It’s time to check in again.
This purpose of today’s blog entry is to help others considering the Notice of Disagreement (NOD) process with the Department of Veterans Affairs. I understand I am not formally employed to help others with this process, so there are some caveats to my guidance. Please keep this information in mind as you consider your options on how to proceed with this process.
Like other veterans, my disability claims process with the VA has not been an easy.
Also like other veterans, I’ve tried using the assistance from DAV (Disabled American Veterans) to build my case, and found–in both instances I’ve worked with DAV–their coordination did not offer any anything I could not do through my own efforts. This latter reality is why in submitting my NOD, I did not reach back to DAV to help me assemble the personal narrative I provided to have the VA.
The best thing to help me navigate this process with the VA was using the research skills I developed during my first graduate program. I went back to the VA’s own publications to see how staff members are informed about their jobs so I could understand how to make my case that the issues I’ve dealt with stem from the circumstances of my first tour in Iraq. Different types of publications are available at va.gov. Since my concern is about an entitlement to pay for my medical care routine I looked at Compensation & Pension Materials.
It is important to recognize when using a website as a tool, there are always moving parts so anything I share might not be the correct hyperlink moving forward. Instead, searching by general terms is likely to be useful to get the most direct route to the information you seek.
I submitted my Notice of Disagreement back in November 2017, and the website now seems to package information differently from what I could recall from memory. What’s pretty great about what I found now is a section specific to the Adjudication Procedures manual available for review by year at VA Changes By Date. I think this data is important for anyone to peruse because it can be a substantial wait between when a claim is submitted and when the claims examinations occur.
In my case, particularly, the Notice of Disagreement was received by the VA on Nov. 15, 2017 and I received a letter dated August 1, 2018 informing me about the VA’s modernization efforts. The VA rolled out the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP) and the letter was an invitation to voluntarily opt-in.
In theory, it sounded good but tidbits from the letter made me hesitant to pull my NOD from the queue it was in to the new one for RAMP such as the following information, verbatim from the letter:
“The new law does not take effect until February 2019 at the earliest.”
And from the Fact Sheet provided with the letter was this not so little detail on “What It Means to Opt-In”:
“[Y]ou will have the ability to appeal to the Board if you determine that further review of VA’s decision is necessary. However, the Board will not process your appeal under the new streamlined process until no earlier than October 2018.”
Since it sounded like I could end up with a longer wait time by opting in to RAMP, I waited out the queue I started with, much like one might decide to stay in the checkout line one started with at the grocery store. It is what it is, and since there is no VA equivalent to the Domino’s Pizza Tracker (shown below for those who have never ordered Domino’s Pizza in the last few years or live in nations without Domino’s) I was largely in the dark about how things progressed.
It is important to note with a vets.gov account, you can “track” your claim but it is not robust in the fact you can see when your “order” was made and who made your “order” and things of that nature like you would with the Domino’s Pizza tracker.
Here’s what my account showed recently:
I am sharing this image to show the VA is taking steps to improve the process for veterans. This reality is good for all stakeholders involved, but it was truly a long wait.
- NOD was received by the VA on November 15, 2017
- Two claims examinations were set up June 13, 2019
- Here’s a really important step. I was not stuck with a new claims examination appointment with the VA. I was contacted by a company called QTC Medical Services, Inc.
- The goal was originally to set up my two claims appointments for the same day, which I could not manage with my work schedule.
- Here’s a really important step. I was not stuck with a new claims examination appointment with the VA. I was contacted by a company called QTC Medical Services, Inc.
- First claims appointment: June 21, 2019
- Second claims appointment: June 25, 2019
- Here’s another important change to the process. I was reimbursed travel expenses and this was made evident to me prior to my appointments.
- The rate of reimbursement was 41.5 per mile.
- My first appointment was only 9 miles from my home, but my second was 40 miles away.
- I was given a questionnaire specific to each claims examination to complete beforehand and brought that documentation with me to my appointment, plus a copy of medical records that only became available to me after I mailed in my Notice of Disagreement.
- After my appointments, I waited.
The tracker I reviewed for my appeal did not provide any updates regarding when the claims examiners submitted their feedback for the decision review officer. Some days I would log into the website to see if anything changed, but each day it didn’t I grew more nervous this wait would feel like forever. The little bit of hope that this step in the process would be different came from the little “disclaimer” of sorts listed in the image at the top of this post and shared again for greater emphasis:
Not going to lie, I marked my calendar. I waited out July and I waited out August. I took the VA at face value. Considering that my documentation sat around from November 15,2017 to June 13th, 2019 and during that time I dreaded the VA lost my paperwork, I didn’t know to believe what was posted on the website.
I checked my vets.gov account probably every other day looking for follow up. I started to worry the 10-26 months listed as the average processing time posted to my vets.gov account meant it took the decision review officer 10-26 months to make his or her decision on top of the time the paperwork had already been sitting in a national queue. And then one day, it happened. I opened my account during a quick break and found this little–although not helpful–blurb.
I was then stuck waiting on snail mail.
Why the VA doesn’t also include a copy of the letter to the vets.gov account is beyond me, but at least now I had something to go on. I wasn’t going to spend almost two years waiting for more feedback. It was either September 19th or 20th I believe when the letter finally arrived.
The Statement of Case was 21 pages, the bulk of it being the laws, regulations, and rating schedule provisions. To avoid clogging up this blog entry, you can go to Title 38 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Pensions, Bonuses and Veterans’ Relief.
Finally on page 19 of this packet was some information on what the VA found to be service connected and what was still denied followed by the VA’s reasons and bases for those decisions. The particulars of their decision are not as relevant as what I am about to say.
The decision I made to stopped seeking medical care while I was in the Marine Corps because it continued to be substandard in diagnosing my chest pains and the fact the first civilian doctor I saw in 2007 only put in notes about my visits without diagnosing their origin play a role in the VA not backdating my claim back to 2007 when I originally informed them of the problem.
I am fortunate, though, unlike many people that I found a medical provider who built up my trust again in the medical community. I met her in 2012, but it wasn’t until 2015 when we started going over my chest pains and over time, she learned more of my background and presented options to me to manage the reality of my situation.
From what I’ve learned both in dealing with the VA and understanding now how much easier things are when you have transparency and the ear of a helpful nurse practitioner is you are important. There is nothing more important than attending to your health. Your job doesn’t matter and your other responsibilities don’t matter if your health is not attended to and you ignore the signs and symptoms that something is wrong.
I know I should have complained more when I was at BAS (battalion aid station) and asked for a second opinion. Or I could have received other opinions after my EKG’s and chest x-rays demonstrated it was not my heart or lungs. We could have continued exploring for the cause and found a solution years earlier than we did.
The other feedback I have for anyone exploring the Notice of Disagreement process with the VA is to not expect the final result to be the solution to your problem(s).
