Gavin – Marine Veteran’s Struggles With The VA

May 27, 2017
Hello Everyone at Team Never Quit. I listen to your show every week and would often listen while I was doing my homework late at night. I thought about writing to you a few times but wasn’t sure what to say until now.
I’m sitting on the airplane heading back to South Carolina after spending a week in Europe. My trip to Europe was my graduation present to myself, 14 days ago I graduated from College with Bachelor of Arts Degree in Middle Eastern Studies with a 3.2 GPA. I was the only one to attend our ceremony with a Degree in Middle Eastern Studies.
If everything went as planned I was supposed to graduate September 2016, but that changed to November after I was forced to take 6 months off of school to get my head straight. November then changed to December, then February 2017 then again to May 13th. Each time I was forced to drop or withdraw from my class it was kick in the gut. A lot of students drop from classes for one reason or another, my reasons were always due to health issues, making the situation even more frustrating. Last fall when I was 6 weeks into my 8 week courses was forced to drop from my 3 classes due to health issues i felt like crying. I was going to be proud of myself for graduating in 3 years with at least a 3.5 GPA instead of the normal 4 years…A goal I set for myself to prove to the naysayers claiming I can’t possibly graduate or be successful outside the Marine Corps.
I could write a book about the negativity I have received the last few years and write an even bigger book about all the ways the VA has screwed with me. It started when I was on terminal leave in July 2013. I was considering my options about paying for school and I went to speak to someone from the VA’s voc rehab office on Camp Pendleton. I had to take an aptitude test which I considered a waste of time, I already had been accepted into American Military University to study Middle Eastern Studies. I already knew what I wanted to be when I grew up and I already knew my weaknesses and strengths. After the test, I was treated like absolute garbage. I was told the only thing I was allowed to do was go to welding school, the VA would not support my college ambitions. When I argued the lady on the other side of the table turned red and she started yelling at me as if she was my drill instructor trying to give me orders, she had vanes popping out of her forehead. She must have been a DI in a previous life since I know of no one else who can have vanes pop out of their forehead. I was not allowed to go to school, but the VA would tolerate trade school. That was the tradeoff. I was told I needed to compromise and sacrifice and do what I was told because that was what was chosen for me. College was not an option. This was not supposed to be a debate, someone chose my path for me and I was not supposed to question it. I came to ask about ways to pay for college and was ordered by a power hungry lady to start welding school. I walked out angry and confused. That was just the beginning of my drama with the VA. About three years later I was encouraged to visit the VA voc rehab in Greenville, I was told I needed to drop out of school (with less than a year left) to attend Greenville Technical College. There, I would get a degree that was approved by voc rehab and in 4 years when I graduated I could start a one of handful of approved career choices selected for me. When I protested, I was later told I was too diseased due to a bunch of lies that were made up just to get me off the phone. None of my injuries can be considered a disease by any stretch of the imagination.
What I didn’t mention early is I received a Traumatic Brain Injury in Afghanistan just a few months before I got out. When I moved to South Carolina from California The VA Hospital in Columbia, South Carolina refused to treat me and my symptoms and pain got worse. (it took me almost two years to read American Sniper, I used to read 3 or 4 books at a time). I was eventually labeled as hypochondriac suffering from PTSD and kicked out the door. I went to a lawyer and was told there were so many lies written in my medical record there was nothing he could prove in court. Two years later I diagnosed with a TBI from a private doctor my caseworker from Asheville NC found for me in Simpsonville SC. Along with poor memory, migraines, sensitivity to light, lack of feeling on my left side (I used to write and shoot right handed but I used to draw and do everything else with my left hand), constant physical and psychological pain and a long list of other issues associated with a TBI, I found out the front right side of my brain had been damaged. This had caused the long list of symptoms that had become worse over the years. I used to slam my left foot in the car door if I wasn’t paying attention put couldn’t feel it. Three years after the rocket attack that caused my TBI I began getting the help that I needed from the private doctor that was found for me. If I had received help that I needed years before it would’ve taken 3 or 4 months to treat, more than a year later I am still receiving treatment
During this painful time period the VA was constantly trying to take away my GI Bill and prevent me from going to school. I received an honorable discharge after 8 years of active duty but that didn’t matter, I was told by Doctors and VA representatives that I need to drop out of school. After being charged $1100 by the VA, payment due immediately, for reasons left unknown I threw in the towel. I stopped using the GI bill started looking for scholarships and borrowed enough money to finish the rest of my classes. I also complained to the Student veterans of America who helped me get $600 back from the VA with a half assed explanation and told that I was wrong when I complained about the bad treatment I had received. That still wasn’t the end, the VA still tried to take $700 last fall without explanation, I received another half assed explanation and was told to pay $140 for overpayment of books from 6 months earlier. it still didn’t make sense since I was no longer using the GI Bill at this time but it was better than paying $700.
I am still encouraged by people from both the Medical side and on the benefits side of the VA to give up on myself on my life and dreams, trying to prevent me from getting the help I need. At one point, I wrote a very angry, very blunt 16 page letter to the Director of the VA Hospital in Columbia which was answered by his Chief of Staff. He apologized and was able to help a little but offered no explanation as to why I was treated so badly by his staff. I have been constantly told I am supposed to be 100% disabled/Unemployable, I am not supposed to go to school or work, or even interact with people or go to the gym. I am supposed to sit on my couch, take my 7 different types of pills consisting of pain medication, muscle relaxants, sleeping pills and a few others that don’t mix well and just exist. The VA has gone as far as trying to prevent me from getting help from private doctors I pay for myself or donate their time to help me.
With their support and the support from my caseworker I was able to start the healing process, become a more normal person, graduate from college, continue onto graduate school, and find a scholarship for school. I could continue to go on forever, this is just a brief summary of what I have been through the last 4 years but I will stop here. I should have given up so many times but I didn’t. I never took no for answer and fought for what I deserved and moved forward through the pain, anger, sadness and frustration.
Semper Fi and Never Quit

Author: Gavin