no waiting for paper to update

Bill Gates invented digital irritation. Most of the world, at one time or another, is irritated, exasperated, or flummoxed by Microsoft computer software. Actually, had it not been for Microsoft Corporation creating and then dominating the commercial operating system (OS) market decades ago, the world would likely be exasperated with Linux or Unix software today. Of course, the issues that exasperate Microsoft users periodically are due both to humans and to technology. Users want simplicity of use; more criminally- or espionage-minded want to exploit holes in security; and the software developers for the Windows OS are trying to manage thousands of user applications from thousands of sources. When the engineers cannot keep up support for ancient Windows as newer are more efficient, they ‘end-of-life’ older versions of OS. With changes in technology rapidly occurring, operating system need regular patches to evolve. If you are in business, you understand the battle between “bleeding edge” state of the art, and a “good enough” state to retain or grow market share.

Having been caught more than once by a software or firmware update that was lurking, waiting to install on my Dell laptop I found the setting that pauses updates until a time that I set as “non-working hours”. As the responsible IT “department” in my own business, I thought I had management of updates and security patches well in hand. With the ‘expertise’ as a one-time test engineer, I confused an expertise with certain systems and tools in a “information security” company with the work that the IT Department (note the capital “D”) of my onetime employer routinely did.

There is a certain nostalgia, after a morning like this past one, with a desire to return to paper files, filing cabinets, and forms in triplicate. Sending things off to others via the Postal Service. Every update of documentation being very slow, labor-intensive and requiring large volumes of storage space. As a young man I welcomed the dawn of the “paperless” Age, but the ever-aggravating requirement to stay ahead of technology and hackers, is at odds with the ease-of-use. Up until forty years ago, millions of paper files stored away in vaults and filing cabinets was security. A thief from outside that office or company would be as unlikely to track down something useful in a short amount of time, as would an office worker find a customer’s medical record from 1987. Having become accustomed to nearly instantaneous Internet response to an information request, this may be one reason I am not overly exasperated with a request for a military medical records -likely still on paper – in the bowels of some government installation.

Perhaps while I am waiting still for this morning’s system updates to complete, I will have time to pen an apology to my client expecting me to have all my systems “GO”. It will probably take another hour.

Ask the Chief: obtaining a VA Disability rating or upgrade

the back story

In 1995, while on Active Duty, I was a crewmember of a Navy ship in Portsmouth, Virginia. During the week leading up to the Labor Day weekend, I started to feel ill. Over the course of the following days, I was unable to get medically-screened for one reason or another. The sordid affair still bothers me if I think about that. Finally getting someone to take me to the base clinic, my appendix ruptured and I was recuperating for a month afterward.

For the next quarter-century, I had bowel issues requiring hospitalization about twice a year. I had left Active Duty for the Navy Reserve in 2000, but did not go to the VA for a disability review prior to leaving Active Duty. That proved to be a mistake that I am still regretting today. However, at the recommendation of a veteran, I submitted my Navy medical file to the VA for a disability review in 2017, and was awarded a Zero (0%) Service-Connected rating. It was actually the lesson that my son provided, before exiting his Army enlistment, where his extensive medical issues as a result of his Army service were recorded by the VA medical screener. He was awarded a 100% VA service-connected rating as a result. Since he had already signed papers to serve an additional year in the Army Reserve, there was no waiver or release from the Reserve contract, for a VA disability, unless the Army performed a disability-screening of their own.

All exiting military personnel should schedule a VA Disability review

Considering that I re-enlisted into the Navy Reserve later in that same year, 2000, I did not understand the necessity of seeking a VA Disability review. My delay until 2017 aged-out my two younger sons from benefits they might have gained from my rating. Obtaining a Disability Rating from the military branch, or from the VA, entitles a servicemember’s children to certain college tuition discount or waivers – as long as they are under age 23 (or 26 perhaps). Even a Rating of 0 (zero) Percent, meaning your condition does not debilitate you at present, qualifies.

