Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Yes, I am a Combat PTSD Veteran's Wife, and a mother, and a...

On National PTSD Day, someone asked me, "Wow, how do you handle being the wife of someone with Combat PTSD every single day without help?"

To be frankly honest, after doing it for 6 years, that's the easiest part of my day!

I get up in the morning and am instantly a mom to our 7 year old son and our 3 dogs. I check to make sure Prince Charming's phone is on the charger, his wallet where I can find it later (without moving it) and his keys in their home along with his glasses. I take care of the house and manage all those "housewife" details I loathe to complete with every waking moment praying for the day I can afford for someone to do it for me. I stink at keeping house. I'm trying - it's a work in progress.

Meanwhile, while I'm juggling life, Prince Charming is slumbering away because he works nights. Lucky him. :)

Mid day I serve lunch, educate my son because we homeschool, and try to get a breath of fresh air while still trying to take care of the house. I make sure we address midday prayers, prep for school for next week, and try to figure out precisely what goo is stuck to my wood floor today.

Sometime in the mid-afternoon Prince Charming wakes up and I have the chance to give him a hug and tell him I love him. He goes out to the garage or down to the basement to work on whatever project his brain is wrapped up in this week.

I mop the floors, scrub the wash, battle soap scum and grime. I grade papers, play fetch with the puppy until my arm falls off (Who wanted a Retriever?? Oh yeah - me.). I thaw whatever we need for dinner, grade some papers, and make a science project in my kitchen.

He takes out his frustrations of PTSD, TBI, and general life issues on whatever he's working on be it one of our vehicles or some other creation he's attempting to keep running this week.

I make dinner, feed everyone, clean up after dinner, and get the leftovers in the fridge. I clean the kitchen, throw the dishes in one washer and the clothes in the other - with any luck in the correct one for the type - and try to shine my sink with FlyLady guilt.

He sits and watches MythBusters with our son.

I go downstairs, get him clean clothes for work, bring them up, make sure everything's ready for him to go to work (cell phone charged, etc.) and tell him when it's time for him to get ready. Once he leaves I quickly vacuum and handle any bedroom and bathroom cleaning since they're next door to each other. Then I get our son ready for bed, read classics, and sing lullabies. More prayer time. Off to bed the little guy goes.

I stay up late for him to call when things aren't going right at work while handling your lovely emails and FB needs. I plan next week's radio show and work on new articles for FOV. I research, I make Power Point presentations, I drink a LOT of coffee.

Eventually around 2-3 AM I go to bed and start my prayers and night time reading. This takes about an hour. I wake up at 8 to start it all over again.

The keen PTSD/TBI wife sees the reality in the above.

Juggling PTSD/TBI in your household isn't something you can stop your life for. You fit it into your day. You make it PART of your day.

I check his phone and find his stuff in the morning because I KNOW later he will ask me where it is. If I check, I know. I don't have to spend 15 minutes looking for it when he needs it in 3 minutes or he'll be late for work.

I wait to do loud cleaning until he's gone so it doesn't agitate his TBI and cause a headache making work impossible. If I want to get sleep, HE needs to get sleep and have a peaceful time at home.

When he wakes up, he's free to go out and work on projects or do what he needs to do - not what I need him to do. If he wants to help he'll stay local - but it's not a mandatory thing. The less I push, the more often he IS available.

His "quality time" with our son is watching tv. That's OKAY. It's better than no time at all.

One of the biggest keys to making PTSD and TBI work is to WORK AROUND it. Stop trying to make him fit the mold and fit the mold around HIM. It really does make life so much easier.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Violence, Sex, & PTSD - Thank you Mac McClelland for having so much courage!

I had the privilege about a week ago to "meet" (by telephone) a human rights reporter named Mac McClelland.  Mac was doing research on Sex & PTSD and contacted me because is one of the few resources available that discusses the topic.

Mac's first piece about the subject is out today... her personal story about her own struggle with PTSD... and sex... and the consequent mixture of violence and confusion and desperation that ensued.

In a world where too few people have the guts to talk about the many, many ways post-traumatic stress disorder can truly screw up your sex life, I am so proud to say that I know someone who has the personal strength to face the possible (unwarranted!) backlash and hurtful responses this piece could bring in exchange for standing up and making sure that the millions of people around the world who are dealing with PTSD for many reasons know that they are not "the only's"

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mac McClelland.  YOU ROCK!  And if anyone wants to send you a nasty gram, feel free to forward it to me... ;)

To read Mac's article, go here:


Brannan Vines
Proud wife of an OIF Veteran
Founder of - an organization dedicated to helping heroes and their loved ones survive and thrive after combat with real world info about PTSD, TBI, and more!

Yay! They listened!

It is 12:47 pm CST and the VA's main site now acknowledges National PTSD Awareness Day.  Yay!  They HEARD US!  Now, onward... let's spend the rest of the day making sure everyone else hears us!!

Press Release - VA Main Sites Give No Mention of National PTSD Awareness Day

Family Of a Vet, Inc. /

Contact: Brannan Vines                                                                           
E-mail:    Brannan -at-

PDF Version of this press release is available here:

Further Underlining Stigma for Heroes & Families Who Are Struggling Daily with This Illness

June 27, 2011, is National PTSD Awareness Day, a day intended to encourage awareness and education about post-traumatic stress disorder and help end the stigma associated with the disorder.

The Veterans Administration, our nation’s largest provider of combat-related PTSD care, is an integral component in the fight against PTSD-related stigma… a stigma which contributes to the loss of 18 veterans each day to suicide, to the failing of 2 out of every 3 impacted marriages, and to hundreds of thousands of caregivers and family members who are now struggling with Secondary PTSD.

However, as of 10:45 am CST on June 27th, the home page of the VA’s website (, the VA’s blog (, and the VA’s main Facebook page (, give no mention of this critical day. 

In a society where the majority of veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan (according to the VA’s own research - access the internet each and every day, this lack of coverage by the institution which is supposed to provide the majority of their PTSD-related care is an incredible oversight and one that further underlines and intensifies the stigma this day is supposed to fight against.

More information, including time stamped screen shots of the mentioned pages, is available on our blog at:

Family Of a Vet, is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping veterans and their families learn how to cope with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), TBI (traumatic brain injury) and life after combat through real-world, plain language education and resources for heroes, families, and communities.


For more information about this topic or to schedule an interview, please contact Brannan Vines, President and Founder of Family Of a Vet, Inc., by e-mail at Brannan -at-  Thank you.

Hello VA! No mention of National PTSD Awareness Day... SERIOUSLY?

Today, June 27th, 2011, is National PTSD Awareness Day.  It is also National HIV Testing Day.  And before I get any hate mail, don't get me wrong, I completely support and encourage HIV Testing.  The VA is the largest provider of HIV care in the nation.  I want our heroes and others to get tested!

BUT - at a time when we are loosing 18 Veterans a day to suicide, 2 out of every 3 Combat PTSD impacted marriages are failing, and hundreds of thousands of caregivers are struggling with Secondary PTSD, don't you think that National PTSD Awareness Day also deserves at least a mention?

There is no mention as of 9:30 am CST on June 27, 2011, ANYWHERE on the VA's homepage about National PTSD Awareness Day.  It's as if we... our heroes... our families... don't even exist.  AND this further underlines the reason awareness is needed.  HIV, a physical illness, is given attention.  While post-traumatic stress disorder, AN ILLNESS THAT ALSO KILLS isn't even given a sentence... not the slightest acknowledgement.

COME ON VETERAN'S ADMINISTRATION.  Don't be part of the problem.  Be a part of the SOLUTION!  Tell our heroes and families and nation that PTSD is important and worthy of notice.

I encourage everyone to go to the Veterans Administration / Veterans Health Administration Facebook page where they FINALLY posted something about National PTSD Awareness Day a little while ago and post a comment requesting that it be added to the VA website homepage.

It is 12:47 pm CST and the VA's main site now acknowledges National PTSD Awareness Day.  Yay!  They HEARD US! 

The VA Website at 9:30 CST on 6-27-2011.  Even after cycling through all of the different screens, there is NOTHING about post-traumatic stress disorder on the home page.  Sort of crushing, to say the least.

 VA Blog (  No mention as of 9:50 am CST.

 VA - VHA (Veterans Health Administration) Facebook page.  After some Veterans begin to scream... they finally list something at around 9:45 am CST.

 VA's main Facebook page.  No mention as of 9:57 am CST (even though National HIV Testing Day info has been posted since June 23rd).

Sunday, June 26, 2011

"Home and Away" - a book about war, from the battlefield and the homefront

We're going to start adding book reviews to the blog when we can.  We receive enough questions about the topic that it seems like it would be helpful :) (and besides, sometimes it's just plain fun!).

In the interest of full disclosure - We were introduced to the book below by Nancy & David's publicist.  We are not, however, being paid for the review (but will make a commission on any Amazon sales generated if you click the link at the bottom to buy the book).  So, hint, hint, if you do decide to buy the book, please do so through us :)  Thanks!!

A special thanks to Aimee Wisyanski for writing this review!  

It was not so long ago in American history, that prominent American families sent their sons to become officers and leaders in the United States military.  Today, only 1% of American society is currently serving in the military and on the front lines of the War on Terror.  Home and Away is the story of a husband, father, and lawyer with a degree from Harvard, who heeded the call to serve when he read about a man and father his age being wounded in Iraq. 

No one probably thinks much of a lawyer going off to war.  When we think of lawyers, we think of ambulance chasers or the prosecutors on Law and Order.  It would be easy to take this book with a grain of salt and think, a lawyer went to Iraq, so what?  However, Home and Away shows the important role that lawyers play in the prosecution of military action; they help soldiers with legal issues, advise commanders and individual soldiers on the rules of engagement, and as David French did, run detainee operations to ensure the fair treatment of enemy prisoners of war.  But the themes in this book transcend the story of a lawyer at war while his family stays behind.  The book tells the story of a family at war and the struggles and challenges that all military families go through when one member of the family unit is deployed in a combat zone. 

The story in Home and Away is unique in that it tells the story of both sides of the equation when a soldier goes off to war; from the perspective of the soldier himself and from the perspective of his wife.  On one side we read about David’s experiences as a soldier on the ground in Iraq; his fear when traveling down roads known for IEDs, the camaraderie and affection for his fellow soldiers, and unfortunately, the pain of losing friends on the battlefield.  From Nancy we see the struggles of raising children alone and trying to work and maintain her own identity, helping the children through the fears about their father’s safety, and her own personal struggle of battling a sense of uncertainty, but rising above those challenges to become independent in dealing with everyday issues of life, such as the break down of a car or dealing with the family finances.  The tale of David and Nancy are experiences with which all military families can identify and understand as it portrays the sacrifices, fears, and difficulties of deployments to combat zones. 

The book would be useful for the 99% of society that is not serving to read, as it shows what is behind every service member’s call to serve their country; a sense of duty and patriotism, but most of all, the desire to serve with their brothers and sisters in arms. Home and Away also shows through Nancy, the uneasiness about a spouse’s decision to serve in the military, especially in a combat zone and her decision to support her husband despite her unease.  A lot of military wives can sympathize with Nancy’s feelings, especially the wives and spouses of those who chose to sign up for military service following 9/11.  By the end of the book the reader sees the difficulty in keeping a family together across great distances and long deployments, which will garner more understanding in readers who do not or have not served in the military.  Home and Away is definitely recommended reading for the everyday reader!


There are times in this life that I feel so very alone.  PTSD, TBI, and life with my dear hero kind of have a built-in isolating effect.  While "normal" people have an easy time sharing day-to-day moments and events with the people in their life, it takes so much more explaining when you're in this "world"... so often I just don't do it.  There are few people who get all the way in to see the heartaches, worries, frustrations, and sadness that I somewhat successfully hide.

But, the result of that isolation means that feeling a friendship slip away... one of the few "safe" places in my world... hurts more deeply than I could ever actually dare to let myself feel.  And, unfortunately, I'm in that situation now.  I don't really blame the friend.  It's not easy be part of my world, even from a spectator position.  But tonight, and really in the past few weeks, the weight of that missing piece of my tiny "no holes barred" relationship pool is just making me so sad.

I miss my simpler life... a life where it was fun to be my friend... a life where I was a better, not so distracted friend.  Sometimes the cost of all my husband and I and our family has been through seems much steeper and more costly then I even want to admit.  I respect and value my husband's service, and that of every hero who has served... but tonight I hate Iraq, I hate PTSD, I hate TBI, I hate the million little things that add up to this feeling... this crushing, unbearable feeling... this inescapable reality that a lifeline is being cut and there's nothing more I can do to stop it.

But tomorrow, I'll put my happy face back on.  I'll keep going and pretending I'm okay until hopefully I am.  There's no time for this... no room for this.  After all, I'm the "stable" one in our household... the parent that is level-headed and "normal"... the wife that is also a caregiver and has to set aside feelings in exchange for reassuring her hero... the liaison to our extended family who is always on hand to make sure everyone knows that everything is "fine".  I'll smile.  I'll nod.  I'll hold on by the skin of my teeth.  And maybe, somehow, this won't hurt so much the next day.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Please Help Find This Missing Hero - JASON TODD GALT

*Update* Jason has been FOUND!  Full details in this blog post:

Please help find Jason Todd Galt.  Look closely at the photos.  If you have any contacts near Colorado Springs, CO (the last place he was sighted) please pass this information along to them. 

Here, also, is a printable flier that you can download and save, print, e-mail, etc. -

As we approach National PTSD Awareness Day on June 27th, this story drives home the reason we must each do our part to increase awareness and resources for our nation's heroes.  NO VETERAN should be left without adequate care... care that continues, no matter what, until the hero can be safely helped to re-begin life on his or her own.

Here are the details from his very concerned mother.  Please, please, PLEASE do everything you can to help her locate her son.  He's in trouble!  And it's to our own shame if any of us turn our backs and don't help in every way we can think of!!

My son is an Iraq War vet who received the Purple Heart for injuries sustained when his tank was blown up. He is suffering from PTSD and bipolar disorder. The army discharged him without helping him in September 2010. No one in our family has seen or heard from him since then. He has been reported missing to the Colorado Springs police, but we have heard nothing. Twice before Jason went missing I went out to CO (I live in WV) to try to get Jason some help. He was so paranoid that he could not get out of his apartment on his own. I took him to Ft. Carson and they put him in the hospital for 2 months. When he got out of the hospital he wasn't doing any better and they discharged him without any further help. From there he went missing. I was told a couple times that he was seen at a soup kitchen there in Colorado Springs.  I hired a private investigator but they nor the police have really been very helpful in finding him. God bless you! If you recognize his face and may possibly know where he is, please contact his family at 304-377-1306. Thank you and God bless you!

Victoria Hensley
P. O. Box 26
Ravenswood, WV 26164
hensley0825 -at-

Jason Todd Galt

Jason receiving his Purple Heart.

Jason recovering in Iraq.

MAD or SAD The Family Vacation and PTSD

My parents who are in their eighties notified everyone a year ago that they had made reservations at a resort in Oregon for a family vacation.  Anyone who could not make it needed to let them know 30 days ahead so they could cancel any unneeded accommodations.

My husband returned from his six day Golf trip with the boys and when the topic came up about the family vacation (now two weeks away) he informed me that he didn’t want to go. 

I understand – a week with my mom who has beginnings of dementia and a tendency of frequent anger outbursts is not fun to be around.  My husband was the target on one occasion and once is plenty for both of us.  My sisters kids, 4 years old  and 18 months,  are well behaved darling boys.  But they are kids and that involves some amount of crying and simply being kids.  And then there’s my niece who talks in her outside voice at all times and has an opinion on everything.  It’s always the  opposite of everyone else, quite intentionally I think, just to keep the pot stirred up . And then there’s  my brother-in-law who is in his own world of stress right now, and his problems  envelope the entire family in stress.

When I asked my husband, “What shall I tell my parents?”

He came up with a lie about going to visit his kids.

“No, I’m am not going to lie.  I will just tell them that I don’t want you to go. 

“Well, “  he said,  “ that’s an even bigger lie!”

I didn’t respond.  Because in my heart and mind I knew that it was not a lie.  I knew that if he went I would be on edge knowing that he would do something to set my mom off.  Not intentionally - but there was no doubt in my mind that something would happen.

My chest has been tied in a knot for days now  because  I’m so MAD.    At the same time it’s difficult  to hold the tears back because I’m so SAD. 

So sad to have to have this reality.  Sad,  that I have a husband with PTSD and that  we both  are afraid to go places that might “trigger” his PTSD.  So sad that my family does not understand the world that I live in 24/7. They have no idea what PTSD is, and have no desire to learn anything about it.  To them it is a “made-up” problem and if they believe that, then that’s the way it is.
~ Debbie Sprague 
Proud and Sad Wife of a Vietnam Vet

He's Still My Superman

 When I met my husband, Nick, in 2007, I couldn't believe that someone like him would ever want to be with someone like me. Almost one year, to the day,we were married. I had already known about his baggage and he knew of mine. Our lives seemed instantly perfect. He was everything I had ever dreamed of and more, until the deployment came. 
Nick was deployed in January 2009 from Ft. Drum NY. We hadn’t even been married a year when it was time for him to ship off. I was still living in NV with my family when he left, but we lingered on the phone until the last possible second. In the days leading up to the deployment he made it clear that he was scared. Not of dying or being injured, but that I would leave him because it would be too hard for me. At the time I recall the words “your nuts don’t think that way” rolling off my tongue so easily. In retrospect, I should have actually taken the time out to validate his fear with a reality of my own.  But how was I to know the reality of a war zone and what he would see could have such an impact on him?  
 In April he suffered a rollover accident causing a thoracic spine injury and his TBI (traumatic Brain Injury). In the months to follow he would strike 3 IED’s causing more severity to his back and head. He would call and complain about the pain he was in, but there was nothing I could do. No comfort I could offer. He would go to the medic for some kind of relief from the constant pain, but they offered nothing as well. The unit he was with made it clear that if “You can hold a gun, you can stay and fight!” But Nick could barely hold his gun, and barely hold all his gear. He was in a constant state of suffering, and they told him it was all normal and he would get over it. 
 In January 2010 my Superman came home! I can hardly explain the feeling I had when I saw him for the first time after the deployment was over. I was so happy to have my husband home; but little did I know I wasn't getting the same man back who left. I was getting a new person who resembled my husband. All the same I was thrilled to the point of tears, superman was home. 
 In March of 2010 Nick was admitted into the TBI clinic here at Ft. Drum. He began to accumulate a long list of appointments and prescriptions. A profile was made for him telling his commander that he no longer could perform his duties as a soldier. Slowly I watched my husband sink into depression. At Night he would shout in his sleep things I could not understand while he tossed and turned. Our sex life became nonexistent. He became an angry man when he would have to deal with the day to day task of being a father and husband. Who was this man in my house? Where did the man I married go? Nick was rapidly declining and we were all attached to him. This did not work for me. 
In June 2010, I became a woman on a mission to get my husband back. I was no longer taking anymore crap from the army and their “quick fixes”. My husband had missed our children’s birthdays, fun with friends, even just being Nick was a hard task for him to accomplish. I was done and going to take the situation over myself. I wanted my husband back, and he was a fight worth having.  
In August 2010 Nick overdosed due to his doctors not monitoring the prescriptions they had put him on. Nick left for work at normal time to formation. They were having a drug test that morning, according to everyone who was there Nick was in great spirits. After nicks “test” he went back to his office and just fell asleep. Around 1:00pm Nick called me telling me he had been asleep all day with no recollection of even waking up that morning. He had no clue how he got to work, and he was feeling dizzy, weak, and his heart was about to “burst from his chest”.  Needless to say I flew to him and picked him up from work. First phone call was to his doctor to get Nick seen ASAP. Second phone call was his chain of command for not keeping an eye on him. For letting him sleep on the job and not giving a **** about him or what he did. It was after this incident Nick was transferred to the WTU.
Nick is now going through a medical retirement; the worst we feel is behind us. He was “diagnosed” with moderate PTSD, TBI, cluster migraines due to too many blasts, thoracic spine injury, 2 slipped disks,  degenerative spine disease, and bad joints in his knees from jumping into trenches and such. Since being in WTU I am slowly seeing my “Superman” come back to life.  I have come to realize that the Nick I knew pre-deployment will never fully return, and I’m starting to be ok with that. I am lucky enough to fall in love with the same man twice, and I know him better than anyone. I know he needs me to help him and navigate him through some of life’s difficulties.  I can see PTSD rearing its ugly head when we go anywhere and I know when to remove him from the situation. When his TBI becomes an issue I always have a “safe spot” ready for him to hide away too.  No symptom is too small and is always treated as first priority, and in return he is able to be an active participant in our family.  
Nick is my Superman. In no way would I have the courage to fly overseas and be willing to sacrifice. Like Superman he went to defeat the bad guys, to save us from the evil of today. So now it’s my turn to rescue him. To be his knight in shining armor, to save him from the loud noises, bangs, crashes, screams, and everything else he fears. He is my Superman, and He will always be my hero.
    ~ A. McCrillis 

Friday, June 24, 2011

My Hero's Struggle

In honor of PTSD Awareness Day, June 27, Alice James decided to share her experiences with us as she came into this life after deployments and his discharge.  Thank you, Alice.
 A Veteran's Wife with no Military background
 I met my husband in 2008 about a year after he was discharged from the Marine Corps. He spent 10 years in the Marines and was deployed to Kosovo and twice to Iraq

When I first met my hero he was fun and active and we had a great time together. We had a deep connection and bond almost instantly. Neither of us had felt so close to another person before. I was a little hesitant to get into a serious relationship with my hero because early on I found out he had already been married 3 times and he was just 30 years old! I had never dated a military member before and I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. 

We continued to date and slowly the signs of PTSD started to emerge but my hero was able to control them well. There were a few outbursts and fights but nothing that truly concerned me. He also had difficulty getting and keeping a job, but things started looking up when my hero was hired as a Private Investigator and started to excel in this position. He had difficulty sleeping and would be crabby when he was hungry or tired. He also rarely talked about his 10 years in the Marine Corps or anything about his combat tours in other countries. 

I just thought all of this was part of his personality. Especially since I did not know him before combat and it didn't seem to be a problem at the time. 

We got engaged Christmas Eve of 2008.

Then my husband was involved in a car accident in January of 2009. This is when he began to spiral out of control. My husband was diagnosed with Spondylolithesis. His L5-S1 disc had slipped forward in the car accident and was causing him a lot of pain. My hero started to go through bouts of depression, anger and anxiety.  Most of the time would not open up to me about how he was feeling but would lash out at me and others...seemingly for no reason. 

I was also scared to bring him out in public with me for fear he would “flip out.”  For example if we went out to a movie and someone bumped his chair from behind he would loudly say “Excuse You!” He explained to me that even a little bump would cause him a great deal of pain. I would try to explain that he needs to think before he reacts because I highly doubt the person intentionally caused him pain. He seemed to think that things like this were personal attacks on him and would then have an outburst. Also when we went out it would just escalate. If there was one incident then there most likely would be more throughout the day so it made me less likely to invite him out with me if I had errands to run. 

He would get upset at our dog for not “listening” to him when he wanted to come back inside from walking her. 

My husband then had surgery in March of 2009. We were excited and hopeful that this would heal his pain and he would be able to move forward in his life and chosen career. Unfortunately things only got much worse. My husband was no longer able to conceal the symptoms of PTSD because of the immense amount of pain he was in. He got into an argument with his mother and sister and he was essentially estranged from them for a long time. The argument started on Facebook so some of his friends and family contacted me telling me I needed to control my husband. I was working a 40 hour+ work week and coming home to care for my husband after was I supposed to control his anger and aggression too?

About this time we started to talk about counseling but my husband was completely against it. Things continued to get worse and my husband would get upset at seemingly minor issues than lash out at me.

One night we got into a huge argument, I can not remember what started it, and my husband berated me and went through a list of things that I have done that hurt our relationship...all of this was news to me and he had never mentioned any of the issues before that day. Once he was done he went into our spare room and started playing video games. I was not done and wanted to address the issues. I marched in the room and started to yell right back at my husband when he appeared to be ignoring me and deeply involved in the video game I lost it and pulled back my fist... I truly felt in that moment I could punch him in the face. I didn't and he laughed at me which only angered me further so I decided the only way to make him listen is to give him back his engagement ring. He accepted it back and packed up his clothes and left our home. 

I was devastated and inconsolable. He would not answer the phone or anything and I had no idea where he was going, he was still estranged from his mother and sister and I didn't know of any close friends he would turn to.

Luckily he went to see my brother-in-law who was able to calm him down and he eventually came back home when he cooled off and we talked it out. To date this is the biggest argument we have ever had and I can not tell you what it was about or why it started. We again talked about counseling but my hero was still hesitant because he did not want to pay for that especially on our reduced income since he was injured and on disability. He also didn't want to drive all the way into the local VA hospital and spend all day waiting for an appointment.

I searched and searched for any VA programs to assist us. Finally after months of searching I found the Vet Center a few months before our wedding. The Vet Center was a god send. We started counseling and my hero wanted me to be present to make him feel more comfortable. It's funny because we still go together but it's not so much about us as it is about my hero and how to cope with PTSD. Now that he recognizes the signs and realizes how much happier he can be in his life he is thankful that we were able to find a place to help us. We have been going to counseling for about a year and my husband has also submitted a claim for PTSD compensation and he has admitted he needs medication to lengthen the fuse on his anger. He also recently started going to group therapy. He is the only one in group who is an OIF Veteran, everyone else is a Vietnam Veteran, and every week he is amazed that the Vietnam Veterans are suffering from the same issues that my hero suffers from. 

We are still working to find a medication that will help to lengthen his fuse on his anger and dealing with the VA medical side can be a struggle in itself. Unfortunately my husband's injuries still have not resolved, as his disc did not fuse from the first surgery and we are working through a lawyer to get a second surgery, also a struggle. There are a lot of triggers in my hero's life but together we are working through it. Luckily we have had the support of the Vet Center to help us navigate the VA Medical System. Our relationship is much stronger and less volatile now.  In fact we are expecting a baby girl any day now.  This will be the first child for both of us. I am sure that there will be new struggles and triggers with raising a child and we are happy to have the Vet Center to help us with that as well.
~ Alice James

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Anxiously Waiting

PTSD Awareness Day falls on June 27. In hopes of spreading awareness to people, we will sharing stories and experiences on here that are based around PTSD. Jo-Ann Morrison has has willingly shared her experiences. Thank you, Jo-Ann!

My husband left the forces 7 years before I met him.  We have been together for 11 years.  He has always had trouble sharing information of any kind with me.  It has been a battle throughout our relationship to keep him engaged in our family as he has frequent urges to run away and hide via alcohol use, pot use or by physically leaving.  Three years ago he finally agreed to be assessed and was diagnosed with PTSD.  He has been off work for the last two years and claims that he has been engaged in "desensitization therapy" for about the last 6 months. He is receiving a monthly allowance from VA on the condition that he attend treatment.

About three weeks ago, I went into our driveway to drive our 8 year old daughter to school.  Our boat was gone.  I freaked out thinking it was stolen so I called him (he was supposed to be out shooting with a friend). He told me that he sold it.  I was not pleased.  Later that afternoon I sent texts him to ask him if he was going to pick up our daughter after school as we had agreed.  He resonded back with "no". Again I was not pleased.  He took no calls after that and did not come home.  I found out from a friend three days later that he had moved out of town and was now living in the bush.  I was shocked and devastated.  He had said nothing about being unhappy or wanting to leave. 

I was pretty worried given that he had told me awhile ago that three of the six guys who were on a particular mission with him had died by suicide.  He told we a couple of weeks before he left that another had recently died. I took steps to verify that he was not suicidal by contacting his family and the counsellors who apparently work with him at the VA.  His mom said that she did not need this right now and told me that in her opinion our marriage should be over, asked me to encourage my daughter to call her and told me that they want nothing to do with me outside of my being the mom of her grand daughter.  No doubt he has been feeding them misinformation for months.  They knew that he moved but would not tell me. 

To keep a long story short, I have since learned via the bits of info I have gotten via paper trails and from others that he had obviously planned to leave. He has been depositing his income into a separate account for the last 4 months.  He has, in total, taken about $15,000 in family assets and cash during that time.  I am pretty sure that most of this money is gone because he took more out and sold the boat just before he left.  He had taken "trips" to visit people during the weeks before he left.  He lied to my face several times.  He wasn't visiting anyone.  He was setting up his escape nest.  A change of address notice arrived two days before he left.  He told me it was an error. 

We have had some interaction since he left.  I found him and basically harassed him and those who knew where he was to get him to contact me.  He has been adamant that I was planning to leave him.  This is not true.  I have no idea how he came to believe this or why he believes this.  He has been telling others this for months apparently but has said absolutely nothing to me about being unhappy nor has he asked me anything about my intentions regarding our marriage. 

The counselling staff have listened to me but can tell me nothing due to confidentiality.  He told me when I was first able to contact him that he had gone to where he is to be in a treatment program.  I believed him.  It turns out that there is no program.  He says he is ill, confused and that he keeps thinking about people getting shot and there being nothing he can do about it.

He told me four days ago that he wants to come back and try, then told me two days later that he doesn't know.  My life has been turned completely upside down.  It feels like I am dying inside. 

I love him and want him so much but I have, for reasons unknown to me, become his sworn enemy. He has lied to me so much during the last several months.  He has attacked me personally via our finances.  He has abandoned me and our child. He has been telling people I care about that I want to do him harm for several months.  His absence and current "I don't know" attitude is killing me.  I don't know what to do, how to act.  I think this is PTSD but it could be that he is simply being a big jerk?  This behaviour goes way beyond anything he has done before in our marriage. However, he has a child from a previous relationship that he walked away from similarly about 5 years before we met.  Family counselling has been arranged via VA but he needs to show up for that to happen. 

By the way, he said he is returning tomorrow - and tomorrow is my birthday.  Return for what purpose?  I don't know because he won't tell me.  I am trying to have faith.  I feel fortunate that he has never been violent but I am very very afraid of being rejected and further attacked emotionally.  That is how my day is going.  Freaking PTSD. ......
~Jo-Ann Morrison

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

One of those days...

It's one of those days, one of those days where I don't know if I can hang on for a second longer, one of those days when I just want to pack my stuff and get out better yet make him of those days where I wonder if I should go to school on the side in case I can't take it and do of those days when I want to cry but no tears are left to cry. Once of those day he acts like he hates me, well when he is awake anyway, one of those days when every single thing falls on me, one of those days when my 6 year old gets mad and scream ITS NOT FAIR and I want to join her in her "lifes not fair" hissy fit. One of those days when I mourn the death of my husband though the guy that came back in my husband's body is right here in this house. One of those  days when I mourn what once was and what I thought was going to be that never will. One of those days when I have to force myself to get up and do all that is expected of me and more because my body is so full of grief that it wants to shut down....

The Long Road Home

Sean and I have been married for 15 years.  We have three children, Jordan age 20, Erin 19, and Keeley 17.  Sean has been enlisted in the US Army Reserve since June 1988.  During that time he has deployed in support of Operation Desert Storm (Saudi Arabia), Operation Joint Guard (Hungary/Bosnia), and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Sean was injured on March 25, 2006 while he was standing in a parking lot with a group of soldiers in Camp Anaconda, Balad, Iraq.  The warning sirens were blaring, but for the wrong section of the base.  Several mortars were marched in from just beyond the fence.  The first blast hit at the perimeter fence approximately 80 yards away. The second was about 50 yards out and the third around 20 yards out. The fourth round landed within 10-15 feet of where they were standing.  Sean reports that he was pelted with rocks, saw stars and bright light, and may have been unconscious for a brief time.  Sean says following the blast he was dizzy, had a headache, marked hearing loss, had light sensitivity, and his night vision was significantly decreased.  These symptoms have not improved over time.

This is what the doctors believe was his most significant injury.  There were also many occasions when mortars and rockets were fired into the ASP (ammunition supply point).  He tells of many nights when he wouldn't hear the blast or siren, but would wake up on the floor of his hut having been thrown from his bunk, or rolling for cover.

The first week of April 2006 Sean became extremely sick.  He was vomiting and had diarrhea constantly. He went to sick call and was treated for dehydration and was prescribed Pepto Bismal and a clear liquid diet for 72 hours.  Sean made multiple trips to sick call in late April and early May as he was rapidly losing weight, and no relief from the diarrhea.  The doctor tried Prilosec to see if he might have an ulcer, but that did not help.  He was eventually diagnosed with salmonella poisoning and put on an antibiotic.  The symptoms did not improve, so the antibiotics were increased.  During this time, Sean dropped almost 40 pounds.  For the next month Sean went to sick call, and worked normal shifts in between bouts of diarrhea and vomiting.  He grew weaker and weaker, unable to sleep due to abdominal pain. Finally, in mid-June his commander took him to the doctor and insisted that something be done.  The decision was made to send him to Germany for further testing and treatment.

After a two-week stay in Germany, Sean returned to the Iraqi theater.  Doctors were unable to find a cause for the persistent diarrhea and vomiting and surmised that his symptoms were due to the severity of his salmonella infection. 

In August 2006 Sean was med evaced from Iraq to Landstuhl again as he was sick as a dog and unable to work.  After a battery of tests, Sean was diagnosed with clostridium dificile (c-diff) infection.  He was put on a new antibiotic and treated for extreme dehydration.  C-diff can occur when a person is taking large doses of antibiotics, so therefore, the c-diff developed due to the treatment for salmonella.  Just as the salmonella went undetected, so did the c-diff which should have shown up in previous tests.
Following another two-week stay at Landstuhl, it was decided that Sean would return to the US for treatment at Walter Reed, however, due to a medical record mix-up he was sent to a military base and placed in medical holdover.  Sean’s medical care on base consisted of 15 minutes with his doctor every one to two weeks.  He was horribly sick, had daily migraines, on narcotics, severely depressed, and having constant diarrhea.  The doctor said, “Take your pain meds and you will be fine.”  He had to take taxis to pharmacies in other towns because the base hospital didn’t carry what he needed.  He was confined to quarters.  I could not get anyone to talk to me despite the release of information he signed for me.  Even the base chaplain took two weeks to get over and visit him.  With a full-time job and three kids (and a husband who was 9 ½ hours away assuring me it wasn’t that bad) I was not able to be with him.  During this time he repeatedly told his case manager he was having!

PTSD symptoms, and it was dismissed.  The psychiatrist told him “You’re the poster boy for mental health!”  It took seven Congressional complaints to get Sean a referral to a GI specialist and finally a referral to Walter Reed for evaluation.  Conditions on base were so bad Sean was told if I quit filing complaints, he would get medical treatment.  He was called a whiner and a complainer and told he made the doctor’s job hell.

After four months, Sean was finally approved for evaluation at Walter Reed at the Deployment Health Clinical Center.  We spent a week in Washington, D.C. for his evaluation.  At the end of the week he was diagnosed with “Medically Unexplained Physical Symptoms (MUPS).”  He had chronic pain in his abdomen, intermittent diarrhea, chronic migraines, visual disturbances, constant nausea and dizziness, along with depression, anxiety, anger and sleep issues.  When we met with the psychologist, his PTSD symptoms were dismissed once again and chalked up to the experiences he had suffered over the prior nine months. 

In February 2007 Sean traveled to Washington D.C. for a three week Specialized Care Program for pain management at the Walter Reed Deployment Health Clinical Center.  The doctors at Walter Reed recommended that due to Sean's lingering health problems he apply for CBHCO (Community Based Health Care Organization), a military program which allows soldiers to return home for their medical care, while remaining on active duty.  At the conclusion of the program, Sean returned to the military base where he remained for an additional three months for a total of nine months.  He was given three choices:  go home on CBHCO orders (he was denied as he had too many medications and would need long-term care), begin the medical board process (this offer was later revoked as MUPS did not have a code for the MEB/PEB), or return home as he was, return to his civilian job, and seek care at the VA.  As a firefighter and paramedic, Sean was in no way healthy enough to return to work, but the, Army powers that be at the hospital told him, “It’s not our job to get you well enough for your civilian job, just to get you well enough to deploy or serve the Army.”

So Sean came home in May 2007 and went back to work on light duty until he eventually had to take a medical retirement from the fire department due to his chronic pain, memory problems, confusion, decision-making problems, and anger issues.  We started care with the VA in June 2007 and he went through extensive GI workups without any concrete results.  He was diagnosed with IBS, and chronic residual abdominal pain due to multiple long-term infections.  He had what they called a “rapid transfer bowel” meaning whatever he ate went right through him.  He was having migraines daily and a constant need for sleep.  I was repeatedly telling every doctor, nurse, and psychiatrist we saw that he was not right.  He had too much pain, was angry, depressed, couldn’t attend or process information, he couldn’t remember conversations, was having weird episodes where he was non-responsive, having nightmares and lashing out at us.  Eventually his psychiatrist diagnosed him with PTSD and made !
a recommendation for some more intensive treatment (that was 2007 . . . he was finally sent to inpatient treatment more than two years later).

Finally, in December 2007 a nurse at the VA asked the magic set of questions:  "Did you ever experience a fall?", "Were you near any blasts or explosions?";"Were you ever unconscious?" Sean was answered yes to each of the questions.  The PA sat down with us and explained that he suspected some of Sean's symptoms were due to a concussion, or multiple concussions, he may have experienced from his falls and exposure to blasts from mortars.  Sean was referred to the polytrauma unit at the VA Hospital for additional evaluation and testing.  In January 2008, Sean was diagnosed with a mild TBI due to blast injury. 

Now that we had a diagnosis, I thought we would make progress and things would get better.  How wrong I was!  Throughout 2008 Sean’s vision slowly decreased.  Sensitivity to light, photophobia, no night vision, blurred vision, double vision, nystagmus (“bouncing” of the eyes), and decreased peripheral vision.  He also was losing sensitivity to light touch in his extremities.  In December 2008 Sean experienced stabbing eye pain and marked loss in his vision, only able to see colors and shapes and shadows.  Steroid treatment, multiple tests and doctor’s appointments later, he was declared legally blind with vision of 20/400.  He spent three months at the Hines VA Blind Rehab Center in the beginning of 2009. 

He spent the last 2 ½ months of that year in the St. Cloud VA PTSD inpatient program.  Sean suffers from night terrors, night sweats, flashbacks, “vacant” episodes, anxiety, depression, and anger.  He is on high doses of medication to control his symptoms.  He smells smoke, hears sirens, and hears and sees people who are not there.  He gets out of bed in the night to run to the bunker.  He cannot be in the dark.  He cannot be left alone for long periods of time.

I took a leave of absence from my first grade teaching position in February 2010 and resigned in December 2010.  While we have a VA clinic in our hometown, the majority of Sean’s appointments are at the VA hospital three hours away.  We travel weekly much of the time, and have additional appointments for his MEB.  Prior to my leave of absence I started taking Sean to work with me.  We were having problems with him making multiple phone calls to me during work, confusion during the day and/or not knowing what  he had done all day, and he was falling more frequently.  One day I came home to find him walking on the roof!  The next day he became a volunteer at school.  The kindergarten teachers quickly claimed him and he has been working with them a couple hours a week ever since.  Eventually, I could not keep up with the kids, Sean, work, and our travel schedule and I took a leave of absence.  Although it was a difficult decision, I resigned at the end of the year. 
This will allow me to continue to be available for Sean and while we work together to figure out where our lives will go from here.

We have been working toward his MEB/PEB since 2007 and just last week were told this is the beginning of the process.  Wow.  We are waiting on a referral to the National Intrepid Center of Excellence which might give us a definitive diagnosis (the Army doesn’t believe the VA, hence the MEB hold up) we can submit to both the DoD and the VA along with an updated treatment plan.  It would be reassuring to know that we are doing everything we can to help him recover as fully as possible. 

At present Sean is legally blind, his TBI has been upgraded to moderate, he has chronic migraines, chronic abdominal pain, IBS, persistent dizziness and nausea, sleep apnea, tinnitus, depression, anxiety, and PTSD.  He has decreased sensation in his arms and legs and poor balance (falls at least once per week).  He suffers from night sweats and night terrors and within the last year has started seeing people and hearing voices that are not there (or has started admitting to them). He is on a hefty medication regimen which helps to keep the symptoms in check, but never fully relieves any of them.  We have tried several times to alter and/or reduce the medications, but it has been disastrous every time.

We are working with his psychologist to get him on a daily schedule and work reminders in throughout the day to build independence.  At times he is more like a child, so needy and clingy that when I do get a break, it is short lived. 

Fortunately, we now have an excellent case manager at the VA and were assigned a Federal Recovery Coordinator last year.  They are both wonderful at their jobs, but sometimes it feels like too little too late.  Where was the help when I was Googling every diagnosis, researching TBI and PTSD and writing my own treatment plans as I would write behavior plans in the classroom?  Where was the support when he came home from his unit?  Where was the support from our family and friends?  No one understood what we were going through.

We have a lot of uncertainty in our lives.  We no longer have our career paths, our children are growing and will move on.  We don’t know what is in store for us, and that scares me to death.  We have been battling for five years and I am still looking for the “answer.”  Guess I haven’t reached “acceptance” yet.  Sean still asks why this happened, why he is like this, why he didn’t die, why he has to live this way.  I get stuck on the losses:  two careers, his military career, friends, relationships, damage to relationships with the children, loss of our marriage relationship as it transformed to caregiver/patient, activities, time with our kids as we traveled for appointments, independence, self-confidence. . .

I read and read and hope I will find something that brings me peace and understanding, but I always come away feeling like something is missing. 

We have had the opportunity to testify before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations regarding the “Seamless Transition” between DoD and VA in January 2010.  We have since been invited to speak at the Canadian Embassy twice at symposiums focused on Wounded Warriors and Caregivers.  Things I never would have thought I would do.  Each experience is more rewarding than the last.  Our hope is that by sharing our story and our struggles we can bring about change that will serve others

Sean is starting to get involved with the VFW and DAV through a friend who is also a member.  He attended the VA Winter Sports Clinic last March and then Lakeshore’s Operation Alpha last summer.  He enjoys these adventures and attended a sports clinic last July with the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) where he became interested in tandem cycling.  He went to a “Learn to Cycle” camp and then competed in the Rocky Mountain State games where he and his tandem pilot won a gold medal!  This week he is riding in the USA Cycling National Championships in Augusta, GA.  My son and I will fly out to watch the race on Saturday.  Sean has found a sponsor who helped him purchase a stationary bike and pays for an Olympic coach to work with him online.  Sean has ridden 3,000 miles since December!!
Unfortunately, he is still waiting on the VA to provide his tandem bike. . . he has people in town willing to ride with him, but it’s a numbers game.  This has been HUGE for Sean and a wonderful opportunity for him!  It’s exciting to see him interested in something again. 

I know there is hope for our future and like I tell Sean, “We’ve got 40 or 50 years left in us, we will have to find a way to live with this!”  I believe that by raising awareness of PTSD we can do a service to all our veterans and their families.  Things have changed a lot over the past five years and although sometimes it feels like that change is painfully slow, what I see happening is good.  Every single person who is able to get help where we couldn’t is one less person left behind.

~ Melissa Johnson

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day, Dear Heroes!

For many of our nation's heroes, especially those who are faced with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and TBI (traumatic brain injury), parenthood can be even more challenging than normal.  There are hundreds of thousands of veterans who have left the battlefield to face a new war at home, a war that requires daily bravery, can drain their mental and physical strength, and seems often to be a battle they will never win... and in the middle of this struggle, they are helping parent our next generation.

So, dear heroes, today on Father's Day, we want to say THANK YOU.  Thank you for continuing to work towards healing, to make hard choices to face ongoing therapy and counseling in order to make life for your children better, to set your own (sometimes overwhelming) desire to quit aside for the good of those you love. 

The steps you make every day will build toward a lifetime relationship with the little hearts you hold in your hands... the little ones who look up to you, long for you, and love you.  Thank you for your sacrifice for them, for your family, and for your country.  The difficult steps you take now, while they may not always be recognized, will someday add up to mean the world to your sons and daughters.

Happy Father's Day, Dear Heroes!

Life Lessons

You may have thought I didn't see,
Or that I hadn't heard,
Life lessons that you taught to me,
But I got every word.

Perhaps you thought I missed it all,
And that we'd grow apart,
But Dad, I picked up everything,
It's written on my heart.

Without you, Dad, I wouldn't be
The person I am today;
You built a strong foundation
No one can take away.

I've grown up with your values,
And I'm very glad I did;
So here's to you, dear father,
From your forever grateful kid.

By Joanna Fuchs

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Wake the "BLANK" up... we've been robbed!

So, we've been in one of those downward spiraling PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) phases lately where my hubby isn't sleeping (which of course means I'm getting little to no sleep).  Our days and nights are a endless mesh of exhaustion and I'm edgy from trying to anticipate and prevent his edginess.

Sometime around 3:30 this morning I finally managed to fall asleep, with my dear hero still on the couch watching television.  At around 6:30 am he went out to "patrol" and discovered that our car had been broken into.

Within minutes, I was startled awake from my just finally found sleep with a shout from our bedroom door, "Wake the F*** up, we've been robbed."

Now, at this point a "normal" wife might wonder just what had been robbed... if her house had been broken into... what was missing... if windows had been broken, etc.  But, nope, not me.  My instant reaction was "Oh, crap.  SERIOUSLY bad timing.  Our 'bad' PTSD phase just went into overdrive."  And the rest of the morning, filled with police and finger print powder (one of the things taken was a handgun) and a ranting husband has proven me to be sadly, most definitely correct.  And four years of living with "beastie boy PTSD" tells me that the next 4 - 6 weeks at least are likely to be a challenge (to put it incredibly mildly).  Damn that idiot who decided to break into our car!

So, this morning, I'm in PTSD "damage control" mode.  For every caregiver of a PTSD veteran this skill is important, so I'm going to channel my frustration into sharing what I'm doing so that next time you find yourself in a similar, unexpected bout with PTSD-Max, you'll have some ideas.

#1 - Don't argue, just listen.

My "less experienced" self, who was first learning to deal with PTSD years ago, would be arguing with my husband's rants.  I would be trying to reason with his out-of-control rage against the person who violated his sense of security... who dared breach his perimeter.  Now, I know better.  I'm simply listening, and letting the words flow by.  When things begin to calm down, I'll put in my two cents, but for now it would just alienate him and fuel the building fire.

#2 - Alert professionals.

I'll be calling or e-mailing my husband's favorite counselor today to alert him about what has happened and to see how soon we can get an appointment.  I know my hubby well enough to know I won't be able to get him to go in the next few days, but sometime toward the first of next week would be perfect.  Alerting his counselor, though, will give me an ally who is already on standby in case things really go south.

#3 - Alert support network.

I've called the family members that make up our extended support network to tell them what happened, to explain my hero's reaction, and to ask that they also follow Rule #1.  I don't need anyone "helping" if they're actually going to make life more difficult!

#4 - Double check meds.

In the coming week, I will be in "Florence Nightingale" mode.  I always have to monitor my husband's medications (just part of caring for a veteran with PTSD and TBI) but in "normal" times I try NOT to be an extreme nag.  But, as we weather the first days of PTSD-Max, I will double and triple heck to make sure that his meds are in his system consistently and perfectly.  (Believe me, it can make a HUGE difference).

#5 - Take time to vent.

All of the steps above and just the general strain of the coming weeks will leave me completely drained and frazzled (especially since I'm entering this time already sleep deprived).  It's REALLY important for caregivers in situations like this to find someone to vent to!  You're going to be in your "caregiver" role and essentially unable to share your feelings or react to your PTSD spouse.  Those pent up emotions need somewhere to go or you WILL explode (I promise!).

#6 - Be ready with "next time" solutions.

PTSD and paranoia go hand-in-hand.  Something like this can completely rock a Veteran dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.  Go ahead and start preparing a list of ways to make things more secure.  For example, I've priced a solar powered motion activated security light (our driveway doesn't have an exterior light or wiring for one).  In the next day or so, I'll make a list of similar options so that we can talk them over and come up with a plan.  This will help (not totally prevent) my hubby's paranoia from going into overdrive because of what happened.

So, there you go... my "from the trenches" guide to surviving a super-duper, knock you over, "Oh crap why the heck did this happen," PTSD flareup.

Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers (and my hubby, too).  We're going to need it!


Brannan Vines
Proud wife of an OIF Veteran
Founder of - an organization dedicated to helping heroes and their loved ones survive and thrive after combat with real world info about PTSD, TBI, and more!

Caregiver Support Program - I'm Approved

I got a call this morning from Marianne, I have been approved for the Caregiver Support Program, I am officially done with the process. From start to finish it took 29 days and don't forget that many of those days are weekend days and one was a holiday!

I will be getting my official in the mail with all of the information.

What I really love about this being a new program is that we are all learning together, not just us caregivers but the professionals as well, we are all leaning on each other and learning from each other. Now is our chance to have our voices heard by people who are actually listening.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Caregiver Support Home Visit

I have to say I was stressed about the home visit, I was worried about being judged, I was worried about my husband's condition being judged. I think many of us who have spouses with "invisible" injuries such as TBI and PTSD have spent so long defending our spouse to people who don't understand these injuries that we are just always on the defensive and always feeling that we have to justify things. Even though I knew that the nurses were coming from the VA I was still worried that they would take one look at my husband and tell me he was fine and I was nuts. After all, thats how many people have treated us in the past, I'm sure you can relate. They just can't understand something that they cannot see...but thats another post. Anyway when the nurses got here they sat down in the living room with us and discussed the things I do for my husband, his challenges-basically the same sort of questions that were asked when I got the first phone call. They made it clear that they were not assessing my husband's condition which put me at ease. They also asked me how I was feeling as a caregiver, was I feeling tense around him? Did I have any time to myself? Did I feel able to take care of my husband...

After the questions were done I showed them around the house, showed them the problem areas for my husband which are the stairs, the shower, the bed and the toilet (getting up off of the toilet due to his back injury) I also went over the trouble he has dressing. They talked over different options such as shower chairs, support bars for the toilet, a stair chair for the stairs and items that can help him to dress himself. They are putting in a recommendation for those things and we will see if they will be provided to us or not.

All in all the home visit was as painless as the rest of the process and in fact it was comforting to have someone in my home to see what else I could do to help my husband, it was reassuring to have other people on my team and looking out for my husband's best interest.

As always, if you have specific questions about my experience I am more than happy to try to answer them.

My Experience With the Caregiver Support Program

The process has been incredibly painless and very quick which has been a huge breath of fresh air as compared to the VA Compensation process. There is a timeline that has to be followed which was wonderful.  I applied through a state employed VA adviser, within 3 days I had a call from the social worker at the VA Hospital who asked me questions as far as what I do for my husband, what his challenges are, is he a fall risk, etc? It was another week before I received the training workbook and the was simply because it hadn't been finished yet, the night I got the work book and CD I spent three or four hours doing the training. I highly advise you to answer the optional questions at the end of each chapter because the final test questions are taken from those questions. Once I was finished I emailed the answers to the address I was given and I called the VA Caregiver lady to let her know. I was told that the home visit had to be done with 10 days of the completion of the training, mine was done I believe 5 days after I finished. Now all of the information goes back to the Caregiver Coordinator and I should hear from her and be finished completely with the process in another week or two.

When the announcement came that applications were being taken for the National Caregiver Support Program I wasn't sure if I would qualify. I mean my husband has all of his limbs and he appears to be functional to those who don't know him but I decided to apply anyway, the worst that they could say was no, right? Going through the application process opened my eyes to how much I really do and how little time I actually have for me. Through out the years what I do has become routine, the things I had to do started small and as my husband's condition deteriorated I took on more and more- I just did what I had to do to get through the day-like many of you. Going through the application process and having to answer all of the questions made me realize how much I do. 

Tip #1- Sit down and take stock of what responsibilities fall on you because your spouse is no longer able to do them. I found when I was asked what I do to care for my husband I had a hard time answering because it was such an open question, I just was doing what I had to in order to take care of my family, I had never sat down and thought about it before. I was honest and told the woman that it was too much of an open question and she asked me more specific questions. There are also specific questions that are asked as part of the application process but if you sit down and take stock of what you do you will be a bit more prepared than I was.

For me the obvious was helping my husband to dress and having to lift things because of his failed back surgery. The not so obvious was from his TBI and PTSD, I have to remind him to take care of himself as far as showers, brushing teeth etc. I handle the finances because my husband can't do it anymore, I do most of the cooking and cleaning, I have to do the errands because it makes him really anxious to be out of the house and around people. I handle the appointments and most of the communications to the doctors, I sit in on doctors appointments because he forgets what is said and things that he needs to talk about and I help him because sometimes he finds it difficult to find the right words to get his thoughts across.

Tip # 2- I highly advise you to answer the optional questions at the end of each chapter of the training book because the final test questions are taken from those questions.

Tip # 3- Stay in contact with your VA Caregiver Coordinator, always ask the time line for the next step, when you should expect to hear something and from who. If you don't hear from someone in the timeline you are supposed to don't just sit there hoping, call the Coordinator, that is their job, they will find out what is going on. If you have any questions whatsoever CALL the Coordinator, there is no reason for you to be wondering or left in the dark about anything at all.

Tomorrow I will post about the home visit. If you have any specific questions about my experience through out the process feel free to ask and I will answer to the best of my ability.

I would also like to add that my Caregiver Coordinator ROCKS-thanks for all of the help and hand holding through the process Marianne!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Goodbye Dr. Jeckyll... can't say I'm happy to see you Mr. Hyde...

I've covered this topic before in blog posts, but truthfully, tonight's post is more about "journaling" for me.  Hope you don't mind, world...

I've lived with a hubby with PTSD (severe and chronic according to the VA) for more than four years.  When you throw in traumatic brain injury (TBI) and physical issues resulting from too many close calls with explosions, life is never UNinteresting... but over the years, as my knowledge and coping skills have progressed... I have adjusted.  I'm far from "normal" by most standards... but my life works.

But crap if today Mr. Hyde (aka Beastie Boy PTSD, aka the stupid illness that has transformed my once kind, doting hubby into something far from that) hasn't started to very vocally claim his prominence in our life again.  PTSD is a daily part of our world... impacts when we go places... if we go places... how I react in every situation... always there nagging at the back of my mind, warning me that the smallest thing could cause an explosion... but days where it suddenly takes over every ounce of my husband (though not unexpected) are always heartbreaking.

Days like this bring up all of the emotions that are there always, lurking just below the surface.  They remind me that I miss being able to trust my Love, the man I married, to be kind.  I miss the simple freedom to speak my mind.  I miss the security that comes from knowing, no matter what, the arms of my spouse are there waiting to shield me from the world.  I miss tenderness.  I miss communication.  I miss peace.  I miss the feeling of not being lonely.

And then, there is the anger that rises up... the anger that has no where to go... no place to explode... because the priority has to be HIM.  It's a role every caretaker accepts... the role of never truly being able to be "you" with the one you care for... the fact that HIS needs, his illness, his injuries in these times outrank anything I'm feeling.

I know all of the PTSD facts in my head... all of the reasons that a brain injury further fuels his anger... but there are those vulnerable times when none of that matters.  When my heart overruns my head... when emotions outweigh reason... when tears are hot in my eyes and lumpy in my throat... when the heartbreak of living with Mr. Hyde shadows over the dim memories of the real true Dr. Jeckyll... my sweet, happy, dearly romantic hubby who once carved statues for me and wrote beautiful letters of love that made me feel like the most treasured woman in the world.

I miss that man.  I mourn that man.  But tomorrow morning I'll wake, just as so many thousands of others living my same life will, and remind myself that I may be married to a "new" husband, but he is still the husband to whom I gave my heart almost fifteen years ago and to whom I said "I do.. promise to stand by you in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, through storms and sunshine" almost twelve years ago.

I won't let Mr. Hyde defeat me.  He may knock me down sometimes, but I'll put all of my pent up anger into knocking him right back.  He can't have my home.  He can't have my dear hero. 

So, dear friends, here's to continuing.  Here's to putting one foot in front of another... taking care of ourselves while caring for our heroes... and to soldiering on.

HUGS (because I need them to!),

Brannan Vines
Proud wife of an OIF Veteran
Founder of - an organization dedicated to helping heroes and their loved ones survive and thrive after combat with real world info about PTSD, TBI, and more!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Walking on Eggshells, Part Six

Our cell phone bill was technically in his name but was bundled to my name with other bills.  I logged on our cell phone account to figure out how to unbundle it from our other bills.  As the bill came up online, so did all of the recent talk and text activity.  There were countless calls, texts and picture messages exchanged between his and another local number.  My fears of his infidelity were true.  The day after he started that heavy dose of medication he started texting and calling this girl, one of our mutual friends!  I was beyond pissed at this point, but didn't let him know that I knew.  I picked up divorce papers the next day and started calling around for legal advice.  No one gave free advice and I had no money to pay for it so I looked up information online.  I legally wasn't entitled to anything but child support if we did go through a divorce.  I had to come up with a better plan.

I decided to write up my own legal separation agreement.  I figured we could both sign it and I could have it notarized.  I took a day to write it up but didn’t share it with him yet since I knew he was still taking the medication even though his dosage had just been cut in half…I researched the medication enough to know that it takes a few days to dissipate so I wanted to wait to talk with him about anything serious until it had.

His mom went to visit him.  She only stayed a minute because she was afraid she’d somehow upset him more.  She said he was still heavily medicated and was seemed to only be mentally functioning at a 6-year-old level and she said it appeared that everyone else there at the center seemed that way too.  I was pissed!  The lives of me and my children were being completely jeopardized by someone with the mental capacity of a 6-year-old.  Why would they keep him or any of them on medications that could cause such havoc?  couldn't take it.  I was so angry but so worried about my husband and the future of us all.

I kept texting him trying to get some sort of guidance of how or what bills we should separate.  He got so angry and refused to talk with me anymore.  He told me that if I needed to get a hold of him for any reason, I could do so through staff only.  I called him completely distraught.  He didn't answer, but I left a sobbing voicemail asking why all of this was happening; why he was having an affair when I have stuck by him through so much then and pleaded with him to stop taking that horrible medication.  After I left the voicemail I had a slight panic attack, hyperventilating….thank goodness the kids were all asleep.  I then cried myself to sleep.

He called and sent texts to me the next morning, but I didn't respond.  His speech in his voicemail sounded close to normal again though so I eventually called him back.  He says he wants to work things and promises to call off his affair.  I told him that I have always and will want him to be happy…even if it’s not with me.  I tell him to take some time to think about things but to make an appointment to get tested for STD’s in the meantime.  He tells me how smart I am and how we have a commitment.  I’m so confused.  I love him so much but really don’t understand what has been going on and why. 

The next day he shares his hopes for our family’s future and even shares things with me from his parenting class.  He wants to start over with complete honesty.  I really want to but don’t know what to believe at this point.  Our whole dang town thinks he’s in love with someone else now and only with me out of sympathy…and they also believe that he’s in a ‘Walter Reed’ type hospital for being (so-called) shot in the knees and having (so-called) shrapnel in his elbow.  What a friggen croc!  I’m so conflicted.  I’m so angry and embarrassed that he’s told people these lies but I know that he did because that medication gave him delusions.  I love  this man so much and have fought for him as much as he’s fought for our country so what do I do?  I just try to focus on my love for him and our kids and hope that I have been fighting for him for a reason.

I keep my head up and try to stay positive…I should anyway since I always try to convince him to stay positive.  It’s hard to focus on anger since we get word of the earthquake in Japan and threat of a tsunami…headed to his area.  My mom lives in the bay area and notified me of the threat in the wee hours in the morning.  She, her husband and my brother are packing up and heading to the hills (our house) for refuge.  She asks if she should pick up my husband on the way but he’s not worried…He’s actually somewhat excited in hopes of helping.

Fortunately, the tsunami didn't really affect our state.  He decided to go to a lake to fish with a friend from the program.  He keeps me updated all day.  He even talked to our daughter on the phone. She says, “Daddy sounds different on the phone.”

I ask, “How?"

She says “He sounds less snotty.”

This really made me chuckle.  He has been less on edge but that is so hard for me to focus on with this affair and threat of divorce in the back of my mind.  I attempted to ‘forget’ about it all by drinking and going out on the town…bad idea.  I got wasted and tried to find his slutty mistress and shady old friends.  didn't succeed.  It’s good that I didn’t because I would've probably hurt them.  I’m sure I made a fool of myself by dancing alone and stumbling all over.  I felt silly and ‘too old’ to be out and about.  The people there that were my age were not going ANYWHERE with their life…and I knew this wasn't where I should be.  Luckily I had my uncle there to drive me home.  I had him take me home early and I puked my guts out when I got there…regretting ever even going out in the first place.

Of course I was hung-over the next day, but still pissed about the affair.  I have to believe in karma.  I have to know that she’ll ‘pay’ for trying to destroy a family for personal gain.  This surprises me because I always thought myself to be that girl that would dump the guy for cheating instead of hating the girl that he cheated with…but this isn't high school anymore…this is real adult life and I don’t know how to deal with it. 

Now I’m the one ‘loosing it’ especially since he mentions that he wants to try to get back into the military.  He knows I’m not comfortable with that.  I want him to be happy but I can’t ever go through another deployment…especially now.  He says he’ll be good to just ‘be home’.  He doesn't have to go back into the military to prove himself to himself. What a relief!  I hope he’s not just agreeing with me to appease me at this point though......

~Mrs. S