Monday, December 31, 2012

Monday Momism: Happy New Year!


Happy New Year!!! Can you believe in less than 14 hours it will be 2013? Yet, didn't we have all this end of the world talk recently? Did that bother you? It didn't me. It's called being optimistic in times of pessimism.

How does one stay optimistic when dealing with PTSD and/or a TBI in a loved one who has been to war? I have found 4 very good ways that have worked for me. I will be sharing them...one at a time, over the next month on here on Mondays. The theme will be Taking Time 4 Me.

Yes, me...meaning YOU. No, it isn't selfish to take some time for you. In fact, it can help you, your veteran, your family, your health and your life in general by doing so.

Maybe you are thinking, wait, how can I possibly take time for myself? Believe it or not, there are ways. Sometimes we end up being the ones who overwhelm ourselves the most.

Tune in over the next month and I will go over four things you can do to help yourself mentally and physically with the stress of being on a PTSD journey. For now, let me leave you with this:

On Facebook, there is a wonderful little picture going around of a jar. The phrase states: This January, why not start the new year with an empty jar and fill it with notes about good things that happen. Then, on New Year's Eve, empty it and see what awesome stuff happened that year.

I liked that so much, I shared it as well. But I would like to add a suggestion to it that I am going to follow: Don't wait till New Year's Eve. Go over the good things that happen at the end of that month. Put them back in and add to them the next month. By reading them on a monthly (or even a weekly?) basis, you'll have that good feeling even more often.

Have a wonderful and safe New Year's Eve this evening. Remember that it is normal for a combat veteran to not like being around fireworks. This mom would like to thank your veteran and you for being the wonderful and strong people that you are.

Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Love Letter Campaign ~ Happy Anniversary


I've been waiting this year for "the moment"... that instance when I suddenly got the perfect inspiration to write my love letter. Honestly, this is one of my favorite projects we do at Family Of a Vet each year. I believe with everything in me in the sheer power behind the love stories that live in our homes.

I know that's a funny thing to say... when you think about the challenges our relationships face. The divorce rate in PTSD/TBI households is much higher than the national average. As spouses (and caregivers) of veterans we have been proven to have a much higher level of stress and mental illness. Our homes are often caught in broken places - and yet, I still maintain (and will always) that there is power in the love that is alive in our families and relationships.

Why am I so sure? Because I see it every single day. I see it in heroes as the choose to enter treatment for PTSD in order to do the best they can for their families. I see it as spouses weather sleepless, difficult seasons to keep their hero and family going until a bit of light returns. I see it over and over again. People (and hearts) that CHOOSE to continue walking, side by side, through circumstances that are unbelievably hard. The choose each other, not when its easy, but when it takes everything they have... when it takes a heart/mind/body effort of epic proportions. They choose each other. They CHOOSE each other.

The last year has brought unbelievable challenges to our household. I am "dual" caregiving for a close family member who is battling several types of cancer at once. My husband had a nasty fall a few weeks ago, has had surgery on his "good" leg and is in a hospital doing inpatient physical therapy rehab. And, as always (or at least always in the last 6+ years) we continue to battle PTSD and TBI. Life, at the moment and over the past months has been "interesting" to say the least. But, it is in the middle of this interesting (exhausting, often mind numbing) current state that this morning I found my inspiration.

I was sitting with my dear hubby in our VA Medical Center in a therapy appointment and there with us sat a Korean War Veteran. Since we all had time to spend waiting, he and my hubby started exchanging stories. He told us about his time at war, about loss, about the struggles he had endured since combat, and then about his wife, about meeting her and then marrying her just 10 days later, and with teary eyes said, "You know, we could have quit lots of times, but this year we will be celebrating 60 years together. I guess we just decided we were both stuck and we had much rather be stuck together."

In that moment, almost in unison, my husband and I answered with what has basically become our household mantra, "Yep, I guess we are also just too stubborn to quit".

Since he came home from his last deployment in 2006, we've had lots of times to face the choice between quitting and continuing to walk forward. We've had days where we neither one liked each other much. There have been sleepless nights (and weeks and months). There have been "discussions" and, oh boy, have there been arguments.

There have been times when PTSD in all its glory has torn at the fabric of "us" with everything it has.

There have been times where one or the other of us has given up, but the other has been to stubborn to let go.

We have warred, we have fought, we have had times where we are snippy and sarcastic with each other. We have hurt each other. We have hurt our marriage.

And, yet, we are still here.

Not only are we still here, but I can honestly say that today I love my husband more than I did when I married him at the ripe old age of 19. I can honestly say, with all these trials and all of these tests, that what has emerged is a love that simply IS... that doesn't at its core waiver on the bad days (even though I may not "like" him much), that doesn't want to run away, that not only stays, but stays willingly and reaches out to him with everything I can even when he is in a dark place.

What remains is simply (and amazingly) true love. A love that forgives, a love that continues, a love that sees his heart even when his injuries try to hide it away.

