NORMAN — I know I make people uncomfortable when I talk about their tax dollars paying for my groceries, my mortgage or the cruise I’m going on next month. I want people to be bothered that their tax money is supporting me, and I want people to be bothered when I talk about my husband.
I don’t really care if people are uncomfortable around him. He is uncomfortable around them, not least of all because he cannot remember who they are. I want people to be bothered because we send young men off to a war we hardly remember or understand, and I want people to understand some of the costs, such as my mortgage and the cruise I’m going on next month.
Civilians may be grateful for the service of a soldier who lost a limb, but they may not want that gratitude to come from their hard-earned paychecks. An Iraq veteran, who had a career before joining the military, has come home to depend on disability payments, and he does not want anyone to think that he is lazy and unwilling to work.
Maybe civilians are OK with supporting veterans financially, but our culture tends to focus on the idea people drawing Social Security Disability Insurance are lazy. It does not matter if they are on SSDI because they cannot remember what street they live on.
Veterans can double dip, receiving both VA (Veterans Affairs) disability and SSDI. The maximum amount of SSDI payment, assuming you are a disabled individual with a spouse and a child, is $1,892 per month. The maximum VA disability amount, with a spouse and one child, is $3,037.
However, SSDI is an all-or-nothing game. SSDI either grants that an individual is disabled and then pays him or her based on their projected lifetime earnings or SSDI is denied and pays nothing. The VA is a convoluted game of numbers where each portion of yourself that you lost is worth a different amount.
I wish I could find the simple page where it tells me what each piece of my husband is worth. How much is it worth each time he forgets what day or month it is? What percentage of our monthly income is that? Does a bigger allotment cover when he forgets to pick our child up from school? How much compensation is earmarked for when he almost hits me because he didn’t hear me coming? SSDI simply says, “You can no longer reasonably be expected to work.”
VA disability, though, tells a somewhat different story. If you have tinnitus, ringing in your ears, whether it is intermittent in a single ear or constant and unbearable in both ears, you will receive $127 a month, which is roughly a nice date a month: babysitter, dinner, a movie, a large popcorn and two Icees. If you have tinnitus and PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), you will receive a rating for your PTSD and a rating for your tinnitus. PTSD could receive a rating of 10 percent if the symptoms are controlled by constant medication or a rating of 100 percent if a veteran cannot remember the names of his family members. Also available are 30 percent, 50 percent or 70 percent.
In general, almost punching your wife, your dog or your child when they startle you — combined with an inability to feel safe ever and a general feeling of uselessness — is worth one mortgage payment a month. Headaches are also available in a variety of ratings. My husband’s current rating for headaches is worth roughly the cost of swimming lessons for our children at an excellent (expensive) swim school and the ability to buy them Christmas presents without wondering how we will afford groceries.
Now the VA provides a caregiver stipend, too, for post 9/11 combat veterans’ care-takers, depending on how many hours a week a doctor believes your husband needs care. There are three tiers. The lowest tier agrees to pay your utility bills because you have to keep your husband on track. The middle tier agrees to keep your family safe. The top tier agrees that your marriage is a full-time job.
Currently, between SSDI, the caregiver stipend and my husband’s VA rating, we receive more money than when my husband was in Iraq. My husband is worth more broken than he was whole, financially. I often make jokes about this, about the perks of being married to a disabled veteran. I do not have to work. Of course, I’m not sure I can work because of the time involved making sure my husband is functioning, but I don’t have to.
I can set aside money for a trip to Europe next summer. Of course, one of the reasons we’re going to Europe next summer is because my husband’s brain condition seems to be degenerative and I want him to have the best possible life he’ll never remember — but still, a trip to Europe.
I love my husband and I love our life. I do not believe there is any amount of money that will ever cover what he personally lost in war. I do not believe that any of the men he served with will ever be adequately compensated for the cost of war. Every cent we receive is not only hard-earned tax money, it is also blood money and it is also a payment for our silence.
We have told our service members that we depend on them, and we have left many of them in a situation where they are dependent on us. Have we taught them to be ashamed of being dependent? Have we left them no choice?
I will not allow my husband to be ashamed of our reliance on government funds. I will not allow him to lose pride because I expect our country to take care of him as he promised to take care of our country. I will not be silent.
Marie Mulling lives in Austin, Texas, and has relatives in Norman.