Okinawa I'd gotten in trouble for excessive drinking one night in Henoko village - a small fishing town outside Camp Schwab loaded with bars and pretty, but silly, Japanese bar-girls who would giggle and say "OH, I LOVE YOU! BUY ME DLINK-EE?" Then things got worse. My platoon commander, Lt Spanky, transferred me to Camp Hansen on the other side of the island.

Finally, after a year I was sent back to California only to be treated - yet again - like a recruit at Camp Horno. There was no library, no movie theater, a crummy little snack bar, and everything was either far away or off base in San Clemente or Oceanside, and, as many people have said on this site before, without a car, you're pretty much stuck. 

Examples of how awful it would be was that if I went to a vending machine for a can of soda there'd always be some Sgt asking me "where are you SUPPOSED TO BE?" as though his place of duty was at the vending area bothering people! Also, there were a lot of the guys in my platoon that used street drugs, especially marijuana, and even the very dangerous and psychosis-inducing PCP. In 1978 there was an epidemic of PCP use in southern California; some of them were on our bases.

Well, I finally received my honorable discharge after my enlistment and was pleased to get out of there and return home.

I'm not perfect in all this, but the drinking incident on Japan wasn't my biggest mistake. My biggest mistake was trusting the Marines' empty promises. I learned that you should never trust anyone who's trying hard to induce you to do something, and manipulating you into buying or joining something you're not sure entirely sure about. 

I'm telling you straight - don't make a mistake. It's a very long time when you sign up for years in the U.S. military. And it's permanent with NO WAY OUT once you're in. You had best talk to a veteran and really think TWICE first. 

And if anybody reads this and doesn't like it, as we say in Texas - I don't give a blind hoot if you DON'T like it.

It's 100% true, every word I typed.

Sincerely,


Former Lance Corporal Jefferson Lee Williams, Anti-Tank Assaultman, Weapons Platoon, Infantry. U.S.M.C. 1976- 1979

 

“Let’s Talk about Tradition” (Blood Stripes and Pinning)

By Chris Pascale.

For those who don’t know, pinning is the practice of stabbing a person with their chevrons or wings, which can be seen in this Dateline video. A blood stripe is a red strip of cloth that goes down a set of dress blue pants when a marine is an NCO or higher. When some LCpls are promoted to Cpl, the NCOs get together and give him a blood stripe, which I explain in the story below, but is briefly mentioned in comments 12 & 14 here.

These 4 stories are not the goriest among the Marine Corps. They are merely 4 times I witnessed something related to these ridiculous concepts.

Scene: Keesler AF Base, October, 2003

“Hey, Gatch,” a brand new PFC said to the marine I was walking with in the barracks, “I kept the backings off; pin me.”

At that, the LCpl who I’ll call Gatch, touched his collar to make sure he was telling the truth, then bottom-fisted the shit out of both chevrons into his shoulders with a sharp, thick thud bringing him to crumple halfway over at the pain.

I must had a look that said, ‘what the fuck?’ to which the new PFC said,

“I got promoted today.”

To PFC, which, like self-respect, is given, not earned

We don’t keep in touch.

Scene: Falluja, Iraq, July, 2005

Myself and Texray were promoted to Cpl. As the engineers came around to shake my hand my SSgt lightly touched the chevrons. I considered giving him permission to pin me. He was one of the finer marines I knew, and a good leader who’d encouraged me whereas the previous one sought to single me out. But I let the emotion of the moment pass, and he didn’t assume he had the right. It’s a Catch-22, really. The marine worthy of pinning you is often the one who wouldn’t. And the marines seeking respect allow themselves to be disrespected.

Hours later I was out on a mission with a recon platoon I was attached to in the back of a high back Humvee with a Sgt.

“I got promoted today,” I told him.

“To corporal?” he asked, sounding upbeat.

“Yeah.”

And then he punched me in the shoulder. Not getting a reaction he tried again, and then again.

“Nah, I’ll getchya later,” he said like he was a good-natured friend and not some jackass who didn’t understand the basic tenet of leverage – you can’t get it if you’re sitting on your ass.

