Short stories and essays by Shaun Costello, as well as excerpts from manuscripts in progress.





By Shaun Costello

Facebook’s Morality Police are on the march.


Facebook, sometimes known as the AMERICAN BOTS AND TROLLS SOCIETY, in an attempt to reverse the world-wide perception that its rabid greed for advertising revenues, and lack of interest in who exactly does that advertising, was directly responsible for putting Donald Trump in the White House, is taking on a new role as America’s moral compass. Yes folks, there’s a new Sheriff in town, and his name is Mark Zuckerberg, and he’s the Imperial Wizard of Facebook’s Morality Police.

Facebook’s membership will now he held to a whole new set of codified regulations that will determine what can be said, and what can not, on the pages of this vaunted internet venue. So, Facebook’s subscribers will be punished, as compensation for the internet cash cow’s greed and irresponsibility.

On May 25th, someone shared an article on Facebook about the dubious behavior of a State Representative in New Hampshire. (Link Below)

While his hero Donald Trump grabs them by their pussies, Representative Josh Moore grabs them by their breasts.

It seems that, in an attempt to prevent the moral hazards of public nudity, the politician stated that, if a woman were to expose her breast in public to nurse an infant, he had the right to grab the breast in question. I was outraged by the brazen insensitivity and sanctimonious presumptions in the politician’s statement. So, beneath it, in the comments section, I wrote, “Men are such assholes”. A few hours later, I was notified that I was to be blocked from posting on Facebook for a period of three days, for breaking Facebook’s new code of regulations. I was stunned. In an attempt to appeal what I considered to be an outrage, I clicked on a few boxes until I found myself offered a venue to explain my outrage. Into that box, I typed the following:


“The comment that I made in response to a New Hampshire State Representative, who stated openly that if any woman in his state bared her breast to feed an infant in public, he had the right to grab it. I responded, “Men are such assholes”. Was the New Hampshire Representative blocked for making this horrific remark? Of course not. It’s bad enough that Facebook helped put Trump in the White House, but now Facebook takes on the sanctimonious role of The Morality Police. And by the way, I stand by my comment”.


When I clicked send, a notice appeared that said, “We could not process your request. Please try again later”. I tried ten additional times and got the same notice each time. This tells me, of course, that the appeal function, falsely offered by Facebook, is intentionally defective; to create the illusion of fairness, while blocking one’s ability to effectively protest.

The money rolls in, and Facebook rolls on.


So, Facebook’s advertising juggernaut, which has conspired to give the world President Donald J. Trump, marches full speed ahead, with multi-billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, a knight in shining armor at its head, sowing the newly embraced seeds of morality, as it reaps its fortunes, unregulated by a cowardly Congress, tacitly approving a State Representative’s threats to grab the breast of any woman who has the temerity to nurse her child in public; while simultaneously punishing its membership for calling him an asshole.

Multi-billionaire Mark Zuckerberg is the Imperial Wizard of Facebook’s newly-installed Morality Police.



© 2018 Shaun Costello







by Shaun Costello


leg top 

There has always been that moment for me, when, enthralled by the prose of a wonderful novel, I suddenly become aware that I have almost reached the end. It’s a sad reckoning. I begin to read more slowly. I take bathroom breaks more often. Anything to put off the inevitable. This happened to me earlier today, when reading the last pages of John Le Carre’s latest novel, A LEGACY OF SPIES. It’s his 24th, and because of his advanced age, possibly his last book. I have read his 23 other spy stories at least twice each – some favorites as many as four or five times. I realize that I am a hopeless case. In this last book Le Carre revisits two

earlier novels, THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, and TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY; linking them both together to tidy up some loose ends. An aging, retired, white haired Peter Guillam is called for by the inquisitors at Whitehall. The British Secret Service is being haunted by ghosts from its past, and the once-young Peter Guillam will be hauled over the coals. The death of Circus agent Alec Leamus, many years before, is now in question. Leamus had a son who is now looking to be compensated for the murder of his father. Was The Circus at fault? Is Guillam responsible? Whitehall has opened the files and found incriminating evidence against Guillam. Whitehall is looking for a fall guy.


For incurable Le Carre addicts like yours truly, the fun now begins. Familiar characters from the past delightfully cascade through the story. George Smiley is still alive but his whereabouts are unknown. The ill-fated Alec Leamus, Connie Sachs, Control, Control’s man Mendel, arch traitor Bill Haydon, Jim Prideaux, Oliver Lacon, Toby Esterhase, Roy Bland, Millie McCraig, Hans-Dieter Mundt, all deliciously brought back to life.

