Monday, March 28, 2011

You Can't See The Forest For The Trees

"Too much light often blinds gentlemen of this sort. They cannot see the forest for the trees." 
Musarion [1768], Canto II  

This post is dedicated to
"Tarzan, Jane and the Cheetah"

We often come across this quote and usually, it's shortened down to "don't see the forest for the trees".  I bet that most hearing that, often do not really give it much thought of what exactly it means. It's an analogy that we use in reference to someone who is focusing so much on the details of the situation at hand that they miss seeing "the big picture" or the problem they are facing.

This past weekend, I met a wise man who told me "A good therapist doesn't part the trees so the patient can see through them, but shows the way to part them". This comment was made after having a good talk about issues, programs and such with the VA.  While we, as the spouses, families and Veterans, often bitch about the VA and having to "play the game" as it's called; we forget about the good people who do work at the VA and it's programs who are really there because they want to be. After talking with this man, I learned a lot in an hour of his time...than I did in the two I spent with the therapist who is at the Rehab program for PTSD. I walked away and he had me thinking, which of course, is always a way to this Mistress's heart! Mostly though, I thought to myself  "He is going to make a difference and be that stranger who becomes a savior for one/some of our Vets".

I think when we fuss, and yes, I am most definitely one of those who has done it.....we lump the VA in a whole and don't break it down by individuals. There are some who are wet behind the ears, coming out of college with paper degrees on the wall who have absolutely no clue what it's like to be a Veteran, let alone one with PTSD/TBI. There are some (military or non-military related) who are simply there for the decent benefits and watch the clock waiting to go home. There are though, some who are there because that's where they want to be and they care. Some of the lower ladder employees have been deployed and have had serious issues in the past with PTSD which is even better when you have a chance to meet them.

I used to think that it was because they were on the lower levels of the employment ranks, or the "peons" as the wise man called himself that made them more human. It's not that that makes them so different or more comfortable to be around, but the fact they know what it's like and still have that understanding of what it's like to have been there. I have always maintained that in order to treat such issues such as these, it's best to have some type of personal knowledge of it whether you are the sufferer or living with it. A paper degree is wonderful and something to be proud of in the race for life's almighty accomplishments, but does it really educate you on what's really going on? Are you really helping individuals in the long run if you don't know what exactly it is that you are dealing with?

When it comes to the VA, we as the beneficiaries of the system wonder why it is that something so simple or something that makes sense...doesn't make sense to the upper echelon of the VA system. I have often heard or seen online the comment of "If it makes sense, then you aren't at the VA" which is rather sad but most definitely true. I used to think that it was perhaps budget issues, or maybe state and federal regulations and politics...which I am sure does have a role in it. Mostly's just the people who work there. You may have 30 good guys and then one bad rotten apple who comes along and ruins the whole damn show.

As this wise man was speaking to my husband and I, I stood there thinking "Why isn't anyone listening to this guy and implementing the ideas he has?" He works there, he is going to school to further educate himself and his goal is to work with Veterans with issues. He is also a Veteran and has PTSD himself. Even more impressive to me, was his passion, drive and the thoughts he had to better improve the faulty errors in programs or Veteran's lives. Take what does work, but take what doesn't work out. Makes sense to me and more so, because we are on the side of the not working part! So why is it that the VA system isn't seeing this big picture? More importantly, are they even trying to get that view on the inside? When he spoke about missing the forests for the trees, I thought to this not the case for all VA employees? They get so wrapped up in the coming and going of social security numbers, issues and health problems, have they truly missed the point of why they got that job and why they wanted to work with Veterans?

I felt comfortable around him and his girlfriend who was with him. Perhaps it's because they are another PTSD family themselves. I knew that both just "got it", and they probably knew I "got it". It's a shame to admit that I learned more from him in an hour than the two spent with the therapist, but it's the truth. We will be walking away from six weeks lost of our lives for a Rehabilitation Program for PTSD that didn't work (which I will blog about later), and all I can say is I learned more from this couple than in all of the program. It's not just's our VA and many others. I wish sometimes when you take your Veteran to the VA and get treated like dirt, that it be mandatory that those working there...should endure about two weeks of that same type of treatment. It hurts me to see that our US Veterans coming back home and who served proudly, get treated so shabbily by some of the VA employees. It's almost as if some of them just can't stand being there or act as if the next number called up, is just exactly that.

The ones who are there and care, especially the ones who have that personal experience and knowledge need to be heard and their input used. It's very easy to design a program from behind a desk, and then say "Yep, it's working" because you want it to work. It's another, to be on the floor with the Veterans themselves and know that it's not. I don't know if I could do such a job when I knew that things just weren't right and can't do anything to change it. I think I would self implode! "Peons" isn't what the good ones need to refer to themselves as and it made me feel badly this weekend, to not have acknowledged the good ones more in the VA system. There are several I have been in touch with that work with Veterans and make it enjoyable to go. I just wish there were more of them and that they were heard more often.