The below listed compensation tables, copied directly from the VA’s website, show the significant variance in what the VA can pay for disability benefits for those found to have a service-connected issue.
Individuals can have conditions that get worse or improve over time, so it should not come as a shock the VA can reevaluate someone’s disability rating.
I know this entry is a bit longer than most, but I think transparency is key. The process for the Notice of Disagreement must serve veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs tasked with administrating the program, and the taxpayers that share in the burden. There is a significant amount of accountability needed with these benefits, just as any other program administration so I found it useful to scour the VA’s website for some data to show the scope of disability ratings, how they’ve changed over a few years, and what sort of breakdown there is by body system.
Just bear in mind as these numbers could give a false sense that an excessive number of people are leaving the military ‘broken’, the Department of Defense is the single largest employer in the United States and according to what I found at Governing in 2017 that meant 1.3 million active duty personnel and 800,000 from our reserve components. The numbers reflected here, instead, represent multiple eras of military service which should not be forgotten.
I am taking an unpopular stance on the recent memorandum regarding discharging federal student debt for permanently and totally disabled veterans, but hear me out. Like a number of other socially and politically motivated moves, there is in this case a lot of talk on the surface that does not get to the nuances of the situation. My view is informed partially by my work in higher education and my experience as a student who has used the Post-9/11 GI Bill at the 100% level and still made the decision at times to take out student loans without choosing to take on the maximum debt available to me.
To start with, there is no such thing as a perfect policy. It does not matter if we have a Republican president or a Democratic president. It does not matter the distribution of party influence throughout the different levels of our government. There is no policy that can serve the needs of people perfectly because there are rules in place to ensure a standard process for efficiency and ideally, to prevent abuse. Additionally, some people will be served at the expense of others who are excluded from the benefit. That’s just how it goes.
Before I proceed further, you can read the memorandum here.
I want to be transparent our society has not always given great deference to our nation’s veterans. Vietnam veterans know this all too well. There will be some merit to updating the student loan forgiveness policy currently in place, but I do not buy into this effort as something to honor our veterans.
Our society often offers incentives to veterans as a means to cure its own problems.
The incentives are then wrapped in language to appear that veterans are the primary recipients but there are a diverse amount of groups that are also served when veterans (and/or their families) receive benefits. The people who support such measures can help encourage their likelihood of being re-elected. Organizations can use forms of collaboration to cut costs. Different groups can use such measures to be viewed as more “veteran friendly” in comparison to similar public or private competitors. Even the history of VA education benefits started with a mission to help address the reality of unemployed veterans. Since our society has always had something to gain from the “feel good” nature of veteran programs and services, namely the economic output of veterans like other consumers, we should look critically at what is accomplished and also what we don’t intend to happen, but could happen with policy implementation.
Again, I want to reiterate there will be those in need who are properly served by updates to the Total and Permanent Disability Discharge, but the situation is ripe for possible abuse and must also be viewed in light of VA benefits to defray the cost of education.
This information from the Federal Student Aid’s website indicates eligible veterans have disabilities that are “100% disabling or that [veterans] are totally disabled based on an individual unemployability rating, that includes the effective date of the VA’s determination.”
A veteran can be 100% disabled for VA purposes but that does not mean he or she is unemployable, which is a significant quality I think this memorandum misses entirely.
It is not necessarily fair to provide the same benefit of student loan forgiveness to a veteran with a 100% disability rating that is employable when there are those 100% totally and permanently disabled veterans for whom work is not possible.
It is this distinction that irks me. And I’ll express my views a bit more to explain why this issue is something I think was grossly overlooked and may have been back when disabled veterans were included as an eligible group. (Perhaps, the website will be updated with more clear language but I think the 100% disabled veteran and the 100% totally and permanently disabled veteran will be treated the same moving forward as well.)
The above charts provide evidence our 100% disabled veterans receive an ample tax-free benefit designed to help them deal with their service-connected disability. Again, a disability (and disability rating) does not necessarily preclude veterans from being employable.
If I were to look at a family like mine with three family members, a veteran with his or her spouse and child receives $3,352.41 on a monthly basis. This family receives $40,228.92 annually, tax-free, and there is the possibility the family receives other forms of support, either earned by the veteran’s service (like a VA work study position), a civilian job occupied by the veteran, or by the spouse.
Many veterans are eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill and if they are eligible at the 100% level, their education benefits provide a significant incentive to not accrue student loans or to practice responsible borrowing.
Using Arizona State University as my example, having completed my Master’s there, let’s look at a few simple situations:
Spring 2019 (undergrad resident student, campus) $5,411
Fall 2019 (undergrad resident student, college fee 1–the cheapest programs) $5,669
The cost of this academic year is $11,080 covered completed by the Post-9/11 GI Bill. If we look at the Federal Aid max, a first year independent undergraduate can receive $9,500 in federal loans. Why take out the maximum federal loan when said student can take on work of some kind?
When I looked at the Federal Student Aid website, between four years of an undergraduate program, a student can take on $45,000. It might be easy to say that loan amount is needed for housing and other expenses, but again, the Post-9/11 GI Bill has other payments attached to it.
The basic allowance for housing varies across the nation for resident training but the Department of Defense rate, which started for student entering programs after 1/1/2018, is $1,680 for a full month of attendance at Arizona State University. If I recall correctly, there are between 113-115 days each for the spring and fall terms. The $1,680 BAH is divided by a 30 day month for $56 a day. If the term is 113 days, the student receives $6,328 and if the other term is 115 days, the student receives $6,440.
Plus the student receives a book stipend of up to $1,000 for 24 credits in the academic year.
Here’s a nice way to look at our 100% disabled (but completely employable) veteran:
$40,228.92 disability compensation
$12,768 basic allowance for housing
$1,000 annual book stipend
Total tax-free money cleared by student: $53,996.92
The rest of the money is paid to the school, but the $11,080 tuition and fees payment demonstrates the student does not need a student loan to pay for direct educational expenses unless the cost of books and supplies exceeds the book stipend, which it could. If anything, the student could have indirect educational expenses but he or she should modestly accept student loan debt instead of using the total and permanent discharge as a “get out of school debt” card because it is simply available. Other options are part-time or full-time work to pay for expenses not covered by VA educational benefits.
The VA also has another program called Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment. One of the tracks available helps pay for higher education which is what I am familiar with in my work. Like the Post-9/11 GI Bill, it pays tuition and fees to the school, the cost of books, and a subsistence allowance like the Post-9/11 BAH. Counselors sometimes pay for parking passes and consumable items, like paper and pens. It’s been a little while since I’ve dealt with this particular benefit on a daily basis, but the expectation is students must still provide valid support for incidentals.
