The Photographer of Heaven

The spirit of my friend Tim Connor is this great light. And behind the light is the polished mirror of his soul, focusing his beacon on the world. That beacon regularly illuminates heaven, right here in our midst. I have roamed with Tim what he calls the “good lonely” when he clicks the shutter of his camera and freeze frames wonder.

The good lonely for us is mostly the Columbia River plateau, the scablands gouged by the great floods at the end of the last ice age, but also the Palouse Prairie wheat world, emerald green in spring, fields of gold in summer, and the Green Monarch Mountains of North Idaho, looking down the forested barrel of the Purcell Trench where the hardest rock on earth finally yielded to collapsing ice dams, loosing the inland sea of ancient Lake Missoula, sculpting the land with roaring water hundreds of feet deep moving at freeway speeds.

We are two beat up old men, hard used by life in some ways, but more blessed beyond measure. And our wanderings salve our wounds, and celebrate a precious friendship now five decades along.

Tim, left, and Larry before meeting the rattlesnake. Photo courtesy Mary Kay McCollum

We laugh a lot out there. We’ve cried some, too, brotherhood-watering tears.

When Tim clicks his shutter I look where he is looking and try to see what he sees. But I can’t.

I see the beauty of the good lonely, drink in its surpassing peace, often to the song of meadowlarks, honking of geese, overhead trumpeting of swans and Sandhill Cranes. Once to the irritated rattle of a snake we almost stepped on—it sounded like a garden hoe grating over wood, Tim said; I couldn’t hear it, even though in the gathering dusk I saw it zip across the trail like a snatched rope inches from our toes. Fragrance of sage and mock orange out there, and wild herbs volitilizing their oils in the hot sun, filling my nostrils like the sacred flower scent of a beloved wife.

The heaven Tim sees through his lens eludes me until I see his developed images.

They fill me with such gratitude, joy and hope that my home is something of a Tim Connor photo gallery. I have his visual Psalms hanging in every room of my house, making my heart glad and my spirit rejoice.

OHHhhhh OAK-LA-HOMA, where the wind comes sweeping down the plains…

That was Tim suddenly bursting into song on one of our scabland hikes. He listened to the musical countless times with his mother, who had been stolen by Alzheimers, because it bathed her in happiness. Tim also bathed her frail body, did her toilet, slept on the couch beside her for the last three years of her life, one of the most saintly acts I ever heard of.

That’s the soul radiance I’m talking about.

Tim once made a recording of washing his mother’s hair. (The link will take you to “Bath Day” on Tim’s Chirbit page. Click on the play arrow in the upper right hand corner.)

“I’m just trying to get Mom to heaven,” he told me.

You know there is a heaven, and you know there is a God if you know someone like Tim. And you know God likes you if that someone is your friend.

If, in these tumultuous days, you sometimes find yourself needing a hyacinth for your soul, I commend Tim’s photography to you. And if you have friends or loved ones also in need of a little soul hyacinth, you can’t do better that gifting them with a Tim Connor photograph. You can find Tim’s photos here. Email him at to order.

If you gift others with one of his photos you might share this ode with them so they can feel the full love medicine of the images. Tell them Tim’s friend sent you.

Canyon sunrise north of Othello.
Cascade, north fork Wallace River in the Skykomish watershed.
Western bluebird taking flight.
Autumn at Tumwater Canyon near Leavenworth.
Great Blue Heron on an icy winter day at Latah Creek.
Gibraltar (foreground) and Steamboat Rocks in upper Grand Coulee.
Migrating Tundra swans with winter ducks.
HU Ranch Coulee in Franklin County.
Up through the water column, Spokane River in Riverside State Park.
Alpenglow late in the day near Fishtrap.
Spokane River rapids in early autumn.
Sandstone and driftwood, north Puget Sound.
Up through the water column, Spokane River in Riverside State Park.


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All My Daughters:

What I’m Doing About George Floyd’s Killing

During the Vietnam War one of the hate demons that plague the world suddenly materialized out of thin air and murdered three little girls right in front of me. I couldn’t save them. They were shot by a helicopter’s M-60 machine gun only a few feet above them. Tet Offensive. The violence—it was like seeing them hammered into the ground by anvils. Their shattered little bodies crumpled like rag dolls.

They lie there still in my mind’s eye—and will until I die—reminding me of my kinship with them and all that is, ever was, and ever will be.

Everything I have done since that moment has been an effort at repentance, trying to make the world better, begging forgiveness for my own evil in the American War in Vietnam. My efforts have been feeble.

But they have not been nothing.

The hate demon struck before me again the other day when that Minneapolis policeman murdered George Floyd by kneeling on his neck. Like most of us, I have been dumbstruck by what feels like the stench-spirit of Nazi gas ovens wafting among us. I have been embarrassed by the naked emperor now occupying the White House who has so shamelessly—though helpfully—disrobed before us.

I felt impotent and paralyzed before Trump’s evil. What could I do about the uniformed police hate that killed George Floyd? The police violence now marauding our streets in the blue camouflage of law and order?

The only unforgivable sin is against the Holy Spirit, Jesus reportedly said. But what’s that? It’s calling good bad and bad good, said the advisor to a Princeton Theological Seminary graduate friend of mine.

Still, what could I do, an “innocent” white bystander, in this Armageddon of the American soul? Me, heir to genocide and slavery: what can I do?

And then the governor of my state, Jay Inslee of Washington (“a snake,” President Trump called him), sent me an email and let me know: “If you can, make a donation to support the NAACP Legal Defense Fund right now.”

That is called transformational leadership: act on what you believe, or lead the coward’s life and see what happens. See, as Chief Seattle advised President Pierce, what it leaves you to teach your children on cold winter nights so they will wish for tomorrow.

So I did. I sent in a little more than 10% of my fixed monthly VA PTSD and Social Security income. That’s not much, way below the national average income. But it’s a whole world more than nothing.

And then I did the same thing for Sen. Cory Booker’s re-election campaign. That’s another world more than nothing. I had earlier made a little contribution to Sen. Booker’s Presidential campaign and was so sad when he had to drop out. The documentary Street Fight tells you what you need to know about Sen. Booker.

If you’re so inclined, you can join me. If you can only send a dollar, do that. It’s actually a lot, acorn of a beautiful, mighty, wondrous new world where justice will roll like a river. Let us never doubt the simple, infinite plenty of our own hearts. We’re doomed without it.

And you can share this with everyone you know and invite them to join us. This is how we save ourselves. It’s how we help America become what she might become.

It’s how we plant the seed of hope that only we can plant.


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Message In A Bottle

Sometimes I think of Mary Kay McCollum like this:

She’s a survivor of Navy rape, alone on the desert island of humanity’s denial of what psychological trauma does to us. Ever since the U.S. Navy discharged Mary Kay in 1983 because a superior officer destroyed her mental health by drugging her, repeatedly raping her, and threatening to kill her if she reported him, Mary Kay’s been applying for the VA benefits to which her service-connected disability entitles her. She applied for those benefits in the first place because VA mental health counselors advised her to; they had diagnosed her with the PTSD caused by her Navy rapes.