If this wise man works with so many, sees the issues, tries to help as much as he can...why can't the VA see that and take into consideration these that do have the knowledge and experience. Why keep wasting time, effort and of course...our hard earned tax dollars! Some days I feel like yelling at the ones who are horrible to us or just don't care. I want to scream, "this is what we went to war for and fought for? Is this how you repay that?"

I have gotten quite a few emails from other VA employees who are reading my blog and I have enjoyed reading their statements especially of their ideas or thoughts. I guess I am writing all this because I have been guilty of lumping all our bad apples and tossing aside the good ones when it comes to the VA. Speaking to this wise man this weekend, made me more appreciative of the good ones and I thought it was important enough to write about. Getting emails from other state's VA employees, is well, just freaking awesome! Mostly because I hope that when they read it, it will encourage them to keep going and not lose their "self" in their jobs and forget. Maybe enough VA employees read my blog, they will remember what hardships I have spoken about and gives them a new purpose and drive.

So for all the "peons" out there who work at the VA and care....keep up the good work. I promise from now on, I will be more outspoken and appreciative of the ones who do...and of course, be outspoken on the ones who don't! For all of us spouses, take a second when you encounter someone as this and just say "Hey, thank you." Even if they can't help you because their hands are tied, just reminding them that you appreciate their kindness will be a nice way to keep the good ones there. You never know in the future how that person will intertwine in your lives. We have most definitely met some interesting and unusual individuals who have helped us in more ways than they could ever know and all because they cared when no one else did. That's what it should be all about.

 Giving My Thanks to All the Caring, Concerned, Non-Clock Watching, Hard Working Peons in the VA System, 


  1. Almost thirty years ago on the advice of our marriage counselor I went to the VA for help with what he was sure was PTSD. I was evaluated by one of those NO CLUE types and put back out to find my own way.
    Twenty years ago I was a cancer patient at the VA and can remember the frustrations and shabby treatment that I received from some of the employees. They were typically administration types or the shrinks who thought their job was to deny PTSD claims (I ended up getting help for PTSD outside of the VA system). However, I also remember some of the ones who were truly outstanding, over a period of nine months in the hospital I had several poor to average nurses and I had two outstanding nurses whom I will never forget. The whole radiation department from the head oncologist to the receptionist were unbelievably kind to my family. I remember a surgeon who battled the administration repeatedly on my behalf. I was away from the system for many years but now am retired and am back due to coronary issues. I do think you are absolutely correct there does seem to by 30 good guys to every rotten apple.

    I would like to give my thanks to all the good guys at the VA.

    I also want to thank you and others like you who have the honesty and courage to share your experiences. I think the VA has improved over the past 30 year but there is a lot of room for more improvement.

  2. Hi "Dust"...welcome to the blog and thank you for your support, kind words and encouragement! It was nice to hear you encountered some really helpful and nice people. Yes, the VA has most definitely come a LONG way but as in everything and as you stated, always room for improvement. I bet they could really come up with some positive changes to programs that started out with good intentions, if they would only listen to the people who are running them! Thanks again! USM

  3. Sadly, until administrative personnel admit that the PTSD program currently in place no longer works many more Veterans will pass through the clinic’s halls and not receive the therapeutic benefits in which it was originally designed to provide. Admitting that the status quo is no longer working is admitting that those who have had to return time and time again, or those who have just given up and are no longer walking this earth, have been wronged. When PTSD programs were being designed, they were focused on Veterans who had been in WWII or the Vietnam Conflict. They were many years removed from the physical, earthly battleground. However, because their emotional battleground continued to rage within, the VA designed this program, and it appeared to be working. But now, a large number of Veterans in need PTSD treatment are fresh from Iraq, Afghanistan and other military conflicts. Their emotional wounds are still bleeding. Their wounds haven’t had time to even scab over yet. During the conflicts of WWII and Vietnam, it took weeks, sometimes months, for our Veterans to return home to us. This gave them some time to unwind, detox if you may, from the battle zone. But in today’s fast-paced world, our Veterans are home within a few days to a couple weeks. They haven’t had time to “re-learn” how to be civilians. They are still hypervigilent and sensitive to the smells, the temperature, the sounds, even the weather.
    As the survivor of domestic violence, I have experienced the symptoms of PTSD: the triggers of smells, sounds, facial expressions, life events. As a mental health counselor and case manager, I have seen the effects PTSD can have on family members. As the girlfriend of a Veteran who has PTSD, I have experienced the phone call saying, “Just talk to me.” All sufferers of PTSD need help when the symptoms are evident: morning, noon or night. They don’t need to hear, “Take a pill and go see your therapist tomorrow morning.” They need to be able to address their symptoms while they’re feeling them.
    While the fact that so many Veterans have to return to the PTSD clinic again and again should be the indicator that the program needs redesigned, it hasn’t been. While newspaper articles describe Veterans who reached out for help and didn’t get it, administrators still don’t get it. They have become so focused on what the program USED to do, that they can’t focus on what the program NEEDS to do. Again, they miss the forest for the trees. I, for one, would much rather see my tax dollars put into the re-designing of the PTSD program than to have one more Veteran leave the unit feeling like NOTHING was done to help them. If I was a Veteran, I would much rather hear administrators say, “This program isn’t working. What can we do to make it better?”


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