My Mae West Malfunction

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By Hardy Stone

My name’s Joe. Yeah, GI Joe. I served two years in Iraq and one in Afghanistan and survived, but it was very stressful on my wife, of course. I served in a mech infantry Division…After fighting Muslim insurgents, we would often work hours helping the civilians whose lives were ripped apart.

Mae West MalfunctionI decided it was time to focus on advancing my military career.

After my third in-country tour, TOP recommended going to Airborne School at Ft. Benning.  I could follow up with Ranger school and become an Airborne Ranger Infantry ‘lifer.’ It would give me a leg up for promotions and increased responsibilities. I may find myself in Afghanistan again, but you have to go places to get places, especially in the military.

I was game, and my wife of four years saw that I was. She was supportive…I told her it was important for my career and she agreed. It was a big deal to have her support because my successive tours in the Middle East had kept us apart for most of the time we’d been married. I have two kids who were born while I was away.

On my third jump in Airborne School, cords tangled and the chute collapsed into a “Mae West.” I hit the ground hard. With a fractured spine, broken legs and shattered dreams, I found myself at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. I was permanently paralyzed below the waist.

The entire medical outfit at Brooke are great, some of the best care in the world, I’m told. I banged around rehab and kept my stripes for close to a year, then I was separated.

The VA did the best they could, but nothing like DOD medical treatment. The VA is constantly at the breaking point, providing health care for millions of older vets and troops returning from war everyday, further jamming the system. I know it’s out of their hands, but I’m frustrated and depressed.

A “Mae West” is a type of round parachute malfunction which contorts the shape of the canopy into the appearance of a brassiere, presumably one suitable for a woman of Mae West‘s proportions.

My service-connected disability rating is 80%, or about half of what my family needs to get by.

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What to do now? I’ve always been fairly good at writing. I thought I would try my hand at writing for a living. Not novels or creative projects, but technical stuff, proposals, reports and such. Stuff that companies would buy. I launched into it with vigor, and I did it right. DUNS number, NAICS, CAGE, Small Business Dynamic Search, the works. I took the free business prep courses sponsored by the SBA and got SCORE counseling.

I learned that service-disabled veterans were eligible for specific set-aside contracts, and I mailed in the necessary paperwork to become a certified Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB). I was officially certified eight months later, and I was really ready to get started.

But jeez there are a lot of folks in my shoes, thousands of service-disabled veterans looking to land government contracts, all looking at those set-asides. I’d heard about businesses claiming to be service-disabled. I could not believe the amount of money the government was throwing at bogus companies that misrepresent themselves. This can’t be right.

Most federal agencies do not meet the targeted goal of 3% of contracts issued to SDVOSB. There’s no oversight and no federal entity to keep agencies accountable. And contracting officers  don’t even attempt to find out if a business is eligible for these set-aside contracts for disabled vets only.

This ‘dedication’ to disabled veteran businesses like President Bush ordered in 2004 is a lot of hot air, false patriotism and lip service.

So I slip through the cracks. Even as a civilian, the government let me “Mae West” again.

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