Saturday, August 3, 2013

Our house and our effort to keep it whole.

We've noticed that some people we know have been dealing with Mother Nature's abuse of their homes/cars lately, and we've escaped relatively unscathed up here in God's Country. Until now.

Our 110 year old Farmhouse with 10 yr old roof and 25 yr old siding.

We've had a slew of contractors going through our neighborhood after the last 2 storms. Apparently, there was hail and wind damage in multiple parts of our humble corner of the world (and apparently, the storms came from 2 different angles. We've avoided these guys as usually there are a lot of "grifters" that prey on people and we choose to not be one of the victims. However, my siding has gotten worse and I decided to give a company a chance.

A company came by the other day that got my attention: "Eco-Shield". They have an excellent rating with the BBB and Angie's List. They took me over to the west side of our home and pointed out some serious dents. I told then I'd take their card and get back with them. Last week, our Phone Cable ripped off the side of our house (apparently due to yet another storm)... and this provides our DSL. It was put back up, but in another spot and we had this nice little hole that needed repair (they used silicone to seal it, but it looks awful). So, Eco-Shield came to inspect it 2 days ago and has determined that we have both hail and wind damage (verifiable). They estimate that the roof needs to be re-shingled (it was last done in 2003 and the shingles used are no longer made so if they do part of the roof that is damaged, they won't be able to match it). Our siding is aluminum (and is about 25 years old). The extensive dings in the west and south sides of our home is very extensive (a LOT of dimples). They have talked to a USAA claim rep and we are looking at the entire house being resided along with the shingles being redone. I was looking around today since I was able to get around (my latest gout attack is ebbing now), and the shingles on the rear roof over the Kitchen are seriously damaged.

Just in case people were wondering why I seemed depressed a couple of days ago, that is what put me over the edge (as our deductible is $2,000.00). So, in order to effect repairs, this needs to get done soon before we start getting additional leaking in our roof (we've already went through one 5 inch in 1 hour storm that leaked into our living room, and we can't afford for there to be water damage in our home given our financial situation).

So there it is...... we have to deal with it so it is what it is. I just hate it when the black cloud leaves a wake of damage.....

I am trying to get it so the deductible portion can be paid in installments, we'll see if they will work with us).

Normally, in most parts of the world, this would be considered a minor issue.... but we are required to keep the home from being damaged while we are getting help from Illinois Hardest Hit, so we have no choice but to get this done (we have gone this far in trying to keep the house, so this is just another bump in the road).


Friday, August 2, 2013

Time to hunker down and get a handicap van (and to let go of whatever stuff we have left).

I have come to some conclusions and reality has to be addressed. I am 50 now with major joint issues and my medical situation will not improve regarding my joints as I get older (I will only be able to try to prevent the onset of a gout attacks and minimize the effects). During attacks, I have to be able to get around despite my limitations if I am to be employable and it is time we address it. This is not an easy thing to do when faced with financial limitations, but where there is a will.... there is a way and I believe I have found one (as I will detail below).

I have talked with multiple people whom I trust within the last week (including a friend who is quadriplegic who is working and uses a wheelchair capable van) and it is becoming very clear that we have a need for a wheelchair capable van if we are to maintain our independence (as I just went through my 2nd major attack in the last 8 weeks where I couldn't move). The Wheelchair lift I have for the minivan (that isn't installed yet) only lifts a wheelchair / mobility scooter into the back of the minivan. One cannot be in it when it is taken in or out of the vehicle. Given I am unable to drive during my extreme gout attacks as I do not have hand controls in the minivan, this limits my ability to go to work independently when having this issue as I still have to get from the back of the minivan to the front door which is very difficult to do when unable to walk (especially during weather - rain or snow). So the easiest way to maintain independence and be able to do so while employed, is to have the ability to take a wheelchair.... remotely start a van, go to the lift on the passenger side and use that to gain access to the interior of the van, and then transfer over to the power drivers seat. And if the feet are unusable, to use the hand controls to drive the vehicle. This also ensures I can get access to any future employer's location using that wheelchair.

Also, Penny's father is recently having problems ambulating as well (he just turned 80 and uses a cane). He has a handicap ramp at his mobile home and a hoveround (and Penny or I can take him to his medical appointments by having this solution where he can use the lift to get into a van and use his hoveround wherever we take him). So this nips two problems in the bud.

There is also the reality that if Penny's medical situation gets worse, she will need this also (to get around).

Normally, a brand new van fitted with a lift and hand controls costs over $40,000 (or more). Even a decent used van 10 to 15 years old with these features costs $3,500 or more (and many are worn down, rust buckets, or in need of major servicing).