We firmed up at some house in the city and since I wasn’t posted on one of the guns that hour I laid down to sleep. Off on the front porch I heard this Sgt jovially exclaiming,

“But it’s the blood stripe! He earned it. We can give it to him.”

What he was referring to was having me run through a 2-column gauntlet of marines who’d knee me in the sides of my legs as I attempted to run through them. The Sgt worked to make it seem like a fraternal-type thing that would make me one of them, and not as though he was a sadistic asshole who got joy in hurting others.

Aside from the lack of interest and presence of morals from the recon SSgts, my Platoon Sgt – the one who I’d have considered letting pin me – would have pulled all engineer support from the recon battalion, and they would have had to explain just why it was no roads were being cleared from midnight to 4:00 A.M., and no weapons caches were being uncovered any longer.

Scene: Camp Lejeune Field Exercise, June, 2006

We’d just come from a mock patrol through the forestry of Camp Lejeune in preparation for the deserts of Iraq, and then formed up. A Motor T marine was promoted to LCpl. Afterwards, our new company CO made the following speech:

“Isn’t this something; getting promoted in the middle of this hot shit out here. Welp,” he concluded, “I’ll leave you NCOs to congratulate your marine.”

At which he left, and a small minority of asshole NCOs, one of whom was nicknamed “The Weasel” because of all the slimy shit he was always involved in, were like, ‘yeah, we’re gonna congratulate you.’

Scene: French Creek Rec Center, Sept. 30, 2006

For unrelated reasons, I’d requested to leave that line unit, initially for another base, but settled for H&S Co.

The command was a good one, and I was lucky to be there. The company CO was a female Lt. A good marine who cared about her job and doing the right thing. Helping her was a female 1stSgt of whom I only have good things to say.

Lt. GoodMarine had us at the French Creek Rec Center and began talking about hazing. I didn’t recall any hazing in the unit, but maybe some directive was passed down.

“Why,” she began, “do you marines think that some think it’s okay to pin other marines?”

There was a silence. I was getting promoted to Sgt the next day. So far as I was concerned I’d earned it the year before in Falluja, for which no one present had been with me, meaning that no one rated to even consider pinning me.

Filling the brief silence, I said something about people not sticking up for themselves. I said this because when you’re stupid (and I was stupid) you think everyone has a share of the blame for fucked up things that happen. The CO thought it over, and must have seen something in the look of the Sgt next to me.

“Sergeant CrotchSmell,” she said. “What do you think?”

“You don’t want to know what I think,” he told her, as though what he had to say was so intense it would have made our little heads explode.

Fact was, Sgt CrotchSmell was an ASVAB-waiving Bulk Fuel tough guy with a very limited vocabulary, and a bit of a womanly swagger. He must have learned early and often that whatever it was he wanted to convey wouldn’t come off very well, so with every request to express himself he thickened the wall.

“I have something to say,” another Sgt spoke up.

“Go ahead.”

“We have traditions,” Sgt BrainCell said, stressing the word, “and when we don’t respect our traditions we lose them. This Corps has been around since seventeen-seventy-five, and it seems like these new marines want to leave the old traditions behind…”

He went on as though George Washington had personally slam-stabbed chevrons into the gangrened shoulders of every marine in the Revolution, and Samuel Nicholas was the first to say, ‘you know what, fellas? We should knee the shit out of that new corporal until he can’t walk! You know, for camaraderie.’

You get so used to hearing these canned speeches from insecure Sgts who spout them off when challenged that this idiotic rant didn’t even seem funny. He had the floor until a SSgt finally said,

“I’m sorry to interrupt, Lieutenant, but I was asked to get a head count. Raise your hand if you bought your tickets for the ball yet.”

Most hands stayed down.

“So you’re talking about traditions, but you’re not attending the birthday ball?”

Traditions

Sgt BrainCell was right. We can lose valuable traditions by not practicing them, and that’s because traditions are not inherent to our lives – they are simply something a culture adopts and disowns. I’m lucky not to have experienced any physical abuse in the Corps, but for those who do, it’s something they carry with them well after their time in. With all that we give to serve our country, it shouldn’t be.

And that’s all I have to say about that.