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,

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Shunned and Shamed

 When I stop to read many articles that come out about Caregivers/Spouses of Veterans, and or things that are stated like "what is the cost of the war" one really mentions much about the social aspect we lose like the dynamics of friendship, work relationships, and external family members. I think this is an important topic that is often overlooked and one that is vital to most of us. We live our lives normally, have our regular jobs where we earn our own money, doing things with friends and family pre-war and it feels like as if we belong in society. Post war changes everything. I have always been sociable, holding a fantastic position in a job and we just lived life the best that we were able to. When my husband came home, it seemed like the roller coaster of life became a fast moving freight train on the slow track. It never did go in one particular direction, so we never were able to get our bearings or an even ground to stand on. We live day by day, and although it seemed like things just stopped...these past four years went by in a blur.
This past weekend was one of those beautiful days that all of us look forward to and ones that are few and far between for us. When it happens, you want to wallow in it and bask yourself in the moment. You want to find yourself rolling around in the laughter, feeling yourself smile because your Veteran smiles; you want to literally bathe in the "good days". When they are gone, you smile at the memory but the heartache starts to creep back in as the reminder sets in that we aren't as normal as we used to be. The word normal really doesn't even belong in our vocabulary anymore. During those good days, you don't want anything at all to go wrong or someone to ruin it. We have become so starved for those small glimpses of life mostly because that's what keeps us going on the bad days and is literally the glue that keeps us from falling to pieces. 
My husband wanted to get out for a little while, so with Gunny, our service animal in tow, and the kids taken care of, I got to spend a whole day out with my husband. I was so excited because "getting out" doesn't happen very often, let alone with my husband in an overly fantastic mood. He was looking for a particular magazine, so it was decided that we would hit a few book stores and a few others to pick up costumes for our younger children. I wasn't feeling too great, but I bit back the pain and thought to myself "come hell or high water, you are going to go and enjoy it" because I didn't want to miss out on this precious gift. We had a great day that was filled with conversation, laughter and smiles. There were some people we encountered that obviously have never been around a working service dog, and some people who made a point to stare and loudly discuss what could be wrong with my husband (I gathered they thought he was deaf) but we ignored it and kept right on going. 
We enjoyed getting out of the house and just feeling semi-normal again. Due to extremely crowded situations on Sundays in most restaurants, we both decided that we would wait til later and have a late lunch, early supper. So after a few rounds of rock, paper and scissors....our favorite Mexican restaurant was where we ended up. Halfway through our lunch, a rather large group of my husband's past co-workers came in. He looked over and saw them, and I looked and said "hey there is so and so and the rest of the gang". He immediately withdrew. Almost like we were standing outside and the sunshine disappeared because a large cloud covered it. He was a beautiful flower that I literally saw shrivel up and die. I watched "him", the small and rare glimpse of my old husband, simply vanish in front of me. I became so angry that I thought I could feel my blood boiling. I tried to start conversations, but I never could get him to look up from his plate. I was so disappointed, hurt and infuriated that these people made my husband withdraw. I was angry because no one should ever make a soldier or Veteran hang his head in shame.
