Wednesday, June 13, 2018

My future Army timeline

Today I logged into my Army Knowledge Online (AKO) account and checked "MyMEB." It shows where you're at in your MEB timeline and how your timeline compares with Army averages. Here's what the process is supposed to look like:
  1. Referral. The doctor identifies something wrong with you (a "P3" condition in your "PULHES"). From there you have 10 days to meet with your PEBLO and the MCS.

    I heard from my neurologist on January 3rd that I had M.S., but had to leave for California the next day. Once I got back in early March, I scheduled my appointment, but that was for April 4th.

    On April 4th, my primary care provider initiated the MEB, but even then I had a lot of upcoming trips. I was in Seattle for two weeks, and then Alaska for one more. So I didn't get to officially meet with my MCS until May 21st, 47 days after my referral.

  2. VA Claim. The MCS has 10 days to process the list of everything that's wrong with you and have the VA schedule appointments. This took a little longer for me because I had a third trip to take to El Paso, and my MCS wanted to wait for me to be available.

  3. Medical Exams. The Army allots 45 days for this, but I finished my exams in 12 because I had only two days of actual appointments (yesterday and Monday). (33 is the average.) The supervising doctor generates a Narrative Summary (NARSUM) and sends it to the Medical Evaluation Board (MEB). I'm in the middle of this phase right now.

  4. Medical Evaluation Board. This group has 35 days to review the NARSUM and decide on (suggest?) the disability percentage. Average is 23 days. I expect this to wrap up by mid-July.

  5. Informal Physical Evaluation Board. As I understand it, this group has 15 days to decide on the disability percentage and/or soldier retention. Average is 9.

  6. PEBLO counsel and soldier election. Based on the PEB's findings, my liaison officer and I have 13 days to decide whether I'll accept the disability percentage or appeal. Average is 10. This should happen by end of July.

  7. PEB Appeal or VA Reconsideration. If a soldier appeals, the process is supposed to take 55 days, but averages 60.

  8. PDA action. I think this is the group that makes the final decision. They're supposed to complete this in 10 days (average is 15). Assuming I appeal, this should be mid-October; if I don't, maybe mid-August.

  9. Transition. At this point, I begin to transition out. I'll clear my unit and the installation, and begin terminal leave (where I use up my 60 accrued vacation days). It's supposed to happen in 45 days, but 75 is the average.

  10. Benefits. I'm not sure what this is, but it seems a bit late in the game to go over benefits for the first time. In any case, 30 days are allotted for it, though 19 is the average.
All total, the Army allocates 268 days for the entire process, though it averages 242. If I appeal, my last day in the Army would be in January; if not, well, maybe early November.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

VA appointments, Day 2

Today I had three VA appointments:
  1. Psychology
  2. General physical
  3. Radiology
The Military Care Specialist (MCS) had told you to list *everything* that's wrong with you, to which I asked, "Everything?"

"Yes, *everything.*"

"Well, OK...."

So I listed the pneumonia that I'd gotten treatment for in May and the scarring I got on my right leg from doing box jumps in 2013. And the VA dutifully scheduled the appointments to get that looked at.

The psychology exam was fun. Basically, I got to recount my life story and complain about my frustrations with my Army career. My examiner took notes the entire hour and a half, and then shared some observations. I write as a coping mechanism, but that coping mechanism also keeps me up at night as I try to make sense of the world around me.

That sounds pretty accurate.

The next step is for the VA doctors to generate the Narrative Summary (NARSUM) which details all the stuff that's wrong with me. With that, the Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) will determine the disability percentage and thing go to the Physical Evaluation Board for a final retention determination.

Monday, June 11, 2018

First VA appointment

I had my first VA appointment today, for hearing.

As part of the Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) process, I have to see doctors specifically selected by the Department of Veteran's Affairs, not Army doctors. The results aren't even shared with me -- they go directly to the VA.

Once I'm done with all the appointments, the board will determine a disability rating, which will affect the size of my monthly compensation.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

I'm Boring

I miss Korean convenience stores' wide range of drinks. In the U.S., none of the four main types of drinks can be considered "healthy": sugary/carbonated sodas, energy drinks, alcohol, and flavored milk. Even the teas have a lot of sugar.

Korea, on the other hand, offers many types of teas with no sugar, such as barley ("bori") and corn silk ("oksusu suyeom"). I'd like to see them in the U.S., but I'm afraid they wouldn't be marketed well.

After all, a barley tea with no sugar and no caffeine might be perceived as...

Friday, June 08, 2018

State department narcs

Because I anticipate leaving the Army before the end of the year, I've been monitoring the website, watching what kinds of jobs come up through daily email updates.

Today, I saw something curious. The State Department has "MANY vacancies" in Arlington, Virginia, for Foreign Affairs Officers in both the GS-12 and GS-13 levels.