There’s unusual evidence in Mary Kay’s case: her assailant was convicted in a court martial and punished.

Even so, the VA’s bean counters, its “business affairs” people, keep overturning the VA mental health people. VA bean counters have been denying the evidence in Mary Kay’s case for 15 years. 

So, if you’re interested in the whole message in Mary Kay’s bottle (why you should be is explained below), start by reading The VA’s High Crime. After that, you could read, Letter From The VA Death Camp. Follow the facts and you’ll see that Mary Kay’s message is the same as Jack Nicholson’s baleful charge in A Few Good Men: “You can’t handle the truth!”
Here’s what the message in Mary Kay’s bottle has to do with you. The truth embedded in her story is that humanity’s cruelty to itself causes psychological trauma. That trauma inflicts actual brain damage. According to some of the world’s leading public health authorities–Doctors Richard Rockefeller and Larry Brilliant to name two–the pandemic brain damage of PTSD may pose the single greatest threat to human survival.

That means the VA covers up the deadly reality of PTSD. That means the VA acts as an agent of the Military/Industrial Complex, not the American people. It means VA is a storefront for an American corporate wehrmacht devoted to profit, not national security, or peace and freedom.

Image courtesy Mike Hastie, Vietnam Army medic.

The VA’s handling of PTSD is like the CEOs of Big Tobacco testifying before Congress that tobacco isn’t addictive. Only it’s much worse than that. Not everyone smokes. All of trembling humanity, on the other hand, is addicted to war and the inevitable psychological injury caused by organized military violence. Organized military violence is nothing less than organized mass murder that humanity commits against itself.

All the flag waving and all the parades and all the pretty military cemeteries in the world can’t change that. 

Because of that, the entire human race is confined to the same terrifying isolation as Mary Kay. Our psyches can’t survive this isolation. We’re just not made that way. We’re all alone together on a speck of dirt tumbling in space. That’s why we all share the bottom line message in Mary Kay’s bottle.

A couple of days ago, I threw my own message bottle into the ocean of human consciousness with the email below. I sent it to Mary Kay’s fine Veteran Service Officer at Veterans of Foreign Wars, a young veteran who knows more about PTSD than he probably wishes he did. VFW is the most powerful Veterans’ Service Organization in the world. I’ll let you know if VFW picks up the bottle and reads Mary Kay’s message. We should all pray that it does. It would change history.

Subject Line: Request for Better VFW Help For Navy Rape Survivor Mary Kay McCollum

Dear Will: As the journalist who is documenting the devastating ordeal Mary Kay McCollum has experienced in applying for VA benefits due to her because of her Navy rapes, I thank you for the help that you and Veterans of Foreign Wars are giving her as her Veterans Service Organization and you as her Veterans Service Officer. I now ask that you increase the force of your help to match VA’s deadly mishandling of Ms. McCollum’s case. 

As you know, the evidence of VA’s mishandling of Ms. McCollum’s case is thoroughly documented in Letter From The VA Death Camp. As you also know, McCollum’s story is every veteran’s story of being treated as disposable by current U.S. government policy. Because of this “malignant normality,” Mary Kay McCollum is one of countless thousands of American veterans now hopelessly held in the VA gulag.

Clearly, this abuse of our veterans will continue until there is an effective demand for its end. As VFW notes on its Web site, “The VFW is one of the most respected voices in Washington, D.C., and within local governments across America. We advocate for justice for our nation’s veterans, service members and military families on an array of issues and continue to be the voice for veterans everywhere. We regularly testify before Congress, meet with elected officials and rally our national network of VFW members and patriotic supporters to ensure our lawmakers put veterans first. When those who’ve served their country and those that support them stand together, we can not be ignored.”

Please share this request with your colleagues at VFW. Ask that they review the evidence in McCollum’s case and demand that VA legally settle her case immediately. In order to make a public record of this request, I will post it on my blog site. This is a continuation of the promise I made in Immortal Medic

As I report in Testament, In Vietnam, “I had the honor of flying with the highest performing, best aligned organization I have ever known, or even heard of: the Mustangs, our gun platoon.” I had the honor of serving under the greatest leader I will ever know, Captain Harry Gawkowski, Mustang 6. If you needed the help of a helicopter gunship and you called us at any time, day or night, in any weather, we would come as fast as we could. Behind Capt. Ski, we would fly straight into hell to help you, gladly preferring death to not doing everything we could to keep you alive.
So that’s what I’m asking of VFW now: please do everything you can to help Mary Kay McCollum. And do it now! In doing so you will help every veteran and our entire nation.

Thanks, Will.
All the best, Larry


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Letter From The VA Death Camp

Navy Rape Survivor Mary Kay McCollum received the above letter yesterday, June 22, 2019. It informed her that she had missed her benefits hearing before a Veterans Law Judge of the VA’s Board of Veterans Appeals. The hearing was scheduled for June 10 in Washington, DC.

McCollum missed the hearing because she didn’t know about it. She didn’t know about because the VA didn’t inform her of it until yesterday, nearly two weeks after the hearing date.

This is how the VA clears injured veterans like McCollum from government benefit rolls. It’s how VA saves American taxpayers from the actual costs of military service and war. It’s the kind of crime lawless insurance companies commit when they fraudulently deny claims. This is why the VA has the blood on its hands of the thousands of American veterans who commit suicide every year.

Here’s the deal. It’s not complicated: the business of the military is war. War is organized violence. Violence, if it doesn’t kill and maim the body, physically wounds the brain. Like an ice bullet, it leaves the hidden physical injury that cripples McCollum: PTSD.

McCollum’s injury is such an ordinary consequence of military service that in 2007 Congressional testimony Penny Coleman put the blame for America’s military suicide epidemic on cold hearted government policy that intentionally covers up inarguable truth: military trauma often does central nervous system damage that makes normal human function impossible and life itself not worth living. That’s why we shouldn’t call the self-murders of our veterans “suicide,” Coleman testified. Their deaths are more like “executions” or “euthanasia.”

Translation: America’s military suicide epidemic is more like the industrialized extermination of the Nazi death camps than the random casualties of war.

The ugly facts embedded in the letter McCollum received yesterday expose why. Those facts amount to nothing less than an indictment of the VA for mass murder.

The facts in McCollum’s case show why there are actually two VA medical systems. There’s the VA that provides largely very good physical health care. And there’s the VA mental health system that denies the holocaust of PTSD.

If you can spare five minutes, here’s McCollum summarizing her experience in her own words.

If you want the hard evidence in McCollum’s case you can find it in The Strange Fruit of America’s Veterans, VA Continues “Institutional Rape” of Navy Veteran, The VA’s High Crime,  and Raping Mary Kay.