Students can have either the traditional subsistence allowance for VocRehab which for a veteran and two dependents is $923.60 a month, falling back on my example of a family of three persons, or the alternative Post-9/11 rate for veterans who also earned the Post-9/11 GI Bill, paid at the same rate of the zip code of the school. In this situation the $1,680 monthly rate. I am not sure what percentage of VocRehab recipients in higher education are at the 100% disability rating, but I wanted to share this information for awareness purposes that our nation is already doing a commendable job setting veterans up for success without them having to seek the maximum student loan each year to fund their education.
I know I am barely grazing the surface of the issue, but I wanted to express why the matter of student loan forgiveness is not the same for a 100% disabled veteran with employability prospects as it is for the 100% permanently and totally disabled, unemployable veteran.
The first group can easily abuse the system set up to assist the disadvantaged and take out the maximum student loan amount each year, enjoying some $45,000 of fun money (from my example) with zero consequences unless a distinction is made moving forward that it is the 100% disabled, unemployable veteran community who should benefit from this collaboration and not both groups of 100% disabled veterans.
UPDATE (August 24, 2019, 5:42 p.m.)
I meant to include this snapshot earlier when I was looking for some info on VocRehab to share. SCDs stands for service connected disabilities. The jump in disability ratings is a bit staggering for the 60-100% disability rating scale and it does shows the burden on the VA to attend to this influx in disabilities increased significantly. I pulled the information from the VA’s website. It just took a little Googling here and there to scout for VocRehab information that might be relevant for today’s conversation.
I’m on Day 2 of my Staycation so it’s exciting to drop in for today’s June entry. I know I don’t relax well; I have a difficult relationship with leisure time. As much as I crave it, I also have my heart and brain tugging at me to make great use of my time. I am one of those people who has to learn to be ok with slowing down which is not something I’ve done much of as I’ve juggled full-time work and school. Funny story, but I’ve noticed that once I became eligible to work, I juggled more than one commitment.
My pattern of activity has differed over the years. I started working part-time in high school, holding down that job for two years. I also partially committed to sports, completing two seasons of track and one season of cross county. I only made it through one semester of college before picking up a student worker position. During my Marine Corps career, I occasionally picked up college classes, paying for them with DoD tuition assistance. A return to college after separating from the Marine Corps also meant a return to part-time work. I did not find a decent paying position when we moved to Wyoming so I committed solely to my undergraduate studies until we decided to have our daughter and then I juggled parenthood and collegiate studies until my May 2012 graduation. The short “break” in excess commitments ended in 2014 when I returned to school as a graduate student while working full-time. I graduated May 2016 but I picked up another graduate program October 2017, again while working full-time.
Big sigh here. I am my own worst enemy about overcommitting myself to projects.
It’s a big part of why I’ve taken a break from my memoir writing and my blog writing. I’ve needed to rest to see how far I’ve come in my journey and to reflect on the right things, instead of the things that have been difficult. I want to present you all with my best self and to do so means slowing down. I have to be ok with not getting the draft of my memoir finished this year (or realizing I am still capable of getting it done once my degree program is finished). It’s not a paid project, yet, so I should not beat myself up for taking my time with what is to be my longest writing endeavor.
Getting back on track with today’s lesson, I am here to talk about developing a sense of home. I’ve been blessed to live in many different areas, some domestic and some places overseas. In each instance, I had a family arrangement composed of biological and non-biological relations which also includes friends. When I was overseas, I remained connected to my domestic group using snail mail, e-mails, and MySpace. 2007 was the last time I was overseas, but I still use technology to keep in touch with my domestic group, favoring Instagram and Facebook, and my overseas connections. (I’m pretty certain I also stopped using MySpace in late 2007 and started Facebook some time in 2008; I’m pretty late to using Instagram, only creating an account in 2016!).
With my journeys, I’ve developed an eclectic home with my husband and daughter. It is part California and Rhode Island. Ocean blues dominate in many different areas: furniture, clothing, and towels, for example. The touches are not nautical themed, but we do have some ocean artwork in our residence. My coastal life and regional upbringing are more present in my food preferences. Meals at home have included shrimp, scallops, clams and oysters, a variety of fish, langoustine, Mexican chorizo and Gaspar’s chourico. It’s hard to think of a pasta I don’t enjoy; I can, instead, list my preferences for you. A love of travel also influences our decor, food choices, and down the road, our tile choices for our dream home. I’ve shared a few things below I’ve found through Instagram and love.
I know this entry is quite different from many that focus on my time in the Marine Corps and my service in Iraq. Today is the anniversary of my mother’s death and I wanted to reflect on the adult I’ve become because I moved away from home, the place she grew up. Rhode Island is beautiful in many ways, but there’s always this part of me that felt it wasn’t where I was meant to stay. It is, though, a place I return to and I appreciate it greatly when I am there.
My home is different from the home she created for our family. Her home was eclectic, too, in a different way. While these family photos show our family members front and center, please also pay attention to the decor style. Each of us come into our own by our upbringing, resources, and societal influences during our life course. My mother was someone who was not only a care taker of her children, but someone with a green thumb she did not pass along. The array of indoor plants she kept is not something I’ve mastered in my own life. We can barely manage cut flowers and I’ve only recently nurtured my daughter’s $7.99 orchid from Trader Joe’s, mostly because that thing only needs 2 Tablespoons of water once a week. My mother’s home reflected a country influence with an interesting love of Chinese white and blue ceramics and black lacquer screens. She liked floral print fabric place mats and could sew curtains for our home.
When we lived in our Chula Vista, California townhome with its patio (probably the same size of slightly smaller than my current one), our home was filled with some trending home decor items of the 1980’s and 1990’s. We had woven wood bowls similar to these and oversized wooden utensils for wall decor. She had these macrame style owls on our walls and our childhood birthday parties lacked the overdone party themes present in today’s childhood parties to make them Instagram worthy. She was not a person who lived being photographed so it’s hard to find photos of her and also photos of our past homes to show off her design choices.
She was a simple woman in her preferences and style. She loved to read. Aside from V.C. Andrews novels and true crime books, she would regularly pick up gossip magazines. She dressed pretty casually for the most part but also had some dress clothes, particularly for going out with her girlfriends. I never adopted her love of going out dancing with friends, but she helped to build my love of reading. Her book collection was not off limits to us and she is also the reason I had quite a love affair for Pier 1 Imports for many years.
It’s fun to think of what her thoughts would be on my adult home that is so vastly different and also similar to her own and the plans for which are more global than local in inspiration. We both have been drawn to blue in our homes, with a wedge wood blue once dominating her kitchen cabinets whereas we’ve chosen Behr’s Dawn Gray (a dramatic dark blue in natural light that appears gray at other times) for different parts of our current home. Our family garage in our Imperial Beach home served as her exercise/home office and our home is littered in different areas with weight plates and other exercise equipment. I’ve replaced her Tony Robbins cassette tapes with a series of self-improvement and writing reference books. In lieu of her Asian inspired home decor and wooden wall art, my family’s first home features various wooden furniture and someday our forever home will feature geometric Middle East inspired tile. I am not as fond of floral prints and plant maintenance but I am not opposed to some cacti and succulents for greenery in our outdoor space. These low maintenance plants are well-suited to my poor nurturing skills and the needs of our local environment.
