All Jason Bass dreamed about was serving his country. Now, back stateside and suffering from debilitating health problems, all he and his wife Valerie want is a solar power system on the roof of their cabin, nestled in the Blue Ridge mountains in Sparta, N.C., a small 1,755-person town “near” the borders of Virginia and Tennessee.
Bass served in the Oklahoma and Florida National Guards for nearly 22 years, helping around the country when natural disasters struck. He enjoyed giving people their lives back in the face of horrible tragedy. He relieved their suffering — and he was good at it.
In 2005, his country asked him to serve in Afghanistan for one tour as part of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), to take those skills to a foreign land and bring peace to a country that for much of its history has only known war. It’s never a duty Bass expected to undertake as a member of the National Guard, but he went willingly — proud, as always, to serve with a passion the country he loved.
Based in Kabul, Afghanistan’s war-torn capital, Jason traveled around the country maintaining the electrical equipment that scrambled the signals the Taliban and Al-Qaeda used to detonate buried land mines, maiming and killing U.S. and Coalition soldiers.
“Even though he was based in Kabul, he traveled everywhere,” says Valerie, her husband of 27 years sitting nearby. “He made sure our soldiers were safe as they traveled around Afghanistan.”
But Bass paid a heavy price in the service of his country nearly 7,600 miles away from home. His tour came to an end in 2006, but the painful, disturbing effects on his health linger like a daily nightmare from which he can’t awaken.
Before Afghanistan, Jason kept himself in exceptional shape. He shattered the limit of the Army Physical Fitness Test (PFT). The maximum is supposedly 300. Jason scored 350. He ran between 36 and 50 miles a week. He coached soccer and t-ball for his two children, Noel, and Arielle (now 24 and 19, respectively).
“His brother was in the military, too,” Valerie says. “They would have competitions about who could do the most crunches the fastest and how fast they could run. He was obsessed with fitness.”
Now, Jason can’t run at all. He suffers from a bad back, joint problems and advanced degenerative arthritis. His breathing is audibly labored, and he clears his throat in a constant stream of low-level rumbling because of a growth near his thyroid. He has lost hearing and experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI), which has led to memory loss and forgetfulness. When he came back, he submitted himself to a post-war physical and was told he had 19 different ailments and the bone density of a 63-year-old. He was 42 at the time.
While he can’t ever be sure his tour in Afghanistan caused his ailments, Jason can’t think of any other reasonable explanation.
“I’m pretty sure I was exposed to things in Afghanistan that the military doesn’t want me to know about,” says Jason, his voice heavy with resignation, frustration and crushing sadness. “Once you go overseas, the military just looks at you as a number. They don’t care how you come back. They don’t care about your health — but I didn’t realize that until I came back.”
The nearest Veterans Administration full-scale hospital is 1 hour and 40 minutes away in Salisbury, N.C. (the next two closest ones are out of state: Salem, Va., is 2 hours and 1 minute away, and Mountain Home, Tenn., is 2 hours and 19 minutes away). Even if Jason could get there (“We don’t go out much because of Jason’s health and his post-traumatic stress disorder — crowds make him very nervous,” says Valerie), the VA would likely tell him, as he’s been told already, that they can’t help him. So Jason and Valerie decided to get back in touch with the environment to lessen his symptoms.
They moved to Sparta to escape the pollution that plagued Jason in Florida. Valerie started to farm and produces much of their food. She also raises six chickens, two goats, two roosters and rabbits (they also have three dogs and a cat, but those are pets, not food producers). They have an intense and passionate commitment to the environment, which is why a solar power system is something they both fervently want.
Last August, Jason experienced five severe asthma attacks and at least one episode where he thought he was having a stroke. He was paralyzed for nearly an hour alone at his house because Valerie was then working as a teacher at Middleburg (Fla.) High School, where she spent a 16-year career. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic later diagnosed him with hypoparathyroidism, which will eventually leave him vulnerable to grand mal seizures and blackouts.
Jason’s daughter Arielle came home last summer from college last year to help take care of him while Valerie finished out the year at school, but Jason’s deteriorating health led Valerie to quit her job this summer to take care of Jason full-time.
They get by on Jason’s veterans’ benefits (which they had to fight two years to receive), but they won’t start getting his retirement for another 11.5 years. They have always lived frugally — Valerie says living that way allowed her to quit her job — but when she started doing research on installing a solar system, she gasped at the price.
Nevertheless, she persevered because, well, that’s what Basses do. She reached out to Solar Power World for help, and she graciously allowed us to tell Jason’s story to our readers in the hopes that someone could help her navigate the intricacies of how she can most cost effectively put solar on her roof.
“It really bothers me how much people damage our environment,” Valerie says. “We also think it’s important to be more self reliant. Being in touch with nature, protecting the Earth for our children and grandchildren, is something more people should be working on. Using solar power has been one of our dreams to help us play a small part in doing just that.”
Anyone interested in helping the Basses figure out the most cost-effective way of putting a solar power system on their cabin in Sparta, N.C., please email Editorial Director Frank Andorka at email@example.com or call him at 440-234-4531, and he will pass along your information to them. Thanks, in advance, for your time, attention and support.