A disability upgrade is not a simple exercise

It was a surgeon that I met with during the last few hospitalizations, I had employer-subsidized healthcare, who actually performed surgery the last time I was hospitalized, who linked my appendix rupture and scar tissue in the bowel, that prompted me to go back to the VA Disability board. However, I am beginning to understand how difficult it is to get the Government to recognize health issues that veterans suffer, long after their military service. While the most egregious treatment of Vietnam servicemembers attempting to get healthcare for Agent Orange and other herbicide exposure is well-known, only the symptoms that are legislatively-recognized allow for veterans to obtain assistance. For decades after the Gulf War and then Afghanistan and Iraq, exposure to burn pit fumes and other toxics in those regions were slow to be linked to veteran symptoms. In other regions and with other complications, veterans like me, whose ruptured appendix started twenty-five years of bowel issues and hospitalization, will not be quickly recognized.

For the last year of the COVID pandemic, all bureaucracies have been impacted by shutdowns and remote workforce initiatives. Though the VA has initiated a website for veterans to input their claims and supporting documentation, it has not functioned properly for the last several months. And when telephone support is not an hours-long waiting time, there seems to be no technical issues noted in their system, and no workaround (no staffed offices). But all those nasal-gastric tubes, barium /CAT scans, and morphine-drips, have made me determined to seek something more. Anything more from the VA.

More to come.……

Ask the Chief: celebrating Independence

Is it only in the United States of America that residents of a country can be split along ethnic, religious, economic, language, and education differences? No. Is the United States unique in one political party’s priorities being different than its opposition? No. Is there a single nation in the world that has eliminated poverty, discrimination, greed, persecution, government corruption, or ignorance? No. Is there an exodus from the United States to other countries due to better social and economic opportunities elsewhere? No, again.

Since the ascent of the United States as a global military and economic power just over a hundred years ago, the basic tenets that the country was founded upon, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, right of self-determination, basic human rights, economic opportunity and so on, has influenced many all over the world to seek the sort of life that Americans have taken for granted. Far more people today in the United States demand “rights” without a willingness to bear responsibility for their condition. Some seek a handout but are unwilling to follow the social ‘contract’. More are not willing to work to achieve what others have accumulated as a result of their hard work and skills acquired over many years.

A nation is unified when all share in common values, language, traditions, and responsibilities. And a unified nation can maintain its security inside and from external competitors and threats. What also defined the United States was respect for civil authority, and making the government responsible to the citizen for its authority. Poor or corrupt representation of a constituent’s desires would subject them to removal by ballot in a peaceful transition of power. These are what made an “American” out of millions of immigrants. The independence that we celebrate every Fourth of July has been misused by lobbyists, politicians, and selfish interests. A nation is intentionally “Balkanized” by institutionally pitting groups against one another by race, education, location, or political affiliation.

I am neither a populist, a bigot, nor a blind nationalist. Having spent twenty-five years in uniform of the United States, and involved in industry protecting the national security, I still see the benefits of a nation that, despite a complex history of injustices, has an amazing history of advancing technology and improving living conditions for billions of the world’s inhabitants. As a veteran, I am still frustrated by veteran homelessness and PTSD that has resulted in suicide of too many veterans. Yet, enlisting in the Navy enabled me to prosper. Had my paternal and maternal grandfathers remained in Europe and not come to the United States in the early Twentieth Century, none would have achieved the American Dream.

I am not ashamed to celebrate American independence.

US Navy’s soft sugar cookie recipe from WWII, and how to make it at home | Fox News

https://www.foxnews.com/food-drink/us-navy-soft-sugar-cookie-recipe-wwii

As a retired Sailor with 8 years spent at sea, I remember my initial introduction to Navy chow was not very appetizing. From breakfast where hot sauce was the most-prized condiment for the scrambled (rubbery) eggs, to the other meals that were often recycled leftovers, especially sliders that became the meat in spaghetti dinners the following day. But these soft sugar cookies were probably the tastiest of any dessert. Before I earned the rank to eat with the Chiefs’ Mess, when the menu items were planned and paid for – by the members of the Mess, those cookies were a treat.

Just like a show I remember from years ago, when “Cookie”, a onetime cook aboard an Aircraft Carrier was reciting a recipe for his friends, the recipe reprinted in the linked article is crew-sized quantity. You may want to follow the pared-down version.

The Fox article was from material originally published by the Naval History and Heritage Command in April, 2021.