As we quickly finished up, we got our check and headed out. I stopped to say hello because I felt like we spent a lot of time with these people and well, it was the polite thing to do since we were forced to pass by them. Ten years of employment, ten years of being "family" and helping each other out. Many times my husband took holiday time, or swapped shifts to help another family out or to give a new daddy time with his child. We gave money to those who are in need when we didn't have it, we attended funerals, and even helped some of them move entire homes out of good will. Even through the hell we were enduring on our own, I bravely volunteered to walk miles searching through debris of devastation from tornadoes, seeking anything we could salvage for our "friends". When we walked their direction, you could have heard a pin drop at the large table they were sitting out. Everyone sitting, looked other directions or picked up their glasses and drank while keeping their eyes on the others...anywhere but looking at us. When I said hello, no one answered. No one could even look at us at all in the face. No one said anything......
 My husband simply just walked towards the door with his head down, and while I was paying our check...I bit back the tears all while choking on rage. I bit back four years of sadness, disgust, fears and lost friendships. It was like being in high school cafeteria and everyone suddenly not speaking to you because of some rumor. Although the past four years we have been alone and slowly losing touch with the outside world, it didn't hit me like it did that day how many have shut their doors on us. It was as if we had suddenly become the bad guys. They acted as if we had some contagious disease like leprosy, and then the sadness hit me with full force. How much we lost and how alone we were. You could see some of them were just waiting until we left, to say something about us. When we walked out, I grabbed my husband's hand and said "Don't worry about it". I held my head high although I really wanted to hang as low as he did. However, I am not going to let my husband go through this alone and he knows that. So he gripped my hand back in mutual understanding and we left. I turned around to see them all laughing and talking. I tried my best not to let it bother me, but God it did. I don't know who it hurt worse, my husband or me.  I think I felt hurt for both of us because he said "I am used to it". 
I  know much of this is happening to many of us and that being shunned from others happens on many levels and it happens to many of our Veteran's families and to Veterans themselves. We are already struggling through misconceptions, bad medical treatment or none at all, then coupling that with stigmas, labels and the media making a field day of those who use their disorders to excuse serious crimes. It becomes very tiresome to fight all of that on top of the already piling issues within the family and our Veterans. It can be from co-workers, close friends, acquaintances, and yes....even family members. I think the family issues hit harder than co-workers or friends. I know how it feels to have family not understand, not willing to educate themselves, and reinforce you with negativity and then judgment. I try to do the Christian thing and forgive, try to not judge myself, be willing to still stand when I felt my knees buckling. I often wondered if its just from ignorance, fear or just not having the experience. I know my husband has changed, they know he has changed...but I damn sure didn't need a reminder. It doesn't matter anyway because I thought friendship was for good and the bad times. I didn't realize it came with a clause or a closed door policy written for "just in case" times. 
Negativity is not what I need to focus on right now, and I don't want to waste my time or effort to keep friends that were probably never friends to begin with. However, it tears you apart and leaves a mark on you. No matter how much you say you shouldn't be ashamed, you still can't help but feel that way. We have been turned away from friends, our unit, co-workers, some family but it never ceases to amaze me when they need everyone wants to be friends once more. I feel those who want to talk about us behind our backs when we leave the room, for those who want to call my husband a lunatic, crazy, looney or sick in the head, just don't know. I know there is a huge difference in ignorance and stupidity, but with many we just won't ever be able to change any of their thinking. 