In The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, Circus agents are disappearing, networks are being rolled up, and Alec Leamus is murdered climbing the Berlin Wall. There’s a rotten apple in the Circus, somewhere near the top. We find out, many books later, in Tinker Tailor, that Bill Haydon, very high up indeed, is the soviet mole, buried many years earlier in the Circus, and feeding information to Karla at Moscow Center.  But why was Alec Leamus really in Berlin? What was his mission? Who was running him? Control? Smiley? What was Guillam’s involvement? And at the center was the notorious Hans-Dieter Mundt, the head of the Stasi, East Germany’s Secret police – then being run by George Smiley as a double agent.

Richard Burton as the ill-fated Alec Leamus in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.

Le Carre, regardless of his age, has not missed a beat, tying two of his best-loved books into a modern mystery, populated by an ensemble of his best-loved and familiar characters. And his prose remains intact, as sharp and flowing as ever. To his fans, A LEGACY OF SPIES seems a fitting conclusion, if that is what it is, to decades of delicious novels. The book seems, in its structure, to be bidding us adieu. I can only hope that the author has second thoughts, and the idea for one more book up his literary sleeve.



John Le Carre’s prose is as exciting as ever.


© 2018 Shaun Costello




by Shaun Costello

I can’t imagine that there is doubt in anyone’s mind, that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man.

Yesterday, October 30th, in an interview on Fox News, White House Chief of Staff, General John Kelly defended Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and referred to him as an honorable man. He also had some odd comments about the cause of the Civil War. In today’s news he was roundly criticized. In my opinion, he meant well, but misspoke, and the criticism of his statements is grossly exaggerated.

Kelly meant well, but misspoke.

They Grey Army of the past lives on in the sheets and hoods of the Ku Klux Klan.

Anyone who has spent any time reading nineteenth century history, and more specifically, about the American Civil War, would come to the conclusion that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man. But at issue here is erecting and maintaining statues of Confederate soldiers. Most of these were erected, not directly after the Civil War, to honor the brave and the fallen, but instead, in the early twentieth century, symbolic of Jim Crow America, in an effort to remind African Americans that the Grey Army of the past lives on in the sheets and hoods of the Ku Klux Klan.

The glorification of the Confederacy is all about racial hatred

And that the uppity Negro better not get too uppity, lest the Klan is comin’ to getcha. The Confederacy declared war on the United States, creating a conflagration that yielded half a million dead. It was America’s darkest moment. The ongoing glorification of the Confederacy is based more in racial hatred, than in honoring the Army in Grey. Instead, read Douglas Southall Freeman’s extraordinary biography – ROBERT E. LEE. And his equally extraordinary three volume work – LEE’S LIEUTENANTS: A STUDY IN COMMAND……..MANASSAS TO MALVERNE HILL, CEDAR MOUNTAIN TO CHANCELLORSVILLE, and GETTYSBURG TO APPOMATTOX. Just about the entire Civil War from The Army of Northern Virginia’s point of view. This is a magnificent series of volumes, and you’ll be a better human being having read them. You don’t need statues and flag waving to be a good citizen. Grow up, America.

Highly recommended reading.





by Nora Ephron

In the Seventies, Nora Ephron was America’s most entertaining essayist.

About a year ago I found myself developing a surprising appreciation of Nora Ephon. Like many New Yorkers who lived through the Seventies, I read her tasty pieces in Esquire, when she was probably America’s most entertaining essayist. As the decades passed, I read her, saw her movies (both written and directed) and enjoyed most of it. Then, about a year ago, Sleepless in Seattle turned up on HBO Streaming, so I watched.

Sleepless in Seattle was perfectly constructed.

About a half hour in, I clicked on pause. I was not prepared for what I saw. It was perfectly constructed. I started watching again, and the whole movie was as perfect as the first half hour. This level of story structure is rare these days, and you’d have to go back to Hitchcock to match it. Somehow when I saw it in a theater when it was first released, the quality of the construction went right by me.  Maybe it was the popcorn.


I started revisiting her films and books. Some were great. Most were good. Nothing was terrible. I have to admit here that I was developing a serious crush on a dead person. I began to grieve at not having known her, and envying those who did. Her son, Jacob Bernstein (Jacob, out of Nora, by Carl) made a documentary about his late mom called EVERYTHING IS COPY.

Jacob Bernstein -( Jacob, out of Nora, by Carl)

I’ve watched it several times, and the more I discovered about her, the more I grieved at never having known her. She was brilliant, and challenging, and terrifying. Had I been invited to one of her famous dinner parties, and when tested, crapped out as dull, it would have been like the death of a thousand cuts.  But, if I got a laugh out of her it might have been orgasmic.