Ask the Chief: the little things

A young man’s resolve -this morning encouraged me greatly. He had arrived early to take his certification exams – which, among his peers, is sufficiently remarkable to be noteworthy. (As a military retiree, I am accustomed to the military tradition of being fifteen minutes early to something as being “on time”.) He unfortunately only possessed two of the four items needed to register. (One was an stamped self-addressed envelope to mail his exam results.) Apparently, his program administrator had not furnished him a specific document to register for the State exam. He was embarrassed and disappointed but he made calls to his administrator – at 7 AM – to obtain it. They hand-delivered the needed form to the test site at an agreed time so as not to reschedule his exam. Once he was registered, I joked with him that after that particular exercise, any nerves while taking the exam would no longer pose him a problem. Though he will not know it for a few days, he passed both exams and earned his certification. I have some confidence that obstacles would, in future, be opportunities for him to overcome.

For many, the statutory regulations that govern these certification exams including a certain proficiency in English comprehension, are not obstacles. For others, lacking the self-discipline to thoroughly prepare, to read the pre-registration letters, emails, text messages or phone calls, and to arrive for a state exam in a timely manner, make a successful outcome difficult. From a veteran’s perspective, the Admiral quoted here, is correct.

If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.

William H. McRaven, USN (Ret)

Starting a career as an entrepreneur, a veteran may have only her life experience, wits, and an idea. Skills as active listening, experience of mentoring by experienced professionals and preparing thoroughly for most expected conditions, are basics. Just as in the military, in business, there are certain things that require the entrepreneur to think on one’s feet. And an idea of a product or service, is only as profitable as its feasibility in the market. A veteran should be willing to get advice, seek expertise, and commit or redeploy in another product or service or market.

You can’t change the world alone – you will need some help – and to truly get from your starting point to your destination takes friends, colleagues, the good will of strangers and a strong coxswain to guide them.

William H. McRaven, USN (Ret)

A successful business has efficient operations and administration. Much of this is beyond the expertise of a new entrepreneur. Beyond computers and productivity software, calendars, and government licenses, fees and regulatory paperwork, engaging the services of bookkeepers, Certified Public Accountants, and specialized expertise may be required to maintain efficiency and regulatory compliance. In this area, the Small Business Administration (SBA) has offices in most communities to provide guidance to help entrepreneurs succeed.

Just as in the military, the failure to know statutory regulations, compliance – licensing, taxes, and record-keeping- is not often an acceptable excuse for non-performance. This means that businesses often are the clients of other businesses. Just as one’s own enterprise needs to have exceptional customer service with clients, the entrepreneurs engaged to provide service or products to your business needs to have the same standards. The business which loses clients to communication, operations, or staffing issues that financially impact their clients will not be in business for long. Friends, colleagues, good will, and a disciplined leader will make your destination attainable.

craigslist and sea stories

It was the tone of the ad on craigslist that caught my wife’s attention. We were looking for a used filing cabinet for our business and personal files.

“Text or call”, the ad said. “I don’t do email”.

It said to contact the seller between “0800 and 2200, that’s between 8 AM and 10PM for you landlubbers”. The number was phonetically spelled to frustrate scammers and telemarketers. The ad continued that the seller did not want payment in anything other than cash. When I read the ad on craigslist, I “knew” this was another old Salt.

In the manner of two old shipmates, though meeting for the first time, it was typical Navy. He challenged, “You got your shots?” (Meaning of course, the COVID vaccine.)

I replied. “Which ones? Hepatitis? Anthrax, Cholera, Typhoid? – I’m a Sailor- had ’em all”

Laughing, he retorts, “No the one that hurts like hell!” The mystical shot with square needle story, I winked knowingly.

His wife gave the two old Salts a smile and went inside the house. “She’s heard it all before”, he chuckled. We swapped stories on the places and ships we had both seen. And that was thirty minutes after we traded greenbacks for the cabinet we put in my SUV. And that is no bull**. (Comments edited for you landlubbers out there.)

Ask the Chief: are you a “victim” of your circumstances or an “overcomer”?

I watched a movie last month, “The Zookeeper’s Wife” (2017), telling the story of a Polish family that operated a zoo in Warsaw, Poland at the outbreak of World War II.  The Nazi’s treatment of the Jewish residents shocked them and they decided to help rescue those they could.  Though the grounds were occupied by German troops for the duration of the war, the family smuggled Jews who otherwise would have been exterminated, into hiding there at the zoo and out of Warsaw. At risk of their own lives, they managed to save 300 people by war’s end.

