Were you exposed to toxics while at Camp Lejeune, NC Marine Base?

Between 1953 and 1987, toxics leached into drinking water at Camp Lejeune, NC. How many potential victims, active duty Marines and other military members, civilian workers, and family members may have become victims, injured, ill or died as a result of exposure? One of the chemicals that this article references is something I am intimately familiar. Early in my career in the US Navy, I frequently cleaned electro-mechanical parts in 1,1,1- trichloroethylene, getting it on my skin and breathing in fumes. This cleanser, a few years later, ceased being used.

A law firm in New York reached out to us recently. I have decided to publish their brief about Camp Lejeune toxic exposure, as a public service to my readers. I have received, nor shall I accept, any compensation as a result of publishing this information. Do your research, and let others know who may have been exposed to these contaminants.

Here is the Veterans Administration page describing symptoms / illnesses identified with exposure to contaminants at Camp Lejeune.

If you feel that ailments or illness you or a loved one now suffer, or may develop in future, might have a link to time spent at Camp Lejeune, get screened by the VA and /or private physicians, to provide support for any compensation claim through the Veterans Administration.

Ask the Chief: is public health, like national security, a responsibility of Government?

It is the summer of 2022 and our household managed to stave off COVID until early July. In spite of the furor of a pandemic since late 2019, we maintained a ‘common sense’ approach to wearing masks and being vaccinated. Small measures to mitigate the effect to our business, employees and clients. Since we perform services for a large number of people, requiring all parties to wear masks has also helped us dodge cold and flu viruses. But not entirely safe. Catching the latest strain of COVID was both annoying and caused breathing difficulty that lingered long after we tested negative for COVID. Were we not vaccinated I can only imagine how severe it might have been?

Whether the issues are public safety, the economy, food and product safety, or infrastructure (transportation, roads, etc), most citizens and most consumers are supportive of oversight that leads to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. But are government mandates to mitigate the spread of a virulent disease appropriate? Is public health in the purview of a constitutional government? And if so, which is the most appropriate agent – each local community, county, state or federal? Volumes could and have been written on these topics. Social media is overflowing with commentary on rights, wrongs, opinions, and conspiracies on these things.

As a military veteran, we were required to submit to vaccinations for everything from tuberculosis to anthrax. This was one of the measures to maintain a disease-resistant fighting force in areas our forces operated. And our nation was a party to international agreements on a whole host of topics that benefited one another. More than seventy years ago, the international community made health one of its responsibilities. Every few years a disease like the Swine Flu or Bird Flu, Ebola or SARS COVID-II, and infestations of insects, parasites, plants and animals are transmitted globally through international travelers and trade. Without governmental oversight, the response to an outbreak of disease, parasites, or organisms affecting local populations would neither have the resources nor experience to respond appropriately.

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.

Long Term Care planning for active military, veterans, retirees and family

Turning sixty-two this year is not all that worrisome for me. Of course, in the middle of the second wave of the COVID pandemic, the potential long-term impact to ones health of contracting COVID at this stage of life is probable reason for concern. Though I had considered enrolling at a much younger age, with insurance premiums much lower the younger one enrolls, the invincibility of youth encouraged me to put it off. In the last quarter of 2020, I thought it prudent to begin the enrollment with a commercial insurer, accompanied by physical exam, several telephone interviews and waiting for term and premium calculations. The cost of commercial insurance seemed exorbitant, so my wife and I decided against it. Then I learned that LI (insurance) was available to retired military. Planning for a Veterans Administration facility as a fallback was my last consideration, should I subsequently require reevaluation of a presently non-compensable service-connected disability. After a military career, a professional career, and self-employed business owner today, we should plan for any potential health situations in our “golden years”.

Federal Long-Term Care Insurance Program (FLTCIP)

While most married service members have enrolled in federal benefits under TriCare, and include dental and vision program benefits when selected, Long Term Care insurance is not included in the annual Federal Benefits Open Season. However, FLTCIP is available to Federal workers, Postal Service employees, and military members. Eligibility for this program is linked to eligibility for Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (FEGLI). The link to the FEGLI handbook is here. The key point to note, is that eligibility for FEGLI does not require a person seeking FLTCIP to be enrolled in the FEGLI.

Open Season, physical exams, and Qualifying Life Events do not apply

For those who may be familiar with Tricare Open Season, which runs from November to early December of each year, FEGLI also has a banner regarding Open Season. The Office of Personnel Management, OPM, “Outside of an open season, eligible employees can enroll or increase their FEGLI coverage by taking a physical exam or with a Qualifying Life Event,” However, no such open season limitation exists to enroll in the Long Term Care insurance. Details as to eligibility are found here. To access more information, and to begin enrollment, the link is here.

