Monthly Archives: May 2014

My Experience With Department of Veterans Affairs

Veterans Salute

Veterans Salute

I am a U.S. Army veteran.  I served from 1962 to 1965, so missed all the fun in Vietnam.  I spent a year in the States training as a radar repairman and two years in Germany in a unit that provided support to a Hawk missile battalion.  I didn’t like the army much, but enjoyed Europe and the people I worked with.

In basic training, I fired the M1 Rifle.  In Germany, it was the M14 rifle.  Both rifles are .30 calibers and loud, more powerful than the .223 caliber our military now employs.  It took some time for me to get promoted past Private First Class, but when I was, I got the honor of leading a .50 caliber Browning machine gun crew.  The Browning Machine Gun Caliber .50 M2 HB is a serious piece of machinery.  On its tripod it weighs 128 pounds and fires about 650 rounds per minute.  It is big, powerful, and very loud.  All three weapons are loud, but the .50 takes loud to a new level.  We had no hearing protection.

After firing, my ears rang for days.  After firing the .50, the ringing never stopped.  I knew I had hearing loss as well.  Working for Denver Water, the hearing tests showed significant hearing loss and the tinnitus (ringing) was worse.  Finally, in about 2008, I went to the VA after learning the VA provides hearing aids to any veteran with honorable service.

The hearing aids are a big help, and I applied for a service connected disability for the tinnitus and hearing loss.   Not long later, I received a 10% service connected disability for tinnitus, but was denied for the hearing loss.  In March 2009 I appealed the decision.  After a long wait, the appeal seemed to have gone away.

Carol is persistent, keeping me on the case, and asking a retired VA nurse what we should do.  She had Carol contact a person at the VA regional office who got the appeal going again.  It was again denied, so I asked for a hearing before an administrative judge.

In March 2014 I had the hearing, with representation from the Disabled American Veterans.  The judge apologized for my having to come in.  There was case law in my favor, and I won.  I am now waiting for a determination of my hearing related disability and benefits retroactive to March 2009.  The DAV tells me I should hear soon.

During this entire wait I have seen VA physicians for my prescription medications ($8.00 for three months).  I also got my medication for ADD and saw a VA psychiatrist for the prescriptions.  I am on my third set of hearing aids from the VA.  I have always been happy with the service providers at the Denver VA hospital.  The VA bureaucracy is another matter.

As more Persian Gulf and Afghanistan veterans began using the VA, wait times increased, and I have spent lots of time on hold for the pharmacy.  When I first got hearing aids, there was little wait time for an appointment.  The wait times have steadily increased.  The VA has always been underfunded, and that has increased dramatically with all the returning vets from the Middle East.  The current scandal is a direct result of the VA trying to do its mission without enough money.  There is also a lot of money spent on bureaucratic bloat, money which should go to service providers.

The largest health network in the country is simply overwhelmed.  Managers had bonuses tied to wait times for appointments, so they cooked the books.  Who is losing out?  The veteran.  I had good help in negotiating the bureaucracy and my appeal took five years.  What about the vets who do not have an inside contact and the DAV working for them?

Most of the blame lies on the source for many of the nation’s current problems: Congress.  The current scandal may result in changing the VA bureaucracy and may produce increased funding.  Our nation’s veterans deserve the health care they are promised.  I hope the care improves.



Solar Panels

Solar Panels

Carol and I are concentrating on how we use energy.  Watching “Cosmos” with Neil DeGrasse Tyson pointing to the sun and saying, “It’s Free!” is partly responsible.  I did a lot of research for my talk on Front Range Colorado flooding.  One conclusion I reached is that the climate change we are now experiencing will lead to more floods.

Releasing fossil carbon into the atmosphere is setting up a worldwide crisis of unparalleled magnitude.  Drought, wildfires, floods, sea level rise, and pollution will affect millions worldwide.  The environmental changes have already increased political instability. Syria and sub-Saharan Africa are cases in point.

Here in the U.S., rhetoric and denial are the most visible response to the looming disasters.  Those who make money from fossil energy deny the problem and buy inaction in Congress.  Public utilities seem to be much more interested in selling gas and power produced from coal and gas than switching to renewables.  Wind farms are on the increase and more commercial solar power installations are being built, but the pace is fairly slow.