I have been reading stories of ordinary soldiers, partisans, and public safety personnel who have acted selflessly in situations that put themselves in harms’ way. Others who have survived blizzards, been lost in the wilderness, were adrift at sea, or buried in earthquakes or in caverns. It came down to a will to survive that made the difference between living or giving up. But health is something everyone has dealt with at some point in life. Many probably have known someone who diagnosed with a severe illness or suffered a debilitating injury. Of those who refused to give in, but mustered physical and mental focus against an adversary, many survived. Circumstances do seem to foster whether people see themselves as “victims” or “overcomers”. My late father whose engineering career supported the development of Navy submarine missiles was accelerating in his late Twenties, suffered a brain tumor. While that surgery saved his life, he spent years learning to walk and speak again. It became his determination to resume his engineering career; refusing to let people judge him by his use of a wheelchair or cane, he even earned a teaching credential. Though he died in his late fifties, he had never given in to his condition.

Military personnel who volunteer to serve in a combat zone, as many did during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, may be mentally prepared for the hazards of wartime. However, few have battled an illness as merciless as cancer, and won, all while still serving in their official capacity of command. Or having won against breast cancer, promoted, and then volunteered for service in Afghanistan filling a critical role. Then, promoted again being selected for Flag rank. Many should know an “overcomer” in the person of Linnea Sommer-Weddington, Rear Admiral, USN (Retired). She has inspired the careers of many of my Shipmates, female and male, evident in those who honored her at her retirement. (I had the privilege to serve as her unit Senior Enlisted advisor in one of the units she commanded).

Others may be familiar with civilians Mike Rowe and Gary Sinese, two television and film stars who have done amazing work to celebrate people who inspire their communities. Whether it is encouraging servicemembers deployed, taking care of the families at home, helping physically or emotionally-suffering veterans, or publicizing those whose volunteerism helps affected communities, they bring attention and resources to help others overcome. Some twenty years ago, I met a Native American man with cerebral palsy, a member of our Southwestern US fellowship of churches. His accomplishments despite a “handicap” were legendary. He had competed and won in Paralympic games, was a motivational speaker, and introduced a number of people to the Christian faith. He possessed a sense of self-deprecating humor about his abilities that lifted up others with physical or mental challenges.

Should anyone wish to contribute their stories of overcoming severe challenges, I would welcome them to use this blog as a forum. At a time when there are still more than twenty veterans committing suicide each day, understanding what motivates someone to continue to overcome and not fall victim to one’s circumstances might help save lives.

child’s play for old Salts

Age merely shows what children we remain.

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
Playtime

I am taking the opportunity to play again. Watching our grandchild once or twice a week, we have taken every opportunity to go to parks to run with and after him. With nice Southern California weather, time to run through the grass, over the little bridges, and then feed ducks at the lake. As Zander gets a little older,. he more boldly climbs up jungle gyms. Sliding down slides, he directs us to follow after or to catch him – over and over again. Sitting on his uncle’s lap he enjoys swinging on swings. But not that high he says. And as “mam-mam” and “pop-pop” get a bit more winded, we suggest going to get a little frozen yogurt and then to “mam-mam’s” house to play. Even though a pandemic year has stolen time from us all, It is unavoidable that both preschoolers and grandparents still have grown older. Yet it is pretty much a given that clambering around a jungle gym and marveling at child’s play, this old Salt feels younger for a little while.

Ask the Chief: bilingual comprehension

My late mother, an Naturalized (immigrant) citizen of the United States, graduated from the Mount Sinai Nursing School and was an RN most of her adult life. Pursuing a lifelong interest in literature, she earned a Masters degree and in her second career, was a junior college English teacher. Her most cherished students were often not the native-born, but the ones who had emigrated to the United States from places English was not the native tongue. These immigrants were “all-in”, that is totally committed to not just speak the language but have comprehension, which would enable them to be successful at work and fully-appreciated citizens in the community.