Most of this information comes from a website, https://militarybenefits.info, opm.gov and the FLTCIP program webpage.

Why Responsibility Is So Important — Steve Rose, PhD

With all of the recent social distancing measures, we have been repeatedly told by public health officials that it is our responsibility to stay home and flatten the curve. You are not responsible for the problem, but you now find yourself responsible for part of the solution. It can be frustrating, it can be isolating,…

Why Responsibility Is So Important — Steve Rose, PhD

When Your Doctor Joins a New Practice – Consumer Reports

For most people, including fellow military retirees, veterans and their families, healthcare is second only to our income, in importance. While this blog has offered insight into military retirement (pay) issues, there are questions a beneficiary or family member may have about healthcare. The Reserve or Guard member, and family may be covered by one plan, if still serving in the military, another once that member reaches “gray-area retiree” status, and a third option once the member reaches 60 years of age. And then, at full retirement (Social Security/ Medicare-eligible) age, yet another healthcare transition occurs. For many who are employed after military service, they likely have a private -or public (government) employer offering a subsidized healthcare option. Often the most straightforward approach is to visit a website, which may then require a call to the physician’s office, which may be directed to the health group switchboard, and then to a department versed in many questions a beneficiary might have. At times, that approach may not be satisfactorily answered, so second website visit (https://tricare.mil), which may then lead to a call to the Tricare manager, which for West Coast residents is https//www.tricare-west.com (Humana Federal services) .

With all the changes nationally to healthcare in the last dozen years, it is prudent to be aware of how your healthcare may change. What, if anything, may interrupt your health maintenance, prescriptions, treatments or attending physicians when your doctor joins a new practice? This is my first question of the year, as my “primary care manager” went from private practice, to a new group practice. Read here about questions you should have for your physician and insurer, and be prepared for any, or more likely inevitable, interruption in your care plan.

The information in the linked post, was published by Orly Avitzur, M.D., in the February 10, 2017 online Consumer Reports

Ask the Chief: getting help with substance abuse

As a veteran, retired Navy Senior Chief, parent, and member of my church community, I have seen friends, shipmates, comrades-in-arms, and family members struggle with mental illness and substance abuse. While the social ignorance and stigma Post-Traumatic Stress sufferers once faced is fading, the number of veterans suffering PTSD, TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), and ailments from exposure to toxics in the combat theater is a huge problem. In addition, every other condition that veterans encounter from financial issues, divorce, job losses and health problems exacerbated by their service, can compound depression, feelings of isolation and a tendency to substance abuse. Even with a support network of friends, pastoral counseling, and veterans community organizations, professional help in the form of treatment centers and follow-up care, is available for those who are ready to be helped.

One potential source of professional help is found in south Florida. The Recovery Village (844-359-9732) offers a full range of behavioral health treatment and support, for veterans as well as the civilian community. From their website, the following are their core beliefs:

  1. Anyone can recover from addiction
  2. Each client deserves respect and compassion
  3. Addiction is a disease that deserves evidence-based care backed by research
  4. The physical and mental causes of addiction should be addressed simultaneously
  5. Recovery is a lifelong journey that requires daily commitment

Additional information on addiction, substance abuse, questions and help a veteran’s friends and family may wish to provide can be found here.

NOTE: This information is provided without regard to the suitability or efficacy of the programs offered through Advanced Recovery Systems, floridarehab.com or drugrehab.com. No compensation was offered nor sought in providing these resources to veterans or the public through this blog.

“Golden years” or “Fools Gold”?

The idea of outliving my money scares the hell out of me. But worse, would be to have a chronic health problem, and being unable to get the help needed to maintain a “quality of life”.

Unless the United States becomes insolvent, a military retiree or a combat veteran will not go without some social or health services. Being eligible to obtain certain benefits or services, however, is not a guarantee of actually receiving aid. If the person seeking benefits does not have an advocate- either a relative or some knowledgeable case worker – the system may never actually connect the need with the claimant. In recent months, a veteran who had been eligible, for decades, for a benefit – and had not received it – was compensated by the Veterans Administration with back pay. This was a significant boost in that veteran’s access to healthcare and standard of living. In another case, a combat veteran, with a heart condition, received lifesaving surgery, and when his deplorable living conditions were investigated, received a stipend and moved to suitable housing.

