Saturday, June 8, 2013

To our supporters, we have a question for all of you.

To our supporters, we have a question for all of you (advice, direction, considerations) regarding a fundraising idea.

We bought our 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander before Penny first came down with cancer (and before Steinar was unemployed). We originally got it to replace a 2007 Mitsubishi Raider truck that had a large payment (and that got 17 mpg going downhill with a tailwind if we were lucky... as the gas prices were going up past $4.00 a gallon and it was costing us over $5,000.00 a year in fuel costs when I was working). Plus, it was too big for Penny to drive (she can't handle driving large vehicles due to the stepping up into the cab due to her bad back). The Outlander resolved that issue.

Unfortunately, our payment is $644.00 a month (at 5% apr) and it is overwhelming us. We tried negotiating with Biggers Mitsubishi to take the vehicle back a couple of months ago, but we still owe $33,000.00 on it regarding payoff (and they were only willing to pay up to $20,000.00, we'd have to come up with the leftover $13,000.00 to pay it off to eliminate that payment).

So, we have 3 choices to deal with this.

1. Keep paying on it and keep being short on our monthly spend for the next 4 years left on the loan (forcing me to find a job above what the market will bear), plus whittling down funds that could be used for necessities.

2. Let the car be repossessed by giving it to the local Mitsubishi dealership (then going to court and being responsible to pay even more than $13,000.00 outstanding once the vehicle would be auctioned by Mitsubishi Motor Credit ~ the Lienholder). The outstanding lien would then be attached to our home's deed further complicating our situation with our present upside down housing situation (and further complicating our financial plus credit situation) forcing us most likely into Bankruptcy (and since our Son's services plus support network are here in McHenry county, we'd be hard pressed finding any decent home in this area that we could afford with harmed credit... which also will affect my future employability).

3. Or have a fundraising raffle of the Outlander (330 Tickets @ $100.00 per ticket or $660 Tickets @ $50.00 per ticket) and awarding the Outlander to the winning ticketholder. If we sold all tickets, then the funds received would pay off the car and we'd have a 3rd party pick a ticket from a container to announce the winner of the car.

We still have our 2001 Chrysler Town and Country (112,000 miles) and 2003 Chrysler Sebring (185,000 miles), so we will still have a viable working vehicle after off loading the Outlander. We are wanting to do #3 (hold a raffle), where a person can get an almost new vehicle in great condition.... and we would honor our financial commitment by paying off the car without having to lose everything in the process. It would also further reduce our monthly spend to a point that we could afford my taking a job at a far lower rate than what I was earning if I had no choices once unemployment runs out.

Please, respond to this in the comment section or by email and let us know if this sounds like a good idea (a raffle), or if it is a pipe dream.


Steinar and Penny Andersen

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

"Gratitude".Unemployment, no healthcare, and other thoughts from the frontlines of adversity:

Misc thoughts from the front lines of adversity (this will be long so that hopefully, people in similar circumstances can learn from our approach to dealing with adversity). The word that gives us much meaning to describe this time period? "Gratitude" (we have learned the meaning of the word and live it daily):

Incredibly, I've been unemployed for over 8 months now (my first time unemployed for longer than a month in 31 years) and a very strange feeling since I am used to working over 50/60 hours a week plus weekends. A very humbling situation to be in to be sure (when one find's oneself going to a food pantry after donating to one for many years and never thinking that you'd be needing such services). God has provided for us in so many ways, we are humbled by it all.

To give people an idea of what some people deal with while unemployed (and having 2 disabled adults living in the same home), I am sharing our efforts to give others a possible path to seek help and the hope that such adversity will not end up in despair if one uses all available resources. This essentially exposes our basic financial situation to outside scrutiny, but one must put numbers to what one is talking about to give people an idea as to how much one's finances are affected by unemployment, disability, and medical adversity.

We are working with many agencies (some of who's help interferes with other's help).