Here’s an executive summary.

* The Navy discharged McCollum in 1983 because her sexual assaults and serial rapes by superior officers destroyed her mental health. McCollum’s serial rapist was convicted at Court Martial. Under the VA’s March 2016 Military Sexual Trauma Disability Compensation Guidelines this proves that McCollum has been as disabled by her military service as if she had lost a limb in the 1983 terrorist bombing of the Marine Corp barracks in Beirut. Under VA rules she has been entitled to disability compensation since then.

* In 2004 a VA mental health counselor diagnosed McCollum with PTSD, told her she was qualified for benefits, suggested she file for them. She did.

* In 2005 VA denied McCollum’s claim, writing her what she called her “slut letter,” blaming her rapes on her.

* Some eight years later a second VA mental health counselor also diagnosed McCollum with PTSD and urged her to appeal the VA’s 2005 denial.

* 2014, after a year of no action, VA admitted it had lost McCollum’s appeal. She submitted another appeal.

* 2015, VA admits its 2005 denial was wrong, awards McCollum 50% disability, but ignores evidence of her 100% disability. That evidence, again, is that the Navy discharged McCollum in 1983 precisely because her mental health was totally destroyed by her Military Sexual Trauma. McCollum appealed again.

* 2016, VA admits the error of its 50% disability rating and awards McCollum 70% disability. It still ignores evidence of her 100% disability. McCollum appealed again.

* 2017, VA finally admits McCollum’s total disability and awards her a 100% rating. However, violating its own compensation guidelines and federal law, it rules her total disability didn’t begin until 2016.

* 2017, with the help of her Veterans of Foreign Wars Service Officer, McCollum submits two more appeals, asking that her benefits award obey the law and be properly backdated to 1983. Again, under VA guidelines and federal law, that is the date established by her Navy discharge because her Navy rapes left her totally disabled.

* January 2018, again with the help of her VFW Service Officer, McCollum appeals to the Veterans’ Board of Appeals to expedite her case. At this point, she has been lost in the VA system for 14 years since she first applied for benefits.

* March 19, 2018, McCollum’s VFW Veteran Service Officer, Will Sampson, requests that she be granted a live videoconference before the Board of Appeals to avoid having her travel to Washington, D.C. to testify.

*August 24, 2018, McCollum receives a letter from K. Osborne, the Board of Appeals Deputy Vice Chairman, telling her her case may be settled after 90 days.

* April 2019, 13 months after asking to advance her case on the Board of Appeals docket, McCollum receives another letter from K. Osborne, eight months after Osborne’s last letter. “In compliance with this action,” Osborne writes, “the Board will take prompt action to issue a decision in this case. You will receive a copy of the Board’s decision as soon as it is issued.”

* Yesterday, June 22, 2019, McCollum receives a packet of letters from the VA telling her that it has been trying to contact her since May 7, 2019, informing her of her scheduled June 10, 2019 hearing in D.C. The letters are dated, May 7, May 30, and June 19. All were sent to the same address. The June 19 letter, with the earlier delinquent correspondence included, reached her yesterday, on June 22. The May 30 letter informs McCollum that the May 7 letter was returned on May 14 to the VA by the US Postal Service. The May 30 letter informs her: “The above address has since been discovered.” That makes no sense, because all of the addresses are the same. There is no explanation for why only the June 19 letter came through. There is no explanation for why the VA made no other attempt to contact McCollum regarding her scheduled June 10 hearing. The May 7 letter states: “If you fail to appear for your scheduled hearing and no request for postponement has been received or granted, your case will be processed as though your request for a hearing had been withdrawn. No further requests for a hearing will be granted in the same appeal…”

There you have a scene from the VA theater of the absurd that causes veterans to blow their brains out in VA hospital parking lots.

I find it interesting that during the time McCollum has been lost in VA’s PTSD gulag, Board of Veterans Appeals Deputy Vice Chairman Kimberly E.H. Osborne has been a highly compensated attorney in the system. In 2015, for instance, a year that found McCollum homeless and living in her car, Osborne’s salary was $182,107; she earned a bonus of $2,784 that year.

Is it unfair to consider Osborne and her VA colleagues as workers in a death camp? We don’t have Osborne’s compensation figures for 2018 and 2019, but between 2004 and 2017 she apparently earned a salary of $2,173,700 and bonuses of $34,684. Setting aside her medical benefits, during McCollum’s VA wilderness years Osborne’s compensation was $2,208,384.

I just can’t escape Penny Coleman’s conclusion. To me, what those numbers add up to is that Osborne and her VA colleagues are being paid to kill America’s service members. They’re part of the final solution of military suicide to bury the truth that military service often destroys mental health.

Look at it this way. At the conservative veteran suicide rate of 20 per day, in the 15 years that McCollum has been waiting for the VA to obey the law and properly compensate her for her PTSD, 109,500 American service members have been “executed” or “euthanized” by suicide. And all that time a grateful nation has been chanting: “Thank you for your service.”

In the 13 months alone that have elapsed between the time McCollum asked that her case be “advanced” on the Board of Appeals docket and the time that Osborne informed her it would be, only God knows how many veterans and active duty service people have committed suicide.

Again, accepting VA’s questionable lipstick-on-corpses suicide body count, that means about 7,800 military suicides while McCollum has been waiting on Osborne to make good on her promise to “expedite” a decision on her case. There’s simply no way to avoid the conclusion that U.S. military service, and the VA bureaucracy that covers up its true hazards, are orders of magnitude deadlier to our defenders than the “enemies” we send them to fight.


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Badass Marine Soul Repair


Note: The following story quotes a young former Marine using the F word in describing his military experience. If the word offends you please stop reading now. I include the word’s use because the most obscene thing I know is war. Rage, note psychology authorities, is the normal emotion of those who have been to war. Rage is a “core emotion,” essential to human survival; that’s why babies exhibit it. Enraged by war’s obscenity, military folk often resort to the F word to convey their torment. The first book in the Western literature canon, The Iliad, is about war. “Rage” is the book’s first word. A friend of mine who identifies as a devout Christian once saw the “F Bomb”—that’s what he called it—in something I wrote about war and urged that I remove it lest I go to hell. That’s a big discussion, but I told him that I thought removing it would sanitize the truth and go along with the devil’s best trick of convincing the world he doesn’t exist. I respect Jesus, and I happen to believe that had he written about Vietnam, as I have, he might have used the F Bomb, as I have, to name a demon. And had someone threatened him with hell for telling the evil truth about war he might have said: “Satan, get behind me.” Anyhow, read on or not as you wish.  


Nick Jeffries, left, with Ryan Sill in Fallujah.

“Badass Marine” is how Nick Jeffries describes himself during his four-year enlistment, 2003-2007. He went in right out of high school with a brain—modern neuroscience shows this—seven years away from being biologically capable of adult discernment. (That’s what “infant-try” means.)