And to end on a real light note, I am not sure what my mom would think of my vegan and vegetarian food choices. As a mother of four, she had more practical choices to make with her limited food budget. I think she would have been hesitant to try things like tofu, jackfruit, almond coconut milk, and vegan cheeses. While I am not happy when we have food waste, I also recognize it’s good for my family to try new things like these items so I test out food recipes–even vegan and vegetarian options to encourage more fruit and vegetable consumption in my household–more than I think I ever saw my mother do during my upbringing. (Side note: We aren’t strong fans of vegan cheese but we do like the vegan ice cream options we’ve had in the past.) I know in making these comparisons, too, there will never be a complete “apples to apples” comparison with my mother’s choices as so much as changed in society from 1984 when I was born to 2000 when she passed and where things are now in 2019. It’s still fun though to think of what these stories mean for our family. As I’ve learned, our sense of ‘home’ is uniquely created and something we continue to develop over our lifetimes which impact not only us but the people we bring into this space.
Good morning, everyone.
April kicked me a lot so I wanted to drop in to say hello. I know I am not the only one who faces setbacks or hits a rough patch in life and as much as I share motivating things, I want to be honest I don’t have perfect days either. I’ve talked a lot less about those as my writing has progressed, but it has been a journey to be confident in the face of setbacks and disappointments.
Year after year, I’ve worked on finding self-confidence. I admired more confident peers in high school and when I went to Florida Southern College, one of my goals was, “To be more confident.” Even during my career as a Marine, I didn’t feel confident in my abilities. One of my best achievements was beating the perfect run time (as a woman) for the 3-mile run section of the physical fitness test; the perfect time was 21 minutes and I ran that test–and the only time I managed to do so–with a run time of 20 minutes and 15 seconds. I had been a good runner in high school but never managed to be a top performer in my track event or cross country, but I wasn’t as content with my perfect Marine Corps run time for as long as I hoped I would be. Instead, I beat my self up for being a poor performer in the other Marine Corps skills areas, like the fact I was never able to improve my marksmanship skills from marksman to sharp shooter. In my current role as grad student, I get nervous each week I have a paper due because I want to do exceptionally well. I still find it hard to feel like I will succeed on that weekly assignment although I completed my first grad program with a 3.96 GPA and I have a 3.95 in my current program.
My nagging insecurity is why I reach out for self-improvement/reference materials and look for new tools to accomplish what seems insurmountable or to carve out a different routine because I know no one else can cure me of bad habits.
Oddly enough, as much as social media gets a bad wrap, I constantly find motivational sentiments on Instagram that I hoard in collections on my profile. I love knowing other souls want to spread good messages out into the world and it doesn’t matter that we may never meet. The things people choose to share reveal a lot about them, whether we are talking about filtered or unfiltered content. This reality is something that speaks me, particularly as I come to the conclusion of my current class and I’ve spent this last week sitting down with the idea that knowledge is a global public good.
On an individual and global level, we all experience some traumatic or discomforting events in our lifetimes that alter our worldview. We might become more timid, angry, disillusioned, or ambitious as a result of these circumstances or the people that bring these events to our lives. I know, for me, one of the biggest problems has been letting go of failures and failed personal connections. I do not like when I’ve faced rejection in the workplace or people who treat me like what I ask from them is too much. I am the person who—although it’s taken me years–jumps in with both feet. I have struggled to find my voice and to use it. Now that I am more confident in my abilities, I am more open in what I share and to the audience(s) I share my thoughts.
Shedding the insecurities that harm my self-confidence has not been easy.
It’s taken a lot to realize people who treat me poorly or who cannot compromise do not reflect my self-worth. Everyone has his or her own hangups that can hinder their ability to live an awesome life or to treat others with the utmost respect deserving of their person. My ventures into graduate school in 2014 and again in 2017 have taught me I do not want to compromise on my goals or lifestyle to make others feel more secure in who they are. I do not want their negative comments to creep into my mind and make me feel unworthy. I also do not want any rejection I’ve ever faced to keep me from self-improvement. When I lost out on job opportunity after job opportunity in 2012, I felt no one would ever hire me or if so, it would almost be a fluke. That thought process did a great disservice to my efforts to earn dual Bachelor’s degrees and to perform well on all the jobs I had done up until that point in my life. I should not be my worst critic and I say the same thing to you.
Whatever bad things you say to yourself internally or aloud are things you need to stop repeating.
Yes, there are a lot of things outside of our control, but there are many more things we can control that we do not give ourselves credit for and which we should. Each day we wake up represents a fresh opportunity. We can get in better shape. We can attempt a new hobby. We can seek out new income earning opportunities or accrue more responsibilities within our organizations or communities because we desire for these areas to be more appealing. We can add loved ones to our families or add friends–true companions, not superficial relations–to our support network.
This blog–and the time I’ve invested in it–represents a bigger change to who I am as a person than I expected it would when I took the baby steps into writing for a public audience; it’s shown me how I’ve been developing personal confidence over nearly a five-year period. It shown me what I can accomplish by reaffirming I am worth continual investment and I should ignore anyone who naysays my personal projects. It’s shown me I can learn from tragedy and rejection. It’s shown me I am an educator although I do not wear the professional title. It’s reminded me, more importantly, I must nourish who I am before I can serve others. In this last way, I’ve also learned there are times when I must cut back on my writing commitments. I used to feel so guilty about not being a consistent blogger but I am more confident now less posts but more substantial posts speak more to who I am and what I find meaningful.
In referencing writing, I didn’t have the heart this past month to contribute significantly to my Iraq memoir. The month become a period of personal reflection and I’ve had to remind myself to be grateful for the things that did not pan out. These realities gave me life lessons of what not to accept in my life and brought other people into my life I would not have otherwise known. I’ve met so many people who accept me, quirks and I, and who respect the pace with which I tackle personal and professional goals. I have also grown in confidence because I learned I was standing in my own way. I learned, day by day, I could stop harming my own progress and this past month was a reminder I’ve gone through this process more than once. Each time I start to let doubt creep in, I can also kick it right back out the door.
April may have been a disappointment but I have many more days, months, and years ahead to shake it off. I also have the power to appreciate today for what it is and who I am in this moment.
See you next month, and stay motivated!
I wanted to share some thoughts on a podcast I recently listened to because it’s on the issue of money. I listened to it maybe a week or two ago and it was hard to imagine not sharing it. (In fact, I’ve already shared it with a friend and felt more people could benefit from it.) Although the intended audience for this episode is service members and there’s guidance for veterans, too, I think the message can be encouraging for everyone to work on building their personal savings or just check out any of their other episodes for inspiration.