My oldest son asked me later that Sunday evening, what was wrong with dad. I explained what had happened at the restaurant and he said "We are reading the Scarlet Letter in English, and now I know how she must have felt. Maybe instead of wearing a scarlet A, we should have PTSD and TBI embroidered on our shirts. Not much difference". I chewed on what he said all evening for a long time. I wondered looking back, whether standing up and forcing those in our areas to recognize issues such as these in returning Veterans, was a positive thing or negative. Did I make the right decisions by starting this blog? Did I make the right decision for my family to say "We are not ashamed. We are here. We bleed like you do and yes, we hurt the same way". Either way, the road was set...and it's a long hard road to walk alone. In all though, I don't think I made the wrong choices and maybe I am supposed to be here. I CAN hold my head up high because you know what? I did it on my own without anyone's help. I didn't depend on anyone else or asked anything more that I couldn't and haven't given to others. I made it the past four years and I am still standing. My spirit aches, my mind is in pieces, but I am still standing dammit. I am learning to find my own way, on my own conditions and am a better person for it. 

I wonder if those people that shunned and shamed us will ever be able to really say that to themselves and it be the truth?


Thursday, October 20, 2011


I sat this morning trying to catch up on emails that so many of you have written in. I will hopefully get done with all that is required for the first step in the Medical Board process and have some more time to write. As I was reading this morning with my Superman Mug in hand, it struck me to the core at how many times one single word was found in a bulk of them. That word? Ashamed.  Many of them are from Veterans in which much of their confessions astounded me but not in a horrible way but just in their forthcoming honesty. I know that many of you just needed an ear, a safe place to voice your issues, problems and maybe a response that someone does understand. Shameful though? No. I don't believe that there is something out there, that hasn't been told to me, shocked me or something I haven't seen in the travels with other bloggers or spouses/veterans. I would like to say first your confessions will always be safe with me, so please know with confidence that unless you tell me it's OK to ask or print, I will always read, respond and then delete. For the families that wrote in, I counted more than ninety-seven times I saw the word ashamed in your letters. 

I wanted to take a few moments this morning to address this common sentiment of shame that you all feel. I know that there are things no one wants to say out loud. Things that either/or wants to keep behind closed doors but what is that really helping? Is it because you don't want others to know or is it just because you don't want to face it yourself? Is it better for you to hide behind the door of shame rather than talking about it? Many of you wrote that when speaking to your therapists or doctors, some subjects are just too shameful to bring up. Alright, I have to shoot straight from the hip here and ask "what the hell you are getting help for then if you are only going for parts of it?" I know such subjects as physical/verbal abuse, drugs, alcoholism, sex or the lack of it/addictions, erectile dysfunction, porn addictions, cheating, excessive spending, among many more are bitter pills to swallow and accept. Hell, it's hard for even me to write about some of these things but one thing I want all of you to remember is that we can't find help or seek the answers unless someone talks about it. 

Out of all my posts on this site, the most popular posts are the ones about sex. That says to me that many of you are experiencing what I went through or worse, and that you are looking for answers. Many of you guys want to talk about problems with it. Sex to me, is just as important as the basic needs of food, water and air. As Humans, we require and will always need that nourishment of touch, love, feelings and intimacy. Speaking about it to your doctors might be hard, but you just got to ask yourself, am I depriving myself of this need? For my spouse, am I depriving her? What if it's something medically related and you are hurting yourself in the long run because you didn't say anything? When you leave the doctor's offices, do you feel any better than what you did when you went in? Many Veterans wrote in that your spouses don't understand, don't get it, are mad because you no longer want to make love to them. Many had the same response "It's not her". The thing you have to realize is that we need to understand what's going on and have the knowledge that its not us. If you aren't telling your spouse it's not them, how else are they supposed to feel or what did you expect them to think?

I have to tell each of you that for a year and a half, I was devastated. I truly thought there was something wrong with me. I wasn't attractive enough, or I wasn't making him happy. It turned out to be medications, and not me. I have to tell you that feeling of relief was enormous after he broke down and confessed...however, my confidence had deflated so long ago that I didn't know how to repair that and is something that I am still working on. I was hurt as well. I thought he could tell me everything and always had in the past. I was so relieved but at the same time, angry because he had put me in the corner for so long and let me think that it was my fault. Veterans, you have to talk to your spouses. You can always email here and tell me anything, but let's try this........

When you feel the need to email me and let the confessions fly because you feel more comfortable, carbon copy your spouse on it. Make an agreement with your spouse as some do on here. They write in with the agreement between the two that there will be no arguments, nothing said until you are ready and that your spouse just read. Spouses, honor that agreement. Some of you guys write so beautifully that it gives this Mistress the cold chills and your heartfelt words laced with honesty, truly does astound and sadden me. I feel like I am depriving your spouse of such words and as many of you know, I always suggest that you copy and send to them. They desperately need to see these words and hear your confessions. I think if you did, it would not only help them tremendously but you help yourself releasing just one of those demons of burden riding your back. 

Addictions such as excessive porn usage is one of those topics that no one really wants to talk about but that's just part of it. Some turn to different things, and pornography is just another outlet. I can see why many spouses and Veterans feel ashamed about this but we have to talk about it. More importantly, you have to talk to your doctors about it. They can't help something they don't know about. If you feel like you can't and aren't comfortable with it, perhaps you can allow your spouse to come in and just talk to the therapist. Spouses, don't be judgmental, hateful or hard to get along with all while letting the flood gates open about everything under the sun. Just take one topic at a time, both of you decide this is what we are going to tackle today and then do it. 

