Realizing that Memorial Day is Monday, May 30, brought back memories of my own days in uniform.
Some decades ago when I still in the Air Force, I wrote a magazine story about a young airman killed in Vietnam in 1969. Norman Thomas was one of the more than 58,000 Americans killed there. But Vietnam wasn’t a movie. He didn’t die in a blaze of glory; he died in a hail of shrapnel on an anonymous Southeast Asia flight line.
Norman was of my generation; the Vietnam generation. I chose him to write about because, in a sense, he was nothing special, unless all who died in combat are special. He was just one of us; baby boomers caught up in a war that no one there understood and few back home cared about. He wasn’t a hero, unless all who served and died are heroes. I wrote about Norman for precisely that reason.
While writing the story, I learned that Norman is more than a distant memory and a name chiseled on the granite walls of the Vietnam Memorial.
It took me months to research and write the story. I traveled to five states to interview his parents, his widow and his daughter. I spoke at some length with childhood friends, relatives, a teacher and a burly high school wrestling coach who remembered him fondly with a tear in his eye. I even talked to his barber. The day before Norman left for the Air Force, he asked for a buzz cut so he wouldn’t stand out in basic training. He could have saved two bits because an Air Force barber gave him a free haircut the next day, whether he needed one or not.
I also learned that Norman was an ordinary young man with simple aspirations. He wanted to serve his country for four years and then return home to his wife and daughter. “Norm was a product of a broken home,” his widow told me some 15 years after his death. “All he really wanted was a real home and a family to call his own.”
That wasn’t meant to be. Just a few weeks after his 21st birthday, an enemy rocket destroyed Norman’s C-130 Hercules while it was taxiing on a runway in Quang Loi, a tiny village in South Vietnam’s Binh Long Province.
At that moment, Norman Thomas ceased to be. His is a sad story; a tender story. It’s also a story that’s been repeated countless thousands of times over the years by so many other Americans who died while wearing the uniform.
On this Memorial Day, let’s pause and remember all those who died defending our country.
And let’s remember Norman.
By Tai of Allsup
Chronic pain and fatigue are hard to measure. But an estimated 1.5 million Americans living with lupus know these symptoms only too well.
According to the Lupus Foundation of America (LFA), men, children, and teenagers develop lupus, but lupus strikes mostly women of childbearing age (15-44). Women of color are two to three times more likely to develop lupus than those who are Caucasian. There are many unknowns: what causes lupus, why people have different reactions, and what will cure this autoimmune disease.
May is Lupus Awareness Month, and Allsup is pleased to support the LFA, which is devoted to solving the cruel mystery that is lupus. Earlier this month, I participated in the St. Louis Walk to End Lupus Now! Allsup has sponsored these events in cities across the nation.
Interacting with “lupus thrivers,” their friends and families is a bittersweet experience. On one hand, the love, encouragement and unity demonstrated at the walks is inspiring. On the other hand, T-shirts and signs paying honor to those who have died are sober reminders of lupus’ cruelty. So are the conversations I have, mostly with young women of color, who may find it increasingly difficult or impossible to continue working. Often, even when their doctors have told them they should stop working, they feel they cannot afford to leave the workforce.
While I can counsel them about their rights and eligibility for Social Security Disability Insurance, and explain the benefits, I cannot presume to tell them what they should do. The Walk to End Lupus Now! events are heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.
Mental Toll Of Chronic Illness
Living with a chronic disease like lupus can make you and the people who care about you feel powerless. LFA recognizes the psychological toll lupus has on individuals and families. It’s significant to note that May is also Mental Health Month.
My friends from LFA North Carolina, and LFA Heartland understand the connection. They support individuals with lupus every day and recognize the importance of helping them learn how to determine the difference between temporary negative feelings and negative feelings that become overwhelming and long-lasting, which may signal a serious but treatable mental illness.
Please join us for “True Help Claiming Power to Improve Your Mental Health,” on Thursday, June 16, at Noon CT.
Whether you are living with lupus or another chronic condition or disability, it’s an opportunity to meet others who are dealing with similar challenges. You’ll be able to interact with mental health, public health and vocational experts who will answer your questions and provide resources you may not have realized existed.
I look forward to seeing you in the chat room. Visit Webinar.Allsup.com for details.
We celebrate Armed Forces Week May 14-21, so what better time to take a quick look at the history of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability system?
Nearly as far back as recorded history allows us to look, nations have provided their war veterans compensation for their service. According to Wikipedia, Roman Emperor Augustus fixed the amount at 3,000 denarii in A.D. 5. We’re not sure what a denarii was worth in today’s dollars, but Emperor Caracalla was generous enough to later increase the stipend to 5,000. Soldiers injured while serving the Emperor pocketed even more denarii.
Centuries later, the tradition continued in North America. In 1636, the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony provided pensions to veterans injured while fighting the Pequot Indians. In 1776, the Continental Congress granted half pay for life for veterans who lost a limb in combat.
Throughout the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, both World Wars, Vietnam, Korea and through today’s conflicts, the VA has carried on the tradition of compensating veterans for impairments suffered while serving their country. By law, the VA compensates disabled veterans “who suffer from a medical disorder or injury that was incurred in, or aggravated by, their military service, and which causes social and occupational impairment.”
According to the VA, it is dedicated to fulfill Abraham Lincoln’s call to “care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.”
Unfortunately, there are an awful lot of veterans to care for. About 4 million veterans are receiving VA disability benefits today. Despite years of bureaucratic problems and enormous decision backlogs, today’s VA appears to be doing its best to serve disabled American veterans.
Mistakes are still made, however, and that’s why we offer the Allsup Veterans Disability Appeal Service®. If you believe the VA unjustly denied your disability claim or offered an improper rating, give one of our VA-Accredited Claims Agents a call at (888) 372-1190.
