Our Pursuit of Happiness
As the founding fathers stated in The Declaration of Independence ‘We hold those Truths to be self- evident that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness’. I am not going to dispute the first two rights here, so let’s talk about the latter.
I have been happily married to an American Navy veteran since Protected content . After a fruitless try to obtain a spouse visa in order to live with my husband in the States ( a slow and painstaking process during which the only thing we were not asked to prove was that waterfalls flow downwards) we opted to plan B – he moved to Bulgaria. Months after we had already settled down in Sofia, we received a letter from the authorities stating that I could hire a lawyer to deal with my case. I did not know whether I should feel flattered at that time. We were already enjoying our marriage without lawyers, so thanks, but no thanks.
Do not get me wrong. My intentions are not to depict Bulgaria as the best or the most organized place in the world. We do not have our Right to Pursuit Happiness covered by any Declarations, nor is Bulgaria known as the land of the opportunity. However, just a valid passport and a Marriage Certificate was enough for Bulgarian government to grant residency to my husband.
How much does a right mean if you cannot exercise it? It seems that it is given to you in writing, but when it comes to you marrying whoever you want and living together, this Right for Happiness is taken away.
I am too far away from bad talking America. My husband is proud of serving his country and I am proud of him. He brought different meaning into my life. He became the carrying and supportive kind of Father my children had always needed.
We were not selfish, by the way, we decided to share our knowledge with other people, and hence we opened a Language School. We started teaching American to people whose previous exposure to the English language was to British Systems where ‘If you are not one of us, you are not good enough’. You know how it goes. You cannot just teach a plain language; a good teacher always makes sure that through the language he or she presents the country’s values, history, life style, and mentality. And God knows we were good at what we were doing. We not only managed to hand language competences to our students, but guided them how to develop confidence, self- esteem, pride, and strong determination to achieve their goals… To Pursue Happiness
Of course, life is not a bed of roses. We, for sure, had our regular aches and pains, worries and disagreements, but throughout those nine years we had definitely learned how to be a team rather than solo players. We had some great plans for us, they-lived-happily- ever- after kind of plans… up until November 29th, Protected content . The day, my life fell apart for just a few seconds. My husband suffered an Ischemic brain stroke in the vertebra-basilar system, the mortality rate of which is 85%. But my husband is a stubborn fighter and once again he left the Reaper empty-handed. (Remember, I mentioned earlier that he is veteran? A disabled veteran. Well, he had his jugular vein cut and walked away from it.)
At that time I did not have even a single minute to think about stress or fatigue. Due to the language barrier and because he was conscious, the doctors let me stay with him in the Intensive Care Ward. I quit teaching and spent a week running between home (we have 4 boys living with us) and hospital. Ever since November 29th, I had devoted myself to my husband’s wellbeing, for better or worse, till death do us apart.
Smile, sweet-talks, massages, exercises, pills, don’t read statistics on the Internet, don’t let medical terminology confuse you, smile, bath time, feeding time, smile, pills, sweet-talks, don’t let reality discourage you, smile, massages, pills, doctor’s visits, more pills, don’t let your face show your fears, smile, there is no time for any fears, there is no time for any emotions, smile, exercises, bath time. Oh, you can’t pull up your zipper? Keep trying! Keep trying! Don’t use your left hand! Now tie your shoes. You can’t? Keep trying! Keep trying! You can do it…Talk to me. Longer sentences, please. You got confused in the middle? So did I. Keep trying! Keep trying! Write your name. You can’t? Of course, you can’t but keep trying. You can do it! The pen fell off. Doesn’t matter, here, take another one and keep trying. Let me see. What the… it doesn’t make any sense, but keep trying. Now, check your mail on the computer. Stupid mouse. Let go! Let go! It is broken. Don’t worry, we’ll get another one. Keep trying! …. Don’t worry if you forgot what I had just told you, I can repeat it.
That is the reality. Whatever does not kill you, cripples makes you. It sounds crazy, but we are tough, we can take it.
Can we actually? Oh, yes, we can because this craziness is nothing compared to the hell you have to go through to apply for some benefits. Always remember that what you think is not what the government has it planned for you. They made it so easy for you to obtain help when you need it. Is there anyone out there who believes in this?
Try to apply for Social Security Disability benefits. You think you qualify for it after you worked for 30 years and suffered a brain stroke. Do not be so naïve. Think again. Read carefully everything on their site. Blue books, Green books, hey, people with disabilities are reading that information. It is hard not to get confused. Anyway, we applied on line and received a confirmation. Then we were referred to the regional department of Social Security which is in Athens, Greece. Paperwork, proof, more paperwork, phone calls, more paperwork. We lived in hope that it could be decided in our favor. Is there anybody who got approved from the first time without a lawyer?
Finally, after six months, we received the long- expected letter.
Oh, no! I am shocked; I am angry; I am perplexed; I am devastated!
We are writing to tell you that you do not qualify for disability benefits. No explanation why. It was just one sheet of paper, when other people usually receive a letter of 5 pages. Have we been cheated?
We were given 60 days to appeal. Since we live abroad we cannot file the appeal online. Through the Embassy we obtained the form and then it was sent to Greece. The Embassy could not provide us with any lawyer or legal services, or anybody in that matter who could explain to us what to expect, how to proceed in this case. Next step was finding a lawyer. If somebody wonders what hobby to take up, I strongly suggest ‘hunting for lawyer’. It is time consuming and educational. Most of their sites are filled with those bombastic ten- dollar words that leave us non- natives flabbergasted, but they offer you the moon and the stars. My hopes were high. We sent emails, we made phone calls but the answer was the same We cannot take your case.
I am lost. Being a disabled veteran does not count. Thirty years of working and paying taxes does not count. What counts then? Wake up, you people who sit in those government offices. It is not all about the monetary compensation. It is a matter of dignity and pride to those who one way or another are left disabled and cannot complete even a simple daily task as feeding themselves or getting dressed.
The question is what we are supposed to do. Should we wait for those four masked rockers to open a restaurant in Bulgaria? Isn’t it pathetic a rock band to do more about the veterans than the government itself?