Germany is a leader in switching to renewables, but recent stories that over 70 percent of production is from renewables is exaggerated.  The fact is that their wind and solar production is increasing, while coal use is declining.  China is starting to move to renewables, but is the world leader in coal use, and coal production is increasing.  In China, 66% of their power comes from coal compared to 49% in the U.S.  The switch to gas from coal is on, driven by cheaper gas (from fracking) and the high cost of coal plant pollution controls.  Burning gas has about half the carbon footprint of coal, but it is still burning huge amounts of carbon sequestered millions of years ago.

Worldwide people and governments are starting to respond to the dangers of fossil fuel generated climate change, but slowly.  So what are we to do?  Join the grassroots green energy movement.  People use all this energy, so people have to use less.  Less gasoline, less natural gas, less electricity, and most of all, less coal.

So what is a couple from Denver to do?  We aren’t much for marching in the streets or being rabid environmentalists, but we want to do our part.  Activism begins at home.  In our case, home is a brick bungalow built in 1937, when builders were not concerned with energy efficiency.  The main thing builders did in the 1930’s did was build smaller houses.  Ours has 830 square feet on the main floor.  It is a far cry from the 2400 square foot houses that are today’s norm.

We did add a 400 square foot sunroom that we can close off from the rest of the house.  In the winter, it is at 40 degrees, and an exhaust fan pulls cool air from the basement in summer.  We have a modern high efficiency furnace and water heater.  We have increased the attic insulation twice, first to R36, then to R50.  The original steel casement windows are terrible for leaking cold air in winter, and hot air in summer.  We have historical designation on the house which means keeping those windows, but we installed inside storm windows that stop those wintry breezes.

Carol forces me to tolerate 68 degrees in winter and 78 degrees in summer.  That mainly means either more or less clothes depending on the season.  At night the programmable thermostat is set for 56 degrees, but the house seldom cools off that much.  I did break down and get some fleece lined slippers instead of my beloved L.L. Bean moccasins.  The basement, with my man cave, gets cold.  I guiltily run an electric heater.  Someday we will insulate those cold basement walls.

When we increased the attic insulation the first time we also put in attic ventilation.  We had rooftop vents installed and put a large vent in the north gable to introduce cooler outside air.  When we re-roof we will add more vents.  Prior to that, the only ventilation was a small vent over the entryway.  It sure did get hot up there.

The air conditioner has a device provided by our electric utility that runs it less often during periods of high demand for power on hot days.  To reduce air conditioner use we open the house up in the evening and run fans to exhaust hot air and bring in cooler outside air.  Denver averages a thirty degree difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures.  Texans, eat your hearts out.  When we have to have a new roof in the next few years we will add an attic fan.  They are noisy, but they exhaust hot air in the house and cool the attic.

The big thing we are doing now is adding solar electricity with our new garage.  We have needed a garage for some time.  We have never been able to park a car in the old one, designed for a 1937 Ford.  My shop area, the gardening stuff, until recently my motorcycle, and the bicycles filled it up.  Our block has an alley, which is a crime conduit.  We have had several break-ins, and want our cars inside.

The solar panels will go on the garage and sunroom roofs.  When we replace the roof on the older part of the house, we will add enough panels to produce all the power we need.  We will be at about 80% with the house and sunroom panels.

So we are slowly going green.  It is possible for individuals to make a difference.  If more of us do it, it will pressure governments and the utility companies to get serious about energy.  It will take grass roots action to make it happen.  Boulder, Colorado is threatening to take over Xcel energy’s infrastructure in their city.  That is a message to the utility companies that they have to get serious about renewable energy or lose their customers city by city.  I am hopeful that meaningful change is going to happen.  I don’t think it is enough to stop some of the climate changes we are seeing, but we are slowly starting to try living with our planet, not exploit it to our extinction.

If it Doesn’t Hurt, it Itches


Copy-2-of-CIMG0019-212x300I have reached that age where parts of me do not work quite as well as they used to.  I have aches and pains.  I have a titanium knee.  I am short a finger on my right hand.  I wear hearing aids.  A tooth is missing.  A LOT of hair is missing on my head.  My right shoulder, both wrists, left knee, and right foot hurt.  My left little finger has this hitch where it doesn’t want to straighten out and sort of snaps past a point when I do straighten it.  That hurts as well.

