Monday, March 2, 2015

#DearVA I'm A Combat Wounded Infantryman...

#DearVA,

I'm a combat wounded infantryman and a disabled veteran. I am also a fat and grumpy father of two and the husband of a woman with an indomitable spirit. When I was injured in Iraq, my dreams of continuing my Army career went away. Yes, I know there are guys out there who lose legs or arms and stay in. That's wonderful, and I wish I could be like them, but that's not the point of my letter to you.  

I'm writing this to share with you what has been going through my mind when my doctor told me that I would soon be weened off of my narcotic pain medication. Due to the nature of my injuries, multiple parts of my body hurt, and at different intensities and frequencies. I use the narcotic pain medicine to help me stave off some of the more intense pain so that I may be the best father and husband I can for my family. I understand that there are risks involved with medicine, especially narcotic types. I understand that there is a chance for addiction, overdose, and other physical ailments down the road. Recognizing these risks, and in sound mind I say to you that I do not care. Doctors take an oath to do no harm, and I can appreciate that, however I am not interested in a long, healthy life. I want to manage the pain associated with my injuries as best I can so that I can continue to be a part of my family. I want to live with a little pain as possible - not for as long as possible.

Now you might have read those last few sentences and thought that I might be suicidal. I am not. Suicide is counter-productive to my mission. You also might have gotten the wrong impression, and figured all I want is my drugs. I am more than willing to try other things. I would be willing to be prescribed fewer pills. I've been prescribed a TENS unit and an Alpha Stim, and they get used regularly. I've also gone through physical therapy, and I'll be doing it again very soon. Considering all of that, I still feel that the narcotic pain medication provides relief, and without it I would be totally useless to my family. I wouldn't be able to complete my mission, which would leave me in a bind. Do I admit defeat (not going to happen)? Do I become a criminal? Thoughts like this have been keeping me awake for the past week now.  

Another thing that I found interesting: I'm not the only guy out there who thinks the same. Here's an article ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/veterans-struggle-to-renew-their-prescriptions-amid-new-opioid-rules/2015/02/18/4d42d63a-acb3-11e4-9c91-e9d2f9fde644_story.html ) full of other veterans who depend on opioids to cope with their pain. Also, like the veterans in the article, my wife is my biggest supporter. She is the fail-safe between me and an overdose. She spends her days managing my medications, appointments, the budget, the house and the children. It truly is a wonder this woman hasn't lost her mind and exploded like the exhausted celestial body that she is.

VA, I know you won't see this. If you do see it, I know you won't care. I understand that, as sad as that is. I just hope you know one thing: we are your junkyard dogs. At a young age, I learned a powerful life lesson that I fear you haven't: those who snatch from junkyard dogs get bit.

-Disabled Combat Veteran

Saturday, February 28, 2015

#DearVA This Is It...

#DearVA,

This is it, my last letter in 2014. I am going to close this year with how you have tried to close the door on my husband.

The Claim for PTSD. This process started approximately six years ago. We had the C&P. We heard nothing. I started banging on doors, congressman, representatives, and finally we got a denial. We appealed, got a copy of the C&P and about died. The C&P was filled with contradictions. On one page he was an alcoholic, on another he didn't drink. On one page he had meds, on another he took no meds.

There were 3, yes three, sentences about what he actually did in Desert Storm. The psychiatrist, let's call him Dr. M, asked my husband if his life was ever in danger, and my husband spent 30 minutes talking about all of the instances that the entire team and he were in danger... None of this was in the report.

The private doctors diagnosis of PTSD was listed as inaccurate.

As my Veteran spiraled down, I banged on more doors. Eventually, they told me nothing would change for a few years. This was dismissal. The doors shut.

With the VA being no help, and my Veteran now telling me that our son and I would be better off without him I turned towards anyone that might help, and that was Service Dog Programs.

Unfortunately no one was wanting to help, and I lost it. Feeling overwhelmed and hopeless, I tried to take my own life in April of 2014. Something had to break. He was spiraled down as was I. Shortly after this, we were blessed to hear from Dogs4Warriors, run by Sheila Slezak.  They had approved my Veteran for a Service dog for his PTSD.