I asked him why he went in. Patriotism?

“I wanted to shoot people,” he said.

He doesn’t seem like that kind of guy. Not now, anyway. I’ve seen him with his two kids. From what I can tell, anyone would love to have him for a dad.

“Really?” I said.

“Well, I wanted to get in gun fights,” he said.

He wanted the action, for sure, to kill bad guys for freedom. I once wanted the same thing.

Nick had two tours in Iraq, in Al Anbar Province, a drab and searing place of brain-wrecking concussion and sudden, bloody, incinerating, vaporizing meat grinder death. He served in the 3rd Battalion of the 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division—3/5. Lima was his company. Call sign: Havoc. Battalion call sign: Dark Horse.

First tour Nick was a mere FNG grunt, a new guy with a profane adjective in front of “new.” He carried a Squad Automatic Weapon, a SAW, M-249, which is a light machine gun capable of firing up to a thousand rounds a minute. He won meritorious promotion to the corporal rank of E-4 in a scant one year seven months.


From left, Cpl. Sill, Cpl. Jeffries, unknown.

Exactly one year later, for his second deployment, he was meritoriously promoted again, to E-5 sergeant. Badass.

Second tour Sgt. Jeffries was a squad leader and carried an M-16 A4.


From left, Nick Jeffries, Nick Schrader, Mica McConnell, Peter Sewell.

Nick was in the really bad stuff in Fallujah. Operation Phantom Fury. That means the first actual offensive that scattered the three hundred thousand inhabitants into what the poet Shelley called the “lone and level sands,” turning Fallujah into a ghost town.

Then he was in the second push. Nick and his Marines were sent to “back clear” Fallujah of the “enemies” who had returned or snuck through lines.

“Our mission,” he told me “was to destroy the city so no one will want to come back. That was a general’s orders.” My notes record the future tense—“no one will want to come back”—as though the objective was to create a piece of forever hell.

“We did whatever we wanted. If they’re in the city they’re combatants. (This present tense Dr. Edward Tick, a PTSD expert, calls “frozen war consciousness.” I know it well.) We smashed, broke and burned. This isn’t talked about. I didn’t think or feel. I was a really good Marine.”

(In Vietnam, we had “free fire zones.”)

Nick was at that Euphrates River bridge where the charred, mutilated bodies of the ambushed Blackwater employees were hung. Nick was exposed to more “big booms” than he can count. “I was buildings-away from two-thousand pounders we called in. One was so close it collapsed the walls of the building we were in.” That’s the time he heard the “steel mosquito,” a bullet whizzing by his head. (See description below.)

Nick and his buddies once had the famed late Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle and his partner attached to their unit. In an elegant house the Marines occupied above the Euphrates near the Blackwater bridge, Nick says that either Kyle or his partner remarked, “I wish I could be a fucking Marine. You guys can do whatever the fuck you want.”

That’s Kyle’s weapon in the photo below.

The left-handed SEAL compliment echos Eleanor Roosevelt: “The Marines I have seen around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale, and the lowest morals of any group of animals I have ever seen,” she once said. “Thank God for the United States Marine Corps!”


Kasey Kinley photo

During his 14 months in Iraq Nick Jeffries took life and he saw life taken. Sgt. Jeffries collected tiny pieces of American viscera for burial. He almost died more times than he can count. He saw the lifeless bodies of innocent Iraqi children.

“That’s the part of war that fucks you up.”


Nick, left, and Kasey Kinley with Iraqi children they went to help. Kasey Kinley photo.

The VA rates Nick 80% disabled from the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) he brought home from war. VA allocates 10% of his benefits for the ringing in his ears left by war’s noise, 70% for war’s psychological trauma, and 10% for his headaches from the traumatic brain injury sustained from countless explosions. In VA math, that adds up to 80%.

But even though sleeplessness is one of the most diagnostic symptoms of PTSD, according to Dr. Jonathan Shay, former VA psychiatrist and one of the world’s leading PTSD authorities, VA denies that Nick’s sleeplessness has anything to do with what happened to him in war. That Nick has to use a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine so he won’t stop breathing and die in his sleep, has nothing to do with the war that we sent him to, says the VA.

Nick’s been in psychotherapy for all of the 10 years since he left the Marines. He became what he calls a “gym rat,” pumping iron so furiously that his body exploded and people suspected him of using anabolic steroids. “I don’t, you dipshit,” he would tell them. Instead, he milked his cells for the better drug of endorphins. To get the endorphin hit that Nick does you just have to carry the memories of Fallujah. “I could talk about a different incident every day that nobody’s heard of,” he told me.


Nick and Iraqi interpreter.

Nick does take the VA’s anti-depressant drugs. He has done Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and he does Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing therapy. Light, however, is what works best for him. The light of the wilderness. The one light that Eden saw play.

The light involves hunting. “Hunting is the only place I don’t have anxiety. The woods are my release. It’s a natural Zen.”

The breath of the trees, the majesty of the mountains, they comfort him.

“I hunt excessively,” he says. “Elk piss is my favorite smell. Elk is my favorite meat.”

He hunts big game 35-40 days a year, starting with bows in September, then rifles—modern and black powder—and he hunts until Christmas day.

“I can’t sit home if I have an elk tag. I’ve considered quitting a job in order to hunt. I’ve taken leaves of absence without pay to hunt. I’ve spent a thousand dollars on tags. I would sell three of my fingers to hunt.”

His daughter London was five or six when she scolded him: “Dad, you go from hunting season to shed season to fire season.”

Only the thrill of the chase gives him the adrenaline fix he needs to soothe his PTSD. Except when hunting, “I’m so numb I don’t know where I am.”

Anxiety ambushes him all the time. Why? God only knows.

The first time I met Nick four straight days of anxiety had ended just the day before. What’s it feel like?

“Like an anvil’s on my chest. It makes me feel like dog shit.”

Three years ago—it had happened many times before—Nick’s PTSD nearly did him in; he ended up in a VA inpatient program in Seattle.

Nick has a degree in Environmental Studies from Gonzaga University and works for the Washington State Dept. of Natural Resources. He helps private landowners manage their forests for health and fire prevention. He also fights wildland fire, and recently retired from running inmate hand crews on wild fires.

Fighting these infernos, of course, is notoriously dangerous and kills people all the time. But it’s mundane for Nick, devoid of adrenaline. He’s a sawyer, fells standing burned out trees, one of the most dangerous jobs in the woods. “Let Jeffries do it,” his colleagues will joke when a particularly lethal tree needs to come down. Nick will lay down a towering charred giant held up by two fingers of wood right where it needs to go. Only the deadliest of trees can give him a shot of adrenaline.

The problem is, that meager adrenaline drip doesn’t offset the misery that heat causes him because of his time in Iraq.

As soon as Nick got out of the Marines he tried sky diving for his adrenaline fix. Nothing. After Fallujah only hunting dependably triggers his adrenals and gives him this strange cosmic peace that surpasses understanding.