I have found a 1997 Ford Econoline E150 with 145,000 miles on it and the gentleman who owns it is selling it to us for $1,000 (he no longer needs it as he bought a new one that accommodates his limitations more and he is paying it forward by allowing us to get his old one at minimal cost). It runs great, has had recent work done to the suspension, a tune up, exhaust work, etc. and he has receipts on all work he has had done). If this isn't proof that God has a hand in our lives, I don't know what would constitute proof to people.

The drivers seat turns and allows transfer from a wheelchair within the van. It also has a remote start feature so the van can be started during the winter or bad weather before the driver gets into the vehicle. The only interior issue is that driver's seat has 2 tears in the leather (that the owner put duct tape on), and I can fix those with a leather repair kit to make the seat look good again. The fundamental interior is sound and is in great shape.
 The rear of the van is in good shape. It also has an electrical connection for trailers (a hitch only needs to be added). I already have Hubcaps for the tires in the garage (that I can put on). 
 The front of the van only has a small bend in the bumper and in the grill (which I can fix for minimal cost), otherwise... there are no dents or major body issues.
The lift has a hand control and allows one to take the wheelchair inside the middle in order to transfer to the drivers seat. It also allows one to take someone in a wheelchair into the van and allows the wheelchair to be tied down).
 The hand controls are all there and are working. The owner is keeping the large spinner is it is specifically for quads (and I'll be getting a small steering wheel spinner for Penny's use if she needs it).
The rear seat is new, I just need to drill in the bracket for it to be attached solidly. The speakers will be staying with the van. =) The carpet does need to be cleaned, but that can be done at Delta Sonic Car Wash (it should look like new when I am done). 
The rear is clean (I just have to straighten out the blinds). The owner is also letting us have the subwoofer (what a great guy).

We will be picking it up on August 9th, and after that... the 2003 Sebring becomes expendable (as honestly, I can no longer drive it without major pain, it is too low to the ground for Penny to drive due to her knee and back, and it is officially an extra vehicle). More about that below.

Today, I was going over all of our bills as we are working on what is priority and what is not.

Honestly, we've made it this far with the help of the government (in this case - unemployment and Illinois Hardest Hit), friends and family (fundraiser), and our church (moral and prayer support) plus the selling of key assets such as our beloved RV plus cashing out our 401k and company stock. I am engaged in long term planning at the moment as we need to pare down further, and we are walking a very fine line while doing so.

My unemployment ends soon (sometime in late September or October depending if Tier 4 is approved or not) and this looms large, Penny's "Cobra" ends in April of 2014 (in 8 months) and we have to prepare for alternatives if I don't find work, and Illinois Hardest Hit support ends also in April of 2014 (in 8 months). With the loss of unemployment, the bills will frankly go into a tailspin and we will be looking at Bankruptcy within 2 months of losing unemployment (and we are trying everything to avoid that as it means we would have to leave this home plus we'd need to find inexpensive housing in this area as Travis' support network / job us here.... which there isn't good rental prospects at the moment). Also, Penny and I are in no physical shape to move anywhere due to our physical medical condition (her bad back / left arm and cancer plus my gout), and Travis works at Wal-Mart 1 mile from where we live right now (housing around here is $1,200 a month and above for 2 bedroom apartments / homes... so we wouldn't be able to afford living in this area), so it is imperative we stay where we are at.

We are looking at the possibility of major surgery for Penny depending on her test results on September 9th, and I am having problems driving a vehicle (specifically my feet / legs) due to my gout / joint disease (during extreme attacks, I can't even leave the house and I've had 2 extreme attacks in the past 8 weeks). This means, our backup car (the aging 2003 Chrysler Sebring with 185,000 miles) is now expendable as we were holding onto it in case we lost the Mitsubishi as it is our only vehicle that is paid off. With the 1997 Ford Econoline wheelchair van, that becomes the vehicle that is paid off and we can either sell the Sebring or Auction it off to raise more money.

We have been paying our bills while being slightly in the negative ever since Penny left the hospital in February of 2012 (and the situation got worse after I became unemployed). Despite our ratcheting down our costs (eliminating cable altogether, using an alternative provider for Gas & Electric, increasing our Insurance deductibles, etc.) and selling our RV plus cashing in the 401k plus the Employee Stock Option shares... we are coming to the end of the line regarding assets to cash in. We've also maintained a smartphone for Penny and I (using Virgin Mobile, the most inexpensive service out there at $45 a month for each of us), and we'll need to ratchet that down to basic cell phones soon (Republic Wireless at $19.99 a month is an option).  Our decisions over the past 11 months have been enacted as we thought my unemployment would be short term and that Penny's cancer would be in remission by now (and during the past 18 months we've been able to keep our house, Penny's car, my minivan, and the old convertible despite incurring over $150,000 on medical bills/costs with 3 major hospitalizations amid 7 Cystoscopies - of which much has been paid by insurance, but we've had to pick up the rest while also maintaining monthly insurance premium payments).