A few months later we received notice that the VA wanted to have an appeals hearing. 

So at this last day of the year #VA, my husband is healing, and not because of you, but because of the men and women at Dogs4Warriors. Ebenefits shows his hearing paperwork is bouncing from our local office to the regional office and back again and again and again.

Our family doctor continued to treat his PTSD with medication until he was advised by the Vet Center to switch to the VA...

We have talked a lot this month about changes you could make #NewVA. Caring for the whole Veteran, improving tracking of Veterans, caring for families, but I don't know if anything is as important as the Spirit of the Warrior.

I watched you break my Warriors' Spirit, and Sheila at Dogs4Warriors had to help him get it back. He read that report from Dr. M, and something broke in him. You may use them as equipment, but damnit they are Warriors. 

They are Human, not lifeless automatons.

This needs to change.

I am not done with you VA. You will see me again. You will read my words again. I will ensure that my husband doesn't give up fighting you. With Seth by his side, he is the Warrior again.

PM
Caregiver
Spouse to a Disabled Gulf War Veteran
Thorn in the VA's Side

Thursday, February 26, 2015

#DearVA Hello Again...

#DearVA

Hello again #VA. Are you tired of hearing from me? I'm tired of having things to write to you about.
I'd like to talk to you today about how "fine' doesn't mean he's fine.


You know this, but it's easier for your caregivers to wipe it away.

These are men that were not trained to whine or complain, that were taught to be strong and suck it up, to make it work...

And you ask how it's going, he makes a joke, they laugh it off... all the while, I sit there knowing that tonight, he's going to drink and stare at the knives and the medicine cabinet and that I'll sleep with pill bottles under my pillow and hope that today isn't the day that my husband becomes one of the 22 vets a day who take their own lives.
Your caregivers know he isn't fine, but it is easier if you don't listen. I start to speak up and am told that I should let him answer. So he says he's fine. I've come to hate that word.

He's not fine.

Missed appointment after appointment.

The fact that today is the first time he's showered in 4 days.

The beer cans I throw out before the kids get up...

All these are signs of things not being "fine"

Thanks for asking me to not speak VA. Thanks. I don't know anything it seems.
Will his jokes still be funny when I have to point out that you're responsible?

Please sign this one...
Speechless


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

#DearVA,

Your Facebook post today says in huge letters SMOKE FREE VET, so let's have a chat about it. You value our Veterans so much that you offer smoking cessation programs, Great! What about all the damage you did to them with burn pits?

They were still using burn pits even when you put out your burn pit registry! Then, your registry link doesn't work correctly for many vets. Great job there #VA! Veterans are dying because of what they were exposed to, and they just want some help. Many of them just want to make sure that the loved one's that they will leave behind will be taken care of.

The #NewVA has an obligation to fix the burn pit registry and ensure that the Veterans exposed to burn pits and oil fires are taken care of. The Veterans who are facing an immediate loss of life need to be taken care of first, so that they know that their families will not be left with nothing.

They served you VA, now you need to serve them. Do your duty as they did theirs. You owe them that much.

PM
Caregiver
Spouse to a Disabled Gulf War Veteran who was Exposed to Oil Well Fires


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

#DearVA I Need Some Help...

#DearVA, 

I need some help… actually I just need more support. I need better coping methods when I’m upset with my husband because I feel like a single parent again. I need help explaining to him why we can’t have any more children. It’s not that we’re incapable (though that was a fear at one time) but more that I can’t handle any more on my plate. He loves our kids with his entire being but that doesn’t make him more engaging or active with them. I need better de-escalation skills when he’s frustrated and wants to be bull headed and fix it his way or keep trying even when he’s making the issue worse. Getting him to stop and breathe is a real challenge. I need more help getting him on a budget. He buys things that he “needs” and proceeds to tell me how long they’re going to last and how he’s all set and doesn’t need another single thing in this world… until he spots something he likes and then he needs more too. I need a break. Motivation is dwindling since I don’t see an end in sight and I don’t see anything different in the coming days. I feel like I’m stuck in Groundhog’s Day… except everybody around me and our kids get to keep progressing. It’s like groundhog’s day with new challenges regularly… added challenges. Burnout is so real and I know we’re supposed to put our own air mask on first and all but how do you do that? If I take me out of the picture for a break, who’s juggling those balls that are left in the air? I’m not saying the world will collapse but… I’m sorry. I don’t even know how to end this letter and I’m just at a loss at the moment. #VA, this is reality. Sometimes we just can’t. Sometimes we just want to shut down and not be us anymore. We want to pretend everything is normal and everything is okay. That we’re not feeling the pressure and the stress building and that we’re not tired and feeling unfulfilled, again. #NewVA, I don’t know what to say to you really. #NewVA seems like the new year’s resolution of #VA. Good intentions, plans are made… how many months before that resolution is given up and we’re back to the same old thing? 