The wilderness light worker in Nick began unexpectedly six months after his Marine Corps discharge. Driving through Priest River, ID, on their way to Sandpoint, Nick and his wife passed Robby Kucherry selling antler lights from the back of his pickup. A $250 Kucherry creation changed Nick’s life. In Sandpoint Nick told his wife he wanted to withdraw the money to buy Robby’s antler lamp. Nick was a new college student and it was a lot of money but his wife agreed. Nick bought it on the way back home to Spokane and, mesmerized, he began hunting and buying antler “sheds” himself. He sold his first antler lamp within a year of leaving the Marines.

Since then, he has transformed himself into a Michelangelo of antler lighting fixtures. All kinds: table lamps, floor lamps, chandeliers that resemble wild galaxies made of Whitetail, Blacktail, Mulie and Fallow deer, Shiras, Canadian and Alaskan moose, Roosevelt and Rocky Mountain elk, Barren Ground caribou, antelope, reindeer.

Nick can barely keep up with the demand for his art. He has a ton of antler inventory in his shop that he’s purchased just this year. So far this year he’s done at least 10 chandeliers, 40 lamps and countless other antler art creations. He’s half the age of most antler artisans.

After hunting, working in his shop with antlers is his safe place. “It allows me to relax,” he says, “and turn off my brain and just be. I can really turn off negative thoughts working with antlers. And I tend to have a lot of those.”


Antler Man.

Like many of us with PTSD, Nick tends to keep to himself. “I have a heavy disconnect,” he says. “I have few friends.” Awful loneliness comes from such isolation, but somehow the need for safety—to avoid stressful social settings and relationships—dictates it. I know this only too well. Still, ten years after Nick met him, “Robby Kucherry and his family are friends to this day,” evidence that the heaviness of our disconnect doesn’t eliminate our need to connect.

Now 33, the still-young man who says he went into the Marines at 18 because “I wanted to shoot people” lives with the intensified disconnect of a changed mind. “I don’t know if I can define what I do and don’t believe,” he says. “I wouldn’t make a good Marine now. I didn’t think when I was a Marine. I did what they told me. Now I think. Today, I’d tell them all to fuck off.”

For one thing, he says, “Do you really even believe in your enemy?” He tells of a three-man Syrian rocket team that was firing at his platoon’s forward operating base. Nick killed one of them himself, buddies another. One apparently survived.

“I feel like most of the time we had such an overwhelming firepower.”

The Syrian Nick killed was maybe jobless and hopeless in his homeland, Nick speculates, “and someone offers him $500 to go to Iraq and kill American Marines. I’d have been down with that, too.”

His words remind me of something a friend of mine told me. He was a B-52 bombardier in Vietnam. “I did it for the money,” he gruffly tells those who make the mistake of thanking him for his service. And then he’ll cry, this burly stud. The tears seem to hurt him worse than physical pain.

Many veterans share this embarrassment of tears. Nick experienced it a few years ago at a supermarket when an Iraqi family was checking out behind him.

“I was in Iraq,” Nick told the kids.

“Iraq bad. Boom, boom,” said one of the kids.

Recognizing the lack of what the family had on the conveyor belt, Nick took a $100 bill from his wallet and handed it to the woman, whose head was covered with a scarf.

Then he ran from the store sobbing.

Why? God only knows.

War leaves us with incomprehensible grief that society sees as mental disturbance. Our agony, I think, comes from knowing we belong to a species that falls so far short of its potential.

We struggle with our PTSD alone, mostly, because telling the truth about this injury that is the most common military wound makes it hard to recruit a few good men and women. The problem with the Marines’ slogan is that it covers up the depth of the goodness of men like Nick Jeffries, the truth that we are too well and fearfully made to kill with a clear conscience. For most men—me included—crying in public is more embarrassing than incontinence.

Many times in my professional career during a business meeting something would trigger a Vietnam flashback. I’d excuse myself like I had diarrhea, rush to a men’s room, close the stall door, and cry my guts out. I’d be wearing one of my expensive Southwick suits and starched dress shirt and expensive tie and shoes, camouflage to make me blend in, clothing that served the same intended purpose as the 40-pound chicken plate that I stuffed under my flack vest when I flew in the helicopter gunships. My sobbing might be as violent as projectile vomiting. Then I’d wash my face with cold water and go back to work.

“Do you really even believe in your enemy?”

These are words that come to some of us with age. Nick’s lucky they’ve come to him so young, creating the mother of all psychological conflict. Blessedly, there is no cure for PTSD—we’d be doomed otherwise. But a rich vein of personal growth lies buried in it—the kind of treasure Helen Keller found in her blindness—if you can find the wherewithal to mine it.

To discover that vein of growth you have to answer the enemy question for yourself. But here’s my advice: don’t try it unless you’re ready to forgive yourself. Not sure? Get help.

The pandemic human insanity that keeps us from recognizing the single blessed reality that connects us all to all that is, the crazy illusion that there is an “other” against whom we must wage war, should be “at the center of theological reflection on social realities,” argues theologian Miroslav Volf. (The italics are his.)

Didn’t Pogo say that? “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

But such thoughtfulness isn’t what warriors come home to. Nick, like me before him, like my WW II Marine father before me, like all antebellum fathers throughout history, found that a mad world sends us to the madness of war. The madness changes all of us in different ways. Then the world brings us back—it’s not home anymore—and demands we rejoin its insane cult.

And the world calls our struggle a disorder.

My own beloved father could never talk to me about his experience in the Pacific—except to tell me once, before his eyes glazed over, that he’d seen flamethrowers used. “It’s just hard to believe human beings can treat each other that way,” he said. He committed suicide a few years ago as an old man.

Dad's Official Photo

My father as a 17-year-old Marine.

When you get right down to it, all the well-meaning thank-you-for-your-service celebration of war expects us to go along with the lie that war is good and that our complicity makes us good, too.

Really? Some 58,000 of my brethren were killed in the Vietnam War. A reliable estimate is that about 300,000 of us have committed suicide so far. What that means is that war is a deadly foe that stalks you all of your life.

The young go to war because elders send them. Elders tell them it’s right. Later, we’re vulnerable to this haunting inner voice. Kill yourself, it hisses.

The World War One British officer and poet Siegfried Sassoon, and contemporary former Marine platoon commander David J. Morris, call this The Evil Hours that subject veterans to damaged mental health, to “the sweating suffocation of nightmare.” Former Marine Gen. Smedley D. Butler, one of the most decorated Marines in history, labeled it the racket of war.  The Marine Corps boasts that it is “always faithful,” but in the searing documentary Thank You For Your Service former Marine and retired Navy Cmdr. Mark Russell calls the Corps’ neglect of Marines’ mental health “betrayal.”

What Sassoon said of his WWI generation could be said of all generations: “In the name of civilization these soldiers had been martyred, and it remained for civilization to prove that the their martyrdom wasn’t a dirty swindle.”

