Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Guardian Angel Service Dogs

Tonight FOV Talk Radio will be featuring Guardian Angel Service Dogs and will be discussing service dogs and a new VA study about them that may be coming to a VA near you!

Join us with your comments, questions, and stories about your own service dog. You can reach us while we are live on air as 323-657-1470!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

VA Caregiver Program

Tonight FOV Talk Radio will be featuring a program about the VA Caregiver Program. The show will begin at 7:30 Eastern (6:30 Central, 5:30 Mountain, 4:30 Pacific) and will last an entire hour.

2 Caregivers and 2 Caregiver Coordinators will be joining us for the evening to talk about the program and answer your questions about it.

Please feel free to call into the show and ask your questions. You can reach us while we are live on air as 323-657-1470!

Please take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to have your questions answered!!!

Monday, July 18, 2011

PTSD, TBI, Traveling... and how it all underlines how "different" we are

So, I'm on "vacation" with my dear hubby (100% disabled from PTSD, TBI, and degenerative muscular & bone issues from a few too many close calls with explosions) and our five year old daughter.  In our world, the only type of vacation that works (other than a "stay-cation" where we don't actually leave the house) is to go and visit some dear friends... the family of my husband's friend since childhood that lives about 8 hours away.

Now, even this type of "vacation" (believe me, I'm not over-using the quotation marks) is almost cancelled every single time.  In the days and weeks leading up to the day we're supposed to leave I spend endless hours explaining, reminding, and going over the route, any plans, etc., etc.  But still my dear hubby becomes increasingly wound - more and more anxious and angry - less and less in control.

You're probably asking at this point why we even bother... well that's why I pointed out that I'm also on "vacation" with our five year old.  Anyone who lives in PTSD / TBI world knows that this life is a constant tight rope walk... a never-ending dance between keeping your veteran as calm as possible while also hopefully providing a few "normal" moments for your family.  It's summer... our daughter has been begging to go somewhere (she gets that wandering nature from her mom!)... and I want her to have those childhood memories like I do.

So, here we are... in a semi-safe environment for my hubby... but still he's miserable.  And, unfortunately, that misery is having a trickle down effect.  "Normal" people aren't used to adapting to someone who sleeps (or doesn't) at all times of the day and night... patrols the house and yard... refuses to go to seemingly un-threatening places (like a grocery store... or even the grocery store parking lot)... over-reacts to small things... etc, etc, etc.  No matter how much they love my hubby and us, it's a lot to deal with, especially when you're not accustomed to it on a day-to-day basis.

Consequently, I find myself even more edgy than normal... trying to explain or prevent his behavior... trying to keep our life from not seeming quite so odd... and in the process realizing how odd (comparatively) it really is.  It's EXHAUSTING.  My head is pounding.  My emotions are raw.  My temper is short.  I know I'm not at my best.  Ugh!  What a BAD house guest I make!

So... what's the moral of this story??  Do we give up?  Do we throw up our hands and stop pursuing yet another part of "normal" life... stop trying to provide yet another brand of childhood memories for our daughter?

My vote is NO!  I'll get home from this trip, give myself some time to get my head on straight and then re-evaluate.  I'll do my own sort of AAR (After Action Review) and try to figure out how to tweak the process to make it a little better next time.  I'll apologize to our friends.  I'll plan a little more.  I'll forgive myself for any mistakes I've made.  And at some point we'll try yet again.

I think that's one of the most important lessons we, as caregivers of our nation's mentally and physically wounded heroes, HAVE to learn... we're NOT going to get it right MOST of the time.  BUT for every time we don't get it right, we're gathering valuable intelligence about how to make the next try better.  Failure is okay... so long as we don't ever, EVER let it defeat us!

So, now... back to "vacation" :)

Friday, July 15, 2011

FOV Talk Radio - Taking Education to the Air Waves!

Family of a Vet is now bringing the world FOV Talk Radio!!! We're excited to announce that in just 3 weeks we've reached over 250 families!

Our archived episodes that are available for listening online and download are:

Visible Honor for Invisible Wounds Rally - a celebration of National PTSD Day as well as a heart to heart with the rally's founder, Thomas Mahaney of Honor for All.

Veterans Yoga, Military Mission, HUN, and Scott Lee - a lively interview with Judy from Connected Warriors, a free yoga program for veterans as well as Beth from Military Missions, Military Martha from the Homefront United Network, and Scott Lee, the Combat PTSD Blogger!