I have sinus headaches, acid reflux, a bad disk in my back, and an ass that is so small my pants won’t stay up. No ass, no hair, no little finger, what is going on?

When I was in my forties (I am 72) I did a career change.  I went from being a desk bound bureaucrat to working in the water business.  My first job required water treatment knowledge and a lot of physical work.  I laid pipe, repaired manholes, cleaned sewer lines, pumped a lot of water, read meters, and did a lot of pick and shovel work.  I remember thinking that I could do everything in my forties that I did in my twenties.

Then I hurt my back carrying an unbalanced load up a ditch bank.  I  learned about physical therapists and chiropractors.  I am still learning.  Up to then I had taken my body for granted.  I did what I wanted to and mostly got away with it.  From the back injury on, it has been downhill.

Since then, my body tells me when it does not like what I am doing to it.  Usually it uses pain.  The other strategy it employs is the itch. My head, back, legs, and arms itch.  It is seasonal. I itch spring, summer, winter, and fall.  I have recently discovered that some of the itching may be from ultraviolet light.   I am eliminating UV light in the house.  I take Benadryl and Allegra.  They help.  I still itch.

I have had prostate surgery, hernia surgery, a knee replacement, several colonoscopies, several endoscopies, a finger amputated, and an optorectomy (severing the nerve from your butt to your eyes to get rid of the shitty outlook).  I have high blood pressure.  I get migraine headaches.

I don’t do some things I used to do.  Run, jump, carry heavy loads, mess around on roofs, or think.  I have ADD.  Therapy and medication help a great deal, but I still forget, get crabby, and do impulsive stupid things.  I have been able to do some writing, however.  That is, if you can call this writing.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining.  That is a lie.  But, I can still do a lot and have fun at it.  I have the limitations of an aging body, but I remain active and can work with the school kids at Four Mile.  They seem to like Mr. Bill.  Life is good.

Colorado’s Front Range Floods

2013 flood

2013 Flood

Those of us who live along the eastern base of the Rocky Mountains enjoy a unique set of circumstances; a fine climate, mountain views, a mountain playground, and rivers that provide much of our water needs.  There are millions of people living in an urban area that runs from Pueblo to Fort Collins.

Most of the time, the physical setting and the climate combine to make the Front Range a fine place to live.  There is risk, however.  Most of the time we don’t have quite enough water for every need. The people are along the Front Range, and the water is on the western slope.  On occasion, we have way too much water.  We are subject to drought, our own waste of the water we have, and the floods that come out of the mountain canyons.

To understand these problems requires a look at two histories, the Rocky Mountain history for the last 75 million years and human history from 1859.  Around 75 million years ago the Rockies began to form.  As they grew, they also wore down.  The debris from the mountains spread from their base to as far as Nebraska.

The streams were bigger then.  Drive east to Bijou Creek and see the valley that obviously was not formed by the current flow in the creek.  The wind blew.  It still does, leaving eolian sand deposits.  Sand Creek, draining the area east through Stapleton and into Aurora is appropriately named.  You can identify the sand hills – they are grazing land, not good for farming.  That sand and dirt comes from as far as Utah and coats our cars.


Today, the Rockies are not eroding as fast as they did during the ice ages, but they are still coming down.  Back in the Precambrian when I took geology, the assumption was that erosion was a steady, gradual process.  Taking the long view, that is so, but on a human time scale, erosion is punctuated by periodic floods.  Some of the floods are from spring runoff from wet winters.  The catastrophic floods pound out of the canyons when storms park themselves over an area and it rains.  And rains.  Sometimes it rains more in a few hours than it does in several normal years.  Sometimes the rain is where the people are, just east of the mountains.

Large amounts of moist monsoonal air from the Gulf of Mexico move north along the Rockies and encounter a cold front coming from the west.  Sometimes the rains are short in a fairly small area.  At other times, as in 2013, the rain comes down over a large area, and it rains for days. To humans, these storms seem like unusual events, but they have been happening for millions of years.  Along with normal erosion, they have filled the Denver Basin with 13,000 feet of debris.  That is a lot of rocks and mud.



