Saturday afternoon, almost a week ago, I thought of panhandling to raise money—survival funds, I call it. I never gave such a thing serious thought before in my life, and I am 60 years old.
The next questions were where to go, what sign to carry, and what to use for collecting money that someone might be kind enough to donate. The world-famous Strip? Plenty of well-to-do tourists there—plus hotel security and police. Maybe not such a great idea. Fremont Street in “old Las Vegas?” That is basically private property, but the homeless and panhandlers seem to be somewhat tolerated. And then the sign. Maybe “Retired Military Veteran Needs a Helping Hand?” I already tried that on Indiegogo, the crowdfunding site (60-year old Native American Veteran Needs Help); the Indiegogo campaign has been a dismal failure. And what to collect money in when panhandling—perhaps my ACU cap that I wore while deployed to Iraq.
Decisions, decisions, decisions. All because of a policy that excuses all, and an institutional business as usual attitude.
To back up for a moment, let us consider the background. When a “weekend warrior” retires from the National Guard, retirement military pay is not paid until the first month following their 60-year old birth month. The retirement pay packet goes to the Human Resources Command (HRC) at Fort Knox, Kentucky, for processing. Retirement orders are “cut” and the packet goes to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) for processing. The soldier receives a partial retirement paycheck the first month after the birth month of their 60th birthday.
Of course, as usual, my situation is a little more…interesting. Because of the unexpected impact of the Global War On Terrorism (GWOT) on the Guard and Reserves, there is a program that, broadly speaking, allows for retirement pay to be issued earlier than the 60th birthday. There are all sorts of rules to the program and it is based on the type of orders a soldier was on.
I thought I qualified for the program. Before I retired in July 2013 I asked my higher headquarters and the response was “NO NO NO.” No one looked at my documentation. I raised the issue again in May 2014 when HRC was processing my retirement pay packet; they asked for documentation. Of course they did not receive the fax so I had to scan and e-mail. It took HRC 30 days to make up their mind, but the result was new orders. My retirement date should not have been 21 June 2014, it should have been 21 March 2014. My packet had already gone to DFAS a month before, but on 17 June 2014 DFAS received the amended orders.
And since 17 June 2014, as it is DFAS policy that they have up to 30 days before touching incoming documents, my amended orders sat there—just sat there, untouched. Phone calls did not accomplish anything, nor did DFAS Customer Service notes that I was experiencing a severe financial hardship. After all, they had up to 30 days to act on incoming documents, so everything was business as usual as enabled by their policy.
Of course, in mid-June I ran out of money.
The only money I have had in my pocket since mid-June is from asking family and friends for loans. Hundreds of dollars in loans. After all, car insurance, property insurance, rent, etc., does not wait for 3-months backpay from DFAS. The greater world wants their money now.
It has been years since I have been in a similar situation. In a sense it is worse because my fate is in the hands of others to whom all is business as usual.
I wake up early in the mornings wondering who I can borrow money from, how much, and when it will arrive. Because I find it difficult to sleep, I usually sit up until early morning with the same thoughts. Without money to get my 1996 Honda Civic worked on, I drive it only when I have to. Otherwise, I stare at Netflix and YouTube on my computer, and the TV. I check my bank account each day, hoping against hope, that the backpay will magically appear one morning.
On that morning there will be a well-deserved buffet breakfast to enjoy. After that, the car needs to be worked on. Car insurance to pay and property insurance to reinstate. Lien taken off of one of my storage units and bring the other storage units up to date (if I emptied them, the apartment would not be so empty as it is now). Broom, mop and mop bucket; shower curtains; trash cans; and a lamp for each bedroom. I can redeem my camera equipment that I pawned in June for survival funds. Then I will finally (I hope) feel like resuming my life and getting things going again.
But most of all, there will be the freedom from daily stress and wondering who next to ask for money.
Until that morning arrives, I feel like a beggar.