In the meantime, have a happy and safe Armed Forces Week and thank you for your service.
By Ed of Allsup
Warning: The Social Security Administration (SSA) denies two-thirds of all initial applications for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.
After more than 40 years working with the SSDI program, I know the primary reason for denials are common mistakes made by claimants filing on their own without the help of a professional SSDI representative. These include not properly completing an important form, or even forgetting to sign a document.
Another common error involves incomplete information on the SSA’s Activities of Daily Living questionnaire.
This all-important document asks you to describe how your impairment affects your daily life. Are you able to go shopping? Can you garden? These sound like easy questions, but be aware that the SSA is always looking for ways to deny your claim.
For example, if you answer truthfully that, yes, you can go shopping, the SSA may deny your claim for that reason alone. It may be a different outcome, however, if you mentioned that a neighbor has to drive you to the store and you must use a motorized scooter to maneuver the aisles.
It’s the same story if you say that you’re able to do some gardening. That may be true, but if you forget to add that you’re exhausted and in pain after an hour of planting flowers and you’re forced to lie down for three hours afterward, you’re not giving the SSA the information it needs.
My best advice is to always be honest with the SSA, and always give them all the information.
Remember: What you don’t tell the SSA can hurt you. A professional Social Security disability representative like Allsup can ensure that the agency will have the information it needs to make a proper decision on your claim.
I’ll have more tips on how to avoid common mistakes in a future blog.
In the meantime, click here for a free SSDI evaluation and to learn more about Allsup.
“Well at least you have your health.” People use these words as a sort of encouragement after a tragedy or loss. Yet, what if you don’t have your health? What if life has thrown you a curve caused by illness or injury?
As with any loss, a person whose life is changed by disability often experiences the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. How does one move to acceptance when their world has been rocked by illness or injury? I believe it is found in the word “Hope.”
Hope is really an action and not just a feeling for something better. Hope is when someone in unbearable pain comforts someone else going through a difficult time. Hope is when someone with a disability does something amazing.
Claiming Power Over Pain
True Help Web Event
11 a.m. CT
Thursday, April 21
Diane Van Deren fuels her life with hope. A state champion golfer who played professional tennis in her 20s, Van Deren’s athletic career was seemingly cut short when she began suffering grand mal seizures. The effects were devastating for the young mother of three, but she developed a sense that alerted her to oncoming seizures. To ward them off, she would grab her shoes and run for miles on her family’s Colorado ranch. She became one of the world’s top ultra-runners.
At 37, doctors isolated the cause of Van Deren’s epilepsy and removed a kiwi-sized piece of her brain. She hasn’t had a seizure since, but there have been neurological side effects, including memory loss and difficulty tracking time and direction. She also doesn’t feel pain like most people, a useful quirk for an ultra-runner who taxes her body to its limits. Van Deren has won races throughout North America, including the Yukon Arctic Ultra, running 430 miles across frozen tundra pulling a provisions sled.
As humans, we overcome incredible odds and difficulties. For someone like Diane, it is running for hundreds of miles in the freezing Arctic cold, and living with memory loss. To others, the ultra-marathon is putting two feet on the floor after a night of horrific pain and making it to the couch only to collapse again.
We have Thankful Thursdays on our Facebook page, and I am moved by the comments of gratitude for the seemingly smallest triumphs of making a sandwich or spending time with a friend or getting the mail.
I believe that the greatest hope is knowing that we are in this human race together. We can hold each other up. We can give each other hope, and we can be the hope others need. Together, we can hope and envision a world where people living with illness, pain and disability will be Invisible No More®.
By Tai of Allsup
I am grateful for pain-free days. Pain sucks. Can you imagine waking up each morning knowing each of the next 24 hours will be filled with debilitating pain? Scratch that. Imagine not being able to sleep at night because of the pain, and greeting each morning sleep-deprived, knowing every move you make during the day, even breathing, will cause you pain.
According to the Institute of Medicine’s 2011 report, Relieving Pain in America, more than 100 million Americans don’t know what a pain-free day feels like. They live with chronic pain that saps their physical strength, psychological stamina, and finances.
At Allsup, we work with thousands of individuals who live with chronic pain, due to multiple sclerosis, cancer, arthritis, fibromyalgia, lupus, neuropathy, back/spinal disorders and other conditions. I’m constantly amazed at the resiliency, strength and optimism many of them display.
However, I’m also distressed at the toll chronic pain takes on their health, relationships and finances. They have asked Allsup to help them obtain Social Security Disability Insurance benefits because their condition is so severe, they can no longer work.
It is not surprising that individuals living with chronic pain experience feelings of powerlessness. This is especially true for individuals who endure pain that cannot be explained or quantified by medical tests. Pain treatments may not be effective, or they may not be accessible. For many, pain will be a permanent part of life.
But what do I hear from those amazing folks living with chronic pain? They tell me that the chronic pain message: “You are powerless,” is a lie. So are the messages, “I have nothing to offer,” “Nobody understands,” and “Maybe it’s all in my head?”
Claiming Power Over Pain
Research shows that feelings of powerlessness are associated with negative health outcomes. So how do you combat those feelings?
Find out at the Allsup True Help® Web event, “Claiming Power Over Pain,” Thursday, April 21, at 11 a.m. CST. This interactive (and theory based-for you academic types) program is designed to help individuals nurture their power resources.
People living with chronic pain and experts from the American Chronic Pain Association, Arthritis Foundation, Invisible Disabilities ® Association and Allsup will help participants recharge, and create a customized plan to reclaim their power. And there are opportunities to earn prizes!
Please join us and share the registration link with your friends, support groups and patients at bit.ly/TrueHelp, and on social media using #AllsupWebinar.