1864 Cherry Creek Flood

One of the first recorded monsoonal floods was in 1864, not long after Denver was settled.  Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians told the settlers seeking fortune not to build where Cherry Creek and the South Platte meet.  The town builders built there anyway.  It was a logical town site.  Trails met, grass, trees, and water were available, and the gold-rich mountains just a short distance away.  Much of the new town went downstream.


The town was rebuilt in the same place.  Floods came again.  Denver flooded in 1876, 1885, 1894, 1912, 1921, 1933, and 1965.  Pueblo flooded in 1921, the Big Thompson in 1976, Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs in 2013, and much of the Front Range from Denver to Fort Collins in 2013.  The link is from the Atlantic Monthly, with dramatic images from the 2013 flooding.

Most vulnerable are towns at the base of the mountains: Manitou Springs, Palmer Lake, Morrison, Golden, Boulder, Lyons, Loveland, and Fort Collins.  Towns along the South Platte, St. Vrain, Cache La Poudre, and Big Thompson rivers are at special risk.


Jamestown 2014

Will people stop building there?  Rebuilding is underway in every area flooded in 2013.  While researching this piece I traveled to Boulder, Jamestown, Lyons, and the farmland along the St Vrain.   I saw travel trailers parked nest to damaged homes with building permits on the flood-damaged houses.

Some actions do prevent floods.  Denver has Cherry Creek, Bear Creek, and Chatfield dams.  They are flood control dams designed to capture floodwaters.  Let’s hope they are big enough.

The photo above has a lot of rock in the foreground.  The rocks range in size from sand and silt to head size.  They were exposed by the 2013 flood, but were deposited by a previous flood that had enough force to carry that debris and dump it there.  upstream, there are narrow gulches with the lower ends scoured down to bedrock.  That debris went further downstream.

The Rocky Mountains are on the way to the Mississippi river delta in Louisiana.  It will take many millions of years, but they will wear down and become Mississippi mud.  Floods will hasten the process.

The Secret

Four Mile House

Four Mile House

I have a lot of fun with the elementary school children at Four Mile Historic Park.  In my introduction, I talk about the horses, warning them about being kicked or bitten.  I then show them my missing finger.  That gets the message across, even after I tell them it was not a horse.  When there are several Latino kids in the group, they learn that my name in Spanish is Nueve.

One of my favorite things is to get some of the girls aside and ask them if they know the secret.  They don’t know, of course.  I tell them, “Girls are smarter than boys.”  There are several reactions.  With several girls, it is “Yes!” with some high fives.  With first or second graders, they are a bit surprised, but agree.  With older girls, they usually nod sagely.  They all like hearing it from an old man.

Parents and teachers also like hearing it.  I tell them about the Bill Clinton Society.  That is the organization of men whose wives are smarter than they are.  Women and men all agree that all men are members, with a big laugh.

I also make a point of establishing myself as a big storyteller.  They learn that some of my stories are true, some not so true.  I do say when I am not lying, as how I really lost my finger.

Often, I tell them about my grandmother Pearl driving a wagon from Texas to Colorado in 1887 when she was 12.  The link to that story is here.

Another thing we show the children is the fuel for campfires the pioneers used out on the prairie.  We ask them what fuel they would have used where there was little firewood.  The answers are usually grass, rocks, or wood.  “No wood, grass burns too fast, rocks don’t burn.  They used Buffalo Chips.”

Buffalo Chips

Buffalo Chips

We hold one up.  They don’t quite understand until we say “Dried buffalo poop.”  “Eww!”  is the universal response.  They then learn that it was the task of the children to gather the stuff.  They begin to understand that life on the trail was not very easy.

The children visiting Four Mile have fun, I have fun, and we all learn something.  The main thing I have learned is that the kids are bright, fun-loving, and they enjoy learning.  Most of the teachers encourage the learning and fun.  Some of the teachers are only interested in control.  We all had too many of them.  I do my best to counter that attitude.  This is my fourth year at Four Mile.  In that time, only three children have been a big problem out of the thousands I have met.  I hope to meet and have fun with many more.