Foreign Affairs Officer
Department: Department of State
Agency: Department of State - Agency Wide
Number of Job Opportunities & Location(s): MANY vacancies - Arlington, Virginia
Salary: $81,548.00 to $106,012.00 / Per Year
Series and Grade: GS-0130-12

The link will undoubtedly end when the vacancy notice expires, but the full job description gives the following Duty Summary:
The position is located in the Office of Intelligence and Threat Analysis (ITA), Directorate of Threat Investigations and Analysis (TIA), Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS). ITA is responsible for monitoring and assessing threats directed against: U.S. Diplomatic facilities and personnel; U.S. citizens and business interests overseas; the Secretary of State and other high ranking Department officials both in the U.S. and abroad; visiting foreign dignitaries in the U.S. from whom DS has protective responsibility; and foreign diplomatic facilities in the U.S. The incumbent serves as a Foreign Affairs Officer conducting all-source analysis on intelligence regarding threats and trends in the security environment of the assigned region.
So it's a diplomatic security position. These guys are the State Department's equivalent of the military police. Interesting -- given the department's dwindling numbers of diplomats since Rex Tillerson became Secretary, what would require filling "MANY vacancies" in diplomatic security?

Then I read about the leakers. [Source]

Tillerson's replacement, Mike Pompeo, is upset about "unauthorized releases of information," regardless of whether they are classified or not. As State spokeperson Heather Nauert put it, the leaks "can jeopardize ongoing operations and negotiations in which the State Department is involved."

According to the Axios article, "a source familiar also said State Department employees' phones were checked as part of the leak investigation."

Note that this is a marked departure from President Trump's perspective during his campaign. So, what, leaks are bad now?

Needless to say, "a number of State Department officials feel that the crackdown is unwarranted and has been handled in a heavy-handed manner."

Apparently, "they've gotten diplomatic security involved in the leak investigation — the internal security of the State Department — which is bananas," one source added. "These are the people who stand outside diplomats' doors when they sleep overseas."

So there you go. Why is the State Department looking for more diplomatic security people, despite having fewer people to guard?

To narc on leakers.

The rising tide of suicide

News that Anthony Bourdain committed suicide, coming on the heels of Kate Spade's, have people wondering why.

Normally, I wouldn't worry about anecdotes of two celebrities, but NPR reported the U.S. has seen a 30 percent increase in suicides since 1999. [Source]

While the issue of school shootings initially made me wonder if this is because of firearms, rates are up across all methods. In Mr. Bourdain's case, it was by hanging.

Yet firearms are involved in half of all suicides, and easy access to firearms is a factor in many of the 45,000 lives lost annually to suicide. According to Robert Gebbia, the head of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention,
"You may be thinking about it over time, but that moment when you actually make an attempt is a very short window. If you could make it harder to make that attempt by not having access to the means, often what happens is the feelings will pass, it gives people time for someone to intervene and get them help, so that is a really important preventative step that can be done. And there's good research to support that."
I remember reading in January that many millennials are "total perfectionists" (as though there's such a thing as a "partial perfectionists"). [Source]

Whether this is the result of standardized tests, video games, or something else, no one can say with any certainty, but it makes me wonder the best way to fix the problem.

The NPR article talks about the lack of federal funding for an adult program, but I think it makes sense to keep this at a state level. Without any constraints on federal spending, and the de facto impossibility of raising tax revenues, I don't see a country-wide program-based solution to the problem.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

What I've learned from my solar panels

The previous owners of our house had 21 solar panels installed back in 2012 (remember that year). Since we bought it in 2016, I've been curious about trends in our usage. Well, after two full years, here's that I've learned:
  1. Day-to-day production is highly variable because of clouds. Even though May 26th is a "zero shadow" day (because Hawaii likes at 21°18'16" N latitude) it didn't produce significantly more electricity.
  2. Month-to-month is regular. Controlling for the cloud cover, this May's production is about comparable to that of last year.
  3. Over the course of a year, production varies significantly, despite the low latitude. May produced about 90% more than December 2017. (It may look similar, but the scale is very different)
    Perhaps a better way to look at it is over the course of 2017.
  4. We use about 95% of what we produce, though we benefit from net metering. Net metering means that -- to the home owner -- the value of a kilowatt-hour contributed is equal to the value of a kilowatt-hour consumed. So if we contribute a kwh to the grid during the day and then consume it at night, we break even. This was possible back in 2012, but not for new solar customers in Hawaii due to the "duck curve problem.".
  5. For solar power installations to continue, power companies must figure out how to deal with the duck curve. Either we somehow develop massive capacitors to store daytime-generated power, we allow for by-hour variable pricing for electricity, or we find a way to consume more during the day.
I don't know if anyone's working on a docking station for self-driving electric cars, but that might be a good way to soak up the excess daytime solar-generated power.