Sorry my attitude isn’t better today. Maybe tomorrow. 

Sincerely, 
100% Navy Wife


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hey #VA... Today I want to talk about physical intimacy. 
I know that's probably not important to you, but it's a critical part of an adult relationship. It is not normal or healthy for people to go without physical intimacy for long periods of time. 
This isn't just something to be brushed aside... it should be taken seriously and it should be treated as a problem and not something to ignore or joke about. We've had several medical professionals make light of it  or joke about his lack of sex drive and how I "must be relieved" or been told "It could be worse." 
Trust me, my husband and I have made love less than 3 times in the last 2 years. Neither of us finds it funny.
Maybe this could be addressed with the #NewVA. 
-- 
Please sign this... 
Not even PG-13


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

#DearVA,
I took a day off, but I didn't forget my duty to the Veterans. Tonight I would like to talk to you about the ebenefits website. Lets start with how hard it is to get access to the site. My Veteran had to drive an hour and a half to Phoenix to meet with someone who claimed he was the only person in the state of Arizona who handled login issues.


Seriously?

This was after he spent two months trying to get through to any human being on the phone. Do you know what it is like to put a Veteran with PTSD on hold for two hours only to disconnect him at the end of that time frame without him ever reaching a human being? I do, and it is not pretty. Every Veteran should have insurance on their cell phones.

So he drives to Phoenix to meet with this guy. The guy is in a meeting for two hours (this explains the phone hold time). He goes and has lunch, comes back and the meeting is not done on time (typical).
Finally he gets his login fixed (which was a VA error anyways and the guy explains that it is normal), and this process takes no more than 10 minutes. He drives home, frustrated, angry.
So now we can track his claim. Yeah, right. His claim bounces everywhere, with no explanation, no sense.
None of this crap makes any sense to him or me. #VA, I am in school about to start my Masters degree program, I am a pretty smart cookie, and your system confuses even me.

I go back to the point, I think that you purposely attempt to confuse and frustrate Veterans so they give up their fight.

The #NewVA will not only fix the login system for ebenefits, adding more technicians to help the load, but will also make it easier to track claims and understand the language used. I think that Veteran Advocates would be beneficial to help Veterans understand where their claims are, what still needs to happen, and explain things in clear simple language to Veterans and their families.
One person for all of Arizona VA? Seriously... Fix this.

PM
Caregiver
Spouse to a Disabled Gulf War Veteran

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

#DearVA My Husband is Succeeding.

