Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “pension”

Doesn’t Shooting Osama bin Laden Deserve A Pension?

When I saw all the coverage regarding the U.S. Navy SEAL who shot and killed Osama bin Laden, I assumed we are in for some hyperbole. But I soon realized that what he is now experiencing what I have been writing about for some time, and what was the inspiration in writing Unwanted Heroes.

Heroes Low Res Finished Cover 11.18

The former SEAL who is identified as The Shooter’ claims in an interview with Esquire, that the U.S. government has abandoned him since he left the military last fall. His drive to spotlight how some of the U.S. military’s most accomplished soldiers are treated once they return to civilian life, is sad and a shame. He received no money for the interview.

But I wish to stress that whether you killed the world’s most-wanted terrorist or were any other cog in our huge military machine the issues of pension, health care, and protection for himself and his family, are the same. 

“…my health care for me and my family stopped. I asked if there was some transition from my Tricare to Blue Cross Blue Shield. They said no. You’re out of the service, your coverage is over. Thanks for your 16 years. Go f— yourself.”

It seems like the military did not appreciate “The Shooter” leaving the military four years  before the 20-year requirement for retirement benefits. They invested considerable time and money into training him and could have expected a few more missions as the return on investment.

Esquire understands that “the government provides 180 days of transitional health care benefits, but the Shooter was ineligible because he did not agree to remain on active duty in a support role or become a “reservist.” The magazine optimistically suggests that his weight will be at least eight months, though we know this can be much longer.

The hyperbole surrounding this SEAL is important. Leveraging his status to highlight the way we fail our soldiers when they return is an opportunity no activist would turn away from. As I mentioned, I hope he receives what he needs and in a timely fashion. But I also hope it will serve all army veterans and their need for swift help transitioning into civilian life.

When a young man or woman makes the decision to serve his/her country, s/he and their family need to understand that their country will stand by them and not discard them as a resource on a conveyor belt.


Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  

Heroes Slipping Thru The Net

Mentioning my latest book, Unwanted Heroes, at Xmas holiday parties last month seemed to strike a resistant chord with a number of people, none of whom were war veterans, but often had a close family member or friend with a difficult story. 

The issue that a homeless person who does not take advantage of the benefits offered also touched a nerve. The now-famous story of the NYPD officer who bought a pair of boots for a seemingly homeless guy sitting outside a shoe store barefoot in winter has been overshadowed by the fact that this man actually has a room provided by the VA and social services. He also has shoes but chooses not to wear them or live in his apartment.imgresThere are many people who vigorously defend the VA and, correctly, cite the vast improvements seen in the last decade or so. But I remain unconvinced that we are doing enough. 

President Obama said in a Veterans Day speech: “No veteran should have to wait months or years for the benefits that you’ve earned … so we will continue to attack the claims backlog. We won’t let up. We will not let up.”

The New York Times ran an article in late November, “that the Department of Veterans Affairs, in the long slog through its own paperwork, is in some ways marching backward.”

In fact, during the first half of the year, two-thirds of claims for disability and pension were still pending more than four months after being filed. This is in spite of the VA having strict timelines for claims. This lag gets even worse when a rejected claim is appealed, with the average duration to resolution being two and a half years.

There are two important points to take into consideration:

1) Many of those who need help are challenged to deal with bureaucracy – any bureaucracy. Most everyday citizen has challenges with personal documentation filing, understanding procedure or dealing with a labyrinth of organizational structure. How much more difficult can this be for someone with trauma and mental instability?

It seemed to me that many of the people who complimented the VA system were people who were well-organized (or had a partner who was) and able to work with the system.

2) The Department of Veteran Affairs is reeling from an avalanche of people stepping forward in need of help. The New York Times article cited that the number of claims has doubled in the last decade, reaching 1.3 million in 2011.


In addition, almost half of the veterans seeking help are coming with more than a dozen medical issues, far higher than anything seen after World War II and Vietnam. Again from the New York Times: “Many Afghanistan and Iraq veterans are returning with severe injuries requiring elaborate and complicated care. The population of Vietnam-era veterans is older and sicker than ever. And the list of ailments for which the department is giving compensation — like heart disease, leukemia and Parkinson’s, from exposure to Agent Orange — is growing.”

This suggests that we should not be criticizing the VA, rather providing the infrastructure necessary to deal with this explosive growth in need. Steps are being taken to move records to an intranet, but the department simply needs more hands and a simpler process.

The New York Times article suggests that the VA be more realistic in predicting how long a process will take to allow these men and women to plan accordingly.

I side with President Obama on this issue. When the United States called for it’s citizens to take up arms to defend the values intrinsic to our society, the people didn’t answer by giving a vague date when they might turn up.

Waiting two-and-a-half-years to receive what is rightfully yours after sacrificing so much for your country is simply unacceptable. There are too many Unwanted Heroes slipping through the net.


Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

All I Want For Xmas Is To Reform Congress

Warren Buffet recently offered a great perspective regarding the debt ceiling:

“I could end the deficit in five minutes,” he told CNBC. “You just pass a law that says that anytime there is a deficit of more than 3% of GDP, all sitting members of Congress are ineligible for re-election. The 26th amendment (granting the right to vote for 18 year-olds) took only 3 months & 8 days to be ratified! Why? Simple! The people demanded it. That was in 1971…before computers, e-mail, cell phones, etc. Of the 27 amendments to the Constitution, seven (7) took 1 year or less to become the law of the land…all because of
public pressure.”

Warren Buffet

Given the connections created through the Internet, it shouldn’t take long for everyone in the US to read and get behind this concept.

*Congressional Reform Act of 2011*

1. No Tenure / No Pension. A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.

2.  Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security. All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people. It may not be used for any other purpose.

3. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.

4. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

5. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.

6. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.

7. All contracts with past and present Congressmen are void effective 1/1/12. The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen. Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves. Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should
serve their term(s), then go home and back to work.

What this act would suggest is that congressmen and women are part of our society, not above it. How can they manage a health plan, pension or social security, when they do not participate in the model? How can you understand the fear and uncertainty regarding the job market when you sign on to a gravy train?

Probably a great guy to hang with in a cafe

My favorite line is: Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. It is an honor to be entrusted by the people with such responsibility. It is time Congress acknowledged and respected this honor.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).


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