1. We pursued getting help from Illinois Hardest Hit in October (from the Federal Tarp program) as soon as I applied for unemployment. We were successful in getting approved in late December so almost 80% of our mortgage is being taken care of by this program (essentially, a 10 yr. "forgivable loan" which based on our home's value... unfortunately, one we will never be able to repay as it is doubtful our house will ever be worth $250k within 10 years... hence the forgivable part as repayment reduces from 100% to 0% from Year 5 to Year 10). Our problem of being upside down by over $120,000.00 (our principle cannot be reduced as ours is a VA loan) remains as we are paying double on a monthly basis what the house is actually worth.... while multiple properties around us are foreclosing and reselling for $75k to $120k, further reducing the worth of our home. A Credit Counseling service in Woodstock is managing the IHH program and after their going over our finances, agreed we had already done everything we could to reduce our spend. Regarding owning our home, it is a hole we cannot escape unless we were to file bankruptcy. If this program wasn't available, we'd already be in bankruptcy (which after discussing with many parties, is not an option to us on a moral / religious basis). I also have to (during this process) look for a job that has a minimal revenue/benefit level to maintain payments for our home once off this program once off unemployment (if our principle was reduced like it is being done for Freddie Mac/Fannie Mae customers...... I could afford to work for less reflecting the present housing and job market). In this case, VA benefits work against us regarding any mortgage relief that many who overspent for their homes presently receive. Given I am in Information Technology infrastructure front line support, those jobs are greatly reduced  and much is now outsourced... or we are being replaced by immigrants who work for less.

2. We have worked on reducing our monthly spend ever since Penny came back from the hospital February 2012:
  • we cancelled AT&T wireless, sold our iphones for a profit, and used the proceeds to get HTC Evo Android phones at no cost using Virgin Mobile/Sprint prepay (we are on the $45 a month plan) and are saving over $100 a month as a result.
  • we cancelled Comcast Cable
    • we now use Netflix @ $7.95 a month and I connected an over the air antenna for our TV viewing. Our savings is over $80 a month from Comcast Digital.
    • we use NetTalk voip ($29.95 yearly) for our home phone. Savings: $23 a month.
    • we use AT&T basic dsl @ $15 a month for broadband at home (which NetTalk and Netflix uses, we just don't use the HD option on Netflix... just the standard version)
    • We purchased a FreedomPop 4G broadband card ($50.00) which is reimbursable after a year so the device will essentially be free. The monthly fee is "free" for up to 500 mb of data (this used to cost me $65 a month with Sprint). Amazingly, it uses the same wi-max clearwire network as Sprint and is more than adequate when I am on the road (for email and remote access purposes). Savings: $65 a month/
  • we switched our car insurance provider and switched to USAA (and use a higher deductible) for $150 a month  premium (saving $65 a month).
  • we switched our home insurance provider to USAA also (and saved $1,200.00 a year).
  • We switched our electric/gas provider to Ambit Energy (saving up to 40% on our energy bills).
  • I got multiple LED bulbs on clearance at Menards ($3 each) and installed them in our high use light outlets (especially in the china/curio cabinets which usually don't have LED options, I used socket adapters to put LED's for their use). Our electricity use is down by 1/3 now (we have CFL bulbs everywhere else in the house in every outlet including the garage and spotlights).
  • When we shop, we go to thrift stores (Goodwill and Private thrift stores) regarding clothes and basic essentials (and minimally at that... for example, my wife purchased on a $1.23 per clothing item sale, 6 complete outfits for less than $20 with some clothes still with new tags on them).
  • I do all of the maintenance to the house and the cars (and when I need parts, I use a 40% off web coupon at Advance Auto to get parts inexpensively).
  • Penny makes laundry detergent and dishwasher detergent from scratch now (using common household materials that are pennies on the dollar).
  • It has been emphasized to Penny and I by friends, family, and governmental agencies that we should make use of the local Food Pantry in managing our costs if we are eligible (and to stifle our ego), which we have finally done.

3. We had to make a choice last October in order to "afford" Cobra for Penny while she is getting care for her cancer treatment (so my son got Private Medical Insurance on his own at minimal cost, and I opted out of Cobra so we could afford the expensive Cobra premium to ensure Penny was taken care of). So I am without medical insurance for the first time in my life (the first time in 50 years). We applied for "Medicaid" through the Illinois DHS office for everyone in the family, but we make too much money in our household and failed their "means test" (my unemployment benefits, my disabled wife's small disability payment, and my disabled son's part time earnings.... which we as his parents don't touch due to his disability situation). I was denied Medicaid due to "income". Penny was denied for medical reasons (they claim she is not disabled..... despite she has permanent limitations in her left arm due to a gunshot wound 12 years ago, knees that need replacement, herniated disc's in her lower back, and she is being treated for Bladder Cancer (having multiple tumors removed over the past 18 months). Travis was denied as he was also not considered disabled, this despite being given complete records of his last mental/physical functionality testing done at an accredited facility. It would seem, that we aren't "destitute enough" or medically disabled enough.

