Since my husband Richard died in 2009, I have been
diligently working on a claim that his cancer was
service-connected. What this really means is that
I've been fighting the VA, insisting that the military
"own" their part of my husband's illness.
More times than not, I've asked myself, "Why am I
doing this?" For seven years, the mental and emotional toll of responding to their requests for more information, and then their denials is exhausting. I have cried many tears of frustration during all of this.
I was notified recently that I was scheduled for a
hearing in Portland at the VA office about my claim.
The photo to the right depicts how I had to emotionally arm myself for the battle.
I didn't know what to expect- the representative up there had not called to prepare me. So I wrote a statement outlining why I claimed Richard's death was service-connected. Armed with only that, I drove and cried my way to Portland.
I even stopped at Minam River and gathered 5 stones, for I truly felt like David about to meet Goliath.
When I got there, I was told "We're sorry. We could have done this in La Grande." I remained quiet- I had to choose my battles. The rep only had an hour to go over Richard's records with me. I didn't complain. What good would it do?
So we went into the teleconference hearing. It only lasted 15 minutes. I did get to read my statement. And when the television screen was logged off, the rep turned to me and said, "I think he heard what we were saying."
I was absolutely drained when I stepped out of the VA office in downtown Portland. I looked up to the skyscraping buildings and longed for the canyon walls of Imnaha. I wanted to be home.
And then I spied this...
Sometimes called "snake grass," sometimes called "mare's tail," it grows along the banks of Big Sheep Creek and many other waterways in Wallowa County. My heart smiled, and I left downtown Portland to seek the cemetery where Richard now rests.
It was a gloriously beautiful sunshiny day. The Willamette National Military Cemetery grounds are immaculately groomed. The grass was so full and lush, I removed my shoes and searched for Richard's grave marker. It had been two years since I had been here.
I met another Vietnam widow searching for her husband's marker. She found it while we exchanged our stories of taking care of our Vietnam husbands, who became sick and subsequently died from service there.
"I still miss him," she said.
I continued my search, still near the woman. She began to walk to her car, then looked back at me.
"Can I give you a hug?" I called.
She came to me, and as we embraced, I told her, "You know, when you take care of a warrior, you become a warrior."
She smiled and left.
A few more steps, and look who I found-
This is an "after" shot, for like I said, I had not been here for two years and grass nearly covered the stone. I used the pocket knife he had given me many years ago, and trimmed the grass.
I told him about the hearing, and heard his remonstrance before he died, "Don't even fool with the VA." But I know what the truth is, and I can say, after that hearing, I've done all I can regarding this claim.
I could not have been happier spending that time with Richard.
On the way home, I prayed. "God, I've done all I can. The battle now is between You and the VA. I pray that the Truth wins." This battle, as so many others, does belong to the Lord.
A 50-something woman comes home to a place she's never been before.