Stan Hampton, Sr. is a full-blood Choctaw of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, a divorced grandfather to 13 wonderful grandchildren, and a published photographer and photojournalist. He retired on 1 July 2013 from the Army National Guard with the rank of Sergeant First Class; he previously served in the active duty Army (1974-1985), the Army Individual Ready Reserve (1985-1995) (mobilized for the Persian Gulf War), and enlisted in the Nevada Army National Guard in October 2004, after which he was mobilized for Federal active duty for almost three years. Hampton is a veteran of Operations Noble Eagle (2004-2006) and Iraqi Freedom (2006-2007) with deployment to northern Kuwait and several convoy security missions into Iraq.
His writings have appeared as stand-alone stories and in anthologies from Dark Opus Press, Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy, Melange Books, Musa Publishing, MuseItUp Publishing, Ravenous Romance, and as stand-alone stories in Horror Bound Magazine, The Harrow, and River Walk Journal, among others.
In May 2014 he graduated from the College of Southern Nevada with an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Photography – Commercial Photography Emphasis. A future goal is to study for a degree in archaeology—hopefully to someday work in and photograph underwater archaeology (and also learning to paint).
After 13 years of brown desert in the Southwest and overseas, he misses the Rocky Mountains, yellow aspens in the fall, running rivers, and a warm fireplace during snowy winters.
As of April 2014, after being in a 2-year Veterans Administration program for Homeless Veterans, Hampton is officially no longer a homeless Iraq War veteran, though he is still struggling to get back on his feet.
S.S. Hampton, Sr.’s books can be found at:
“Better Than a Rabbit’s Foot.” Ed. Joelle Walker. MuseItUp Publishing, June 2012.
BLURB:Sergeant Jerry Stanton is a young soldier serving in the War in Iraq. He is a gunner on a gun truck nicknamed “Lucky Bear,” one of those tireless workhorses that escort supply convoys from camps in Kuwait to destinations scattered throughout the war-torn country. In the early morning hours before a scheduled mission, a dust storm howls across his camp and threatens to bring convoy operations to a halt. Worse, the camp receives word that a gunner from his company was killed by an IED while on a convoy mission. Unlike most soldiers, Jerry doesn’t carry a lucky charm, but upon receiving news of the death of the gunner, he begins to mull over/ponder the merit/virtue of a good luck charm—only, what would work for him? Perhaps mail call will provide the answer.
EXCERPT: “People like a happy ending.”
Sergeant Jerry Stanton, an M4 Carbine slung across his chest, glanced at the dark form that trudged alongside him in the hot, early morning darkness. It was all the darker for the dust storm howling across the small camp, a dusty and sandy convoy support center, CSC, a mile south of the Iraqi border. He placed his hand over the tall styrofoam coffee cup from the messhall that was open at all hours to serve those about to head out on a mission. He felt the itchy dust filtering down his back, along his arms, and coating his fingers.
In spite of his short time deployed to Kuwait, he had learned that dust storms were worse than sand storms; they were hot and itchy while the sand storms stung exposed skin and chilled the air. Breakfast was good but tasted flat, more due to the question of whether their mission would be a go or no-go because of the storm that roared out of the midnight darkness hours before.
“People like a happy ending,” the soldier repeated. He was a gunner from another gun truck as the squat, venerable M1114 HMMWVs, which were never meant to be combat vehicles, were called. He held up a rabbit foot that spun frantically in the wind and added, “I like a happy ending. Especially now.” They rounded the corner of a small building, actually a renovated mobile home trailer with a covered wooden porch lit by a bare electric bulb. The gunner pointed to a small black flag, suspended from a log overhang, flapping furiously in the wind.
“Oh shit.” Jerry sighed as a cold chill raced through him.
“It’s been there for an hour or so,” the soldier said as he enclosed the rabbit’s foot within both hands and brought it up to his lips as if to kiss it. He glanced at Jerry. “I’m not superstitious, but still, I mean, there’s nothing wrong with having a lucky charm. You know?”
“Yeah.” Jerry nodded as he watched the twisting flag. “I know.”
The soldier looked once more at the black flag andthen walked toward the shower and restroom trailers beyond which were the air-conditioned sleeping tents they called home…