4. Our being a proactive Type A couple, we put aside our egos again and at the recommendation of friends... we started a fundraiser via in October to see if we could find help paying for some of the medical costs (and thankfully, we received $2,300.00 over a month time period which got us through November). We also unexpectantly received some needed help via our wonderful church family (Fox Valley Church) which got us through December.

5. We then sold our 22 yr old Class A RV in January (our worst case scenario solution if we underwent foreclosure was this old RV, and when we were approved for ILL Hardest Hit, it became expendable). This helped us for the next 3 months regarding our bills (monthly and medical).

6. We then started another fundraiser via in the middle of March when Penny had another Cystoscopy and 3 more tumors were found (it was evident that the BCG treatment didn't work and that we'd be fighting this long term). With the expert assistance of the former CEO of the company I previously worked for, we raised $10,000.00 by March 31 (in 2 weeks) which was to help  handle all of the costs we were facing as I was still unemployed and we are facing many future costs with the treatment plan becoming more complicated .. and his foundation amazingly matched those funds separately. These gifts came from 83 supporters, an amazing group of people we will be forever grateful to.

6. We tried offloading our 2011 Mitsubishi that we had purchased before Penny became ill with Cancer (we owe $33k and it is worth $22k) in order to reduce our monthly spend. We were  not successful (and nobody we know would take over the payments on this while newer Mitsubishi's can be had for less). Note to self... NEVER buy a new vehicle on credit ever again. We presently pay $644 a month and we can't offload it soon enough.

7. We are finding negotiating the minefield that are governmental plus private benefits is not an easy endeavor (it is almost a full time job keeping track of everything) plus one is walking a fine line making sure one benefit doesn't nullify another one more important. This is especially true when the State Government AND Federal Government are dealing with funding issues... and the Politicians in Washington are playing politics with a program called sequester (which is trying to reduce spending in Washington). I am dealing with:
  • Illinois DES (unemployment) ~ Approved and on Tier 1 of the Federal funded portion
    • IDES has a Vet coordinator who works with me regarding working on finding a job
    • I have to apply at least to 4 jobs a week.
  • Illinois DHS (food program and medical program)
    • Steinar ~ denied based on income
    • Penny ~ denied based on medical
    • Travis ~ denied based on medical
  • Illinois Hardest Hit (Tarp) ~ Approved ($35k approved over a 18 mo. time period if needed)
  • Illinois Veterans Services
    • Vetcare ~ Denied due to their claim of non receipt of documentation
    • VRAP services ~ Approved, but I found out I can't use it because if I do, my unemployment will end (an example of the one benefit cancelling out another - the law of governmental unintended consequences)
  • Lake~McHenry County "Veterans Family Services"
    • TLS Veterans-Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program ~ Approved - Food services
    • Credit Counseling ~ Approved - Review of our budget which was agreed upon as being pro-active
  • Social Security
    • My wife's disability case ~ denied at ALJ level (Administrative Law Judge indicated no evidence of disability)
    • My son's disability case ~ denied as he makes too much money part time at Walmart (over $600 a month)
  • Standard Insurance
    • My wife's disability insurance ~ approved despite Social Security's denial 3 times
  • Veterans Administration
    • Veterans Healthcare ~ denied based on previous year's salary
    • Medical Disability Rating ~ mired in a claims backlog of up to 2 years
  • COBRA ~ My wife's medical care ~ approved (Blue Cross / Blue Shield of North Carolina)
    • Sherman Hospital (2/2012-04/2013)
      • General Physician
      • Urologist
      • Pathology
    • Cancer Centers of America (5/2013-present)
      • Oncologist
      • Urologist
      • Pulmonary
      • Nutritionist
      • Pathology
      • Pastoral

Our difficulties in working with various agencies have been:

1. The Illinois Veterans Department:
  • I went to the Woodstock, IL. VSO and he took my information, a copy of important paperwork such as my DD214 and was supposed to submit my Application for vetcare. 2 weeks after I met with him, he called me by phone back into his office. I came by and was asked why I was there. I told him I was called by him the day before... so he tried looking up my file and could not find it. he told me that my file was missing / displaced and he would have to get back to me. Despite phone calls and emails, he never responded to me again. When I went to see him, his office was always closed (and the website didn't give any consistent info as to when he would be onsite and the National Guard Armory). After multiple emails, I was referred to the Elgin VSO last month. He is now spearheading all of my Veterans efforts (and I am hopeful that movement will start happening).
  • Illinois Vetcare - they apparently have 2 employees covering all Illinois Veteran Requests. Even though I supplied all documents needed with the application that was sent to the State of Illinois (Vetcare) Springfield, IL. Office, they requested on 4/18 (which wasn't mailed until 4/22 as per the postmark) that I respond to them by sending them a copy of my DD214 and Penny's last monthly disability statement and it had to be in their office by 4/30... to a PO Box where one cannot send documents overnight to or get a signature from. I faxed it to them to the fax number provided before 4/30 and the Elgin VSO forwarded the scanned pdf application off to the Vetcare office by email via his direct report. I received a letter 3 weeks later telling me my application was denied as I had not gotten the documents needed to them by 4/30. I then tried multiple times to call their office in Springfield and left a voice mail. 2 days ago, I managed to get ahold of a live body and she indicated that I needed to resend the application (even though the letter I received stated I could ask for a hearing which is what I was trying to do. Getting her full name, I guessed her email account at the State of Illinois and sent the necessary PDF's. She left me a voice mail this morning saying I still needed to supply them with a new application form to accept the documents (that were sent according to her not via an acceptable method of delivery). I will be faxing everything tomorrow and will be calling until I get her voice live verifying receipt of the fax. 
2. Veterans Administration:
  • After being denied Healthcare Benefits in October due to how much I earned in the previous year, I re-applied in January of 2013. I am still waiting for an answer (despite multiple inquiries, I have received no response).
  • Claim has been filed for Vet Disability regarding a disability rating based on deteriorating medical condition with causes starting during my service covering almost 7 years in the Marine Corps.
3. Illinois DHS:
Regarding medicaid for my wife and my stepson - who are both disabled and have been stated as such by doctors and private companies, but apparently they are held to a higher standard than many others in order to qualify for governmental medical / disability benefits). We are not asking for anything more than what we are eligible for.

4. SSA:
Regarding both my wife's and stepson's Disability application process, the same result as Illinois DHS.

Our successes?:

1. Unemployment
Given this is a benefit that is in IDES' best interest to process, it went through within 2 weeks upon application.

2. Illinois Hardest Hit.
We were surprised that this was processed with an approval and within 60 days of application (we suspect the fact a private agency was handling the paperwork/process is why this actually got done).

3. Cobra / Sherman Hospital and Cancer Centers of America
Private companies ~ as long as they are paid.... we've had no problems with service.

4. VRAP program
I was approved, but then I found out that if I started going to any training covered by VRAP, that my unemployment would end. Ouch. I am waiting to find out if IDES can use the VRAP funding to fund training while still receiving unemployment (this apparently has to be approved by the Director of IDES). I'm in the process of finding a program that ends in 7 months when VRAP ends (that IDES can make a decision on).


In the interim, I am applying for jobs where I can (plus hunting for jobs that are few and far between). I am going to IDES workshops, going to Marine for Life employer luncheons, etc. I have yet to land an interview with any company (I suspect my age, weight issue, lack of college education, and lack of up to date certifications maybe playing a role in that result).

It literally is a full time job just being unemployed......... but this too shall pass and things will be better as God has provided for us in so many ways that we cannot even count (we are truly blessed)... as I am able to be with my wife in her time of need while undergoing this extensive cancer treatment.

~ Steinar 6/5/2013

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Home again, Home again.... jiggity jig. :-)

Homeward bound. :-)

We spent yesterday checking out of the hospital room and going to the Beach again so Penny could enjoy some time enjoying the outdoors after being cooped up for 2 days following her Surgery.

This picture was right before we went to grab a bite to eat. The pain from the stent is gone, but the burning sensation is still there from the catheter removal. We are tentatively set to see the doctors within the next week to two weeks (I am going to try to get an appointment for this coming Friday) so we can adjust to what the pathology reports show on Wednesday.

Today, we checked out of the Hotel and got to our area in time to stop by the Fox Valley Church right after second service.

We were able to see good friends and supporters (and Church family), and were positively reinforced by the hand of God that plays such an important role in our lives. So many people praying for Penny's health and wellness, it is truly humbling. FVC is an extending member of our family, and we truly love everyone there (and how Jesus moves mountains there).

We then drove home to see the kids (Travis..... Maggie, and Pebbles). Penny promised to relax and not unpack until later (and only if Travis did the lifting). It is 6:36 pm and she hasn't yet lifted any of our bags..... so far so good. :-)