We are running in circles if we don't open up. We have the advantages our warriors before us didn't have and that's the internet and support along with acknowledgment of these disorders and all that goes along with it. When I sit here and think about what I want to write about, there are times when I don't want to talk about something. Then I stop and think to myself of one Vietnam wife who suffered in silence for twenty-five years and who told me "speak up or they won't hear you." I don't want to let our brothers and sisters down, so when I got to say God I just say it. I also guarantee you that you aren't me. I am responding to several emails today to see if I can pair up a couple of spouses with other spouses who are going through the same thing and same issues. Each of you are commenting you must be the only aren't.

Veterans, you have been through hell. No one will ever really know what you went through, what you saw, or what you did for our country. At the same time though, we can't help you go back and change any of it. I wish we could but we could never make it all go away. We can however, help you now on the battlefield at home. It was your brothers and sisters in arms before you that spoke up and who set the standards now. Let's pay it forward by speaking up now because you never know who you might helping. Might be a veteran of the past, a family of now, or a family of the next war. Never let that head hang in shame for the past. Don't be ashamed of what you are going through now as everyone copes differently. Spouses, same thing goes for you. Speak up, don't hide in shame. I want you to remember that every time you hide behind the door... there are five more knocking and looking for you. Open the door.

I am always here. There will always be an "Anonymous" button for the comments and my inbox is private. I do have a Facebook page now that just started with many Veterans and spouses who are looking for answers and have some advice to some of these topics. Stand up and be heard without shame.

I'm Not Ashamed,

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Heading in The Right Direction

This week has started out pretty good and with some positive notes changing the course of our recent direction. After four years of fighting, pushing, stressing and sunk hopes....we finally got the Line of Duty Injury form for my husband's Traumatic Brain Injury. This was one of our biggest challenges we faced as I declared war on the military, the VA and anyone else who wanted to say "sorry, not our fault". With this, and the four others...we are now embarking on the PEB to get my husband's medical retirement. It was a long battle filled with many worries, stress and leaving a wake of people pissed off in my path. The last LOD was a challenge filled with many doubts, fight and searching for anything, everything and everyone we could to prove several events happened.

When it came today, it was followed by a deep silence my husband and I could probably never explain to anyone. Four very very long and painful years. It was with mixed emotions that we looked over that last remaining document that was so damned important to everyone else regarding my husband's health. It had been one vicious cycle repeating itself. "Well we think this is what is going on, but without an LOD we can't give you disability rating.", "Without some type of records, we can't really treat what we don't know. Do you have an LOD?", "Well its this and that, but without proof we find that it wasn't combat or even military related". It was relieving that this part of the battle was won. I was told that I would never be able to do it, was said it couldn't be done, and many with good intentions took the challenge and gave up on us. I did it. I took on the challenge, sunk my teeth in, placed everything in jeopardy to not only fight but write about it, and I won.

It was an end to that continuous circle we had been running, the closing of one door but the sudden opening of many more, and the sigh of relief heard from my husband was one that I had never heard before. It was a monumental moment for that found me wanting to do the happy dance, all while "We are the Champions" by Queen played in my head. I imagined myself running up the White House steps with papers gripped in my hands and the Rocky theme song playing in the background. was pretty big for me. Then for whatever reason, I stopped, looked once more to make sure it was all real...and started crying.

Tears would just not stop flowing and my hands would not stop shaking. For those that know me and my family's struggles and suffering, you might think that I would be overjoyed, celebrate and wanting to go and shove it under the nose of all those who told me I couldn't do it or would never be able to get any of his LOD's. However, I thought about all those who wouldn't be finding such joy. I read an article the other day on a website about how 1/3 of our military is coming home with these very issues and no medical treatment.