Marines can get shot for treason if they betray their country. What do you call it when the Marine Corps betrays Marines and their families?

“I wouldn’t make a good Marine now… Today, I’d tell them all to fuck off,” Nick tells me. “I have a heavy disconnect.”

Roger the disconnect, I want to tell him. It’s Ariadne’s Thread. It’s what led you to the antlers, the wild song that lures you into the eternal sanity of the hills. Keep following it. I think it’s the only thing that can lead you out of the PTSD labyrinth.

There’s a clue in William Stafford’s poem, “A Ritual to Read to Each Other.”

“If you don’t know the kind of person I am and I don’t know the kind of person you are a pattern that others made may prevail in the world and following the wrong god home we may miss our star…”

I can offer Nick and all my younger military siblings the advice to read and think about Stafford’s poem, and to seek their own home star, because war turned me into the same kind of person they are: a lost and wounded animal.

I saw Nick’s antler lamps in the display window of Carr Sales in downtown Spokane, 919 W. 1st Ave. (Check it out. The Carr folks are old-fashioned nice.) I’ve always loved antler art, but Nick’s pieces radiated strange power. They stopped me in my tracks and pulled me inside.

They were so beautiful with their sweeping runic bone lines that invoked a lost language. Their birch-bark lampshades seemed eternal. The lamps glowed rapturous peace, like wind in the trees, like the hymn of streams.

When I learned that their artisan was a Marine veteran of Iraq and that his lamps were therapy for his PTSD I had to have them. Knowing the broken heart that produced this art, relishing its testimony to the heart’s self-mending power, I bought them on the spot and brought them home.


Nick’s table lamps and the old woman I sleep with, 17-year-old Tinkerbell.

They instantly filled my little base camp with wonderful calm. They speak to me in a wordless language of a glorious place where there would never be call signs like Havoc or Dark Horse. Instead, were they needed at all, the call signs of this once and future country would be Fear Not, All Is Well, words like that.

I bought more of Nick’s lamps for their medicinal value to me. I got to know Nick, sat and visited with him in his shop as he worked on a massive chandelier, and felt such pride in him and gratitude for his saving art.

“I’m experiencing progressive betterment,” he says. “I’m still here. I’m still successful.”

That’s a very big deal, because like so many of our brethren he could have fallen at his own hand.

I wrote most of this on July 4, 2018. It turned out to be the best 4th of July I’ve ever had. It started at 1:30 in the morning when my PTSD woke me. I made myself an Appletini with an ounce-and-a-half of vodka to turn off my brain—like saying to a dentist: “Sure, I’ll take the Novocain.” I sat in my chair reading The Hidden Life of Trees with its proof of the hidden magic surrounding us, living warp and woof of the world.

And I found myself resting my hand on Nick’s antler floor lamp beside me. It was like holding God’s hand. I don’t know why.


Suddenly, I was flooded with the sense of belonging and connection that mostly, painfully, eludes me these days. I felt connected to my tribe, all the warriors of history that civilization has sacrificed in the name of civilization. All day on the Fourth I was alone and writing about all this. But that made me not alone. I was at peace with my brothers, whom I love as no other. I was as deeply happy as I’ve ever been. I was connected beyond my disconnection with our crazy world.

I commend the message of Nick’s soul repair to you—his magnificent art, too—because of the urgency of our shared need for it. That Nick labors in light of the living world against the darkness of PTSD I find more poetic than William Stafford’s poem.

Invoking circus elephants to make its point, Stafford’s poem ends:

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail, but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park, I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy, a remote important region in all who talk: Though we could fool each other, we should consider—lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

 For it is important that awake people be awake, or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep; the signals we give—yes or no, or maybe—should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

See Nick Jeffries’s work at Carr Sales, or contact him at Instagram: njeffries0311, or

The Steel Mosquito.



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The Strange Fruit of America’s Veterans

Southern trees bear strange fruit, goes the old Billie Holiday song. Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

The lyrics come from Abel Meeropol’s poem, Strange Fruit. The poem was inspired by Lawrence Beitler’s famous photograph of the 1930 Indiana lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith.


Truth is the great beauty of such awful things. Forget about the promise of the Statue of Liberty. Keep your platitudes about equality. The legacy of slavery, genocide against those whose lands we stole, the satanic reality of lynching—there’s your truth. Words can’t cover it up.

Nor can they hide the lynchings among our nation’s military that routinely take place every day with the way the Pentagon and VA are covering up the body count of psychiatric casualties and rape. As I have reported below, the Pentagon and VA are engaged in unspeakable evil by allowing the military’s behavioral health crisis and rape pandemic to rage out of control. See the two-minute trailers for Thank You For Your Service and Invisible War for inarguable summaries from military and government leaders themselves.

If you know of a better word than evil for this, please tell me what it is. As The New York Times story The Military’s Rough Justice on Sexual Assault reports, military commanders are actually legalizing rape. Result: grisly crimes like the one committed against 20-year-old Army Pfc. LaVena Johnson.


LaVena 1

LaVena 2

The evidence clearly shows that she was brutally raped and murdered while serving in Iraq. The Army has officially ruled her death a suicide. This is tantamount to  lynching her grieving family in public.

The VA has issued another ruling in the benefits case of Mary Kay McCollum. (See “Raping Mary Kay,” below.) Verdict: even though the Navy discharged Mary Kay in 1983 because the PTSD resulting from her serial rapes, forced drug and alcohol abuse and death threats by a superior officer who was convicted of his crimes against her destroyed her mental health and ability to function, her disability didn’t actually set in until June 28, 2017. 

Or so say the casuists of the VA.

This is as patently absurd as the Army’s conclusion that LaVena Johnson committed suicide by savagely beating herself to a pulp, pouring lye in her vagina (it destroys semen DNA), surgically removing part of her tongue, vagina and anus, gluing gloves to her hands, shooting herself in the head with an M-16 rifle found beyond the reach of her violated, bloody body, and attempting to set fire to a tent belonging to the military contractor Kellogg Brown & Root where her body was found and photographed by military criminal investigators.

Would that be the same Kellogg Brown & Root that is a subsidiary of Halliburton, you ask. Yes.

Same Halliburton that gave its CEO Dick Cheney some $34 million in severance pay so he could become Vice President and help President Bush invade Iraq? Yes.

Same Halliburton that made $39.5 billion on the Iraq War? Yes.

The Iraq War that was based on Bush and Cheney’s fraudulent evidence that our former puppet Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction? Sigh. Yes.

So let me repeat: if you know a better word than evil to describe the situation that has placed America’s government and military in the hands of ruthless, corrupt, morally inferior individuals who allow the effective lynching by PTSD and rape of our military members, please let me know.

Post your answer in the comments section below. On behalf of my fellow veterans, thank you for your service.







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My Dead Brother’s Alive!