It is now time to sell our "stuff" that are not critical to our daily lives. We cannot find a solution to our 2011 Mitsubishi's $640 car payments, so I am looking at the option of auctioning off the Chrysler Sebring in order to reduce the monthly payment there. I am also looking at starting my own business (Technical Support) where I can provide remote support at a specific cost to vets, the disabled, and the older population... I just have to get healthy enough to do this.

I know this post today covered a lot, but in my efforts at trying to show others what it takes to navigate adversity.... one must get into detail for others to get what they need from what I've shared (and hopefully, there has been enough to provide others with ideas that may help their own situation). At least, I hope this is the case.


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

USAA has embarrassed the Veteran Community tonight (on ABC News)

Here is a letter I just wrote to the USAA CEO tonight.

To Josue Robles, Jr.:

I know there are always 2 sides to a story, but USAA truly got a black eye tonight regarding the ABC News "The Lookout" story about "Hurricane Sandy" Flood Vehicles (and Insurance companies not doing as they are supposed to by making sure salvage vehicles that are totaled are not resold where they can again be titled/driven). The fact USAA is representative of close ties with US Military members, you are a Veteran yourself, and our pride of being associated with USAA is 3/4's of the reason why we use USAA (and recommend USAA to all of our family and friends)... I can assure you that my wife and I were embarrassed by the USAA's spokesperson's lack of cooperation in explaining just how the Ford Truck ended up at a car lot and avoided every attempt at being interviewed. I can tell you that if an unsuspecting buyer actually bought the truck instead of ABC news, they'd be putting their lives in danger due to the dangerous condition of the electrical system in that truck.

As the CEO and as a Veteran who is supposed to identify with integrity, I would think tonight was not your company's best hour. My wife has asked me to find another Insurance Company to do business with considering the lack of integrity shown tonight by representatives of your company. You can be sure that unless you address this issue out in the open and rectify this integrity issue, that I will not only fire USAA as our Insurance company, but will let all of our friends / family / American  Legion Post members / Marine for Life members know just how USAA conducts it's business.

Respectfully submitted (and Semper Fi):

Steinar Andersen
USMC 1981-1988 / Honorable Discharge
Huntley, IL.

Here is the story (and the major Insurance Company mentioned in the piece? USAA).

Vetcare = Illinois Health Connect = Medicaid

So, I was doing extensive research into Illinois' "Vetcare" today as my first day of medical coverage is 08/01. It is interesting to see how it is both funded and administered as it appears more robust than it first appears on the Vetcare website (or as reported to me by various Vet reps).

I called my former doctor's office and asked them if they accepted Vetcare. They called me back and indicated they do not accept "Vetcare". Curious. So when I called "Illinois Health Connect" to find a way to get a "Primary Care Physician" list, I was referred to the Illinois Health Connect website ( ). Interestingly, this is the Medicaid website for the State of Illinois. Very curious. So I did a lookup of PCP's and my doctor was actually listed on their site with appropriate PCP Number. So I called my former Doctor's office and informed them of the PCP number  that the State of Illinois has assigned to them (and they are now calling them directly to confirm "Vetcare" is the same as Illinois Health Connect").... which by my research... is "Medicaid". So as long as all claims are handled by Illinois Health Connect, I should be good to go (the downside is that it is taking the State of Illinois up to a year to process claims). Also, it has prescription support as well (so I can take prescriptions to Walmart, CVS, Target, or Walgreens).

Incredibly, I am essentially covered by Medicaid (even  though I am not covered by Medicaid via Illinois DHS).... and the premium is $40.00 a month.

The various Vet services people are very interested in seeing how I will be treated by Vetcare  (as I am the only one they know having been approved by this program). I just pray that my gout / joint issues get the full attention that they need without my needing to push the issue (and that I will have enough of a positive experience that I can recommend Vetcare to the various Vet reps I interact with (so others can apply for said medical coverage as well).

I am just waiting for the other shoe to fall (when Obamacare kicks in January 1st and things change again). There is so much uncertainty on something that we need to plan for (with a decided lack of information considering how close we are to implementation).

Stay tuned.......


Monday, July 29, 2013

It is Monday, and Gout has come roaring back (and my faith is being tested)

My frustration level is starting to kick in (a post about what I am dealing with lately). This blog started as a way to journal about Penny's cancer and our familial experiences with it, I never thought it would also turn into my journal about my own limitations as well and it is quickly becoming so. <Edit - please note after my reading this to Penny, she thinks this will be interpreted by others as my feeling sorry for myself... a pity party and that my pain is talking. My perspective is that I am trying to share what I am going through also.... not an easy thing to do for a man by the way... and that the only way for friends and family can understand what we're dealing with is by sharing the bad with the good>.