That was forty years ago and while the same issues over immigration, national identity, and common language existed then as today, there was far less accommodation then for non-English speakers in the community. Today, there are many government services from schools, courts, county and state offices that serve communities where residents primary language may be Spanish, Tagalog, or Arabic. The United States remains a melting pot of cultures and immigrants from all over the world, though in some states Spanish is the largest language group next to English. Yet employment in professions that require Federal and State certification, licensing, or as college graduates, often require a competence in English first and bilingual as a supporting skill. This has been a continuing issue with secondary (high school) education nationally for decades. People are looking to enter the workforce with poor grammar, and poor reading comprehension. Business writing, reading standard government forms and test instructions are often poorly understood and done incorrectly.

College placement tests bear this out, and offerings of remedial writing classes in community colleges, universities and private for-profit institutions testify to substandard high school standards. For both immigrants from non-English speaking places and native-born, the aspiration to be successful in a profession drives performance. However, some for-profit schools do not assess competence in speaking, writing or reading at a level that will enable a non-native speaker of English to be successful. An unfortunate consequence for many candidates for state licensing, governed by both Federal and State statutes, failure of the written exam or other assessment (conducted in English) is a costly lesson.

Yet there have been private as well as government-programs, online and various means to gain competence through ESL – English as a Second Language -adapted for various professions. While many businesses do cater to specific communities, staff who communicate primarily in a language other than English may have issues meeting Federal requirements for that institution. Meeting Federal guidelines at the workplace and successfully gaining employment requires comprehension at a fairly basic level. However, many private post-secondary education businesses attract students with lower fees and quick preparation for licensing exams. It may be outside their scope to add rigorous language preparation in their curriculum.

Ask the Chief: General orders of a sentry

One recent Sunday, my church congregation held an outdoor worship service at a community park to celebrate the relaxing of COVID precautions in our area. Two retired Navy Chiefs were asked to help with the set up of sound for the stage and facilitating our members to park their vehicles. I was one of these who coordinated parking, and assisted my Brother Chief (among retired Navy members a CPO is always a CPO) with setting up and afterward, tearing down and storing of the equipment. What made the day a bit hectic was the park was also the setting for the local Chaldean community celebrating the Easter season with family picnics, loud music and children running between the Chaldean festivities and our afternoon church service. Apparently, in an effort to maintain public safety (the parking lot was filled to capacity before our service arrived), the local police had set up traffic control into the park.

Wearing my HOPE “uniform” – a t-shirt that all our members recognize, I stood with the police at my “post” at the entrance to the park. Two other volunteers I asked to stand at the pedestrian entrances to the park to assist our congregants and their guests. We were walking our assigned post in a manner of speaking.

A casual conversation with one of the traffic control officers, a fellow Navy veteran, inspired today’s post, “General orders of a sentry”. Sadly, forty years after my recruit training, and eleven years since I was last in uniform, I had to review what those General Orders specifically stated. I could recall only the first two verbatim.

  • To take charge of this post and all government property in view.
  • To walk my post in a military manner, keeping always on the alert, and observing everything that takes place within sight or hearing.
  • To report all violations of orders I am instructed to enforce.
  • To repeat all calls from posts more distant from the guard house than my own.
  • To quit my post only when properly relieved.
  • To receive, obey, and pass on to the sentry who relieves me all orders from the Commanding Officer, Command Duty Officer, Officer of the Deck, and Officers and Petty Officers of the Watch only.
  • To talk to no one except in the line of duty.
  • To give the alarm in case of fire or disorder.
  • To call the Officer of the Deck in any case not covered by instructions.
  • To salute all officers and colors and standards not cased.
  • To be especially watchful at night and during the time for challenging, to challenge all persons on or near my post, and to allow no one to pass without proper authority.

On a warm and very pleasant afternoon, the service was conducted without incident. One elderly gentleman who had strayed off toward the Chaldean’s festival at one point was gently redirected to our community. And children who had likely decided a game of tag passing through our worship service were gently guided back toward their parents. A Navy Chief’s mission is still the same, even in retirement. Execute the mission.

Veterans’ benefits include technical training

The Veterans Administration introduced in October 2019, a five-year pilot program to permit veterans with Post-9/11 or Montgomery GI Bill Education benefits to attend technical training. The Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses (VET TEC) is focused on training veterans to obtain highly-skilled and in-demand careers. Veterans need to apply to the program, and the annual acceptance is limited by its annually-renewed budget. For those whose eligibility time limit to use benefits has not elapsed, or for those with at minimum, one day of eligibility remaining, the tuition is not charged against their education benefit. Those accepted into VET TEC are eligible for a MHA housing stipend equal to BAH while attending the program.