Much of the text in Jacob Bernstein’s documentary is from the pages of the book titled at the top of this page, read by Ephron’s friends. She was dying of leukemia when she wrote and directed Julie and Julia, her last film.  As I watched her son’s chronicle, and read I Remember Nothing, I began to realize that Julie and Julia was not about those two women at all – It was about Nora Ephron. It was about Nora’s relationship with her sister Delia. It was about a perfect marriage, not necessarily about Paul and Julia Child, but, after two failures, about the perfect marriage Nora found with writer Nick Pillegi. It was about everything Nora Ephron loved, and knew she would soon lose.

Julie & Julia wasn’t about those two women at all – It was all about Nora.

The above titled book ends with two chapters; What I won’t Miss, and What I Will Miss. Although very few knew of her illness, and claimed that they were shocked by her death, I find it surprising that they missed the clearly stated clues. In writing I Remember Nothing, Norah Ephron was saying goodbye. 

N Nora dates



© 2017 Shaun Costello


(I recently came across a letter I wrote to Laura Helen Marks, in response to some questions Helen asked about two films of mine, and about my old friend Jamie Gillis. She was doing research for her book:

PORNING THE VICTORIANS: Erotic Adaptations and Gothic Desire

I found the letter interesting, particularly my insights on Jamie, so I am posting it here on my Blog.)


A letter to Laura Helen Marks


Hi Laura,

I should preface any remarks by reminding you that, in the case of Dracula Exotica, I am not the author. Ken Schwartz, who I had known for several years, wrote the screenplay, lifting the story from the screenplay of “Love at First Bite”, which had done surprisingly good box office six months earlier. Schwartz vehemently denied any connection, even claimed he had never seen “Love at First Bite”, but the similarity was too extreme to be coincidental.

Jamie Gillis made a sensual, brooding Dracula.


I am attaching a link to my Blog, that describes the production of Passions of Carol. Please feel free to lift any quotes that you might find useful.



In the case of Dracula Exotica, although I was not the author, I did make story changes and adapted the screenplay to my own sensibilities, as I saw fit. I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula when I was in High School, and it remained food for thought forever after.

I think I’ve seen most of the motion pictures adapted from Stoker’s novel, but most of them lost their way, the screen writers having no clue as to what Stoker was up to. The silent “Nosferatu” is probably the closest to the original. The whole vampire myth is dear to my heart.

Dracula Exotica poster

The silent Nosferatu was probably the closest to Stoker’s book.

Do I believe that Romanian bats bite tourists who then spread a plague of blood-lust throughout the civilized world, that only the crucifix, symbolizing the ultimate sacrifice that saved humanity from the fires of eternal agony, could put an end to? No, of course not. Do I believe that humanity, reduced to a state of pure passion, is capable of anything? Yep!


I worked on a documentary for Broadway producer David Merrick in Haiti in the 1980’s. I witnessed Voodoo rituals up in the hills. I met zombies. They do exist. Although, not in the common, fictionalized form. The local medicine man, or Ngana, gains power, and income, through terrorizing the indigenous proletariat. And what medicine man, or wizard, has not been, first and foremost, an alchemist. The Ngana administers a drug to his victim, that slows the heartbeat to almost nothing, and proclaims him dead.

Ngana takes life. Ngana gives life. Long live Ngana

Because the temporarily deceased is barely breathing, the oxygen in his coffin is sufficient to sustain him for three days, after which he is exhumed. And, to the horror of the locals, he has come back to life. Ngana takes life. Ngana gives life. Long live Ngana, who gladly accepts donations of chickens and goats, not to mention cash, from the terrified believers, to prevent their following in the zombie’s footsteps. Control through terror. The big lie. Hey, it worked for Hitler.

The inventor of “The Big Lie.”

Although the zombie is still alive, after his subterranean adventure, the lack of oxygen in the coffin invariably causes brain damage, and that far away look that reminds the locals to give generously when the Ngana passes the collection basket.


Zombies are about fear and superstitious belief, but Vampires are much more complicated, and like their Haitian cousins, also exist in superstitious belief. A myth, believed in passionately enough however, can become real, particularly if wrapped in the tendrils of sexuality. The Vampire is a very sexy boy. He is irresistible. He is the apocalyptic bite me/fuck me.

The Vampire is the Apocalyptic “Bite me/Fuck me”

And the welcome antidote to repressive, inhibited, Victorian sexual mores. The ruined maiden’s lament, “What could I do? He bit me. I was in his power. He willed me to do his bidding. I was helpless to resist his foul demands.” So, the girl got laid and it wasn’t her fault. A violation of her carotid artery, followed by an eternity of sexual conflagration and moldy coffins. Unless, of course, there’s the intervention of a stake, or a silver bullet.