Last night, a not very nice person's last words to me over 9 days ago weighed heavily on me (this is from a person who never liked me from day 1 and has admitted so):
Karma is a real bitch and from what I can see that you are going through, it is biting you in the a** and maybe sometimes you get what you deserve.

Interestingly, this was being said from a Christian who has a major drinking problem and is medicated for depression, but I digress (as we have to live with this as the person is part of the extended family). It amazes me that people think in such terms. The enemy just won't leave us or our family alone (I am reminded by Penny tho time and time again.... that God turns all things the enemy intends for evil into good). To that person who judges and takes "Karma" literally, Milton comes to mind for perspective: “Never can true reconcilement grow where wounds of deadly hate have pierced so deep...”   ― John Milton, Paradise Lost

Also another quote I keep close to heart : “I have learned in my journey of faith that, the closer I am walking with God, the more likely the devil will be working to make me stumble.”   Tracie Miles, Stressed-Less Living: Finding God's Peace in Your Chaotic World

So, I have much praying to do to reconcile with this as I don't believe in Karma (fate), I believe that in the end, we will answer for our life's works with our creator (and the more we work on ourselves through prayer versus judging other people, I have God's promise as to my "fate").

I had a dream last night about losing my job at Metlife (that layoff was over 14 years ago) and it was a painfully real experience (like I was really there). Even though at the time, I had a job in the wings immediately and didn't lose a day of employment.... and the experience was actually positive..... I woke up from this dream with the realization I have been unemployed for 11 months. ELEVEN MONTHS!!!!! Never did I think that would happen and the stress coming from it is not helping matters much.

It also doesn't help one's ego that an unemployment specialist at IDES (when emailing another person that I was cc'd in about a job regarding me.... listed "age, personality, appearance and lack of formal education are his barriers"). My age, lack of College, and my weight issues are one thing.... but "personality" being listed by him also? And my needing to ratchet down aggressiveness was also noted by the head of "Marine for Life" 4 months ago regarding "keeping in check" when dealing with potential employers (this, from a Marine). Very humbling observations and quite disturbing to a very proud person who has been a go getter for his entire life.

It is now Monday morning and 4 days after the bee stings on the back porch (where I jumped after being stung 3 times and hurt my right foot in the process) and then tried on Saturday to find my Marine Corps paperwork in our garage (partially successful), my gout has come back to the point I can barely walk (let alone stand) on my right foot again. It makes me wonder just what I did to deserve this certain malady and why it keeps coming back despite every effort for me to avoid the symptoms (and I will struggle with that for the rest of my life I suppose). Our family on the maternal side deals with arthritis in many forms (Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis, so Gouty Arthritis seems to be my familial burden while my brother has diabetes from the paternal side so he is unfortunately the worse off long term in my opinion). But I am dealing with my medical issues now, and I am highly concerned.

As soon as I got up today and hobbled slowly into the bathroom thinking about the above, I realized.... I just may be unemployable if I keep getting these attacks and that I just may have to change my approach to life as I am no longer the skinny go getter and that my Type A personality may be interpreted differently by others now as a result of my appearance of medical weakness plus my weight. Something to ponder.......

Please also note, job accommodation is one thing regarding using a wheelchair (and I still have to install the wheelchair lift into our minivan so I have a means to travel during these attacks), it is another thing to adjust a 110 year old farmhouse with very small but tall rooms and small 30" wide doors plus large stairs.... especially when one doesn't have the financial resources to change said accommodations (being unemployed and also having no equity in a home due to it being upside down by over 100k will do that). Also, when going through these attacks, one cannot concentrate on anything but the pain (and with the fog of painkillers not helping matters).

Being a very proud Norwegian and former Marine, I have approached life head on. That is starting to take its toll on me and my family. I'll be honest here, I wouldn't have survived the previous gout attack without the support of my wife. She accommodated me whenever she could (regarding bringing food and drink to me in the living room, helping me get into the shower, and providing moral support) for over 2 weeks. All while she is going through chemo and her own medical battle (she is my inspiration to be sure). I am now looking at another "lost week" where I am stuck in my recliner while another week of beautiful weather where I can work around the house is lost regarding opportunity. Looking at the unfinished projects is truly also weighing on me. The only difference this time is that on August 1st, I have Illinois "Vetcare" and can go to a doctor for treatment (and I plan on doing so to get ahead of this problem).

In the interim, I am trying to be a positive as I can be in the process..... I just wish I could be back to being a contributor to humanity and to my family (instead of being unable to be either).

The view from the recliner.