I want to share everything is my own viewpoint. I am not writing on behalf of anyone I’m discussing today. I am also not writing in any way related to my employer since some things I want to share are related to the higher education industry. I do not receive any financial gain from anyone, but I found these tools useful for my purpose and I feel others might as well.
Current readers know I’ve made some poor money decisions, been unemployed, and found having the Post-9/11 GI Bill, earned through my military service, has changed my life. Some have also read my thoughts on using Dave Ramsey’s baby steps to improve my financial situation. This entry is along that same vine. More recently, I’ve picked up other tools for my financial toolbox: podcasts and a new budget book.
I didn’t imagine I would get into listening to podcasts. I’m not entirely sure why because my mom used to listen to motivational tapes when she drove my sisters and I to school. I think I thought they weren’t something I needed. Mostly, I listen to music at work but a coworker mentioned listening to podcasts and by chance one day, I found out some of Refinery 29’s Money Diaries are available on podcasts. I know it shouldn’t be that exciting to me, but reviewing some of these money diaries where these women (and sometimes their partners, too) make substantially more money than I do is a form of social education. Money shouldn’t be a social taboo to talk about because we have the ability to harness our money better and we haven’t always been taught how to make those decisions. I have listened to other ChooseFI episodes, Millennial Money, and Bigger Pockets Money, which from one of their episodes is being rebranded Wider Pockets.
I am certainly one of those people who was a bit late to making informed decisions about money. My friends, Jacquie and Ken, introduced my husband and I to Financial Peace University and it was the first step in the right direction. Our daughters are a month apart in age and by learning of their money story, we were free to say, “Hey, this is my money hurdle right now.” We had carried some serious debt with us from our time in California and took a money hit when we moved to Wyoming. I think this is the first time I ever truly discussed money with my friends and to be honest, it wasn’t easy. Their support was an important stepping stone and they are still great friends to this day. I wish I kept better notes when we were doing FPU but we managed a $9,585.10 turnaround in 91 days by exhibiting some discipline. We started the program January 2011 and by the end, we saved $1,839 and paid off $7,746.10.
This podcast episode is something I could have used during my four-year Marine Corps career. My career was a missed opportunity to save like crazy since we were just a family of two and before then, I made the decision to not commingle my money while dating. I just wasted my money on stuff like clothes, a computer, snack foods, and dining out. The only responsible thing I did was pay off my student loans. I know the opportunity to save like crazy is still available here and now, but it will look different. I don’t have free health care and dental as I did in the Marine Corps. I don’t have a housing allowance like I did on active duty. I don’t have any GI Bill benefits remaining. The awesome thing though is I am in a great position to earn more money as my career progresses and soon enough we’ll have a second income again.
I won’t completely unpack the episode from ChooseFI because I think that does a disservice to other listeners, the hosts, and the interviewee, Military Dollar, but there is an observation I have from personal experience. The implementation of the Forever GI Bill and the removal of the delimiting date–opens up a great window of opportunity for Post-/911 GI Bill students. (Note: The delimiting date is still applicable to certain recipients, but if you’re interested in learning more, check out the VA’s website.)
As a veteran who has used Chapter 33 benefits, I think the removal of the delimiting date will help cut down on the number of veterans and eligible family members who feel pushed into school before they are ready for higher education. I think if people feel more comfortable taking their time and understanding their personal and professional interests, they will–by and large–make more informed decisions about their schooling and perform better academically rather than flunking out and exhausting benefits before earning a degree.
The other gain I see is the ability for veterans and eligible family members to conserve their entitlement for graduate programs. Some of what I’ve heard in listening to money podcasts is community college as a “life hack” and while I wouldn’t call it a life hack, I do agree it’s a smart investment. Community college is a cost-effective measure to reduce the expenses. (I’ve done it so I’m not just spitting out words here.)
Saving Chapter 33 benefits would be another “life hack” if we want to call it that for the purpose of today’s discussion. When I completed my undergraduate studies, I did not imagine I would ever attend grad school but that door opened up for me. Knowing this information now and as I complete my second graduate program, I love encouraging others to make more fiscally responsible decisions in regards to their education. Although I am no longer an Arizona State University student, I want to use their tuition and fees structure to make my point about maximizing the Post-9/11 GI Bill; that’s where I got my first graduate degree from and just to clarify, this discussion does not translate equally to private institutions as the VA has a tuition cap per academic year for private and foreign schools. Starting August 1, 2019, the tuition cap is $24,476.79 and if you’re interested in more info on VA education rates check out va.gov.
In this situation, we will imagine a veteran student who is at 100% with 36 months and 0 days remaining (i.e. a student starting fresh in his or her program.) This situation also assumes a student certifies for full enrollment each term. For simplicity purposes, I’m acting as though no other forms of financial aid are being utilized.
- The student would receive book stipend up to 24 credits in an academic year ($1,000).
- The student would receive the Department of Defense rate for housing allowance; ASU’s rate is $1,602 a month for a full month of attendance. (Eligible students using this benefit before 1/1/2018 had a higher BAH rate. Partial months of attendance are pro-rated.)
- The student would receive tuition and fees covered to the highest in-state rate.
The undergraduate example uses Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering programs at the Tempe campus:
Here’s the Law program information:
It doesn’t take much to look at the cost of the law school tuition and fees to see why–for most students–if they can, they should reserve an appropriate level of benefits for their most expensive program. In most cases, that’s likely to be for grad and professional degree programs. A traditional term is sixteen weeks, so we’re talking approximately 4 months of entitlement per semester. A three-year program, like the JD program, uses approximately 24 months of benefits leaving the student the opportunity to have 12 months beforehand at the undergraduate level program.
I want to take a moment again to compare the fact the VA can pay the tuition and fees for this student at the JD level for ASU, a state school, although the total expense exceeds the tuition cap for private schools of $24,476.79 regardless of undergraduate or graduate program of study.
It’s just some food for thought I wanted to share given the fact if we had found ourselves in a better financial situation when my husband returned to school in 2012, we also would have been benefitted in the long run to conserve benefits for his law school program.
Non-veterans could find something similar with employers who offer tuition reimbursement. They wouldn’t get the benefit of a book stipend and housing allowance like what’s attached to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, but it’s a good place to start to avoid accruing student loans or to reduce the overall portion of student debt.
The other tool I started using recently is a new budget tool.
We are only a few months short of us returning to being a dual income family and I want to just kill it on tackling debt, building savings, and contributing to our retirement. I like the teachings of Dave Ramsey but I am interested in changing things up a little to suit us better. I like the concept of the zero based budget Dave preaches but I didn’t like all the categories of the FPU budget so that’s why this book is particularly appealing to me.