Dracula is all about the sacrifice of virginity to the forces of evil, on the alter of responsibility. The two drops of blood on the wedding sheets. The two incisor-driven puncture wounds on the virginal neck. “It’s not my fault. He bit me”. If this isn’t porn fodder then I’ll have sex with Ron Jeremy in the venue of your choice. Please don’t hold me to that.

Sexually repressed Victorian England is the fertile crescent for sexual deviance.


Passions of Carol is another story altogether. But playing with Vicorian mores by layering them into blatantly sexual realities becomes contrapuntally delicious. This was my first screenplay, and while writing it, I realized that the closer I stuck to the original, the funnier and more satisfying the movie would be. Sexually repressed Victorian England is the fertile crescent of sexual deviance. (See the movie “The Ruling Class” – the world’s first S&M Musical, starring Peter O’Toole)

The last question – Yes it was my idea. Somehow including the inability to ejaculate to the many inconveniences (blood drinking, infanticide, late hours, dirty finger nails, etc.) suffered by the living dead seemed only fitting.

Read the attached and quote at will. I hope this helps.



The second letter:



First of all, you are not bugging me in the slightest, Laura. I support what you’re doing, and I’m happy to give you any information that might be helpful. OK, you’ve read the piece on Drac, and you’re probably aware that Jamie and I were close friends for many years, sharing many a late night adventure, prowling Manhattan’s dark canyons, looking for, and often finding, the shit. You’re familiar with the films I made back then, and you should be aware that I seldom made a film without Jamie. He was reliable, attractive, and on film sets, where most of your time was spent waiting for all of the elements to be in sync, allowing you to get a shot off, Jamie was fun to have around. He kept the cast and crew amused with funny songs and stories, and the females in the cast found him seductive and passionate to work with.

Like Dracula, Jamie was dangerous.

That said, what was Jamie’s attraction? He was a good looking guy, but looks alone don’t seduce, except in the extremely shallow. He had a substantial penis that needed little encouragement to stiffen, but penis size alone, even if it’s always hard, is not the answer. He was intelligent, engaging, and curious about everything, which are attractive traits, but intelligence, while the ultimate aphrodisiac, is not the answer either. So, lets put them all together. He was good looking, had a handsome and active member, was passionate and entertaining, and engagingly intelligent – a pretty handsome package. But there was something else, something beyond all these positive elements, something few people understood. Jamie was dangerous.

And it was this danger that lurked somewhere deep in his psyche that, when added to the aforementioned,  made women swoon. Although he seldom acted out, the possibility of an eruption of passion, whether caused by anger or frustration, was always present. And that possibility, even in its dormant stage, made him irresistible to women.

If Dracula’s appeal was bite me/fuck me, Jamie’s was scare me/fuck me. Long before I was offered the directing job on Dracula Exotica, I was aware of Jamie’s Vampire-like qualities. It was something we talked about many times.

Even as a teen, there was a danger to Jamie Gillis.

Something he was aware of, and nurtured. Like Dracula, Jamie Gillis was dangerous. No slam bam thank you Mam, he. A girl who took him home took a risk. And risk is very, very sexy.

I hope this helps,




© 2017 Shaun Costello




by Shaun Costello

The actual “Deuce” way back when.


(Below is a link to a Village Voice story that describes how Ashley and April Spicer helped David Simon and George Pelecanos research their new cable TV Series, The Deuce.)


So, rather than researching the era with people who actually lived it, David Simon and George Pelecanos, the producers of the new Cable TV series, The Deuce, chose Ashley and April Spicer, neither of whom were born when all of this happened. Amazing. Now I understand why neither Simon nor Pelecanos responded to my offer to help. Ashley obviously told them not to. I stood up to Ashley’s Nazification, or is it Ashleyfication, of the history of the adult film world of the Sixties and Seventies. Ashley Spicer actually thinks he owns the rights to any people or events that he chronicles from those days. My publicly expressed disdain for Mr. and Mrs. Spicer has gotten me banished from the pages of their web site, a fate I relish. Mr. Spicer is an investment banker with a hobby – the yesteryear of smut. He has used and abused many in his efforts to become the Ayatollah of smut history.

Mr. Spicer has left many victims in his wake.

No matter how many people Mr. Spicer interviews, no matter how many pieces of archival material he collects, the fact remains that he wasn’t there. His connection to that era is second hand. He never lived it. He is a revisionist historian on a mission. I am amazed at how easily people can be fooled. The porn people he digs up are flattered by his interest and seduced by his persistence. He demands exclusivity from his discoveries, like a real estate broker with a fresh new listing. He has hoodwinked almost the entire population of an era, with his adorable British accent, and his attentive manner. And when he has milked his victims out of every ounce of information, farmed their memories, sometimes painful, until they have exhausted their use to him, he simply discards them, like yesterday’s news; with the understanding that he now owns the rights to their memories, in perpetuity. Mr. Spicer is a charming con man, who has left a long string of victims in his quest to become the curator of an era that has fascinated him since adolescence. And, I suppose, he has succeeded. When Simon and Pelecanos needed to research the smutified world of The Deuce, who better to call on, then the undisputed Nabobs of Seventies 42nd Street, Ashley and April Spicer. So Mr. Spicer’s dream has been realized. His expertise in sleaze is recognized by those who don’t, unfortunately, know any better. He sits atop his collected mountain of memorabilia like a Pasha with his harem. But the fact remains that all he has collected is hearsay. His encyclopedia of erotica is strictly second hand. He has no direct memory of any person or event he has so painstakingly chronicled. He speaks the words of those who lived them. Those words are not his own. He will never really know the smell of the Times Square subway station in 1971. He was never there.

Ashley and April Spicer, the Nabobs of smut history.



© 2017 Shaun Costello




Shaun’s “SIRACUSA” Sauce


(Actual Italians marvel at it’s authenticity)




A long time ago Johnny Bonanno’s grandmother, Anna Maria Bonanno, an immigrant from the town of Siracusa, in Sicily, taught me to make this sauce. Over the years it hasn’t changed much. As much as I’ve tried, I just couldn’t improve it. Mrs. Bonanno insisted that each time I made this sauce, I should give a portion to someone special. She was a wise woman.


This product has been known to cure the following:













Remember, tics and fire ants hate people who eat my sauce.



Always have some sauce in the fridge. You just never know.







Four 28 ounce cans of Italian plum tomatoes. There are many brands available. Don’t fall for, “Wow, these California Marzano tomatoes are great.” They’re not. Product of Italy only.

One can Italian tomato paste.

Extra Virgin olive oil.

Six good sized cloves of garlic – minced. You can never have too much garlic.

Fresh basil. The pile of leaves on your cutting board should be about the size of a volleyball. You can never have too much basil. Chop into sensibly sized pieces, but not too small.

One good sized sweet onion – peeled, sliced, and the slices halved.

Freshly ground black pepper.

Kosher sea salt.

Crushed red pepper. More is better than less.

Red or white wine. More is better than less.

Granulated sugar. A small handful.

A good friend’s daughter once said to me, “Shaunie, sometimes a girl likes to sit down to a nice plate of macaroni.”




With the stove burner on medium, sprinkle some olive oil on the bottom of your pot. More is better than less.

Into the heated oil goes first the onion – cook until soft. Then the garlic. Don’t let it burn. (Maybe 45 seconds) Spinkle with sea salt and ground pepper. Now, in goes the tomato paste and a hand full of the chopped basil. Stir vigorously. This becomes the glue. The quality of the glue determines the quality of the sauce. Simmer for a minute or two, until it turns into heavenly red sludge. Now, in go the tomatoes. Crush them as they cook in the pot. I use a potato masher. Crush thoroughly, but not completely. You want some solidity to your sauce. Now, in goes the remainder of the basil. No, it’s not too much. You can never have enough basil. Now, sprinkle with crushed red pepper – you guessed it, more is better than less.

Now we reach a critical moment: In The Godfather, there is a scene in the Corleone kitchen where Clemenza is making sauce for a bunch of family soldiers. Michael gets a phone call from Kay, but refuses to say he loves her within earshot of the boys in the kitchen. Clemenza teases him when he hangs the phone up.

“C’mere kid, learn somethin’. You never know when you might have to cook for twenty guys.” He explains his process to Michael, ending with, “You put in your wine, a little sugar, and that’s my trick.”

In order for your sauce to be successful, it is imperative that you quote Clemenza. As you put in the final two ingredients, you must say out loud, “You put in your wine, a little sugar, and that’s my trick.”

Reduce heat, simmer for two hours, and………………..Siracusa Sauce.


If Mario Perillo were alive, he would describe this sauce as, “Più è meglio di meno.” This roughly translates as ‘More is better than less.’


                    Più è meglio di meno.


© 2017 Shaun Costello









By Shaun Costello

Flash, Dale, and Dr. Zarkoff take on Ming the Merciless

When I was a kid, I lived in Valley Stream, a suburban community in Long Island’s Nassau County. On some Saturday’s, the local movie theater would offer Kiddie Matinees. From 10AM until 4PM the theater would provide six hours of uninterrupted movie madness to ecstatic youngsters, who were devouring lethal doses of movie candy, and screaming their brains out.

Flash does battle with Ming the Merciless.

Parents would simply drop their kids off at 10AM and come back six hours later to pick them up. Very few parents ever accompanied their children inside the theater. It was just us kids, most of us armed with projectile weaponry like rubber bands and paper clips, and bean shooters, ready to turn the inside of that theater into a war zone. Some days the venue would offer an assortment of kid-friendly features, like Martin and Lewis, or Francis the Talking Mule. On other days, the offering might include six hours of theatrical serials, like Flash Gordon, who did battle with Emperor Ming the Merciless, who ruled the plane Mongo with his evil Death Ray, and enslaved its population, which included the Clay People, the Shark People, and Hawk People: all of whom would eventually be freed by Flash and his erudite pal Dr. Zarkoff. In addition to Flash, the theater might offer my all-time favorite – Tim Tyler’s Luck.

In my dreams, I rode in the Jungle Cruiser with my hero Tim, on a mission to save the world

Tim, at the helm of his trusty Jungle Cruiser, traversing the jungles of Africa, (which looked oddly like the same location used for Hopalong Cassidy) spent his time searching for his lost father, saving gorillas from heinous hunters, befriending black panthers, rescuing a variety of blonde women from the clutches of evil doers, wrestling with alligators, avoiding the dangers of quick sand, and basically saving the world.
At 4PM a long line of station wagons (we had a Nash Rambler) waited outside the theater, to collect the kids, who were exhausted from six hours of unsupervised screaming, and green from a serious movie candy overdose. Boy, this was fun.

Tim was my ultimate hero



© 2017 Shaun Costello


In the late summer of 2016, at the VA Clinic in Port Charlotte, Florida, I was told by Dr. Alice Higgins, that my cataracts had grown to the point where surgery would be necessary. She arranged for an appointment for me with an Ophthalmic Surgeon, Dr. Bethlehem Belachew, at the VA facility in Cape Coral. Because of the many senior Veterans in this area who need cataract surgery and the fact that Dr. Belachew is the only surgeon available, an appointment with Dr. Belachew could not be accomplished for several months. The scheduler at the Ophthalmology Department at Cape Coral told me that, in cases like mine, Veterans were turned over to the Veteran’s Choice program, which is administered by Healthnet, an insurance provider. Healthnet is contractually obligated to pay private sector medical providers for those same medical services provided at VA facilities, in cases where an appointment cannot be provided within a reasonable amount of time, or when distance to a VA facility is prohibitive.

The problem is, that, Medical Providers who will do business with the Veteran’s Choice program are difficult to find. It seems that Healthnet does not pay the Medical Provider for services rendered, or they pay only a small percentage of the invoice, even though they are contractually obligated to the VA to do so. I had been told by the VA, that finding a Medical Provider would be my responsibility. I did the research and began making calls. After being told NO by fifteen or so Medical Providers, I found a Company that would do business with Healthnet.

The Eye Associates: Bob Marshall CFO, 2111 Bee Ridge Road, Sarasota, FL 34239 – 941 923 2020

Cataract surgery for a patient with astigmatism, and in need of distance correction, requires the insertion of a Toric Lens during the surgery. When cataract surgery is performed at a VA facility, the VA provides Toric lenses for its patients who require them. During my first examination by Dr. Robert Friedman at The Eye Associates, I was told that Toric lenses are considered an upgrade by insurance companies and are not covered. I told him that I was a VA patient, and that, since the VA provided Toric lenses when cataract surgery was done at VA facilities, Healthnet was contractually obligated to the VA to cover the cost, which, in this case would be $4,000. During the following two months, an exhaustive negotiation took place between myself, The Eye Associates, and Healthnet. Healthnet simply refused to guarantee payment of the Toric lenses. I enlisted the help of the VA, and after another month or so, Healthnet agreed to guarantee payment of the Toric lenses.

My first surgery was on January 17, 2017. My second surgery was on March 28th, two months later. In late February I began getting phone calls from Bob Marshall, the CFO of The Eye Associates. It seems that Healthnet was not making the payment they had guaranteed to The Eye Associates. Mr. Marshall told me that, if Healthnet failed to pay for the lenses that I would be held responsible for payment. Once again, I called the VA for help, and they attempted to help.  By mid-March the VA personnel had read the riot act to Healthnet, and Healthnet finally agreed to make the proper payment.

On April 11th 2017, I received a call from Bob Marshall. It seems that Healthnet had reneged on its promise to pay for the cost of the Toric lenses, They paid a small percentage of the invoice, and refused any payment at all for the Toric lenses. Unless this matter is resolved, The Eye Associates will have no choice but to hold me accountable for $4,000, the cost of the Toric lenses.

For the VA, the Veteran’s Choice program has become toxic. For the Veteran, in this case me, it has caused an impossible financial liability. Believe me, I am not the only Veteran who has been put in this position by Healthnet and their Veteran’s Choice program. I sought help in the Veterans Advocate’s Office in Cape Coral, Florida. Two advocates, Brett Kangas and Susan Billington, attempted to intervene with Healthnet, but after a while, Healthnet seemed to bully them into submission.

Here are two emails, from and to Susan Billington, a Veteran’s Advocate:

Dear Mr. Costello

I apologize for the delay as Mr. Kangas is not in. He did brief me on his efforts on your behalf before he departed. His discussions with our eye care specialists indicate the Toric surgery was not authorized in your case. Additionally, there is no authorization for this procedure in your Healthnet authorizations.

I am sorry we could not provide a more favorable reply

Susan G. Billington

Patient Advocate

Hello Susan,

I am a bit stunned by your email. I never saw a VA eye specialist. I assume you mean Dr. Belachew, who I never met. I was enrolled in the Veteran’s Choice program by Dr. Belachew’s assistant, without being examined by Dr. Belachew. It was Veteran’s Choice followed by Healthnet that claimed Toric lenses were not authorized for VA patients. And it was Dr. Belachew’s office that confirmed that, when necessary because of astigmatism or distance correction, Toric lenses are provided during cataract surgery performed at VA facilities. Healthnet is contractually obligated to pay private sector medical providers who perform identical services to those performed at VA facilities. Healthnet is notorious for not paying out benefits for Veterans who are enrolled in the Veterans Choice Program. Healthnet, is an insurance provider that is contracted by the VA to administer the Veteran’s Choice Program. Healthnet is a for-profit corporation that has a long history of taking monies ear marked for Veterans, and lining their pockets. Benefits eat into profits.

In my opinion, Mr. Kangas has been remiss in his duties as an advocate for Veterans. He seems to be advocating for Healthnet. Healthnet has obviously bullied him into submission. The medical provider involved, The Eye Associates, will now attempt to collect the four thousand dollar fee for the Toric lenses from me personally. It is my opinion, and the facts are on my side, that a government contractor, Healthnet Inc, is lining its pockets with monies ear marked for Veterans. It is my opinion that Mr. Kangas has forgotten who pays his salary.

I will not rest until this outrage is resolved. I have made this matter known to Suzanne Klinker in Bay Pines, as well as the office of Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs Shulkin, Senators Rubio and Nelson, Congressman Rooney, and White House senior staff. I’m quite certain that I am not the only Veteran who has fallen victim to the Veteran’s Choice Program, and its criminal administrator, Healthnet Inc.

Best regards,

Shaun Costello

I have been helped by Ms. Billington in the past and was shocked that both she and Mr. Kangas seem to have been bullied into submission by Healthnet. The Veterans Choice Program is dysfunctional because Healthnet has a long record of not paying medical providers. In this case, I spoke with 15 medical providers, all of whom refused to deal with Veterans Choice because of past unpaid invoices; before I finally found The Eye Associates in Sarasota. After two months of negotiating, between Healthnet and Bob Marshall, the CFO of The Eye Associates, Healthnet finally guaranteed payment for the Toric lenses. Two weeks later they, once again, refused to make payment.

With a large invoice from The Eye Associates looming in my immediate future, I sought help from those whose good offices seemed appropriate in the solution of my problem. Listed below are those from whom I sought help, and how they responded.

For those keeping score, here’s the scorecard:

Senator Marco Rubio

Senator Rubio

I received three emails, one snail mail, and two phone calls. I was told that my problem was being handled by a senior staffer in Orlando.



Congressman Tom Rooney

Congressman Rooney

I received two emails, one snail mail, and one phone call. I was told that Rooney’s office had submitted a Congressional Inquiry to the Congressional Liaison Office at the VA. 





Senator Bill Nelson

Senator Bill Nelson

I was ignored.






Secretary of Veterans Affairs Shulkin

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Shulkin

I was ignored.







Director of the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System Suzanne Klinker

Director of the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System Suzanne Klinker

I sent two detailed letters. Both were ignored.







President Donald J. Trump

President Donald J. Trump

I was ignored.







Only two out of six responded, which, while not surprising, is still a disappointment. To my knowledge, the medical provider in Sarasota has still not been paid, and the VA has washed its hands of this event, a problem of their creation, and of their responsibility. The two alleged Veterans Advocates; Susan Billington and Brett Kangas, no longer respond to my emails or phone calls. Any day now, I expect the invoice from The Eye Associates for approximately $5,000, which Healthnet has refused to pay.


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Shaun Costello

A creature of habit.

A creature of habit.

I was awakened about 3AM by the light. The kitchen lights were on. Had I left them on before going to sleep? I got up to reconnoiter. The office lights were on as well, and the computer. What the fuck? I could never have gone to bed with everything on, but I was too tired to care. I turned everything off and went back to sleep.

Jazzbo begins his morning assault on my blissful unconsciousness at approximately 5AM. He begins with subtle murmurs, and gradually steps up the decibel level and physicality of his attack, until a few minutes before six when, while sitting squarely on my chest, the biting begins. He knows this is effective because it works every morning. I sit up on the edge of the bed and, after a series of head butts on my legs, we settle in to some head scratching, back petting, and tail stroking. OK, I’m up now. I turn on the light, grope for my flip flops, and mosey toward the kitchen, with Jazzbo weaving between my legs at every step.

The routine is always the same. I turn on the lights in the office, then the computer. Next is the kitchen, and making coffee – but wait…..not this morning. Something’s wrong. On the counter, next to the coffee maker is my cup – the one I use every morning. There’s coffee residue on the bottom. It’s been used. The coffee maker is filled with cold coffee. I always wash it after it’s done its work. And Jazzbo’s milk snack bowl is on the counter with some milk still sitting on the bottom. What is happening? Then it dawns on me. The lights at 3AM. At some point in the middle of the night I must have awakened, thinking it was 6AM. It’s just as dark here at six as at three. And I began my morning routine of turning on the lights, the computer, and the coffee maker. I even drank a cup of coffee. And I gave Jazzbo his milk snack. I have no memory whatsoever of doing any of this. Was I sleep walking? Did I have a psychotic episode? Is this early Alzheimers? I have no idea what triggered this event, or any recollection of Jazzbo’s participation. He was probably too freaked out by my sleep walking to join in.

Here’s what normally happens:

After I’ve poured the water into the coffee maker, Jazzbo attacks the empty sink, lapping up what water he can find. This is disgusting, and I tell him so every morning, but he’s a creature of habit, and his sink fun is an integral part of his early routine. Next, I measure some coffee into the machine, and turn it on. Then the geezer pills – five of them. Jazzbo helps by trying to head butt the pill container out of my hands and onto the floor. He’s sometimes successful, sometimes not. Next, the ‘Where is it’ game begins; and Jazzbo, knowing what come next, becomes agitated, and begins pacing back and forth on the counter. I take the container of cat treats out of the cabinet, and head toward the bedroom. Halfway there I begin the shake the little bag and I hear ka thump – ka thump, as Jazzbo descends from the counter to the floor by way of a small table I placed there for his convenience. (After all, he’s twelve) I sit down in a chair and count out four treats. These are given to him individually, accompanied by embarrassing ‘yum yum’ sounds. Then I count out six more, which I place in front of him on the floor.

While Jazzbo’s gobbling up his treats and the coffee maker is finishing its work, I walk to the office to check email. I then click on the New York Times’ web site, and head back to the kitchen for my first cup. Jazzbo’s already sitting on the counter, waiting anxiously for his milk snack. I pour myself a cup, and take the milk container out of the fridge. Jazzbo becomes highly agitated, attempting to knock the container out of my hands. I take his bowl out of the cabinet and pour him some. Then off to the office to read all the news that fits.

This has been our morning routine for many years. But I guess it’s all different now, given that I have obviously lost my mind and become a rabid sleep frolicker. Maybe we have a poltergeist. No, that would be too easy. I’m just nuts now. That must be it. Why did this happen? I’m open to any suggestions. Something must have caused this to happen, but what? Could I be suffering from Trump Anxiety? Maybe I’m not alone. Could America become so Trumpatized that we are turning into a nation of sleep walkers? Maybe, tomorrow morning, after I succumb to Jazzbo’s early morning assault, I will awaken to find that it’s all been a dream. That Hillary had won be a large margin and that all was well and good in the world. Or would that be too easy?

Trump Anxiety is the enemy of a good night's sleep.

Trump Anxiety is the enemy of a good night’s sleep.


© 2017 Shaun Costello