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The Real Faces of Disabled Veterans in America

A Veteran's Tale

The Real Faces of Disabled Veterans in America

When people think about disabled veterans they assume you're speaking about old men in their 70’s who were in World War II or Vietnam, but in today's society, millennials are the new faces of the veteran community. I grew up in a middle-class family.

My great-grandfather fought in WWII, my grandfather fought in Vietnam, my father was a Marine, and I was in the Navy. I signed up for what I thought was an elite group of individuals who stood for something and I wanted to be a part of that, — but not at first.

I had to work two jobs to make ends meet, like most of you. I had my own apartment at 23, along with a car payment and bills. I was on my way to a blissful beginning, but in 2008 that all changed. The job market began to crash and I found myself homeless and without a vehicle.

Broken and beat down, my grandmother sent my younger sister money to get me back home over four hours away minus most of my belongings as they were stolen by a slum lord. I was rock bottom and I didn’t know what to do. My parents didn’t have money set aside for a college education or even money to help me stay afloat since they both lived pay check to pay check.

My sister and I decided we had no choice but to enlist in the military, as they supply you with food and a warm bed. At the time, she was a college student, and I was soon to depart back to the coast.

We both tried to enlist in the Air Force, she got accepted, and became a reservist while I didn’t due to the fact I now had outstanding debt. After taking a mock ASVAB, I was accepted in all other branches of service, but I chose the Navy as I really wanted to travel and being on a boat was the best option as we were towards the end but still very much deep in the War in Iraq.

After a year in the delayed entry program, on June 6, 2010, I went to boot camp in Chicago, Illinois. After my training, I chose to go to NAS North Island in San Diego, CA and was part of ship's company on board the USS Ronald Reagan as an Aviation Boatswains Mate-Fuels(ABF).

As a Grape, I refueled FA-18, Hawkeyes, Helos, and Prowlers. I pulled flattened hoses that were six-inches across and that sometimes measured over 200 feet in length with a 30-pound metal nozzle attached over my shoulder.

Over time, I began to develop back pain, I expressed my concerns with my superiors but was laughed at, called a liar, and ignored. It didn’t help that our military is full of people who wouldn’t have a job if they weren’t under contract. I was constantly being mistreated by individuals who only cared about themselves. I was denied positions that I worked hard for, just because I wasn’t the type of female to sleep with married men or because I wouldn’t treat others poorly upon request.

After returning from a temporary transfer and refusing to go back on deck, I was going to file charges against my superiors but the issue was resolved by the head of my department and I was given the office job I was supposed to have over a year ago — not because they wanted me to have the position, but because I was the only one qualified to run the work center.

Still riddled with constant pain, I was laughed at by my chain of command and the medical staff on my ship. I was told I was a malingerer and was made to feel that way without one X-ray ever being taken. I was an avid runner and was able to run about 25 miles straight before stopping.

My goal was to run my first marathon, but because of my pain, I could no longer exercise which turned into weight gain and depression issues. I went from 160 pounds to over 200 and no one would help me medically. They just sent me to the Fit Boss to be put on a weight loss plan.

At this time in 2012, hundreds of minorities from all backgrounds were being discharged for being over weight, while our white counter parts were being given BCA waivers for thyroid issues.

I was no exception, after dozens of medical visits none in which I was given a single X-ray, I was honorably discharged and was coded with weight gain on my DD214 as my discharge reason.

My chain of command tried one last attempt at me by trying to take away my benefits by giving me an SP(Bad) evaluation even though I had never had anything except EP(excellent) and MP(above average) evaluations my entire career.

I had friends in high places at the time that knew me and my struggle, and they didn’t allow it. I received all of my benefits and was now a free woman.

Still depressed over my injury, I began to have issues on my right side. In constant pain and after rounds of medical appointments at the VA hospital as well as with civilian providers,

I was told that I had herniated the disk in my back, I had developed Sciatica, and had nerve damage in my right leg. I receive compensation for my injuries, but the road to recovery is long. I still have a limp occasionally and can’t stand on my feet for longer than an hour without excruciating pain.

I am a full-time student and I work part-time. I’m thankful I worked hard and received my GI Bill, but the way they distribute it leaves me short on cash every month and some times I can’t make rent.

Since my discharge, I've been evicted once and was almost evicted a second time. The VA tells you that they are going to give you housing as long as you're enrolled in school full-time, but it's not true.

Yes, when school is in session I receive a basic housing allowance based on my school's zip code of $2,341 a month, but this doesn’t include school breaks and holidays. If we are on break from classes my checks are cut even though I am still enrolled and am enrolled for the following semester. Last month I only received $1,400 of my supposed $2,341 stipend, because the school didn’t reopen for classes again until June 16th, even though I had been enrolled every semester since 2015; and my rent is $1600 a month and my disability only amounts to half my rent.

I can understand you not paying me tuition because I’m not in class, but why my housing? You said I need to receive at least $2,341 a month to live here!

I’m not a 21-year-old student that lives with my parents in my high school bedroom, I’m 32 years old and I live in a one bedroom apartment with my service dog. I'm barely able to make ends meet, and I'm trying my hardest to succeed.

Furthermore, due to stress and money, my grades are falling behind. How can I concentrate on getting a quality education, when I’m going to sleep for dinner? Every day, people pass by veteran millennials holding up signs asking for money and we are being written off.

It only takes three days past your rent due date in San Diego to get evicted. People even other veterans that have had it just as hard roll their eyes as kids my age are turned away or ignored at the VA. There is no communication between VA avenues and thousands of us are being put out of our homes.

Meanwhile, Washington D.C gives billionaires billion dollar tax cuts, spends millions of dollars to send missiles to Syria, spends millions on war machines we don’t need that sit in the desert while the tires on them dry rot, and are about to spend millions building a wall between us and Mexico, when part of the US was Mexico until the late 1800’s.

What is going on? I’m at the point where I’m considering moving away from the country my family and I fought for, and to top it all off, I can’t get food stamps, because I make to much money even though I'm living paycheck to paycheck and am on disability and I can't get housing from HUD because I'm a full-time student.

The face of the VA aren’t just men in their 70s anymore, it's your children. They are kids from poor and middle-class families, whose parents couldn’t afford them an education. They are boys and girls who went into the military after high school, who were sent to Iraq to die to put money in the hands of oil tycoons. They are husbands and wives that work full-time jobs and enlisted in the reserves to feed their families because Congress refuses to pay us a livable wage.

When are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness going to apply to anything besides right-winged bullshit? When are everyday families, the lives of average citizens, and the lives of immigrants who moved to this country to make a better life and pay into our tax system going to matter…When?

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Kourtney S. Jelks

Hello Vocal audience, I'm not an experienced writer but I've always been full of ideas and stories that I'd often share. Many have encouraged me to share my words and I figured this would be a great place to start. I hope you enjoy!

See all posts by Kourtney S. Jelks