#DearVA, 

My husband is succeeding. I want the #VA and the world to know that. It doesn’t look the way that people might perceive success to be. He doesn’t work, and he has a hard time taking care of the kids when it becomes absolutely unavoidably necessary for him to do so. He gets overwhelmed and wants to lock himself away in our bedroom. He relies heavily on our older child to help with our younger child, which he knows isn’t fair but can’t be helped at this point. But beyond that, he’s in school. I won’t lie and say that he has a grand plan with career dreams. But he’s in school and this is such a miraculous step in our lives that I am more proud than I am able to express. He went to college before. I thought it was a good one because it was a small community college… but the campus was crowded and the numbers of people there were detrimental to my husband’s psychological well being and he quit. We live in a small town now and he attends the local university. The buildings are much further spaced out so he feels like he can see what’s going on better. And this also allows for a much larger “personal bubble” as he can walk in the less traversed areas. His mere attendance is the miracle that I’m so proud of. His mentality while he’s there is to keep his head down and keep his mouth shut and get through it. It’s not something he takes a great deal of pleasure in, though we’ve finally found the area that he seems to like studying and have chosen his major now, so hopefully the pleasure will come. And he’s not talking to his classmates or forming relationships or friendships. He goes in, takes copious notes, comes home and studies his notes, runs through them with me. I read his textbooks to him and he takes more notes. I listen to his assignments and counsel him as necessary, proofread his papers and make suggestions to him. I am his personal tutor and he often says that without me he wouldn’t and couldn’t be in school. But I want people to see that he is successful, not because of me but because regardless of whether he needs help or not, because he has the drive to keep going. He has the ambition to finish his degree. I want #NewVA to see that my husband is not just a disabled vet. He’s not just collecting a check. He has drive and while he doesn’t know where it’s going right now the same can be said for many college students. He’s trying to find his place in this world again and he’s not letting the fact that it’s hard and he’s excruciatingly uncomfortable stop him from doing this. And damn it, he gets outstanding grades. He says that when his degree is complete he will not walk with his class because it’s too much and too many people… but you better believe I will pick up those honor chords and hang them proudly in our house. I will send out announcements and I will throw a very small party to celebrate him and his accomplishments. #VA and #NewVA, you have no idea about the drive and determination and struggle of these men and women. It may take time and it may take multiple tries and I surely can’t guarantee success… but if you knew what kind of efforts this takes, you’d see the sheer success that I see. 

Successfully Yours, 
100% Navy Wife


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



#Dear VA,

Tonight I want to thank you. 

For finally providing my Veteran with a Sleep Study appointment. 

You see, every night it's the same; either he's not sleeping (therefore I'm not sleeping), he's tossing and turning, having nightmares or he's snoring so loudly it keeps me awake. The snoring is the scariest, in my opinion. You see, it's in these snoring episodes that he stops breathing. It's a terrifying prospect to face, not just for me but for my husband. 

It keeps me awake at night, when he sleeps, listening for the inevitable moment when he doesn't take in a breath and I have to wake him up, gasping, from his "sleep." 

It's been like this for a while now. We requested a Sleep Study in 2012. 

His appointment has been made for February 2014. 

For two years we chased this appointment, asking at every PCM appointment, where we'd hear the same, "It's in the system" response.

Why is that?

Why is it that it took TWO YEARS for a simple appointment? 

Hopefully the #NewVA will work something out so that important appointments like this aren't two years in the making.

And in case you're wondering, this was written at 4:23 am, after a night of no sleep for me and my Veteran husband. He didn't even snore tonight, because he didn't even fall asleep.

But again, thank you for taking two years to show that you might (kind of? Not really.) CARE about my husband's health.

K.W.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

#DearVA My Own Illness...

#DearVA,

My own illness has made me take some time off from our posts, but tonight I am going to wrap up this long series on Gulf War Syndrome by focusing on our OEF and OIF Veterans.

Please #VA, explain why OEF and OIF Veterans are returning home with symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome?  The Federal Institute of Medicine says, "Preliminary data suggests that (chronic multisymptom illness) is occurring in Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as well."

So, the question comes down, how can we help our Veterans? Not just Gulf War Veterans, but OEF and OIF Veterans as well? Do we treat each symptom?

#NewVA, this falls in your lap, and first you must stop the denial of these Veterans. What they are experiencing is so very real. Second, you need to start treating them, the whole person, not just symptoms, but mental and physical health.

All, that is right, all of our Veterans deserve to have this issue looked at. Please don't push it off any longer.

PM
Caregiver
Spouse to a Gulf War Veteran


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


#Dear VA,

Yesterday, we got a letter in the mail from you. It was short but sparked some issues in my Veteran. 

The letter simply said, "We have received your application for benefits. It is our sincere desire to decide your case promptly. However, as we have a great number of claims, action on yours may be delayed."

Sounds simple enough but we have a few issues with this. First of all, this "application for benefits" and "claim" was not begun by us. We did not want to have to worry about the benefits that my husband earned.

Rather, YOU decided to reduce my husband's benefits. YOU started this new claim for reduction, on our behalf. Guess you probably have a great number of claims to reduce, hence ours being delayed. This is YOUR problem; YOUR instigation. While we didn't have a great rating, it certainly isn't as much each month as my husband would've brought in if he could work (and seriously, if he could work and I could work, we would be in a far better financial situation, so believe me when I say that this life is NOT our first choice), we were accepting of the rating that we did have, so for you to choose to reduce his rating, claiming that his condition has improved (when you didn't re-evaluate him to come to this conclusion) and then to send us this letter... salt on the wound.

So I'm wondering if this is going to be a normal thing for the #NewVA - deciding to reduce Veteran benefits, then send letters claiming a "sincere desire to decide your case." 

That statement brings us to the second issue with this letter. The wording. Having a "sincere desire to decide your case" on a reduction of benefits case that was started BY THE VA, certainly makes it seem as if the decision has already been made. 

So here we are, a Veteran and his family, where the Veteran is unable to work, the wife is a full time Caregiver and unable to work outside of the home, sitting on edge, wondering when the fight will end. Wondering when the VA will actually show "sincere desire" to care about Veterans.

K.W.

Monday, December 29, 2014

#DearVA Things I Wish.

#Dear VA 

Things I wish

1) I wish I wasn't the only one that understands the severity of my husband's disabilities but I'll accept this role forever as long as I am not continually tossed road blocks to getting him the care he NEEDS. When that happens I have to make a lot of noise and make everyone who stands between my husband and his needs, aware of exactly how disabled he is.

2) I wish my husband's doctors did not talk to me like I am an idiot. I only interact with and monitor him constantly even while at work (Skype) but I'll accept that treatment forever as long as my husband's voice is heard and respected.

3) I wish I didn't have to worry that one day my husband's little bit of income is going to be taken away one day but I'll accept that possibility for now because I will find a way to help us thrive so that one day we won't have to worry what the heck the VA does.

4) I wish my husband wasn't disabled. I wish he could walk like a normal person. I wish he could just get dressed, just walk up the stairs, just remember to do tasks, just enjoy his hobbies, just get in a vehicle and drive, just go and do work of any kind but he can't do any of that; and I'll accept that forever because disabled people have much to teach us but I know he wishes all of those things more than anything. More than you don't want to pay him to compensate for his injuries acquired at war that make work of any kind impossible; more than all of my wishing. My husband wishes he could just be normal and not disabled.

~M.E.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


#DearVA

            Yes, I'm writing you two letters today.  Because, in investigating your aforementioned screw up, I found another one.  Now, I am not a frustrated veteran's wife...I'm angry.  I am very, very angry.
            My husband filed for his disability in November of 2012.  We got the approval paperwork in October of 2013, which stated that his benefits were to be backdated to the date of original claim.  Now, to my understanding, that means a lump sum for the total amount of benefits from the date of filing to the date of approval.
            We have yet to see a dime of those benefits.  I understand that he has to pay back separation pay from when he came off Active Duty.  In the letter you sent us, we were told that you would continue taking his entire disability check until his separation pay minus taxes was paid back.  Well, that's already happened...and yet you're now telling us that you're taking the gross amount he was paid...instead of the net.  So my husband, who fought in the name of freedom...who has nightmares every night...who can't get stuck in traffic without having a panic attack...who looks for every exit before fully entering a room...has to pay taxes TWICE?!?!?!
            It's bad enough that you LIED about the dates he was enrolled.  But now you're taking the disability that YOU promised him.  You have effectively tied our hands and made it impossible for us to do anything better for our family.
            And would you, #DearVA, like to know what the worst part of this whole nightmare is?  The plain and simple fact that my husband's case is not unique.  It scares me to know how many heroes and their families are suffering, especially right at Christmas, because you can't get your stuff together.  You can't fulfill the promise made to these brave men and women.  Classic.

Sincerely,
Yet Another Veteran's Wife Having To Do Your Job For You And Pissed About It