I thought I had lost him. In my mind he had become like one of the countless grunts I saw die before my eyes. One of the-quick-become-dead-and-plastic-wrapped-in-green-poncho for battlefield removal as the wolf in my soul, orbiting 50 feet overhead in a helicopter gunship, howled to high heaven.

But he just called. So he lives! I feel like Scrooge on Christmas morning. Thank you, Lord.

Call him “Sam Brown.” The NSA eavesdroppers know his real name.

I met Sam five years ago at a PTSD retreat at Pendle Hill, the beautiful old Quaker retreat center near Philadelphia, that city of the broken Liberty Bell.

Sam’s snake-hard expression said, “Stay back.” It drew me in the way muzzle flashes used to. I walked up to him and stuck out my hand.

“Larry Shook,” I said.

He looked at me as though he might pull a knife. Reluctantly, he took my hand.

“Sam Brown,” he said finally.

“Who were you with?” I said.

He studied me as though trying to decide about the knife.

“Twenty-Fifth Infantry Division,” he said finally.

We were born again at that moment as brothers. The 25th was my favorite outfit to work with for the simple reason that 25th grunts didn’t seem to do as much stupid stuff as other infantry we supported. (That is, the mistakes of those in the firestorms below us could look to us the way a quarterback’s mistakes can appear to spectators in the stands. The difference is that they often died because of them.) And Twenty-Fifth grunts didn’t so often inconsiderately get themselves killed in front of me, cursing me with nightmares that still come at me like the world’s longest sniper shots.

Sam certainly has one of the finest minds I’ve ever encountered. He reads with the same intensity I do—like drowning men, we are, clawing the water for life rings, looking for the understanding that might finally save us from the craziness we brought home from Vietnam. Sam’s recovery from alcoholism whetted his mind into the most beautifully loving and dependable truth telling I have ever known.

I’ve found no such cure for the Quixotic madness that keeps me jousting with the world.

Anyway, I’ve never known anyone else like Sam. Last year I lost him when he sank into the black depression that stalks us all, that is the reason that four times more Vietnam veterans have killed themselves than died in the war. Sam turned to the VA’s anti-depressant meds in desperation. And suddenly he was gone. It was like seeing him shot right beneath my boots.

My wolf howled. The howling intensified after I posted that story two days ago about former CIA agent John Kiriakou condemning CIA torture.

Stupidly, I went online and started researching Kiriakou.

And then—even more stupidly—I updated myself on NSA whistle blower Edward Snowden (who, to my mind, is emerging as one of history’s great figures.) What these guys say about the Lord Voldemort-like evil of the Deep State, with its satanic enslaving surveillance power, freezes my blood.

Suddenly I missed my brother Sam Brown more than I could bear. I needed to talk to him, needed the covering fire of his understanding.

Because where my reporting is headed is right at the Deep State. It’s like being sucked out to sea by a deadly undertow.

You’ll see this if you study the stories below about “Raping Mary Kay.” You’ll see that the Deep State is guilty of the premeditated murder of America’s veterans and their families by denying them the quality behavioral health care that military service requires. The Deep State is killing us as surely as if it sent its jackals after us.

But I can’t roll in on the Deep State the way my gunship once rolled in on muzzle flashes. It’s very scary. I didn’t like killing people, but I sure liked being able to shoot back. How do you shoot back at the Deep State? The terror is stealing my sleep.

God, how I needed to talk to Sam! And then he called this morning. He’s off the meds. He’s back with that mind that burns in the darkness like a sun. This is the sort of grace cataract that proves the existence of God to me.

Thank you, God.




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A Portrait of Moral Courage

This is one of those days when I’m proud to be an American. So proud that I’d gladly die for the America portrayed in a new Washington Post column by former CIA agent John Kiriakou condemning CIA torture.

I had an allergic reaction to something I ate the other day that set my body on fire with hives. Most days that’s how I feel as an American under the Presidency of Donald Trump.

Mr. Kiriakou’s column flushed me with the feelings that once made me volunteer for the draft and to fight in Vietnam. Those were holy days because they showed me that something was more important to me than my own life. I’ve never forgotten the sweetness of those feelings. But I’ll stumble to my grave recovering from the debilitating shame I brought home from Vietnam, because of what I had done and been a part of there, because of the searing first-hand knowledge I carry of the evil that my beloved country is capable of.

The honorable Mr. Kiriakou’s column, I went to prison for disclosing the CIA’s torture, gives me hope. I’m proud of Mr. Kiriakou. I’m proud of The Washington Post. They embody the America I love.

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Mary Kay & the Temple of Doom

With its most recent proclamation in the rape-derived military disability case of Mary Kay McCollum, the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs cements its status as the U.S. Dept. of No. As in, “No, America’s veterans are not entitled to the disability benefits the law says they are.”

In case you think this doesn’t concern you as an ordinary, non-veteran American citizen, let me assure you it does. That is, it does unless you think human consciousness has evolved beyond war and the need for national defense.

To recap the saga of Mary Kay McCollum: she was repeatedly raped, drugged and threatened with murder by a monstrous superior officer while she was on active Naval duty from 1975 to 1983. The facts of her case, documented ad nauseum in the three immediately preceding blog posts, prove that she has been totally disabled and entitled to benefits since 1983.

ML phone

VA has illegally denied Ms. McCollum’s benefits since she first applied for them, in 2004. This is also proven in the three earlier stories: Raping Mary Kay, The VA’s High Crime, and VA Continues Institutional Rape of Navy Veteran.

As noted in the last story, VA notified Ms. McCollum in a February 14, 2018 letter that, despite overwhelming evidence conforming to VA guidelines, she hadn’t been disabled since the Navy itself first ruled she was in 1983. In a second letter written on the same date—your tax dollars at work; Ms. McCollum didn’t receive it until several days after she received the first letter of the same date—the VA ruled that she hadn’t been unemployable before March 2, 2016.

The VA’s decision about when Ms. McCollum became unemployable because of her rape trauma is as flatly inconsistent with evidence in VA’s possession as the VA’s conclusion about when Ms. McCollum was raped, drugged, threatened with murder, and disabled by the trauma.

The VA’s latest illegal ruling in Ms. McCollum’s case convicts VA of either the imbecility of insects or drug lord criminality. I hope I’m not being too subtle.

Here’s what this has to do with you, Mr. and Mrs. America. As long as the VA continues to engage in this kind of corruption it will make of U.S. military service a temple of doom. This is because the VA is complicit in covering up the American military’s rape and behavioral health crises.

Read the reporting below. I’m not going to repeat myself—well, maybe a little.

Before I slightly repeat myself, let me bring to your attention a pathetic U.S. Army general’s recent appeal that foreshadows the impending doom of the American military. In the Oct. 2017-Jan 2018 issue of Army Echoes: The Official Newsletter for Retired Soldiers, Surviving Spouses & Families, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow, U.S. Army Recruiting Command, under the headline “Army recruiting needs your support,” engaged in a little begging. It fell on at least this PTSD-disabled Vietnam veteran’s deaf ears.