I so remember and it still echoes today in my mind "Don't worry about it. Do your job, take some Ibuprofen and the VA will take care of you when you come home". Ibuprofen wasn't the cure all Uncle me. I have been there as a family, to see a proud soldier with so much life in him, holding a gun to his head with tears spilling down explaining to me that he didn't want to be here. He didn't deserve to be here and telling me over and over "I should have died there". Ibuprofen didn't help any of us. In that same DOD article, many are going undiagnosed for years for TBI. PTSD if they are lucky will be held off as long as possible and that's if they don't get diagnosed with "Non military service connected Personality Disorder" first. National Guard and Army Reservists also have the issue of readjustment back into society and the civilian world, on top of medical problems that we can't get treatment for, and then thousands of us coming home with no LOD's because some were just too busy, too lazy and didn't do their jobs.

It then becomes second nature to defend their health, the demons riding their back get larger, heavier because then they start to question their own sanity, and then we must defend and battle for treatment because the paperwork wasn't there although testing results were. All while family and loved ones, stood by their side and helplessly trying to find any way possible to help them. I guess it was easier to throw our wounded to the side and know that for every one of them, there were more waiting to take their place. Were you too busy to pay attention? Didn't you care? Or was it just the fact that our military members have become so expendable that you didn't want to take the money out to step up to the plate and treat them like our military did for our country, Uncle Sam?

 I can't take all the credit though. It took me four years of fighting, many long distance phone calls, thousands of hours of work, letters after letters, and then dealt with many people who placed our hopes high and then dropped us like we were suddenly contagious. It took me four years to find the right people who cared, had been in this position themselves and believe it or for the military and that's their jobs. After calling each one yesterday and profusely thanking the caseworkers who battled with me for the past 8 months, I learned that most military members give up within one to two years and then they don't get their deserved and earned benefits, disability and then no treatment. They each told me I was persistent, never gave up and the military did indeed find their match within this little old moo-cow, small town woman who fought for her husband. I was happy because I won, but at the same time it was a bittersweet victory because I thought about all those who just gave up or never got treatment. I cried yesterday with tears spilling over the papers for all of us...all of us who went through hell and many still going through it.

So now with our final records, all of my husband's LOD's, validation and self-renewed strength...we are now embarking on the process of going through the Medical board to ask for medical retirement. I know it will be a long process, more than 260 days long and much I don't know about it. Just another hurdle to jump so I am not going to stress about it. I don't know what these LOD's mean for us other than validation for my husband and he can now hold his head up proudly, but we will see. I doubt that means any treatment or any difference in the VA healthcare system, but we now have the options of using MMSO (Military Medical Service Office) which was an option that wasn't available to us before. I have come this far, am not giving up just yet. If anything, it makes me want to fight that much more.

I thought my husband would have been overjoyed yesterday, maybe smile a little....but he just seemed so lost and small all of a sudden to me. He got teary and said "thank you, you did it. Maybe now they will believe me". I know it rehashed some hurt in both of us that we had no time to deal with, it opened up some wounds that we hadn't had a chance to nurse just yet from the past four years, and then just dealing with the finality of it all. I would gather that no one would understand what the hell I am talking about unless you had been where we have and been through all of this....but if you have, then you know exactly what I am talking about. I am hoping that this will place my husband's restlessness at ease, perhaps chase a few of those demons of wrong doing away....but I don't know. Seeing him so saddened yesterday and staring out at the window, made my heart ache. I wish I could take all of them away and would do so gladly just to see him smile and be happy....but all I can do is keeping going after each one and keep fighting.

For all those who helped me, Thank you. You said you wouldn't give up on us, and although I doubted proved me wrong and you should be proud. I don't know if you will see this, but please know that my family thanks you wholeheartedly. Thank you for not giving up on us or finding excuses not to fight with me. I know you say it's your job, but it was more than that. For all my friends and fellow bloggers, thank you for always supporting me, encouraging me and picking my spirits up when I was down for the count. For those who are fighting for all of us and lobby for better treatment....keep going. The louder we are...the more we will be heard.

Finally Breathing Again,