Once we both are working, my goal is to maintain our monthly budget at our current spending. The big change for us is holding off on buying a new house so we can have a yard instead of an 11 by 17 patio. While we’ve wanted a more suitable home space for entertaining, it’s logical to stay put so we can snowball our debts sooner. We are also fortunate the home we own is in good shape and we have some equity in it which will allow us a cushion leftover post-sale. I also think if we avoiding falling back into over consuming, we can enjoy our careers more. With this goal in mind, we will take some inspiration from the intense focus in the FIRE movement. We’ve discussed not fully embracing FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) but we are onboard with being more intentional with our money. I found it interesting to learn the opposite of the debt snowball (starting smallest debt to largest) is the debt avalanche (starting with highest interest down to smallest) and as I explain below, our option is to pick a middle ground between the two. It’s clear the new budget tool/FIRE inspiration/Dave Ramsey Baby Steps as a combo is worth testing out to see how we like it.
This past month, I noticed we fell back into overspending on dining out. I think taking the idea of “money envelopes” again from Dave Ramsey is important for this budget category as it is our Achilles heel. We did do better in other categories like spending on gas and grocery shopping. I am being more intentional buying meat on sale and relying less on recipes. It’s easy to cut back at least $20 a week by reducing meat consumption and by using less recipes, we are cutting down on food waste. Thankfully, we all also like simple entertainment on a regular basis like being outdoors and riding our bikes, walking around the neighborhood, and watching shows. This lifestyle keeps our entertainment budget low without feeling like we’re deprived. Our longterm goal of serious travel will be something to save up for, but we’ll make our first trip happen in the next few years.
The last thing I wanted to talk about today is another deviation we’re taking away from the baby steps in FPU. This is my middle ground between the debt snowball and the debt avalanche. Baby Step 2 is to “Pay Off All Debt (Except the House).” We owe less on our house than we will for my husband’s education so we’re switching these around. I’m not sure how other people might feel about it, but especially after the housing market crash, it’s better to pay off the house first in our opinion than those loans. It’s not like the law degree could be taken away due to failure to pay but according to Business Insider, nearly 10 million lost their homes due to foreclosure during the housing market crisis. I’d rather have a paid off roof off my head and those student loans sticking around a bit longer, so that’s the plan.
If you’re not familiar with Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Steps, here they are:
- Save $1,000 for your emergency fund.
- Pay off all debt (except for the house) using the debt snowball.
- Fully fund your emergency fund (3-6 months of expenses).
- Invest 15% towards retirement.
- Save for the kiddos’ college. (If you don’t want to have kiddos, let’s move on to step 6.)
- Pay off your home early. (Don’t want to own a home. Let’s move on to step 7.)
- Build wealth and give.
Thanks again for dropping by. I’ll check in with you all again in May.
I grew up watching “Full House” with my family and honestly, it’s hilarious that famous parents like Lori Loughlin (aka Aunt Becky from “Full House” for those too young to have seen the show when it was on air) wasted enormous sums of money paying bribes to get their kids into colleges. I wanted to drop in last week to share my thoughts on the matter but my second class of the year started up and I got busy. Today marks the end of week one so I have a few moments to check in and say hi.
I’m enjoying (like many other Americans around the nation) seeing their endeavors now blow up in their faces. As a parent, I couldn’t imagine trying to use a back door or a side door to get my kid into college. That action would fly in the face of everything else I tell her to show sincere effort to become successful.
It’s embarrassing the amount of effort being spent on getting kids into college, some that clearly don’t need to be there because either 1) it’s not their desire to be there or 2) they are not academically ready for collegiate settings to get in on their own merit or 3) it is absolutely not necessary for their career ambitions. Taylor Swift is a good example of someone who is widely successful without needing a college degree. It doesn’t matter if you like her or hate her, she has a good reputation (Trust me, I’m not paying a nod to her last album.) of putting in the work needed to become a success. She applied herself consistently to her craft and over time used one successful move to build the platform needed for her next move.
I felt drawn to writing on this college admissions scandal, something a bit outside what I’d normally write about, because I am a first generation college student from a middle class family, and if I can get into college, these over privileged kids could have found a legitimate way to do it as well.
It is my hope my sentiments are not diminished by the fact I choose not to apply to any of the colleges named in this admissions scandal. There was only one school of interest to me while I was in high school and that was Florida Southern College. It was the only school I applied to and I was accepted, attending for an entire year before leaving to become a United States Marine. Upon return to college as a working adult when I separated from the Marine Corps, it was quite necessary to select a college from those in my surrounding area. I am ok with that reality and NPR came out with a great article titled “Does It Matter Where You Go to College? Some Context for The Admissions Scandal” if you want a more professional opinion on school choice than what I can provide, but here’s some food for thought.
It takes a desire to be successful.
It also takes patience to know success is not a straight line trajectory and a college degree WILL NOT always open doors you think it will.
I’ve worked in higher education since October 2013 and it might frustrate some parents to hear you shouldn’t push your kid into college, but I’m saying it now. If your kid is getting “F’s” left and right because he or she doesn’t want to go to class, don’t push him or her into a collegiate environment. It’s a crappy thing for all the other students who actually want to be there to have that slot taken up by your child. Let them leave and return when they are ready. Let them leave and never return, if that’s the path your kid needs to take to become successful in his or her interests. I am sharing my story as a reminder sometimes the unconventional re-entry into school matters and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s ok.
I was a perfectly average kid in high school. Even though I lost my mom the end of my sophomore year to her battle with lung cancer, I graduated with a 3.75 GPA. I went to Florida Southern College, a school I loved, for one academic year before it sunk in that at that point in my life, I didn’t need to be in school. I took some subjects seriously and others not as much as I should. I was distracted by a lot of things in my life and it was better to leave than end up knee deep in student loan debt while I figured things out. The Marine Corps was mostly the right choice for my next move in life. I don’t recommend military service unless you look at it holistically because sacrifice to serve is multi-faceted. There are many gains as well, but I’ve covered those matters a lot. I will be brief today on what I gained financially.
My access to the Montgomery GI Bill made it easy to know I could afford college after my four year enlistment ended. I returned to the classroom because I was ready to be back in school. I knew I would be subsisting on ‘jobs’ instead of a career if I did not complete a bachelor’s degree.
The good thing is I had a ten year window in which to use said benefit so I didn’t need to enroll right away. It just worked for my goals at the time.
When I later graduated with two Bachelor’s degrees from the University of Wyoming, my GPA was a 3.0. I did well in classes I liked and when I didn’t do well, I can tell you I didn’t apply myself to my fullest capabilities. (Notice a trend from earlier?!)
Obtaining a full-time position after graduation was more of a struggle because the economy sucked in 2012 and I moved from Wyoming to Arizona. I felt it was difficult to stand out as an out-of-state candidate when other college graduates attended schools in-state and employers recognize what they are getting from one school versus an unknown school. This reality did not lead me to fail. Instead, I had to try harder. Here’s that issue of ‘merit’ coming back into play.
I showed my employer I could quickly become one of the most skilled persons in our office and I am not a slouch; I continued to broaden my skills so I could handle nearly any task assigned to me. I like people to associate my name with quality work. I also took up a graduate program with my second employer after completing my undergraduate degree so it was interesting to take those of those lessons and use them to serve my students.