“I come to you asking for assistance,” wrote the mendicant general. “The 8,800 recruiters across the country serve as the Army’s ambassadors to the American people every day, but they simply cannot reach every person. We need your help, as citizens who have experienced military life. We need you to share your Army story with the youth in your communities and the influencers who impact their decisions.”

Well, okay, sir. Here’s my sharing:



Mamas and papas, don’t let your babies grow up to serve their country until their country stops betraying them, as it is Mary Kay McCollum; until their country stops recruiting them into a permanent disabled underclass of the dispossessed.

If that sounds unpatriotic, take just two minutes and watch the trailer for Thank You For Your Service. Listen to combat veterans like me describe the lifelong, life-threatening mental injury caused by America’s refusal to face the truth about how Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ruins lives. Listen to Navy Cmdr. Mark Russell explain why that is a betrayal of our military personnel and their loved ones.

If you’re feeling even more patriotic, take another two minutes and watch the trailer for The Invisible War. Better yet, watch the whole documentary and hear for yourself how commanders in every branch of service are covering up crimes like the rape and murder of LaVena Johnson.

Ms. McCollum will continue to appeal the VA’s corruption as long as necessary. I’ll keep reporting on her appeals.

As I mention elsewhere on this site, I was a door gunner on a helicopter gunship in Vietnam. The worst part of my job was seeing people killed and maimed right below me. A wolf howled in my chest every time that happened.

Gunner Larry Shook

Gunner Shook

Someone told me the other day that the latest figures suggest four times more Vietnam vets have now committed suicide than were killed in the war. That means America herself has been deadlier to us than the strangers she sent us to kill. That makes my wolf howl.

America, who’s going to fight your wars if you keep treating your veterans like illegal aliens?

That’s all for now. Smoke if you got ‘em. That’s healthier than drinking Gen. Snow’s Kool-Aid.

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VA Continues “Institutional Rape” of Navy Veteran

The U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs yesterday intensified its crime against America’s veterans with yet another illegal denial of Mary Kay McCollum’s claim for disability benefits. Her claim stems from being raped, drugged and threatened with murder by a superior officer while she was on active Navy duty. Those assaults left Ms. McCollum permanently disabled. As a result, she has never been able to complete her education or support herself.

The facts in Ms. McCollum’s case are extensively documented in two earlier stories published on this blog site. (See “The VA’s High Crime,” and “Raping Mary Kay,” below.)

In a denial letter dated February 14, 2018, VA wrote: “Earlier effective date for grant of 100 percent evaluation for posttraumatic stress disorder prior to June 28, 2017 is denied…as the medical evidence does not show increased symptoms prior to this date.”

That conclusion is wrong. As reported in “Raping Mary Kay,” Ms. McCollum’s disability was first documented by the Navy itself in 1983. That’s when the Navy discharged her as a “Misfit” after her mental health and professional performance collapsed following her rapes, forced drug abuse and murder threats.

Ms. McCollum’s medical records and VA files bristle with evidence of her PTSD. Evidence on file shows that while Ms. McCollum was still on active duty she succumbed to substance abuse and attempted suicide after being sexually assaulted. Years later, in 2004 and 2011, two different VA mental health counselors diagnosed her with PTSD caused by her Navy rapes.

Despite those diagnoses, the VA denied Ms. McCollum PTSD benefits. VA later conceded those denials were “fatally flawed” and granted Ms. McCollum partial benefits.

Following a medical examination on June 28, 2017 in which she suffered a hysterical breakdown, VA finally conceded that Ms. McCollum’s PTSD “resulted in total occupational and social impairment.” VA granted her a total disability award at that time.

However, the VA’s February 14 letter, which Ms. McCollum received yesterday, argues there is no evidence of her total disability prior to her June 28, 2017 medical exam.

Not only does that conclusion contradict the extensive record of disability that Ms. McCollum has provided the VA, it contradicts criteria contained in the VA’s March 2016 Military Sexual Trauma Compensation Bulletin (see link in “Raping Mary Kay”) and it violates the laws cited by VA which govern benefits awards and their dates.

In a May 24, 2017 letter to Ms. McCollum, VA informed her that it bases benefits award dates on, “When we received your claim, OR (emphasis in original) When the evidence shows a certain rating under the rating schedule.”

Based on the recommendation of her VA mental health counselor, Ms. McCollum first applied for PTSD benefits in October 2004.

In a September 5, 2017, letter VA informed Ms. McCollum that in making awards decisions it must follow a federal law requiring that PTSD applicants be given the benefit of the doubt. The law: CFR 38, Section 4.3.

Applying the benefit-of-the-doubt law to the evidence in Ms. McCollum’s case and the evidence standard defined in VA’s March 2016 Military Sexual Trauma Compensation Bulletin yields a correct PTSD benefit award date of 1983. That’s when the Navy discharged her after her Military Sexual Trauma totally disabled her.

With its February 14, 2018 illegal denial of the legal 1983 award date, VA continues a pattern of arbitrary and contrived evidence evaluation that amounts to fraudulent denial of veteran benefits. The VA’s kangaroo court of benefits adjudication stresses veterans already pushed to the breaking point by their military trauma.

“Treatment records from Spokane Vet Center shows [sic] that from May to June you were noted to be oriented to all spheres with mood being fair and affect appropriate to content, linear thought processes, and normal thought content,” wrote VA in the February 14 letter. “Speech was normal and you reported no delusions, disorganized thinking, or hallucinations. You denied suicidal ideation.”

That assertion so directly contradicts Ms. McCollum’s Spokane Vet Center records as to amount to evidence tampering. Her records show that, in 2016, she had so frightened herself with angry and intimidating outbursts toward someone whom she felt had insulted her that she sought counseling at Spokane Vet Center. The record also shows that Ms. McCollum was so beset by thoughts of killing herself that for the last several years the VA Veterans Suicide Crisis Hotline repeatedly called her at all hours. The VA’s own records should show that.

Further, subjective characterizations such as “you were noted to be oriented to all spheres with mood being fair and affect appropriate to content, linear thought processes, and normal thought content” are simply irrelevant to the brutal reality of PTSD. Sufferers experience twice the suicide rate of any other mental health diagnoses. A paper presented at the 2014 American Psychiatric Association’s Annual Meeting reported: “Unemployment Biggest Predictor of PTSD Symptom Severity.” (Again, see “Raping Mary Kay.”)

Next to Ms. McCollum’s never being able to work because of her PTSD, and the Navy’s discharge of her for that very reason, what does “oriented to all spheres with mood being fair” have to do with anything?

VA’s latest denial of Ms. McCollum’s correct benefits award date so distorts and misstates the evidence in her case as to epitomize the “institutional rape” of which victims of Military Sexual Trauma accuse both VA and the U.S. military.





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