Special Edition: Fourth of July - Coping Strategies for You! - Brannan and Heather were there to answer your questions that came in live from email, Facebook, callers, and chat! Help for getting through one of the most challenging times of the year straight from the common sense authors you've come to trust from Family of a Vet!

Clayton Stress and Eye Movement Memory Processing - Straight talk with Jeff from Clayton Stress about how Eye Movement Memory Processing works and the benefits it can have for your PTSD/TBI veteran! This episode includes a special deal announced at the end for Family of a Vet Fans!!!

Military Missions and PTSD Veteran Parents - FOV gets tons of requests on information for PTSD family members, especially the parents of PTSD veterans. Beth Pennington from Military Missions joins us to talk about her fight for her son's care as well as her inspiration for her unique and inspiring efforts.

ALSO we're thrilled to announce Scott Lee, the Combat PTSD Blogger has joined forces with FOV to create VOW Talk Radio - Veteran's Edition!

Scott's shows have included:

Veteran's Edition - Premiere! - Straight talk about PTSD and how blogging and social media have forced improvements in the system featuring Scott Lee and Brannan!

Veteran's Edition - Pinups 4 Patriots - Scott is joined by Kalen Arreola of Pinups 4 Patriots who shares her story and her innovative way to help veteran based businesses.

Caregiver and MilBlogger: Uncle Sam's Mistress - Scott is joined by Uncle Sam's Mistress for a frank and lively discussion of life with a PTSD veteran and how blogging is helping to change the dynamic of PTSD awareness and treatment.

Next week both shows will be available Live!!! Stay tuned for us to announce exciting shows in the future featuring real solutions and answers to those special issues that confront veteran families!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Jason Todd Galt Has Been FOUND!

I can't even begin to put into words how incredibly, wonderfully, overwhelmingly happy I am to write the following post.  Jason Todd Galt, a hero who served his country in Iraq and received a Purple Heart and who has been missing since September 2010 has been found ALIVE and well.

Here is the message I just received from his mom...
I just want to say to you - GOD BLESS YOU! Through your help and your website I have located my son Jason Todd Galt. You are an angel from God. For 10 months the police nor a private investigator could help me, but from wonderful people seeing his info on your website and calling me I have tracked him down. I left my home in West Virginia and drove all the way out here to Colorado to go to the place someone thought he might be at. He had been homeless for a time. He has found some wonderful people and living in a Sober House for the past several weeks. He is attending AA and NA and trying to recover. He says he becomes paralyzed with fear to speak with people and that is why he never contacted us. I know that a lot of that has also to do with his suffering from PTSD and TBI. He is letting God lead him to recovery. If you can, please take the info off your website about him being missing and maybe let everyone know that he has been found. I will contact some of the people that contacted me directly. This has all opened my eyes to a lot of things. Jason told me that he did not realize until he got to this place that he is not the only one suffering that way. He thought he was alone. I just cannot thank you enough for all you have done and what you continue to do.

May we always remember to keep our mentally and psychologically wounded heroes in our thoughts and minds.  NO veteran should be left to face this world without help and care and the inescapable knowledge that he or she is valued and appreciated by the country they served!

With a happy heart,

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

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

When the simple things seem like a HUGE deal... a look inside Secondary PTSD

So, most of you know by now that when I ramble it's typically that I'm journaling and just happen to be sharing it with the whole world :)  Instead of a diary with a key, I have a diary that's open for all to read.  I do that because I figure it will somehow bring comfort to some other veteran's wife out there in "life after combat" world (one of the main reasons I started FamilyOfaVet.com four years ago this month!).

Today, I'm sharing with you a dirty little secret... literally and figuratively :)

One of the first ways that "bad PTSD days" (or weeks or months) show in my life is in my inability to complete simple things. 

When my hubby is having good days (or reasonably good, which is pretty much as good as it gets at this point), my house is clean, my e-mail inbox is reasonably current, my errands and chores are done, our bills are paid, my responsibilities as the founder and "leader" (that still sounds funny to me sometimes!) of our growing non-profit organization are taken care of.  In general, I'm a pretty organized chick!

Oh, but the times (like now) where PTSD has taken over our home, are anything but organized.  The laundry doesn't get done, the dishwasher thinks I've forgotten it, my inbox overflows, the things I know I need to do... and want to do... remain undone for days at a time.  My brain (and my motivation) go out the window into some far away land where they are seemingly impossible to find.

Those that "get" my life simply understand... those that don't, are annoyed by my lack of... well.. everything!

So, other than the nightmares, anxiety, anger, sadness, etc., etc., etc., that come along with Secondary PTSD, how is someone supposed to deal with this... especially when they don't feel like dealing with ANYTHING!

Here are somethings I've learned over the years:

#1 - I cut myself some slack.  Everyone else may be irritated with me, but that doesn't mean I can't respect and understand that my "shortcomings" are actually a natural reaction to what's going on in my life.  It doesn't make me a bad person, wife, or mother... it just makes me normal in an abnormal situation.

#2 - I send up the white flag.  I know by now who in my world I can say "uncle" to.  And, when I need to ask for help, I do.  This was one of the HARDEST things for me to learn to do (and something I'm still not great at).  After all, I'm a former Infantry wife... I've lived in a foreign country on my own, went through 30+ hours of labor while my husband was in Iraq, dealt with extended deployments, fought for VA benefits, etc., etc.  I'm fiercely independent and proud of the fact that I can do most things on my own.  So, learning that saying "help" wasn't a sign of weakness... but instead is actually a sign that I'm strong... was a steep learning curve.

#3 - I make lists.  During this time, my brain is mush.  I often get to the end of the day and think "Crap, I was supposed to do so and so... actually I'm supposed to have done that 3 days ago... and I've forgotten AGAIN!".  Lists are my friend.  I write everything in a single notebook.  That way, in moments of clarity and energy, I can get a lot done.

#4 - I do something meaningless and fun.  I catch up on a favorite TV show, get my sewing machine out and create something random, go for a walk and take photos, or sit and read magazines that I enjoy.  It may seem counter-intuitive to do NOTHING when all of the stuff you're supposed to be doing is piling up around you... but sometimes it's exactly what you need to get yourself going again!

#5 - I remind myself (again and again and again) to be patient.  This too shall pass.  I will eventually get caught up.  I will eventually get back in gear.  Beastie Boy PTSD will go on a vacation and life will somewhat settle down.  Until then, life may suck, but at least it's not forever.

So, there you go... my plan for coping with my inability to cope :)  Feel free to comment and let me (and everyone else) know your tricks and tips!


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

Friday, July 1, 2011

"GOD" is a Bad Word in the Nation's 2nd Largest Veteran Cemetery

As we enter into this 4th of July weekend... a time when many members of the military, veterans, and their families take time to think about the heroes lost in combat who are forever etched on our hearts and minds... I'm deeply concerned about something brewing in Houston, TX.

Now, let me first say that I am a Christian, but I think this issue should be a great big giant red flag for anyone who respects and understands the comfort brought by faith in times of despair.  Whether your Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, etc., etc. - whatever your religion - that belief plays a huge role in your ability to cope with life's darkest moments.

You can read more details about the story in the links at the bottom of this post, but it basically boils down to the fact that Arleen Ocasio, the Director of the Houston National Cemetery, has taken in upon herself to strike anything religious from the operation of the cemetery.  No one is allowed, without prior approval, to say "God," or "Jesus," or even offer optional religious recitations.

An article published in The Houston Chronicle (CLICK HERE TO READ IT) says:
According to court documents, Ocasio banned veterans organizations and volunteer groups from using certain religious words such as "God" or "Jesus," censored the content of prayer and forbade the use of religious messages in burial rituals unless the deceased's family submitted the text for prior approval.

The documents allege that VA prohibited volunteer honor guards from providing optional recitations to families for consideration, and that when burial teams conduct military honors for a veteran's funeral, a government official monitors what is said.

Other volunteers have even stated that all of the religious items have been removed from the Cemetery's chapel and that the "Chapel" is no longer called a chapel... but instead has been renamed a "meeting facility".

Now, I know that there will be a lot of debate about this issue... about constitutional issues... about whether a Federal facility should even be seen as taking part in religious activities, etc., etc., etc.  And, while I stand on the side of the First Amendment guaranteeing us the free exercise of religion which to me these actions clearly impede... that's not really my point.  And, I strongly believe, while it may have to be the legal focus in this matter, should not become the primary heart focus of those concerned.

The primary heart focus of each of us should be how we help families, whose loved one has paid the ultimate price in support of his or her nation, grieve... how we help them cope... how we help them get through what is surely one of the hardest, darkest, most difficult days they will ever face.

Those families should absolutely, without any doubt, be afforded the right to mourn hand-in-hand with their Creator.  They should not have to fight for the "privilege" to lay their hero to rest with the words and actions that bring them the most comfort.  The only issue should be the support, care, consideration, kindness, and respect we owe those who grieve... and more importantly the debt we owe to the fallen heroes NOT to place further hardship on those they've left behind.

To read more about the story, both of these articles offer a good overview:

Houston VA Accused of Censoring Religious Speech

Congressman Poe Calls for Termination of Houston National Cemetery Director

At the link below, you can read Congressman Poe's letter to Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veteran Affairs:

June 29, 2011, Letter Concerning Houston National Cemetery

Here is a link to a Facebook "Cause" about this issue (not something we started, but it was the first place I heard about this story and what caused me to start researching the issue):

Stop the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from banning the Word 'God' from Military Funerals

Finally, if you are concerned about this issue, I encourage you to write to Secretary Shinseki at the address below (After all, complaining about an issue doesn't do any good... it's our responsibility to make sure our voices on these issues are calmly and reasonably heard!):

The Honorable Eric Shinseki
Secretary of Veteran Affairs
U.S. Department of veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Ave NW
Washington, DC 20420

Update:  A response from Steve Muro, who works with the VA National Cemeteries, about God, honoring our fallen heroes, and the work of the VA National Cemeteries. http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/?p=3761

Thanks for listening,

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

Independence Day 2011

I remember the first 4th of July that my husband and I spent apart that I actually went out without him. We had been apart before this year for this holiday, but I stayed at our apartment in Germany. In 2007 he was in Mosul, Iraq stationed at FOB Marez, and I decided to take our daughters and newborn to Georgia for a few weeks. This year the meaning of July 4th hit me a lot harder and as soon as "God Bless the USA" started to play as the fireworks in downtown Atlanta began, so did the flow of my tears. There was nothing I could do to hold them back. Maybe that's when the reality struck that my husband was deployed and millions of Americans were celebrating a holiday they could not even explain the meaning to. All they cared about was having a day off work, grilling out and drinking. There I was, surrounded by my family, at the top of a parking deck where they go every year, watching my kids having a blast, and missing a huge part of myself....my husband. There I was surrounded by so many wonderful people, yet I felt more alone than I could remember. As soon as I felt the tears coming I tried to hide my face, yet my Aunt saw me and immediately came over to me. At that moment, it was like the flood gates opened and I lost all control. There I was, surrounded by amazing people and all I wanted was Kevin at my side. The feelings and emotions of loneliness had crept over me. As much as I needed him with me, our country needed him more.

As I stood there, listening to "God Bless the USA", with my Aunt hugging me as I cried, all the emotions that I had held back for a few months came rushing to me and there was no possible way to stop any of it. I had kept it all inside for months, while telling myself that everything would be fine and he would come home just as he had left. At the end of the deployment I was blessed because they came home at the fourteen month mark and not fifteen. They came home a month early and were able to spend the holidays with families and not in Iraq. I thought I was the luckiest person in the world. I mean, my husband was home....what could possibly go wrong?

The one thing I was not prepared for was PTSD, TBI, or the lack of knowledge of his injuries, things he had witnessed, the nightmares, distance between us, and so much more that was in store for me. I was naive in it all and thought that my husband was home so all would be okay. Within time, I became lost in my own marriage because shortly after he redeployed home I came to learn that this man that came home from work everyday and this man that I shared a bed with every night and planned to share my life with was a man that I knew nothing about anymore. Where had my husband and the love of my life gone? Then I became angry because no one ever warned me about what I was in store for. No one told me there was a chance he would struggle because of PTSD, TBI, or other combat injuries. No one prepared  me for anything other than either he would come home or I would be greeted at my door by the most dreaded knock and speech for a military wife....

By the time July 4th of 2008 rolled around I had come to learn that my husband was struggling with something, yet I didn't quite know what it was at that point.Our daughters stayed in Atlanta for the summer and hopped back and forth between the grandparents, so it was me, Kevin, and our one year old son at home. We decided to take the opportunity and work around the house. Every other July 4th that we spent together, we celebrated it. When we were in Georgia, we went downtown and watched the fireworks in Atlanta. In Germany, we celebrated on post. In El Paso in 2006, we watched the fireworks with friends at Cohen Stadium after cooking out. In 2008, he refused to go out and we pulled the carpet out and layed tile throughout our entire house...just the two of us. He acted real odd that night and I was so lost with no idea how to handle it. He would yell at me over everything and became real defensive for no reason. When the fireworks started by people in our neighborhood he would snap over every little thing and life became pure hell. I was yelled at for not moving fast enough or for adding too much or not enough grout. Hell, I had no idea what I was doing since I had never once messed with tile or grout. As they got louder and more frequent, I was yelled at more. I was not sure what was going on, but I remember reaching my breaking point, throwing down whatever was in my hand and walking outside to our swing. That is where I ended up hiding out and breaking down into tears. What had happened to my husband?

The following 4th of July he was in Iraq again, so I celebrated with the kids and our neighbors. We shot off fireworks and even though it was fun, I felt lonely and became depressed while missing my husband. This past 4th of July, I was better prepared for the changes and I was also more aware of what was going on and that he had been officially diagnosed with PTSD and TBI. Yet, he still wanted to see the kids happy and let them enjoy the fireworks at the country club. What better way to do it than with friends who lived in the country club community at their house. Of course we celebrated it with cooking out, beer, and some really great sangria for me. He kept a smile on his face and even attempted to go outside with us. As soon as the first one went off, I saw Kevin get real uneasy and flinch, then immediately tell me he was going inside. When I walked into the house as the show was ending, I found him inside talking with a Vietnam Vet. Someone who understood his reason of not being able to be outside, yet didn't have to ask him questions to understand. He just knew. At that instant, I found myself extremely thankful for this man being there and not asking him questions, but just talking small talk with my husband. I am not sure if he will ever know what a life saver he was to Kevin or that he brought tears to my eyes. I wasn't able to be there as I wanted because I had to stay outside with our girls, but someone that understood him was able to jump in. I will forever be grateful for this. There are no words to express my gratitude for this man's presence.  As we drove home, Kevin became very anxious because there were still firecrackers being set off at all angles and it was like we could not get home quick enough.

This year we are spending the 4th of July in the comfort of our own home, and I am okay with that. I have the best understanding than I have ever had of PTSD and what it entails. Our daughters understand that their dad isn't the same man that he use to be and that war changed him. While none of us can understand firsthand what he has witnessed, done and been through, we can understand that a part of him was left in Iraq and will never return. We have all accepted that. Sure, we would love to go to a friends house and cookout with fireworks that night, but we know that is something that will not happen. It's something that we now give up without questioning because of his PTSD. We would much rather have him with us than sit and watch the fireworks. So, while your spouse is not able to handle and tolerate fireworks this year, don't get angry and go out without them because you want to be apart of the celebration. Instead, rent a movie and sit with him. Play a game. Stay at home, even if he has to resort to his "safe zone" because he can't handle the situation. Even if they don't admit to it, just having their spouse there is what gets them through. I have been told many times that me being with him (even when he doesn't show it) gets him through and that he wouldn't be able to do it without me is one of the things that makes me have no interest in being around the celebrations and fireworks.

In the end, what I am saying is, don't be upset, angry or ever hold it against your combat vet when he says that he can't handle this holiday or you see him seeking solitude. In all reality, he is telling you the truth. The fireworks colors may remind him of an RPG as it shoots across the dark skies, the sounds may remind him of mortar attacks, RPG's, fire fights.... don't knock it down when he flinches or tries to take cover. This holiday already holds a special place in the hearts of veteran's and their families, but this holiday is also one that combat vets come to hate because it triggers PTSD episodes that can last for the night or it can last for days or even put them into one of their ruts that lasts for a week or more. Don't come down on them for this. It is honestly out of their control. When you see a vet almost hit the ground or if they do hit the ground looking for cover, don't find humor in the situation, instead, show them you care and are there for them. Their reactions are honestly out of their control. This night is one that makes the vet feel back in combat from the noises, scenery, and even the smell. When they struggle with PTSD there are times these episodes make them think they are back in combat...in a war zone. They are not always capable of differentiating the two. Hold your Veteran close to you this weekend and be thankful you still have him or her by your side. I know I am, today, tomorrow and everyday that I have ahead of me.

While they have made many sacrifices that 99% of the population will never witness firsthand, as military families we should be able to sacrifice this one night and remain by our vets side, helping them make it through the night. I ask this of you, please help them through this night coming up and please help other civilians throughout our country understand the meaning of this holiday as well as the reason our military service members may not celebrate it in the way that the majority of our country will. My thoughts and prayers will be with each of our families as we take on Independence Day for 2011.

Happy 4th of July... May we each remember the reason we have our freedom.... Thank your spouse, mother, father, son, daughter, Aunt, Uncle, or whoever else in in your life that has given you the rights to freedom as an American.

~Brittney Biddle
Proud Wife of an OIF Veteran
Blog Coordinator for FamilyOfaVet.com