I will also be honest in saying as much as I love my first graduate degree and what I was able to learn from that experience but when it came to seeking a new employment opportunity, I was losing out to candidates with graduate degrees in business, counseling, and education. My second graduate degree in public administration is more practical than my first in social and cultural pedagogy but I do not consider my educational experiences as a loss. My first program was mostly funded by the bulk of my Post-9/11 GI Bill and a tuition waiver.
My first degree has been invaluable in helping me understand my military service, systemic problems in military communities and services for veterans, and many other things. I could not write the memoir I am writing today about my first tour in Iraq if I had not completed this graduate program and dealt with the professors who encouraged me to unpack my military experiences. I am also a better communicator with friends and family about my service and where I want to go from here. I have also used that time to grow this blog. I do not profit from my blog like other bloggers may do as it was not my intent to monetize my blog.
I will be interested to see how this college admissions scandal moves forward, but I will reiterate please do not send your kids to college if they don’t want to go.
I have another article for you to read as well because it’s a lot of fun. It was shared with me last week. Emily Petrarca’s Imagine Committing Fraud for a Kid and Then She Just Starts Vlogging speaks as well to the influencer culture going on nowadays. Perhaps the issue will spark another little documentary about the problematic side of influencer culture like Netflix’s Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened.
While we’re having a little fun laughing at the situation, please enjoy these photos.
I took a break recently from memoir writing. It wasn’t entirely planned but I’m in a class that’s more difficult than I expected so the easiest thing to take off my plate was extra screen time. My eyeballs are pretty tired nearly every day from work and school work that places me behind a computer.
Life has calmed down a bit after the New Year’s fireworks, but I am still learning to navigate life–and triggers–here with an eye on building supports along the way. I am not sure if you’re familiar with the idea of instructional scaffolding but this approach has become evident in how the trajectory of my post-deployment care routine and coping has changed over the years.
As resistant as I was to the idea of having others’ support along the way, it has helped me manage chest pains related to anxiety and work out a better routine while working, going to school, and trying to maintain a social life. The more I’ve been able to identify things that bother me, the better I am at minimizing the stress these things add to my life.
I realize my life, particularly after leaving the Marine Corps, has included seasons of repair and growth worth discussing today.
2007 and 2008 were probably more reparative years than seasons of growth. I left the Marine Corps in July of 2007 so I wasn’t completely cognizant some of my Marine Corps habits weren’t helping me on my way back into civilian life. I joked recently with extended family about the competitive nature of drinking in the Marine Corps, but that’s a good example of unproductive habits. I also harbored a deep resentment of medical professionals given my lackluster visits with medical while serving. I did not have a proper diagnosis regarding my chest pains and I was not confident in the civilian professional who concluded stress played a role in their presence.
2009 to 2012 were significant years of personal growth. As I stepped away–not entirely willingly–from employment, I had the opportunity to build my life in other ways. I mostly lost access to my military community because we were not located near a Marine Corps base and I kept in touch with friends via Facebook. It was a good time period to be surrounded by friends in similar life phases as mothers, college students, and future mothers. While I was pretty vulnerable living in an area not surrounded by my own family, I found my footing in the classroom and learning to serve others by building my culinary skills and using this gifts to build my community. Food culture is a means to gather and learn from each other and honestly, I’ve learned a lot about myself because I’ve failed more in my culinary pursuits than I have in an academic classroom setting. I was blessed my friends were willing to try my new creations and many of those friends are still part of my extended family today.
2013 was a difficult year for me. Nothing seemed to be going right for me and I was pretty bitter my first year out of college did not produce the opportunities I expected it would. I was naive to think holding two bachelor’s degrees would serve as an insulating layer against life’s problems. The year did pick up as I found a role working with veteran students and it invigorated me. I also managed to start improving some personal relationships which restored my confidence.
2014 was the start of a significant transformation in my life on a financial and educational level since I returned to academic, entering my first graduate program and utilizing the Post-9/11 GI Bill® that helped reduce the burden employment had placed on my family.
2015 became another season of repair for a myriad of reasons. Ten years after my first deployment, this year brought on a lot of the same personal challenges I felt after my first tour in Iraq and coincided with the city of Ramadi being taken over ISIS. I was–and am fortunate-my support circle stuck by me. I had the chance to see I don’t have as many “fair weather friends” in my life that I encountered with some people back in my Marine Corps days. I recognize not everyone wants to handle the stress of Marine Corps life–friendship or otherwise–and it’s easy to see the same struggle in the veteran community. Some people walk away and never return. The people who stuck by me the most this year have helped make the years since some of my most productive.
2016 proved to be a strong year for me (for the most part) as I completed my graduate applied project and learned more about my deployment than I ever expected I would. I am not saying it was an easy endeavor as it brought a lot of personal issues to the surface, but I found strength I didn’t know I had. The first six months of this year were exceptionally tough as I figured out a new area in my life after losing a friend in November 2015.
2017 and 2018 were both years where repairing my life and growing from adversity occurred. I made the decision to stay in higher education for my professional career but moved from being student-facing to a behind-the-scenes capacity. This change in work environment allowed me the breathing room I needed and the autonomy I wanted in this particular role. Working from home has provided an unplanned bonus when we faced a series of unexpected and expected veterinary expenses with the added burden of dogs convalescing from surgeries.
My entry back into higher education with the pursuit of a Master of Public Administration is a blessing and a burden at times for the additional demands it adds to my weekly routine with the additional benefit coming at the completion of the program.
To juggle the demands over the last few years, I’ve coordinated more with non family members to mitigate stress in my life, particularly those episodes that increase the chest pains I experience.
While I started working with a great nurse practitioner back in 2012, we only started working on a plan in 2016 to combat the chest pains. I was pretty fortunate to coordinate with her through last year until her and her family moved out-of-state. Another civilian care provider has helped me think about my deployment in new ways that has not only aided me in school but helped me cope more productively with the regular fireworks seasons in our area. Her insights have also helped me think of how to share my deployment experiences with others. The fireworks notifications from the local fireworks company that runs most of the public displays were pretty regular until my point-of-contact left.
The reality is I am a veteran who has had more coordination with non-VA resources with the exception of VetSuccess on Campus at ASU than regular support from the VA. The trajectory of the situation has meant finding other educators to determine why my post-deployment health issues exist and how to deal more effectively with them. With the initial involvement of these persons in my life, I have also learned how to advocate for my own needs, including updating my disagreement with the VA’s decision. (“Funny” story by the way, the VA’s website states it takes approximately 12-18 months for a Notice of Disagreement decision but when I logged into my account yesterday, the internal site indicated it takes approximately 13-30 months.)