Recent requests for aid from an elderly family member, not a veteran, living thousands of miles away, highlighted a similar dilemma. Care is available, but several conditions including a debilitating nerve disease, a passive nature, and the anonymity of living in a huge city complicate matters. Yet, with services and people available to render support, a mentally-competent person, elderly civilian or veteran, has to voluntarily accept assistance. In this instance the relative refused it.

As a veteran, a retiree, and having a close network of family, friends, social and civic organizations, I will unlikely face the prospect of outliving aid. For many though, without “connection” and proper planning during a person’s working life, post-retirement “golden years” can be disappointing “fools gold”.

Photo by Monica Silvestre on Pexels.com

laughing matters

“It’s good to be here. I’m just trying to go through life without looking stupid. It’s not working out too well. ”
Brian Regan

https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/98398.Brian_Regan

Laughing at oneself is a skill only a few can make into a successful career. And doing so, consistently and without throwing in “F-bombs”, sexual humor, or biting political satire in the mix is more rare. Brian Regan is one such successful “clean” comedian. After years of working in mentally-challenging careers, me, with rapidly-changing priorities, technical challenges to resolve, and demanding schedules, and my spouse performing management and ‘crisis’ counseling of staff, students, and the bureaucracy of an educational institution, we are exhausted. With family drama in one spouse’s family, or the other, or our own for more than a decade, we have relied on laughter to help one another. Laughter is really the best medicine. Next to exercise and improving our diet.

Not “Switzerland”

In a war everybody always knows all about Switzerland, in peace times it is just Switzerland but in war time it is the only country that everybody has confidence in, everybody.

Gertrude Stein; https://www.brainyquote.com

When my sons and I now debate the polarizing topics of the day, we still can see the others’ point of view though we disagree on positions, evidence, and interpretation of those differing opinions. My spouse, who deals with conflict in her job has on numerous occasions stated to us and to others that she is “Switzerland” when we all try to bring her to our side.

But there are times when the family rallies around one another. Nobody takes a position of non-intervention or turns a blind eye to family crises. Politics, gender, religion, age, birth-order, and sports are not discussed when a family member is hospitalized. Berating individuals about life choices and mental fitness are banned, delayed or withheld, in order to support the suffering member.

Perhaps we are fortunate. Or that we have a unique perspective. But I do not think so. Our family has six adults, one by marriage, and a grandchild. Our “empty nest” has been re-nested with the same suffering family member recently. Our family has been touched by illness, substance abuse, divorce, step-parenting, military service, job loss, overwork, financial issues, car accidents, and even a fire in our home. Everything from hospitalized parent (the author’s and his wife’s), online stalking, high school shootings, and even a student suicide have touched the life experience of members of this family.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In the end what holds us together as family is more permanent than what makes us individual. In the world, the concept of “family” means different things to different people. But in ours, there is no room for anyone to sit on the sidelines.

hot water

An experienced mariner knows most basic principle of seamanship: keep the water outside the skin of the ship. But what if you want water, for your health and convenience, inside a ship? Before modern systems aboard ship made potable water from seawater, sailors had to carry sufficient drinking water with them. Sailors rarely bathed. In the later years of sailing ships, mariners learned that cold water bathing, and clean clothes would prevent communicable disease, and foul odors (germs). Modern systems on larger vessels supply clean water for everything from cooling equipment to supplying sailors with drinking water and for food preparation. As an added personal benefit: hot water for showers.

Living ashore since retiring from the sea service, I have not had to go without clean clothes, nor without hot water for ages. This week our home water heater failed and for two days we were braving cool showers. Calling out a plumbing company – one who installed my unit happened to be a former Navy HT – was a smart move. I would have been out of my depth (pardon the pun) there.

With an older home, lots of unforeseen costs for safety systems raised the price and the complexity of the job. My wife and I opted for a better, “greener”, and only a little more expensive longer-term solution. A tankless system instead of an old technology- and shorter lived one. With other required modifications for federal, state, and local regulations, the cost had us briefly thinking, is cold water really all that horrible? But with my restless dreams about work in recent weeks, I never want to have nightmares about flooding -while at work – soothed by cold water showers!

Mesothelioma-affected veterans

The Mesothelioma Center provides the following information for veterans and their families to get educated and find support for veterans affected by mesothelioma. Thanks to Samatha Litten of the Public Outreach Department of the Mesothelioma Center for providing this information:

Countless veterans are currently suffering from life-threatening illnesses that are a result of exposure to asbestos, a material that was commonly used in hundreds of military applications, products, and ships because of its resistance to fire. Veterans who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma even qualify for special benefits from the U.S Department of Veteran Affairs.

We recently published an educational guide about mesothelioma prognosis: