Sunday, December 11, 2011

All I Want For Christmas: Response to a Reader

On my last post of More Than Just The Turkey Spared, there were a couple of comments from Veterans and a Spouse that really made me think on how I wanted to approach this next blog. I am going to answer the comment left by Red Cell and hopefully answer all the others in that same response.

His comment,"Where to start...I despise the holidays now. I cannot go shopping with my wife, for presents for our kids anymore. There is no way that I would be able to handle the crowds. I would get in a fight with someone else or ruin it by fighting with the wife. I cannot handle the crowds, I lose it". He went on to say "I have lost my relationships with my mom, my sister, and my step-mom. They choose to believe that PTSD is not real and I am just acting like an a**hole. They do not come around anymore. I was estranged from my mom for 3 years, that all changed when her dad died. Now we are trying to build a relationship that is full of misconceptions and anger. She doesn't understand she is a stressor, how do you tell her? How do you forgive things that happened? It is hard and all the demons from the past and the anger takes over. I have not seen nor talked to my sister in almost four years. She has no contact with my kids, unless they are on their two week visit to my mom's in the summer. The only thing I want for Christmas is to be my old self. I want to go back to Iraq and find the old me. Find where I died and this doppelganger was born. I want to find where I lost my love of life and where all this hate and discontent came from. I walk through each day not feeling or caring.I get out of bed and cannot wait until I can get back home, that is where I am truly safe. Where I don't have to worry about losing my mind. What is wrong with me? How do I fix it? That is what I want for Christmas. To be Normal."

There were several more in regards to family, holidays and many towards just surviving. Now in staying true to my self, I am going to be blunt and honest, with no professional advice of course, given. I think all of us have struggled and still continue to struggle with such issues with the holiday season. First, I would like to state that since reading your comments, especially RedCell's, my heart hurt and I wished I had all the answers. I really really do. I don't have all the answers as we are still seeking, searching, and learning every day like all of you. Red Cell, you know what is wrong with you and you have a loving family right behind you. You can lean on your wife for support, and she is there to hold your hand but she can't carry you. You have to be willing to fight back, and fight hard. Only you can do this, but it will take you and your family to stand tall, stand strong and stick together. The holidays are stressful for all of us so I understand where you are coming from not only as a family member but you sound so much like my husband. I have thought long and hard and here is what I came up with for you and you can take it or leave it, because I am just answering as a friend.

  • You need to let the past go with family. If they are stuck on believing what they want, there is nothing you can do to change that and you will only end up hurt more in the process. Why not this year, take some time off from worrying about what they think and just concentrate on your wife and children? Life is too short to worry about what happened in the past. Letting go is one of the hardest things to overcome but you will spend all your time trying to make up for things that just can't be done and all that rage on something that can't be changed. If you wish to rebuild your relationships, you are just going to have to say "Ok, I am going to let all this go and from this day on, never look back". I don't know much about your past, so its hard to give you an answer on this. I simply have come to the conclusion on some family members, that it's their loss. They are the ones missing out and that is their choice. Start by fixing your family in your home, then when you feel ready to tackle one more on the outside, then take baby steps. Maybe just pick up the phone and say hello. This way, at least YOU know you tried. Rather than waste time being angry at family, relish in the love of your children and your wife this holiday season. I know it hurts, and I have been there and definitely done that. In my opinion though, it just makes me love my immediate family that much more.In this world we all live in now, families included, we must take one day at a time and expect bad days to show up. We hope for better ones and hang on to those days like nobody's business! As a spouse, I am going to give you some ideas that I would think would help you out.
  • Know that everything this holiday season is going to include screw ups, arguments and bad days. That is normal and I am sure your wife knows this. However, there are some things you can do to deter this and pitch in. You might not be able to leave the house, or feel safe on the outside, but you are not dead or helpless and there are things you CAN do from your comfort zone. The one thing you need to start doing is to kick this PTSD in the ass by fighting back. Whether that be through more therapy, organizations that offer different activities to get you back in the real world, like Project Healing Waters, or just socializing with old friends by having them over to your home. Baby steps. Don't set expectations so high that you fall immediately but set small ones each day, on a goal list, and cross them off as you go. 
  • I don't expect my husband to go shopping with me. Holy Hell, it's scary out there to me! I don't want to do it and often times, budgeting and spending money we can't afford, makes me stressed out. What do I want the most from my husband and this also came from many other wives....we just want you as the Veteran to acknowledge us and that we did do it all. Maybe a "Wow baby, I can't believe you did all this! You are amazing!" would be a huge step for you and your spouse. She would probably fall over in shock! You obviously know that she is doing a bulk of it and you recognize you are missing out. She is missing out too. Stop a minute to acknowledge her, darlin', and this will help relieve much of her stress and yours!
  •  Ok, so you are missing the fun and joy of picking things out for your children by staying home and that I understand. However, why not order online and do the store pick up thing? Sit your wife down on a good day for you, and explain to her that you are missing out and would like to help her whether it just be pick something out by yourself or sitting side by side at the pc. You can still help shop, she can pick up and I bet you that taking the time out for her, and just sitting with her, would be a beautiful thing. It is also helping you because you are taking the initiative to do something, ergo fighting back. Have you really ever stopped to just talk with her like this comment you made to me? Often times, Veterans don't communicate very well and we often just know you guys are angry as hell. Maybe stopping her one evening when its quiet and say "I really want to help with the shopping, I want to do something. I just can't go out and it scares me. Is there something I can do by computer to help you or something around the house I can do to help you out?"  The fact you are talking with her, sharing your feelings, and wanting to help will really help both of you. 
  • Now, with the holidays the spouses are usually stressed out to the max. Not only are we dealing with our kids, family members, holiday expectations but we are also dealing with some Veterans who feel the way you do. Remember when Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody gonna be happy! Run that woman a hot bubble bath and light a candle, or put on some soft music! Shopping, wrapping and normal household duties are tiring and stressful. If you stopped while you are at the house and cleaned, picked up, started supper, and just pay attention to your wife...this would make her very happy and feel that she is getting some much deserved attention. No buts, no can'ts, no can do this sort of thing if it only means unloading the dishwasher, or cleaning the toilet.  You CAN do this and remember that somewhere between all this is going on with you, that often family members and spouses get left behind.
  • Take a second and do something from home for your family just to let them know you care. If your wife is cooking, offer to help whether it be peel potatoes, putting sprinkles on the cookies, or washing dishes whatever! Often times, the silence of my husband can be extremely hurtful and deafening. Sometimes, when he just comes in the kitchen and pulls up a chair and sits with me while I cook is the greatest sound I ever heard. It's those little things that remind me how much he loves me. 

    • On those evenings when the home is stressful and you know your wife is gonna blow...pick up the  phone and call in a pizza to have it delivered. Tell her that she is going to take a hot bath, you will watch the kids and that you have supper on the way. Let her know you want to help. Offer to get the young ones into bed, have your pizza together and play some cards. 
    • So you can't leave the house but you got to start trying little things to get back out there. That's all there is to it. Most of us have Netflix or Blockbuster now, or there are those Red Boxes rental things all over the place. If you panic about going into crowded places, check out Red Box site and choose the one that is closest to you. Rent a sappy chic flic or something you know your wife will like. There are some good ones out there that both can enjoy. If you can make it to a rental store, go early on a Wednesday or Thursday when the store is less busier. Bring home a movie and snuggle in with her or one with your children. 
    • Fix your wife a hot cup of cocoa with marshmallows, maybe even some extra ones, for no apparent reason at all. If nothing else, a hot cup of tea or some hot popped popcorn while watching the movies. 

    • So you can't get out in the crazy world and shop, but I bet you CAN wrap presents! If your spouse has already bought, then share in the joys of wrapping those gifts for your children. Best wrapped gift I ever got was years ago when my husband used a pocket knife and duct tape. It meant the world to me because he tried, and that is all I ever asked for. Help her if you can't wrap, by handing her pieces of tape or putting the bow on top. You may despise the holidays, but try to remember that this is your inner demons coming out. Fight that by remembering that not everyone in your family does. Do this for them and for yourself. Taking on these small challenges for yourself to do for your family, is going to bring you that much closer to finding your old self.
    • For those asking about family and how to nicely tell them to back off, using swear words probably isn't the best way to handle these types of situations. Come on guys, ya'll ought to know your mamas ain't gonna take it lightly!  Some suggestions from Facebook readers were to simply explain to them nicely but firmly, that you are starting your own family traditions. Others said they spread it out over the month and they found that its not so overwhelming. If your spouse is adamant about it, explain to her why they bother you so much and that you need some down time or an escape plan to go be by yourself. I think using honesty with your family members, even if it is hurtful or not what they want to hear, is always going to be the best way to go about it. Don't expect to be mean to your spouses, and then demand she explain to the rest of the family why you can't do the holidays. She is your biggest fan, and one that takes the most crap. You guys think you have it hard, but you have no clue how hard it is for us. I never understood why my husband could take on the bad guys in Iraq but couldn't talk to his mother. His explanation to me was "Well, we never used words with the bad guys". I get that, but I also know that this puts me in a very bad situation and predicament, as well as makes me look like the bad guy most of the time. There are going to be hurt feelings, but you have to do what you have to do to get through it and on your own terms. It wouldn't be any different than someone with say cancer, having a car wreck, or some other debilitating illness or disabilities that caused them to change and prevent them from entertaining and living up to family expectations. If they don't understand, well they just don't understand. 
    • Lastly Red Cell, many Veterans feel the same way you do about going back over and trying to find where they "died", or where they left themselves behind. You aren't alone and often, many spouses wonder and feel the same way. Honey, I am going to be honest and say that if you left tomorrow and went back...I don't think you would find anything at all. I wish you could. I do know this, that there is not a day that goes by I don't see a small part of my husband's old self somewhere through the day. You are still in there, somewhere...but just a little lost. It's easy to get overwhelmed, lose patience with yourself and then give up. Only you can fight those demons and its going to take time, patience, and working at it through therapy and such. We know the VA sucks, but there are other places you can go like the Vet Centers, Give An Hour, and many others. You can use your health insurance and go out on your own. Continuous therapy, not just haphazard, here and there, therapy, is going to be a huge step and process for you. However, I think you can do it. The question really lies in this....are you willing to try and get your old self back? Don't put so much pressure on yourself for the holidays and set expectations that are reasonable. Communicate with your wife so she knows and can do the same. Try to remember that this Christmas and many more, your children will look back on and remember. Ask yourself is this how you want your children to remember? So when you feel upset, cornered, unsafe, take a second and look at your children...then breathe. Find somewhere to go in your home that you can take a minute to collect yourself, give your anger level a quick check and a minute to chill.
    I hope this helps you some and the rest of you who are looking for some possible answers. I don't have them all but from hearing so many stories, questions, and emails....these answers are coming from both sides of the house. We all know the sacrifices that have been made, and that we will continue to fight the war here at home for a long time....but know that you are here, you are loved, and you are safe. Remember the real reasons behind the Christmas season, allow yourself to enjoy it, and for those who have children, relish these moments as they go by fast. Take a moment to believe in hope, love, family and faith. I hope that next year brings bigger and better things for all of us.  Merry Christmas Red Cell...I hope this season finds you comfort, peace and sincere joy.

    I Still Believe,


        Thursday, December 1, 2011

        More than Just a Turkey Spared

        As the holiday season rapidly approaches us, I have seen an influx of emails in regards to Thanksgiving horror stories from the past and horrendous expectations for future ones. I have to admit, some of these really made me laugh out loud with you! I appreciate the humor you passed along with such bad stories! The one question remains evident in those emails is "How do you survive it all?". To be completely honest with the hell out of me! I thought hard about that question while many of you wondered from both sides of the house, how to survive family, high expectations, and immediate family disappointment. I always used to laugh because my mother would always drink eggnog before family came and of course, have several more afterward. As I became an adult, I figured out that the eggnog was spiked with her favorite liquor and that's probably how she made it through it.  I guess a part of me has become remote from the holiday season, as if everything is done mechanically but not much heart into it, if that makes any sense at all. Sometimes I feel like I have become separated and doing things on habit, but not much spirit in me. Much of this is from past holiday horrors ourselves, and of course, our family's encounter with the Bottom Falling Out in January.

        For the first time in four years, our family and myself was spared like the yearly Presidential pardoned turkey. I didn't have to cook this year which was nice for me since I haven't been feeling up to par. I have to say this was the first time in 29 years, that I haven't had to cook, wash dishes, worry my self senseless over good china being broken, a husband who is flipping out and of course....not having to make excuses, apologies or hang my head because he was so horrible. I like to think it was probably the latest addition of Xanex to my husband's medication repertoire that pardoned our family from the "Holiday Horrors", but he was pretty mellow before that too. We spent Thanksgiving Eve with our Project Healing Water friends who invited us to dinner, which was really awesome. It was nice to be around some great Veterans, listening to their versions of the VA, military stories and the laughter that erupted from the living room while us wives were getting supper ready. I enjoyed it most of all because I actually was socializing which is something I rarely get to do. In all, we had six kids running around loose which caused me to envision the Apocalypse coming, with only the baked ham and turkey surviving in that fallout, but to my surprise....all of the Veterans did rather well secluded together in the safety zone of the living room. Perhaps its because we all felt a common bond and as if we belonged together. It's odd that close friends have long come and gone, and somewhere along the line, we have lost our ability to feel normalcy with people we know that doesn't have a clue. However, put a bunch of veterans and families together, and it's like we have been friends all along.

        On official Turkey Day, my mother in law had to work which was ok with us because we were wore out from the night before. So Thanksgiving dinner being prepared by her, was postponed until Saturday so we could ensure that my husband wasn't totally over doing it. Since both our friend's dinner and my mother in law's were out of state, it made back to back drives kind of hard on all of us. My husband hasn't been sleeping too well as of late and I was worried that the eye twitch he was developing would become the next scene from the Exorcist. In all, my mother in law was more than understanding and it made sense to us to space it out to spare him the stress and preventing us from becoming future alcoholics. Although he handled the dinner with our friends, he was tired on the way home and of course, our little ones were exhausted and fussing the whole ride home. We decided to do a Thanksgiving stand in, occupying nothing but the couch, watching Christmas movies, eating a big pot of homemade beef soup and fresh sour dough bread. It was nice to not have to get dressed up, not have to deal with a ton of people and constantly watching my husband for signs of the oncoming stress.

        Black Friday brought on some of our Veteran friends considering and some braving the crowds for a few holiday items. All I can say, is God Bless them. My husband looking over a few sales ads actually considered and asked me if I would like to go. Amongst his sudden proclamation, came sudden visions of Black Friday crowds, women running wild in their pajamas grabbing and snatching, my husband suddenly erupting, security or the police called and of course, whether my slim bank account could produce bail money! After some serious moments of silence, we both decided that yeah...sending a severe PTSD Veteran into Walmart or Best Buy on Thanksgiving Night or on Black Friday was not a good idea. So far in the news, we have seen people being pepper sprayed, shot at, and black eyes all while clutching their beloved items they saved five, ten, or a hundred dollars on. I didn't want to be the first family on the six o'clock news with the headline of "Combat PTSD Veteran runs rabid through a local Walmart" and permanently adding to the already piling stigma our Veterans are having to face.

        Overall, it wasn't a bad holiday. I have had a nasty cold I have been trying to soothe and with the three kids home from school for a total of five very looooong days, about made us all want to pull our hair out. Sitting in, watching movies has been something we haven't done in a long time so was totally worth not having to get out and do the normal Thanksgiving turkey thing. So down to the nitty gritty of "How do you survive it all?". While we laugh and joke about alcohol, Xanex, Valium and whatever else helps you through it all....we have to be honest and be serious. Anytime you have company, family or friends's going to be stressful. The spouse is stressed because she is probably doing the majority of the cleaning, the cooking and reigning in any children that are running around on a holiday high. Such demands can lead to one cranky spouse and that really does run over on our Veterans. In my experience, the less stressed I am, the less my husband feeds off of it.

        Having dinner with a small group, not having too heavy of expectations on my husband and not worrying about trying to explain his if any, bad behavior, made for less stressful holidays. Doing the pot luck type dinner with other Veterans turned out to be the best Thanksgiving dinner we have had post war. Now I know from having family in the past, this isn't going to work for many because of the standard family demands of "You have to be here, it's expected". However, there are many things that have changed with our PTSD and/or TBI Veterans and that includes such large gatherings. Some can handle it with minor issues and some just can't do it at all. I find that after four years, I just stopped setting him up for failures and setting myself up for the scape goat and running around cleaning up the mess. We keep it simple, we keep it structured and other than doing a few things around the house for me.....I let him unwind before we go anywhere. While I love the holidays and socialization, keep it sparingly and keep it to a minimum.

        From the Veterans side of the house, many stated the same thing over and over again such as this statement from a Veteran reader in TX, "My family doesn't understand and I feel like I have to be the way I used to be and I can't. If I don't smile, my mother freaks out. My aunts or uncles are all wanting to know what happened overseas. I feel bombarded, cornered and violated and if they aren't asking questions, they are staring at me and whispering about the son they used to have but is now crazy. If I don't have a lot to say or get nervous, everyone is angry with me. I go home to my wife yelling and screaming at me because I wasn't nice or demanding to know why can't I be the way I was before I went over? I don't know why. I wish I could be and want so bad to be. I just can't be that way. It's not like I set out to be that way or intentionally want to hurt them. I just try to be quiet and make it through all the madness." I really like when you guys write in because like this statement, I think this puts a lot of things into perspective for us spouses, family members who are seeking information or not understanding what's going on. It is more so important for those of us whose Veterans aren't really telling us how they feel.

        I know a few years ago when all this was new, I was the one yelling and screaming at my husband on the way home all while in tears. He would just sit there and look straight ahead. I never stopped to consider what he felt or what he was going through. Thank you TX for bringing this point to light. 

        A few good links I have come across that are useful such as this one on Spousebuzz, PTSD and Holiday Season Triggers. Always interesting, and some I have participated in, is Family of a Vet's Blog Talk Radio which has different opinions, options and discussions. Often, I learn more from these types of informational resources than I ever could in a book or pamphlet. There is a blog session Handling PTSD During the Holidays and there are two parts. The second discussion can be found here. Another article I recently stumbled upon was on, Coping with the Effect of PTSD and Family Holidays.

        We are trying to keep our Christmas season this year small, quiet and to a minimal on family. I am not over doing it on spending money mostly because we don't have it, not going to over do it on family mostly because we don't have very many left, and just try to enjoy the holidays day by day. I am making sure his input is in everything we do from the tree, down to the presents for our children, but other than that...hoping to do things one at a time and not get my husband overwhelmed or myself for that matter! If we can make it through Christmas like we did Thanksgiving, I will be be then be able to breathe again. Try to make sure that your Veteran doesn't have a lot on his plate at one time, encourage but not place too heavy of demands on them, and if family gets too pushy...sometimes you just got to push back and say NO. It's not about the presents, or the decorations...its about love, family and the joy of a new year with a clean slate.

        I for one, am ready to get to the New Year as this girl has some much needed projects in the works that I want to get started! For Caregivers, make sure that the stress isn't completely all on your shoulders. If someone offers to help or pitch in, allow them to do so! Ask a friend to watch the kids to allow you to go do some shopping and stop and have a hot chocolate all to yourself. If you belong to a church, or an organization...ask for help with the decorating. I know many have written to say all they had to do was just ask and many pitched in. For some of us, I know that will not always be an option.

        Hoping the Christmas holiday season will start with some ease and no stress here but am preparing cautiously for it like I normally do. Seriously considering writing a letter to Santa for just one really good Christmas without any tears. I wonder if they do those sort of requests at the North Pole?

        Reconsidering Mama's Eggnog,


        Monday, November 21, 2011

        Easy Does It

        In the past few months, it's been slightly overwhelming for me. I am starting to recognize the signs of serious stress and for the first time, am going to put myself first for a while. That will mean, standing my ground, and allowing myself not to feel guilt and to place a few things second. My health is also not doing very good and of course, that is my biggest fear as a mother and caregiver. My fear of, who will care for them, always strikes an uneasiness in this ol' gal. After some careful deliberation, advice from good friends, consideration of my health, upcoming surgeries, and the willingness to place myself first, there will be some changes. With the holidays coming up, I am trying to get some down time before my surgeries and of course, balancing my husband's severe issues.

        In advocacy of speaking out, I will be occasionally placing guest's posts on here. I have placed a "Want Ad" on Facebook and other areas, asking for spouses, military members, family members who are dealing with PTSD, TBI or other issues that relate to guest post on this site. It will give me some down time I need, and more importantly, an opportunity for those who normally don't speak do just that. Please welcome these posts just as warmly, lovingly and respectfully as you do mine each and every time. I want to be able to extend the opportunity I have had, and give some who need a place for their voice to be heard. This is a good opportunity for them to also test the waters on the world of blogging and I am always advocating for just that.

        Guest posts, will be sent in for my review and scheduled for posting. I am not taking any posts that do not have something to do with PTSD or TBI, especially those who want to submit sales, pyramid schemes, sexual exploitation, or phony online sites. Those, I will not even consider or look at. It must be military related to these subjects no matter if it was non-combative or combat related as there are some families out there, where PTSD or TBI occurred in non-combat situations like Military Sexual Trauma. If you are a military member, family (especially mothers, caregivers that aren't spouses), or a spouse, I am looking for others to write. Please submit any writings to With that said, all writings will be posted with permission and under name, created name or anonymous name for a little while to allow me some free time and recuperation.

        In any writings, please remember that extremely graphic language, (some is inevitable as we are all military, ain't no going around that one!) and unnecessary hurtful things will not be accepted. I do not want to lose my reputation, integrity or tarnish Uncle Sam's Mistress in any way. I simply just want to give some who otherwise would not speak out, an opportunity to allow their voices to be heard. I will still be posting in my down time, I will be using these guest posts to fill the gaps.

        If you email, it might take me some time to answer them. I always try to answer each and every one but here lately, the average is around 300 or more a week. Some weeks my family can encounter more than my email account will hold. It's not that I don't want to answer, but it would take a team of people or someone working full-time to answer each one. I appreciate each and every email and always take time to read them. However, with stress, family, surgeries and time ticking down to some big changes for my family....I may not be able to email each and every single one back all the time. Do know that every email is always read by me. Please know if I had more time, I would be able to answer them all but it has grown so much that it's impossible to answer them all.

        I am very honored that my blog and that Uncle Sam's Mistress has been so readily accepted, recognized and loved by many, especially my military members. I think everyone knows I am trying to speak out as much as possible, as loudly as I can, for all of us. What is said to me is confidential (no one will have access to that) always taken with every ounce of respect and non-judgment, and I still stand by my motto of "What happens between us, stays between us".

        I just think this Mistress needs a little bit of down time, time to get through necessary surgeries, and try to make it through this holiday season with out any major incidents like last year's. I would like to welcome those who have already submitted their posts and do know as I publish, I will be letting you know when they are up. For those who are interested, please let me know if you have any questions. Thank you all for pushing me on, rooting for me, and for giving me for fuel for the fight and the courage to keep going. Each and every friendship we have created, has meant the world to me. 

        Counting Myself First For Once,


        Thursday, November 17, 2011

        Are We To Blame?

        I recently read an article where a retired military member talked about the variety of services that family members could utilize and that if they didn't use them, that it was essentially their fault. In other places, I have read that spouses often don't utilize their Family Support Groups, or Family Readiness Groups which is run by their command. If they don't utilize such programs put into place, again the fault lies on us. Always, such organizations like Military One Source, is the number one "go to person" that we all should lay our heavy burdens at their door. To be honest...all this pisses me off. I don't think its as simple as some military members say it is. If it were, we wouldn't be still searching for programs,speaking out, utilizing online programs and I would be running out of things to say in this blog! 

        The issues that I have is, that yes, there are programs out there through the military and other outlets but some are flawed so badly that we don't use them for a reason. Military One Source turned us away on many occasions, and after giving it one more college try so to speak, we called again. Two hours later, their answer was "We are unable to help with Post Traumatic Stress or Traumatic Brain Injury because that is considered medical and not under our programs. Your option and our job is to refer you to the Veterans Affairs". We had been in the VA system for three years. Over the past two years, this very thing is what is leading many people to turn to online resources and internet support groups. Looking over the emails I get, sorting and filing for writing purposes; I have to wonder why so many of us are experiencing the same thing, yet they keep pushing it? I have to wonder why it is that this program or others are constantly shoved out there as our savior to all that goes wrong? We weren't even able to get family counseling and what they did offer my family, was child therapy at the other side of the state. At this time, I was barely making it to buy groceries, living off a small tiny portion of 900.00 a month that took us three years to get. So how did they think I was going to be able to utilize six free sessions on the other side of the state, which was almost six-seven hours for us?

        Warrior Family Support Centers are not the haven of mercy to run to according to many many folks who write in. A common statement that I get in emails is "What do you do when the military says they will help you if you come forward, then turn you away?". Many have written in that yes, they willingly went on post to the Warrior Family Support Centers and were offered help in some shape form or fashion. However, in that same outreached hand of support the underlying threat of "If you seek help, you do understand this will be on your record and you will get a profile for mental health. If you get the help and you admit you are having issues, you will more than likely get removed from service, you will have to find a new job, you will lose your housing, your this really what you want to do?" Many find they back away because if they are career military, what else is there out there when that is your current lifestyle? 

        For an already messed up Veteran, this can cause them to back off when it probably took a good length of time just to get them to admit they need the help. The second issue that I see coming from all this, is wrong information being passed out such as usage and transfer of the GI Bill to spouses or children. For many, we are now learning that once the PEB starts...your GI Bill freezes and therefore unable to use it, transfer it etc. Many spouses and soldiers are hearing "don't worry about this until after medical board is finished" only to discover the one benefit you didn't think you had to fight gone.

        As one reader wrote that I thought summed it up very well was "the outreached hand of help smacks you pretty hard and it stings long after". I have to say I have wondered if we were Active component would it have been easier for us, but in truth if this was our entire life, I don't know what we would do. What if that is all we know and then suddenly PTSD took that all away? I have to wonder myself what we would have done. So is it best not to seek the help, but end up in worse shape than they already are in? It floors me why the military and the VA systems are still shocked that there are 18 suicides a day, and that's not counting the spouses who commit suicide. As of yet, that number is not being tracked.

        Family Readiness Groups and Family Support are not always the best thing to say to turn to. Many are under educated, many don't want to be there but their husbands make them, have no resources and a bulk of them most spouses don't go to because many find that they are being judged. Many reported that Gossip is what keeps them from even attending the meetings, so why would they go and talk to the leaders for help? What people failed to realize is that FRG's and FSG's only can refer, not provide answers. I wish that they would make that statement more clear. I know this because I was a co-leader of our unit's Family Readiness Group and it used to make me so mad that we were not able to help our soldiers in the capacity that is needed. I was often reminded and smacked on the hand because I could not "provide help to one family or one soldier; it has to benefit the unit as a whole". This was the reason I left our Family Readiness Group. I felt too many were being turned away, and I refused to be one of them because I had been doing it on our own for a very long time. Some of these groups on post or off post are really wonderful with women or family members who are there because they want to be. Some groups are cohesive and work well together. Others do not work that way. I have to be honest to say, that before I came along in our FRG....the last place I would ever ever go to is our FRG. I believe that many good FRG/FSG leaders have found that our hands our tied when it comes to these situations by military rules. That is, of course, if they care enough about their position and their unit. I couldn't see why I had to turn away a soldier in times of need and help, but try to pacify them enough to sell them a cookie or unit t-shirt for an annual Christmas Party.

        Utilizing the Commanders of units is also very difficult because you are plainly stating "Yep, I am not able to do my job under the guidelines you think I should be". In the last two years, I can't even count how many emails that Veterans have reported in that they went to their Command, and were either turned away, told that they would be removed from service, or their promotions would be turned down.  I honestly think that the smoke screen the military put up here recently is just that....a covering. In my hopeful heart, I would like to think that the higher ups who are supposed to be training, setting forth new programs and trying to make changes, are actually doing it. However, sometimes the hardest hurdles are having to jump the higher ranks in your units. Once you get past that, you must then utilize the military doctors. 

        One reader made a powerful comment I felt was the Hallmark statement of how hard it is to get help. She said, "There is help, but who is the help serving? Even now I find myself questioning what the real intent is behind the "help".  "If it is to dot the i's and cross the t' is gonna fall short, if it is to look good for political reasons - that is just wrong, if it is to prevent liability....shame on the system that created this monster. I know each case is different, but in our family's situation I do feel and continue to feel that the liability concern comes first and the humanity comes second. I have a very, very, very, very hard time dealing with this."

        She also commented further, "In our case, the Army docs had one agenda: are you deployable or not. Remove that agenda, and the opportunity for treatment changes". When she wrote that, I sat back in my chair and chewed on that for a minute. I was like wow, that is the truth in our lives. It all comes down to being usable or not. Our military members have become expendable with very little disregard to what becomes of them after they are deemed unworthy.For all those who root on the family who stayed behind and kept the home fires burning.....they don't remember us at all.

        Some readers felt their best choices for any resources were through Army Community Services. Some reported that a Federal Recovery Coordinator, Army Wounded Transition Unit Caseworker, or Reserve Recovery Coordinators were as close as they could get. However, getting those is not the easiest especially for those of us whose issues did not appear until after they had been home. I know for us, it took four years for someone to decide a Reserve and Federal Recovery Coordinators would be beneficial for us. Then you have to play Russian Roulette because you do have some who is only there to collect a paycheck. One reader felt that the Army Community Services worked fairly well for them and the issues of PTSD. However, as she cautioned, not all of them are going to be that way and there is always the concern of information disclosed because it is Active Duty. She stated  in her experience that they had Counselors that didn't require appointments or even have to disclose your name. She felt in her experience, it was unusual but at least they were trying to work on breaking down the barriers and stigmas for families who were worried that their unit's Commanders would find out. 

        Other than that, a bulk of emails state they have no one to depend on or to get help from anyone but themselves. I can relate to the point of doing it alone strongly, because for the past four years? I have had to depend on no one but ourselves. My issue is that if the military is going to spend all this time and tax dollars putting people into place to help, or create programs...why not stay on top of them to ensure that the job is done? Why not spend just a little more and ensure that our Veterans are getting the "all" that they gave them during their service? Why not go one step ahead and prepare those who are Commanding units? This Mistress wonders why they simply can't take the time they are using to make it look like they are doing something....and actually do something. I can say that our Commander, always sort of looked like the proverbial deer caught in a headlight, because I don't think he understood what we were going through.

        I get so tired and frustrated when the blame goes back on the family members. They don't give you a PTSD 101 for Dummies, an Army Manual for Idiots on TBI, or even warn you about the problems our Veterans could experience later on. They kind of sugar coat it and make it sound not so bad. We are much better off than our brothers and sisters before us in Vietnam,Gulf War and, all those in between like Somalia. I sincerely believe its because we are all standing up now and talking about it. I for one, do not think the family members should carry the blame from any of the military or VA because it's not our fault. We can only do so much and we aren't trained professionals or doctors. The military says well you should have done this or that. Ok, so then what? You boot them out maybe with a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress (if not a diagnosis of Personality Disorder) or if they are lucky, a Traumatic Brain Injury but then merely pass the buck to the VA. Once there, its here are some meds, and then let's send them right back to the families. We take them back and its "here is another pill". We are already carrying much of the blame because as family, we never stop wondering what we could have done, changed and always wondering what wrongs we could have righted. Is it really fair to have someone say that it's our fault?

        I know for one I am not in the wrong. I have spent the last four years fighting like hell to just get treatment, ensure that its the right treatment and trying to get the Army to fix their mistakes that caused all this hell we have been living in since he came home in 2007. I have been spending the last four years of screaming when no one heard me because they were deafened by others all while being enclosed in a box with very high walls. To go through all this, read all of your emails and hear your stories...then hear people who have the nerve to say "well, if you can't get help, you have no one to blame but yourself" really makes this woman mad. 

        Personally, I got four years all in a notebook that states otherwise. Four years of scars, mental exhaustion, nails bore down to the quick from clawing my way out of the cracks we fell through and not much ahead of where we were four years ago. I wonder if those that make those comments of warning to our families and soldiers, clock out and go home and sleep peacefully at night. If they do, it must be nice....because I can guarantee for all of us? There is no such thing as clocking out. 

        We didn't fail. They failed us.

        Wednesday, November 9, 2011

        The Copper Plate That Spoke

        I recently returned to New York City as previously before in June with the Wounded Warrior Project's Writer's Workshop for Caregivers. I couldn't wait til the plane touched down and get with my beautiful friends made of steel amongst the skyscrapers and lights. Although I am small town and being in such a city as New York is daunting and scary, the excitement of what I might find kept my nerves wound tight. I don't know what was wrong with me this past weekend, but due to my health, lack of decompression time, things that had been up, down and sideways; caused my mood to be a bit melancholy. I felt fragmented and really unsure how to put back my pieces.

        As promised, I rushed late Friday night down to the Catholic Charities on 7th Avenue to see if I could locate my Dunkin Doughnut coffee buddies only to find no one had seen Mike in a while. I wanted so badly to see him just one more time and perhaps explain to him that he made me really think about a lot of things. I think he was the closest talk with God I had ever had in my life. Maybe I needed to see his face, hear his voice one more time, and perhaps selfishly...I wanted to draw in the simple, quiet strength that radiated from him. Our hotel had changed, but the direction didn't bother me because early in the wee hours, I still had silent coffee talks with several homeless men who walked past me while pushing their grocery carts that held their lives. I admired their strength to keep walking, their never fail smiles they gave me, and wondered what I would put into my cart had I been in their shoes.

        During this writer's guild workshop I attended, we were given the opportunity to visit the World Trade Tribute Center. It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do, walking through bits and pieces of sorrow, lost love, last breaths, and reminders of what used to be. Emotionally drained, physically sick and tired, and unsure of my mental stability in that time...I walked ahead of my group, around the corner of Ladder 10 to see a beautifully engraved, copper memorial plate that glowed with the evening sun. Amongst the melancholy, and my fighting the tears, there stood a middle aged man who was rambling and speaking out to the crowds of people as they rushed by in a hurry. I stopped to recognize the firemen emblazoned forever amongst the copper, hitting home the details of each face, name and remembering the memory of that horrible day of 9/11.

        I stopped to get photos of this wall because I knew my husband would want pictures of this marker and no matter where I stood, this man would place himself in front of my camera's eye. I don't know what made me stop, and listen to his rapid, machine gun fire of words that he was filling the already loud air, but I listened. I watched. I made a mental note of his clothing, his choice of words, and more importantly...his actions. In between shouting out, "Know your history. Know the names. Know they aren't all there. Know your history my friends. Know it. I want you to know", he scrubbed at that copper plate with a small, wired bristle brush ferociously while polishing with a dirty rag held in the other hand. I listened as he kept scrubbing, hanging on to every word he said, and wondering if copper could be simply wiped away due to such intense attention.

        While walking back and forth, he scrubbed. He scrubbed as if in his mind, there was something dirty he couldn't simply just polish with a rag. It suddenly dawned on me where I had seen this type of obsessive manic movements. I had seen it in the nightmares and sleep walking of my husband. It was different, but the same haunting movements could only come from someone who still sees the ghosts of war. He scrubbed that copper plate with the same intensity as my husband tried to get whatever off he had on him in his nightmare. My heart jumped a little as I recognized so much in him, that I have seen in other Veterans. The same haunted eyes, the hollowness, the far away look, and the urgency in his cries out for someone to listen to what he had to say. I had to say that this was a day I was ashamed of many. Many who rushed past him, the many who stood behind him and called him names. I was ashamed that tourists were taking pictures of him as if he was some sort of freak show and all the while, I wondered why it didn't seem to bother him. All those people assaulting him with their verbal stones that to anyone, would hurt to the quick...but he never missed a beat.

        "They are there...they are there. Their names aren't on the wall. The wall. Not on the wall. Know your history, know it's not all there. It's gone, they're gone. We didn't get them home." he said over and over again.

        I knew what he was saying because when 9/11 happened, I asked my mother "what happened to all the homeless people that were there?" She said in a soft, sorrowful voice "I don't know honey. I hope they got out. They are people too". Yes. Yes they are and I didn't forget. I remembered that conversation while he was scrubbing. I don't know why I did it, but I walked up to him as he faced the copper marker and was scouring with his worn down brush. He never looked at me, he just scrubbed as if that wire brush and copper plate held some type of secret penance for him. He never acknowledged that I was there. Just kept on scrubbing and muttering while he rubbed whatever sin he was trying to correct.

        Time stood still. There were no loud noises echoing off the buildings, no sounds of traffic, and not even the loud rhythmic drumming coming from the sit in, Occupy Wall Street, which filled any gaps of silence the city of New York could have possibly had left. I made sure, due to uncertainty, to give him personal space because I didn't know him. I leaned over and placed a few bills in his bucket around his neck. I told him softly, "I didn't forget them Sir. I know there were many who died here that didn't make the wall. I know they are here and I didn't forget." As my words whispered in to his ear, he suddenly stopped. His wire brush hung midair on the copper he scrubbed and looking straight ahead at one of the firemen on the plate he said,

        "Are you a Veteran?"

        "No Sir, my husband is. Iraq, in 2006."

        "Do you know what is important about the number seven?"

        "Yes Sir, there were more than just the towers destroyed. There were seven others here".

        "You understand. You know. You know your history. You know. They just left them there lady. There wasn't a place for their names. They mattered, they were my friends. They were there. I was there. I saw it fall and I screamed for them. I screamed and screamed. I was told to get out of the way. It was the same in Vietnam. No bodies, no tags, just leave 'em. There is nothing there now." as he pointed to the barriers blocking off the WTC Memorial. "There is a beautiful building but when I look the spirits are there. I see them. I see them and they tell me their names are not on the wall. Seven. Why can no one remember that there were seven? The Church. Gone. Church that held God is gone. It's just gone."

        Such desperation and urgency for me to listen rang in my ears, and in the background I heard "that is one crazy mother-fucker." and "what the hell is she talking to him for?" Anger surged through my body like an electrical volt but I stood my ground and I never let my eyes stray away from his. I heard nothing and no one. I saw the same emptiness of a man that once was and just wanted his words to be heard. I looked at him, grabbed his hand and said, " I understand. I see and hear them too".

        Tears welled up and he said, "your husband ok?"

        "No Sir, he isn't. He just gets worse as the days go by. He sees the same ghosts, I think, as you."

        He looked at me so clearly as if suddenly someone suddenly turned the light on and said, "All those people little lady. All those people. No one mattered unless they had a home, or money. Why could they not place a marker for them? That's all they want. I want people to know the truth. I want them to understand their history and learn from it. They call me crazy, I hear 'em. I guess I am crazy but they ain't got to see them every day. I come and scrub because I remembered. They stand there and remind me over and over again that they are all lost. I scrub and scrub. 2,976 is not the right number. No, no its not. Not all the names. 2...9...7...6 no it wasn't all. They stopped counting. I scrub away it all."

        "I understand, Sir. My husband still scrubs too." I whispered with understanding. God, did I get it.

        He said softly, "Thank you. Thank you for listening to my words. I just wanted them to hear me."

        "I hear you, Sir. Tell them, I hear them too. I didn't forget."

        He leaned over and said "May I shake your hand and kiss your cheek?"

        I looked at him for a second and said "I would be honored to have you give me such a gift".

        His hand was large, strong and warm. His kiss was scruffy that engraved a place on my cheek gently and soft. So much so, that his kiss still lingers five days later. There was no need to say goodbye, no need to formally shut the conversation down, it was with mutual understanding that the light was gone and he looked at me and nodded.  He then said "Little lady? They hear you too."

        I walked back to meet my group and as I looked over my shoulder, I saw him pack up his things as quick as he scrubbed that wall previously. For a split second, he stopped and looked over at the large, blue barriers and nodded in silence as if he was agreeing with someone that just wasn't there. My heart was so sad, heavy with guilt that all those people just passed him up. Someone told me I must be crazy to talk to "these people". Another told me that I shouldn't have let him touch me as if our childhood "cooties" he did indeed have, were contagious. Maybe I am crazy. Maybe I shouldn't have waltzed right up to him. However, I think the most profound wisdom you can receive as a human being, comes from the most unlikely of places and people. He didn't ask for anything more than just someone to listen to him. To simply acknowledge that yes, all the names of those who were lost that terrible day in our placement of history were not on the wall, was all he wanted.

        For those who don't know, there were seven in addition to the two twin towers that were destroyed or badly damaged. These were 7 World Trade Center, 6 World Trade Center, 5 World Trade Center, 4 World Trade Center, the Marriott World Trade Center (3 WTC), and the World Financial Center complex and St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church. Seven was the number he so desperately asked me if I knew the meaning behind. "Seven" he said, "held the lives of many and homes to many who aren't on the wall".

        His voice and his face, etched a permanent place in the vast caverns of my mind. I wondered what his story was? Who his friends were? What past did this remarkable man have? My heart ached because just as I reminded someone else who said I was nuts, that could be our husbands. Our brothers. Our sisters. Our mothers. There were only a few differences between him and our families. Our soldiers and Veterans have us. It could have been my husband, or your husband. Would we have turned a blind eye and deaf ear to them the same way?  No one stopped to look carefully at him as his Army background did indeed give him away to someone who knows.

        I left New York but I don't think this moo-cow town girl will ever have New York leave me. In the loud city with the busy rush of people passing by in a blur, there are some who sit, calling out to those who won't listen. There are still those who linger behind silently in people's minds, begging to be put to rest. I think sometimes you just have to stop long enough to hear the truth. If you ever want to hear a story, stop at NYFD Ladder 10 and see how that copper plate, does indeed speak. Question is....will you really hear it's voice?

        All of them Remembered, 

        Wednesday, November 2, 2011

        Question From a Reader "Do you Feel........"

        This question came in my email last week and after thinking long and hard about it, decided to see if I could print this and to my surprise she said yes. 

        "USM, I am taking your suggestion and teaching myself to blog. When I sat down yesterday to start, I had to delete, omit, then take out some more because of family and friends. How do you do it without feeling guilty? Do you ever worry about putting it all out there, or sometimes bad mouthing your husband to the world? How do you deal with the comments and emails? I LOVE your blog, but often wonder how do you not get into trouble by saying some of the things you do? How do you do it all without feeling guilt at all? Do you beat yourself up later for the things you said? I also get scared that it will backlash on me. From a HUGE fan in Snowmass, CO."

        Ahhhh I wondered when someone would ask me about 'Guilt'. First off Snowmass, I am thrilled to see that you are taking on blogging. I once read a quote that was always my favorite from Will Rogers, "Even if you are on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there". Means, you need to always do something even when it all feels ok. I find that blogging, using a journal and such things, are therapeutic, accessible and feasible for those of us who need to find some type of outlet when we are facing challenges of the standard outlets such as group therapy, support groups etc. I had to really think about this because your email stumped me! I rarely get asked direct questions to me. I thought long and hard and the answer is.....sometimes. I am starting therapy via telephone, believe it or not, and during that I discovered that Guilt is my biggest downfall. 

        When I started blogging, sometimes my husband would read and sometimes not. Most times, he gives me ideas on the topics I choose or something he says he wants me to mention. He without knowing it, creates the subjects I write about. Often times, my children say something or most of the time personal experience builds my decision on what to talk about. While some of you might think "shame on her" because of what I said about my husband, it is nothing we haven't discussed or anything behind his back. Although silence is an issue at times, we do have conversations and of course, arguments and often these things come up. Is it too personal and am I sharing too much? Possibly. However, when this blog began to pick up with readers and the amount of hits it was receiving, my husband said the most powerful thing he ever has to me and that was "If you are going to do this, don't do it half-ass. If you can help but just one person you did something important.". I had a comment the other day on my Facebook page for this blog, asking if my husband could sometimes comment or write his point of view. What you all don't realize is, he is here in my writing just the same as I am. I have my days, and that reflects in my writing of course...but I don't think I continuously "bad mouth" my husband and often put his point of view in there, such as thinking I am the enemy or how he feels. His words, not mine. This blog is a combination of both of us; its a part of my whole family. We have walked this road alone for so long that we don't want to see another one of you do it on your own. If that means telling it all, well then we must. We both decided that we would stand up, and say you know what? This IS what is real. These are our feelings, all that we are and all that we will be.

        Now, guilt from it all? Of course. I am human. I feel anger, bitterness, frustration, love, happiness, sadness and emptiness but, all of those I can compartmentalize, shove back and try not to let it run rabid. Guilt though is harder to push back and often does eat at me. Is it because of my husband or my family? Not often but sometimes I wonder if we did the right thing by blogging about everything. For the rest such as the VA, the military, etc? Most definitely. I will admit that when I hit "Publish Post" I realize that there are dozens of VA's ,, and addresses across the United States/world jumping on each and every post and staying for a while. I worry that when someone reads my posts, and knows who I am in real life they will be angry or pissed at me. However, the ones who eventually do find out they are rather surprised rather than upset with me. I have been nicely told to stop, casually mentioned not to bring up certain subjects, told I really didn't need to post this or that, and I often wonder if some just get scared of me because I am blogging. The biggest thing that bothers me is I don't want people to help me because they are afraid I will blog. I want them to help because that's their job, and that they do their job because it IS a wounded soldier. 

        There is a reason why I write under a pen name. I really don't like people knowing who I am and there are only a trusted handful that do know who I am, other than our local VA etc. Anonymity is a wonderful thing, and after a long talk with a spouse the other day, she mentioned that I did a good job keeping my identity safe as she didn't even know who I was. I am a book lover and history buff, and I knew that many past historical authors like Dr. Seuss, Mark Twain were all created names. Many women of the 19th Century wrote under a man's name because that was the only way they could be published and since this is a long way from the 19th Century, J.K. Rowling of the Harry Potter series is also considered to have a pseudonym. I created my pen name to write under because it was easier, to be honest, to write behind that smoke screen. It gave me strength if that makes sense and the cajones to talk about tougher subjects. 

        Often times, confrontation and I do not agree. I don't think of myself as a fighter, a leader, or any of that so its easier for "Uncle Sam's Mistress" to get the credit than me, myself and I. I don't give our location, our doctor's names, anything that says HERE I AM COME GET ME. I don't think I have talked about anything that is going to cause some men in black to show up at my front door. However, in all of this, I did get help and that meant telling some who I am in real life so we could get that help. Did it bite me in the ass in the long run? I am not sure. That is a debate that I am still trying to figure out and counting the steps I am taking. Have I been chastised for blogging? Of course, but you know what? I figure this is my right, my husband and many many others fought for that right and not one single time, have I never NOT spoken the truth. If you failed me, I am going to say something about it. I also say, if its the truth and people get mad? That means they are worried

        I will admit, its easier to throw on the superwoman cape, write under the elusive Uncle Sam's Mistress, and way much easier for me to answer each and every email. I think looking back on it all, the most thing I feel guilty not having all the answers for many. I am not a professional, never claimed to be, and only share our personal experiences, victories and failures. However, some find that I am an easy person to write to, especially  my Veterans and soldiers. I sometimes am the confessional priest, but I don't know how to answer or what to say. Some stories are harder to read than others, some make me cry at night when I am trying to wipe my own day of worries away and sometimes...some stories make it all worth while getting into trouble, or having people treat me differently because I wrote something online. I sometimes feel guilty because I wish I had someone to confess to, and I really don't accept to all you out "there". 

        Back lashing from comments, I rarely get. On a daily basis, I get more good than bad. I get more emails than comments, and that's ok because I understand the need for people to email and feel that cover too. However, because it is an email sometimes the anti-war people can get more carried away, weirdos get loonier and sometimes the conversations can become quite graphic on their part. I thank the good Lord for patience, forgiveness and the will to hit delete when I really want to respond back. I can say ouch, yeah that hurt! Hit delete and try to move on from that without stooping to their level. Some comments are kind of hateful, but everyone has their own opinion. Some think I am a martyr because I stay with my husband, some think I am doesn't really matter what people think. It's what I think about me is the most important thing.

        As a blogger, my suggestion to you is if you feel fear, retribution, insecurity...create a pen name and just leave it at that. There is no reason to state your name, your residence etc. You can be whoever you want to be and maybe that will find you the strength you are seeking. If you feel worried that your family will see it, or you don't everyone knowing ALL your business...then do it that way. A good friend late last night asked me if I was willing to walk the line, and I said yes. So ask yourself Snowmass, are you willing to walk the line? If you choose put it out there, it is done. You can delete all you want, but you can't erase a person's memory or knowledge. However, in the same late night conversation, we bloggers are probably the safer majority because we DO put it out there. I kind of feel that if we don't though, we won't ever get the help and we damned sure didn't learn anything from our past wars. You have to decide what you are most comfortable with doing. You must in the end, choose of what you write and how much you put out there. In the words of my husband again, I tell you "If you are going to do this, don't do it half-ass. If you can help but just one person you did something important". 

        I hope this answers all your questions Snowmass. I sincerely wish you well on your endeavor and your decisions to blog. I will be rooting all the way from down here in Moo-Cow Town USA if you choose to do it. It is a good outlet, but in the ultimately have to decide the consequences, the guilt and how to write it all out. If you should choose to use your name, and feel you have to omit some things...well, I kind of think it's a waste of time if you feel so censored. I just wouldn't say anything to my family or like some, just leave that out all together. There are many many bloggers out there who feel like you and some who censor themselves while others let it all hang out. It can be a wonderful thing, and sometimes it can be a hard thing. It's all about your level of comfort-ability, because if you are comfortable writing....your words will flow and be comfortable to read and that my dear, is your ultimate goal. To get it all out, to take the burden off of you, to let it all out and then let it go. Just ask yourself as I did....How much do you want to let go of?

        Thank you for the email and making ME stop to think for a while,

        Sunday, October 30, 2011

        VA Caregiver Program

        Many of you have written in to ask about the New Caregiver Program for post 9-11 disabled veterans who require care full time or assistance with daily living. There are some who haven't either heard about it, have some misconceptions, ideas, and yes, even a few think it's a little scary. It's a VA program so yes, I was worried too, I'll admit. I am hoping to write this out to answer some questions, provide some information on it for those who need it and clear the path of the unsure for others. Our process believe it or not, honestly wasn't bad at all. Y'all know I will shoot straight from the hip and tell you how it is!

        When it first started, I didn't know anymore than just rumors that it was being put into place and getting set up. Our Federal Recovery Coordinator told me about it and being the upbeat and dear person she is, encouraged me to contact them. I called on several occasions when it had just started. When I mean just started, I mean like they had just turned the 1-800 number on and the people answering were just as baffled as I was. There was some confusion right at the beginning and to be honest with you....I really kind of checked it off my list of things that the VA had to offer. I had the same idea that many of you have of "Oh God, here we go again. Just another promise, but no follow through"! After the third call that left me filled with more questions that what I had to begin with, I figured that this wasn't for our situation. A month later, my dear friend Brannan at Family of a vet encouraged me again as well as our coordinators assigned to us. The requirements for the program were a bit confusing, parts still being adjusted and tweeked; leaving still quite a few of us out that didn't really fall in the guidelines.

        As the time went by, the Caregiver Program was often brought up to me and I explained the reason the 1-800 number told me I didn't qualify. As many of you know that follow all the time, my husband is still considered in service although not able to serve. He hasn't served since December of last year with January's "bottom falling out" sealing the deal. Now with us, we have asked about the Med Board process for three years so we were kind of stuck in the middle of nowhere land up until this year. One of the requirements for the Caregiver Program is a medical discharge date or estimated date. I didn't have that, so I couldn't even fill out the application online.

        After speaking to the OIF/OEF director, the best solution for us was to simply call and ask the Caregiver Program Coordinator/Director herself. We had otherwise fit the bill for requirements so to speak, and she felt like we really needed to pursue this. This proved to be the best way to get not only the information, but the correct information and believe it or not, I haven't had one single complaint at all about this program so far except that it leaves out many others like our Gulf War and Vietnam families. Now for those of you who are wondering like this question that came in "What the hell is the VA Caregiver Program?"

        The Caregiver program, (the fancier name as it was created, the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act) was created and signed in as a program that was ready for applications starting May 9th of this year. It is designed to help provide respite care, counseling, training, insurance for spouses (more on this here in a second) and a monthly stipend for those (person who is considered primary care giver to the veteran) who care for wounded veterans that require assistance in daily activities. This program is very monumental and one that was fought and pushed for by many. Currently, this program is only for those suffering from severe physical and psychological wounds that were sustained in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that requires them to need assistance. I don't honestly know if the respite care coverage is the same for all, but for us it was 30 days per year I can use should I need it. If you do not have insurance for health coverage, you can qualify as a caregiver for Champ VA. This does not mean you can stop using your health coverage if you have it. Only if you don't have one in place and need insurance. The monthly stipend is based on the level of care, how many hours is determined by the tier that you fell in and the pay based on that particular tier.

        Once the application was filled out, I mailed it in and it took about two weeks before it came back to our Coordinator. I was rather impressed with our Coordinator here. She stayed in constant touch with us through the whole process, let me know when she got our application after it was processed and kept us in the loop on the next steps. Those next steps included having a physician, registered nurse or mental health doctor filling out the portion that states the Veteran needs assistance for daily living. We really don't see much of our PCM so was worried, but my husband's psychiatrist knew of our situation, how bad he was and filled it out for us. Before I knew it, we were pre-approved and on our way to expecting the online training from Easter Seals who created the online and workbook training program.

        Now to answer many of the questions of who qualifies, its for those who need assistance for daily living and can be for those with mental disabilities such as PTSD and TBI, for those with physical disabilities OR a combination of both. Just remember, this is for those who must have help in order to get through the daily chores of just living. I had some questions that went along the lines of using this to quit their jobs and stay home, although their Veterans were working still full time and needed no care. This program isn't for that. If your Veteran is able to tend to himself, is working and needs no help, this program isn't for you to be able to quit your job and stay home. Not trying to be rude or nasty, just being bluntly honest and let you know you will be turned down. Now there are some who are in Vocational Rehab, needing assistance at home etc in which you might be able to qualify for. Just because some of them work, there are many out there who need assistance at work, at home and basically everywhere. I can't answer who is and who isn't, you just have to contact your VA's Coordinator and ask. It's as simple as that.

        Many spouses are not applying because they are unsure if they qualify. Much of the time, we don't stop to look at how much we assist our veterans in daily living. Stop and look at how much you do, and how much they do on their own. You will be asked a series of questions, so this is a prime opportunity to be honest. has a fantastic breakdown of the whole process and the answers to some questions on the Caregiver program. This is a great web source for those who are confused, unsure, scared or wondering how the process works. Once you apply, they receive your application...your start date begins the day they get that application. So for us, I filled out the application and it was received three days later on August 19th. My first check will be on November 1st, which includes back payment from the August date.

        The only issue I had was I chose to do my training online rather than doing the workbook. I find it easier to get out of bed early in the wee hours and completed it with just a couple of hours. It doesn't take that long, but do try to pay attention and not guess on the answers. In our case, the Coordinator Director did our home visit with the nurse and asked me some of the questions on the training. So just don't breeze through it and not really know the answers because it might just come back and catch you. The problem I had with the training provided was there was only one small section that had anything to do with those of us who are dealing with the more severe Post Traumatic Stress and TBI Veterans. A bulk of it is medicine related, infections, bed sores, home safety etc. While I found that it was rather easy to navigate, easy to complete and was probably very useful for those with physical kind of left us Caregivers who are full time that are dealing with the psychological wounds of war out. I think I was looking for a bit more in this training such as preparing a safety plan, what to do when they become belligerent and nasty, what to do if they are in a severe flashback. However, I have to look at it this way. Each of our Veterans are different, so even if there had been a solution, that solution might not work for all of us.

        So out of all the questions, the dreaded Home Visit seems to be scaring many of you. I have to tell you, this weighed on my mind heavily. Will I be judged? Will my home be clean enough? Do I have everything spic and span? What will they say about the toys in the floor of my child's bedroom? The list and fear kept building up. Let me tell you, I cleaned as if there was no tomorrow. If you came into my home and ran a cotton swab across my floor the only thing you would have found was cleaning products! I organized, I scrubbed, I moved things, I scoured to the point I barely made it through the home visit because I was so sore. I threatened my children with boot camp if they dropped food or drinks on my newly scrubbed and polished kitchen floor, and threatened if they dumped toys all over the place! I had medications nicely organized, laid out in particular fashion and made sure my food pantry and cabinets were those of someone who had severe obsessive compulsive disorder. Readers, I cleaned things with toothbrushes and in places that a normal human being wouldn't even look at, but let's be honest with ourselves. This is the VA we are talking about. We have been raked over the coals so badly, I was so afraid that one little place would cause me to fail our home inspection. It was silly, I knew I was overreacting but still couldn't help feel we were being placed under a microscope. I know that our VA probably doesn't like me that much, and that's ok. I just didn't want them to come into my home and say "Lord, not only is she a pain in the ass but her house is dirty too!"

        They didn't even look at any of it. Not anything. They came straight in, made a comment my house smelled really nice, introduced themselves to my husband and sat down in the living room. That was it. There were some questions after they took my husband's blood pressure and weight, like "Do you have smoke alarms and are they working?, A safety plan for emergencies and fire evacuation?" etc. I was so disappointed! Now my house is usually clean and neat, but sometimes slightly cluttered especially since we have been working on paperwork and records for the Med Board. They would ask me a question, and I was willing them mentally to PLEASE go check. I think one of them asked me where the bedroom was located and I said its down the hall and to the right, you want to go see? Hahaha! After all was said and done, they left. We both kind of sighed a sigh of relief, but was like "Is that is?". All that worry, all that cleaning, and all that time spent worrying about the what ifs was pointless. Yet, my house was clean and things had been done that needed to be done for a while now so it was just a good excuse.

        I think the purpose of the Home Visit is just to ensure that the home is safe, is a clean environment, has the required safety items like railings on stairs, handles in the bathrooms etc which are all very important. If you need those things, they will help you get those in place. Also, they want to make sure that the Veteran is well taken care of and you aren't abusing, mistreating or letting them live in squalor. Now to speak for our Veterans, these visits can be a little challenging. My husband doesn't really like people he doesn't know in our home. He was very nervous, pissed off, and if looks could kill? They would have had to bury these people twice. His paranoia was evident that day and he was extremely agitated they were here. The other downside of this program, is they will come back every three months to check in. That is mostly just to be sure there aren't any changes, things that are needed, and of course to be sure that the Caregiver is still taking care of them and they don't have them duct taped to some wall down in the basement. (That's a joke people). The thing that bothered my husband the most is that he didn't know these people, the nurse that was required to be here will be a different one every three months. I have to admit....I really didn't like that either. I think for all of us Caregivers, that can be a little nerve wracking because you will see someone different each time and you don't know who they are. For Veterans suffering paranoia on high levels, this can be a bit challenging.

        Overall though, I promise you it's not that bad. Most of us who have applied will tell you the same thing. Some have bad stories, some are good. I think it just depends on who is the Caregiver Coordinator and fortunately for us, we seem to have a pretty good one who cares and seems to take her job seriously. It's worth all the paperwork, the wait, the training and the home visits. The issue we are facing right now, is not many people are applying. This is a good program with a lot of beneficial things involved, and if we don't get people to apply....I am afraid the government will come back and say "well, obviously there isn't a need for this and we should cut the program or funding". We don't want that! If you care for your veteran, no matter who you are....I encourage all of you to apply. For those of us Reserve and National Guard programs, and have a DD-214....see if they will accept that as your discharge date because they can use that as these are totally different entities than that of Active Duty components, if their injuries happened during active duty time served.

        Check out , there is great information and links for you to look at. Another one is listed here. I have been there and done that with the VA, trust me. I know its scary, I know they can be one of our biggest obstacles when it comes to our Veterans, but I think they might have just gotten this one right. I feel I did better with dealing directly with our Caregiver Coordinator than wasting my time with the 1-800 number but you might find it differently. The National Caregiver Support Line at 1-855-260-3274. You can find the application here and more information. Stop a few minutes and look over it. Talk with your VA Caregiver Coordinator (ask through the operator or your OIF/OEF clinic) and just see if its something that can help you. I think out of all of it, I know that I can call our Coordinator and just talk. If I need counseling, I feel I can get it. Although I know I contribute to our home, work my butt off seven days a week, I feel that with the stipend I am financially contributing and that makes me feel good. For those that say well, I might only be on the lower tier...well, my thoughts are that is one level up from nothing, which is where you are right now.

        Hope this helps relieve some of the worries, the stress and confusion about the program. The worst thing that can happen is you apply and they say no, so you haven't lost anything by just making the call. It took a lot of pushing, work and lobbying for this program to go into place. Let's thank those who made this possible by applying for it and utilizing it. Hopefully, in the next couple of years this program will be available to our Gulf War Veteran families as I know they are working on it.

        As Always,