I am fortunate with the tools I’ve been given and the people who serve as coaches and support crew to get to the point where I am in my life. The last few years I’ve found a good plan of action to help reduce the frequency and severity of chest pains. This pathway was something I was initially against but the patience of my former nurse practitioner changed my opinion. She was quite patient and willing to let me slowly check out my options because I have not always felt confident with medical professionals I’ve dealt with previously. I’ve been asked about my deployment and why it strikes a sense of duty in my work now and been reminded I am not responsible for things outside my control. This avenue has been important because it helps me identify when I start to experience a panic attack in anticipation of or during fireworks. With the inconsistent fireworks notifications this past year, I am also more willing to reach out to others to avoid future surprises.
In high school, my mother left me a journal sharing her insights that she saw I was like her in having trouble relying on others. She mentioned that “we all need a helping hand once in a while” and for me to work on my self-confidence. So this entry is me sharing that same message to you all. Our lives are full of good seasons and bad seasons. My mom told me confidence would take me to places I never imagined.
Let my mom’s words help you out today:
“God has you here for a reason, everything has a purpose good or bad.”
Look at your seasons and the people who cross your path. There’s a reason for them to be there.
Writing a memoir continues to be a top priority for me. As we enter 2019, I want to inform you my first draft should be finished this year.
Up until recently, I worked through my writing sessions using single spacing and finally caved in this past Thursday to make it double spaced. As a result, I am sitting at 130 pages with my last writing session. It might sound weird but it was easier for me to start when I wrote with the single spacing. I found it easier to identify patterns in my writing I wanted to keep and where certain sections needed greater emphasis on conversation or building the scene. As a young writer, I must admit I don’t have a clue about how to get the final result published but that’s a concern for down the road after I edit a few drafts for content and final formatting.
The writing process is not always easy and I made it more difficult in my choice of subject. This book covers war in a different light and I am working to be fair in my observations but honest in my viewpoints. There are a lot of things that don’t deserve a word on the page and would be an absolute waste of readers’ time and my effort. I also encounter some difficulty in how I present people and conflict. A number of the authors I’ve been reading make it known overtly in their guidance or subtly in what they share that memoir is not the place for certain behaviors. It is an absolute lie to craft a version of the past to make the narrator look better and/or to use this medium as a way to get back at people. For this reason when I present a situation where I felt hurt, I am more selective in what I share and think through why I shared that information.
Writing responsibly is important. I am using different resources to see how I can remain accountable while also being creative. I don’t have the same leeway (in my opinion) to write this book the way I do my blog. I have situations where I must show off other people to explain what I was going through which might mean showing off a private encounter no one expected to become public knowledge. This reality is why I lean heavily on books and music to think of how other creative persons have explained parts of their own lives.
I slowed down on my research reading this past year the more I’ve invested in my writing and college classes. Here’s a small snapshot of what I can remember offhand as having a few tidbits that inspired my stories or provided the motivation to push through an area I was struggling with, like the labeling of chapters.
- Taylor Mali’s What Teachers Make
- John McPhee’s Draft No. 4
- Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea
- Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried
- Kerry Cohen’s The Truth of Memoir
- Judith Barrington’s Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art
I also found some poems and a few chapters invaluable (although I am ashamed to admit I have a number of partially read books still on my reading list, to include the ones listed here.)
- Barbara Abercrombie’s A Year of Writing Dangerously
- JmStorm (a poet I found on Instagram)
- f.s.yousaf (a poet I found on Instagram)
- rodolfo.eduardo (a poet I found on Instagram)
- J. Kael Weston’s The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan
- Mary Jennings Hegar’s Shoot Like a Girl
- Bill Adler’s Letters from Vietnam: Voices of War
I am probably not giving credit to every work I looked over last year. I guess it’s just important to say what inspires us is not always closely related to what we choose to write about but it gives us a fresh lenses through which to view our own experiences.
Music has a different power for me over books in how it influences my writing. Sometimes, the lyrics speak to my heart. Other times, the energy or solemn mood reminds me of a time where I needed something quiet to fall asleep to or that song that spoke to my anger needing an outlet. Music has a beautiful way of evoking memories and the songs listed below are not fully representative of all the songs that help me in my writing but are some that will continue to serve me in this next stage of my writing.
I have some work ahead of me this weekend, but thanks for stopping by. This might be my only check-in for January but feel free to check out my Instagram @she_wears_dogtags if you need a small conversation fix before I write again.
Last month, I sat down with you all to talk about the second assault into Fallujah and its place in my deployment work and why, years later, it continues to frustrate me that other veterans become greedy little children on Veterans Day trying to collect every little gift they can. I am not writing today to recant those sentiments. I am writing today out of a sense of duty for the other service members we lost during the second assault into Fallujah and the other casualties we suffered in December 2004. Today is the fourteenth anniversary of the last day of Operation Al Fajr (Operation Phantom Fury) and again, I would like to remind everyone I am simply one voice regarding our nation’s war involvement. You may agree or disagree with my sentiments, but if you choose to share your opinion do so in a professional manner. We all deserve respect.
A string of current events doesn’t lead me to believe our nation is any closer to being on the right path again regarding lessons learned about war, not only for our nation but for its impact on the global community. President Trump is withdrawing U.S. service members from Syria and Afghanistan. Secretary of Defense James Mattis offered his resignation and today our President publicly shared his choice for replacement, reducing the amount of time our current Secretary of Defense has remaining in his role.
I want to use a song I feel approximately tackles the complexity of the situation we find ourselves in as Americans. If you’ve never listened to Rise Against’s “Survivor Guilt” the timing couldn’t be better. Those that serve–to include our international military brethren serving honorably–are disproportionately carrying the burden of war that we do not assign to everyone and flippant politics are not helping us prepare for the future of war and reducing the risks associated with troop withdrawal.
For the thirty U.S. service members we lost in December during my first deployment in Iraq, their lives mattered and as a service member who returned home, I have an obligation to ensure others know of their sacrifices and our nation takes proper steps in the future to ensure we are more accountability to our warriors, their families, and our partners. Please take the time as this year closes out to keep the families of the fallen in your hearts because while you and I have the privilege to gather and hold our loved ones, these families are incomplete and our nation is still struggling to learn from these losses all these years later.
I know I may not change your mind about also honoring the lives of all persons who died, but if we can start reducing the barriers between U.S. service members and veterans and the general public, we can at least start to undo some of the damage the current political landscape is taking on our respective communities. It starts with something as simple as reducing the ‘othering’ that is all too common now which is not having a single positive impact on the world. As people, our decisions impact not only those we care for but those outside our peripheral view.
The situation we find ourselves in is not simply a matter of Republicans against Democrats but people ignoring historical events and repeating our mistakes. The human toll is not something we should continue to overlook and accept as normal because it’s inconvenient to do things with greater accountability from start to finish, regardless of where one’s involvement starts, and then use an option like pulling out to fix the situation and pat oneself on the back. The people we lost deserve better and so will future warriors and those that serve beside them.