Find additional information and the application process via the VA website link provided.

3 Truly Meaningful Ways You Can Help Veterans, Active Duty Personnel, and Their Families

Today’s Guest blogger: Kelli Brewer

Kelli is part of DeployCare (website: deploycare.org), which offers support to service members and their families – she shares resources and solutions for issues commonly faced by military families before, during and after deployment.

Have you ever thanked a veteran or military member for his/her service and wondered if you could do more? Despite general support from the public, veterans and active-duty personnel of the armed forces — as well as their families — still face a multitude of daily challenges. One of the best ways to support these communities is to take an active role in solving those challenges, and these are just a few of the ways you can do so.

Consider Working Toward a Master’s in Social Work

Social work is a great field to get into if you want to help veterans, active duty service members and their dependents. Professionals in this field provide a multitude of services for these communities, ranging from re-integrating active duty personnel into civilian life to helping military families adjust to their unique lifestyles. Getting into social work is pretty flexible, too, as you can complete a Master’s of Social Work curriculum through various universities throughout the US. These programs generally require about 900 to 1,200 hours of qualified fieldwork, but some do allow the completion of academic work online. These online options make this a great field for current military spouses and dependents to pursue since coursework can be completed from just about any location. There may even be scholarships that can help offset tuition and expenses for dependents of veterans and active duty service members, for a Master of Social Work program or other educational pursuits. 

Look for Career Opportunities with Veterans Affairs Hospitals

One of the most critical elements in maintaining a veteran’s quality of life is the availability of quality healthcare. Lack of mental and physical health services can lead to devastating consequences for veteran populations, including increased incidences of suicide. If you are interested in becoming a mental health professional, you could take an active role in reducing this risk by pursuing a career within the VA hospital system.

In addition to a shortage of mental health services, VA hospitals are also plagued by a shortage of nurses. So, you could also assist veterans by taking up one of the various nursing roles that are available at VA facilities in just about every US state and territory. There are other roles to fill at the VA as well, including patient advocacy and various administrative roles. Committing yourself to service in a VA hospital isn’t easy, but it is one of the most important ways civilians can provide assistance to the men and women who committed their lives to military service.

Help Veterans and Active Duty Without Changing Your Career

Filling desperately needed roles within fields that directly benefit veterans, active duty service members, and dependents are some of the best ways for civilians to help. Still, these careers aren’t necessarily for everyone, and there are other ways to support these communities.

Hire a Military Spouse

If you are in a decision-making position within your organization, hiring more military spouses can make a world of difference to active-duty families. Nearly 28 percent of military spouses struggle with unemployment, often due to misconceptions about their lifestyle, but employers can help change this statistic. Entrepreneurs can make a difference as well by hiring veterans and providing training that will smooth the transition into a civilian occupation.

Assist With Home Needs

Maybe you aren’t in a position to hire someone, and you aren’t looking for a new career. Don’t underestimate the power of time and information. Senior and disabled veterans often struggle in their own home environment, for instance, but don’t know about the many programs available to help them with home modifications. Along those lines, they might be better off moving to a more manageable home, whether in terms of affordability or physical space, but may not feel like they can afford it. There are loan programs designed especially for veterans. Encourage your veteran friend to review the options available to learn about the perks of VA loans (including low interest rates and no downpayment). With a little guidance, you may be able to help them find a safer and more comfortable home environment.

Contribute to Nonprofits

Finally, one of the simplest ways to assist these communities is to donate or volunteer with organizations that are dedicated to veterans, active-duty service members, and the families that support them. Be careful when choosing an organization to support so that you know your time, money, and effort will actually make a difference for these individuals and families.

If you want to express your gratitude and support for veterans, military members, and their loved ones, actions will always speak louder than words. There are so many opportunities to show your appreciation and make a difference in the lives of the men and women who have served this country. So, find one that speaks to you or simply take the time to listen when a member of one of these communities chooses to speak. After all, even the simplest of gestures can be meaningful in the lives of others.

Photo Credit: Pexels

This post was first published on Truths, Half-Truths, and Sea Stories, March 27th, 2021. All rights reserved.