Part 4: The infuriating contradiction of losing your mind

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs denied my dad a life-improving benefit that would finally allow him to afford not only the memory care home he lives in today but also future nursing care facilities he will need as dementia continues to consume his brain.

Senator Catherine Cortes Masto’s office in the Las Vegas VA office helped my family clear the red tape and speed along the decision to increase my dad’s disability rating to a magic number: 80% disabled. The person there did us a huge service contextualizing information and translating opaque government letters, which ultimately led to him receiving more money every month.

But unfortunately, that department cannot influence the decisions of the VA, and he was denied an additional benefit called Aid & Attendance because his vascular dementia, depression and anxiety did not come from a “service-connected disability.”

I’ll explain, say hi to dad first, though.

He’s gotten much thinner but at least he’s still smiling. Photo by Tiffany Rodriguez-Lopez

How to turn someone into a faceless number to guarantee fairness

Let’s break it down because this is where the government fuckery really gets you.

Veterans are assessed not as a whole person but as a series of pieces and parts. Every symptom, disability or illness is turned into a small piece to be dissected separately by various specialists. Could be erectile dysfunction, hearing loss, diabetes, missing arm, etc. Specialists send in their medical records to a separate board of agents who then decide if that ailment is A) caused by military service and B) worse than a previous evaluation.

Each ailment receives a percentage of disability. All of those percentages are added together to create a total “disability percentage.” That percentage from 1% to 100% is assigned a dollar value. That dollar value is paid out in monthly stipends to the veteran. The holy grail of disability ratings is 100%, which means you get $3,000 per month, and everything else is free for life.

I’m not certain how dismembered or near death you need to be to receive a 100%.

However, 80% and above marks a meaningful milestone on your journey to top-tier government care. For comparison, an 80% disability rating nets a vet about $1,700, so a bit more than halfway. It must be graded on a curve.

My dad received his first disability rating several years ago when Agent Orange, a toxic herbicide developed by Monsanto and used to destroy Vietnamese jungles, was recognized as a cause of Type 2 Diabetes and numerous other diseases. Sadly, vascular dementia is not one of those diseases, despite the VA’s own statistical research discovering that veterans exposed to Agent Orange are diagnosed with dementia twice as often as those who were not exposed.

Bonus money denied

So, where does Aid & Attendance fit in? Somewhere between form 21-2680 and form 21-4138. Zing! A little government form humor to break the tension. Aid & Attendance is an additional layer of benefits for people who meet one of four criteria, such as being housebound, bedbound, in need of skilled nursing or with limited eyesight.

Those who qualify receive up to an additional $2,000 per month on top of their percentage-based disability benefit. It’s meant to help pay for either in-home care or expensive nursing homes. Every VA person we talked to repeatedly told the family to apply, apply, apply now!

So we did.

Apparently, my dad and stepmom had already applied in 2020, so it took two years and a U.S. senator for the decision to come out as a big fucking no.

But here’s the best part:

1. Entitlement to special monthly compensation based on aid and attendance/housebound is denied.

2. Service connection for depression, dementia and anxiety is denied.

The medical evidence from the examination and medical opinion completed on August 12, 2022 by the VES contractor does reflect that you are in the need of regular aid and attendance and are housebound based on your non-service connected dementia and neurocognitive disorder. There is no medical evidence that reflects you need the regular aid and attendance of another person or that you are housebound due to any of your service connected disabilities.”

VA decision letter

That was not a copy/paste error. It goes on to say that “factors in your favor” include being housebound and in need of aid and attendance for having dementia. Like…what?

Said another way: “We recognize that your dementia causes you to be housebound and therefore meet the criteria for Aid & Attendance, but your dementia is immaterial to us because that really came out of nowhere, and that’s not what we cover as part of your experience in Vietnam. Your diabetes, however, the thing you definitely got from us poisoning you in Vietnam, is not the reason you are currently housebound in a care facility so we regret to inform you that you get nothing.”


“High glucose levels damage blood vessels throughout your body. Damage in brain blood vessels can increase your risk of stroke and vascular dementia,” according to Mayo Clinic vascular dementia symptoms and causes page.

It goes on to say that not getting Type 2 Diabetes is a good way to avoid vascular dementia. Recent research also shows that insulin usage in diabetic patients can also cause vascular dementia because insulin hardens blood vessels.

So do you know what’s really missing here from this equation? Two things: Science definitively connecting the dots and presenting them to congress and congress making a decision to include vascular dementia as a covered illness for Agent Orange exposure.

Oh, and also, Jon Stewart. #BurnPits

*I am not a doctor.

Let us not forget Camp Lejune

Some of you might have seen recent commercials on TV for a class action lawsuit about some far-away place called Camp Lejune.

Camp Lejune is a Marine Corps. base in North Carolina. The groundwater became contaminated with toxic chemicals the exact years my dad and thousands of other military personnel worked there. Parkinson’s disease, a type of dementia, is once again listed as an expected brain damage from this exposure.

Unfortunately, the VA/congress continues to ignore other forms of dementia or Alzheimer’s since those are less well understood.

So he doesn’t technically qualify for this either. And the class action lawsuit is a potential land mine obstacle course of predatory law firms and scams.

To top it all off

On top of this veritable mountain of bullshit, the VA nursing home in Boulder City denied his application because he has not had stable behavior for six months. If you’ll remember, back in June, he ran away from his memory care group home as I was driving to Las Vegas. The intervening hospital listed his behaviors as aggressive (plus there was that whole scary thing earlier this year). The Boulder City home would not accept him because of this, even though a stable care facility would probably make a significant difference on his mood. So we must wait another 90 days to reapply in hopes that his new medications stabilize his behavior.

And here’s the kicker: the VA nursing home would’ve been free. Want to know why? Because that magical 80% disability rating unlocks a secret door.

Hopefully, I have better news in December.

In conclusion

In this essay, I will provide evidence for how my father dropped out of high school in 1966 at the age of 17 to fly overseas and fight for his country in a proxy war. I will demonstrate how he was knowingly sprayed with a tactical herbicide created by his own government and a megacorporation that caused long-term health defects. I will go on to describe his final year in the Marine Corps. working on a base that served tap water contaminated with volatile industrial chemicals that further destroyed his body.

Finally, I will point to a heap of additional evidence that includes all the ways the U.S. military has poisoned and maimed its personnel without ever firing a weapon, then pussyfooted around those issues for decades until finally forced to compensate people later in life because they managed to survive largely pointless wars, go home and complain about additional ailments. But most importantly, I will prove that the system is so tremendously broken that the department set up to protect and care for those veterans will try its hardest to deny people those benefits, requiring a cottage industry of nonprofits and government bureaucracies to fight for people in a simulated proxy war, much like the one where it all started.

In conclusion, the absolute fucking insanity of it all cannot be understated. Saying that “war is hell” escapes the reality that at least hell is final. In America, there’s always more hell around the corner.