In January an article will be coming out in Mother Jones about our family, and Family Of a Vet, and many of the families involved. It's a hard piece to read because its a raw look at both our dark and happy places and a few months ago I called the reporter (the incredible Mac McClelland) in a panic about what showing the inside of our "crazy" life to the world was going to look like. Her answer, simple and wise as always, was that it was going to look like what it is... It was going to look like a LOVE story.

Our families are true love stories. They are stories about fighting, persevering, and continuing. They are stories about dark places that we don't allow to rip us apart. They are stories about making daily choices to work with everything we have (sometimes with one or the other spouse doing a lot of the "heavy lifting" on their own) to find each other again. They are stories about *choosing* each other, over and over again, when we could make the choice to fall. Of course they aren't Hollywood - they are far too inspiring for that.

So, here is my 2013 letter to my own dear hero:

My love,

On December 18th, we celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary and 16 years since our first date. We will be celebrating in a hospital. We will be celebrating in the midst of the current chaos in our life. But, honey, I can't think of a time I've been more proud to celebrate an anniversary with you.

I'm proud and humbled, that we continue to fight toward one another. I proud and grateful, that we are still standing. And, I am so incredibly proud to be your wife.

I am the wife of a man who has not only fought for his country, but has also fought for his family. A man, who while at times because of injuries languishes in dark places, always at the places where the rubber meets the road, refuses to give up on us. A man who continues to fight with me for "us." An incredible, beautiful, inspiring man whom I am so blessed to call my husband.

I don't know what the road ahead has in store, but I know that's okay because I will face it with you. I know in you and in my life with you I will continue to find shelter when the world is scary, a place to cuddle and cling on to when I'm overwhelmed, and a place where, even though its rocky at times, my heart, dreams, secrets, and worries are safe.

I will be here - on the good days, on the bad days. I will be here - still and quiet when you need space, arms and heart open when I can offer comfort. I will be here - to fight by your side, to fight for you, to simply stand for us when I need to do it on my own.

You, my love, continue to be not only WORTH the fight, but my inspiration and drive to keep stepping forward. I love you. Pure and simple, husband, I love you.

Love,
Me


This blog post is part of The Love Letter Campaign... a project started by FamilyOfaVet.com to encourage those who love a hero to write a letter sharing their story (where they started, what they've faced together, and why their love endures). It's not just for spouses, but also for parents, siblings, caregivers, and friends. It's about telling the "rest" of our stories... stories that continue despite PTSD, TBI, and the challenges of life after combat. To share your love letter or find out more about the campaign, visit http://www.familyofavet.com/love_letters.html.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Monday Momism: Television Stressors at the VA

The other day, a support group friend in FOV stated concerns about televisions in VA hospitals showing traumatic situations. She most definitely was sympathetic about the shootings that happened in Connecticut but, just as I and so many are dealing with, she also had a loved one with PTSD who served in combat and she was understandably concerned about a possible stressor trigger occurring.

Remember the days following September 11? I don't even have to post a year, the date alone brings it back, right? Our children watched the attacks over and over in their classrooms just as it played again and again in homes across the nation. It was reported a few weeks later that seeing repeated coverage could bring on PTSD. I understand this.

I have also heard that jurors can deal with PTSD when hearing cases involving attacks on children, especially when photos are presented as evidence. I understand this.

If a television is on in a waiting room, why can't it be on a game show or a sitcom? Why must a veteran sit and watch something that can trigger a stressor. The irony is a lot of veterans are waiting to be seen or have a checkup for exactly what we are given lists to keep aware of as triggers and yet, the only thing ever on is news about the war or shootings or anger issues involving politics and/or religion.

Several years ago when my older son was in Iraq, my sister and I were at the Air Force base I used to live on getting some of my college transcripts. My younger son was a few hundred feet away getting prepped for a dental procedure following a sporting event accident. On the TV was, quite naturally, a 24-hour news channel that often had footage regarding Iraq and Afghanistan. At that moment, I had one of those “mommy” feelings and wanted to get back to the dental office at the hospital just across the street. My sister immediately thought it was me worrying about my older son after seeing the footage and I could have quite possibly assumed that as well but no, my mother's instinct kept telling me I specifically needed to get back to my younger son. We ran up just as it the hospital was being evacuated because of a fire in the basement. My son was on a gurney because he was under anesthesia for the dental procedure he was about to have.

I could have just assumed it was anxiety over the news. In fact, today, I can't watch war movies and unfortunately found out about a month ago that I can't even watch old reruns of MASH and I was a parent who stayed home and wasn't in combat. These movies and MASH are wonderful shows and I have absolutely nothing but good things to say about them but they can't help the emotions they bring up in me. So if it can affect me so emotionally, how can I not understand the triggers it could pull on a veteran?

I cried so much Friday. I prayed. I thought about 9/11. I thought about Oklahoma and Timothy McVeigh. I thought about my younger son's high school getting a call that thankfully turned out to be a prank a few years ago. We see the news and tragedies all day long and yes, we should stay informed...to a point. But what we need to consider in our situations as veterans and family members of veterans who are dealing with PTSD and maybe a TBI, is that we don't need to have them sitting in waiting rooms watching trauma. Suppose a trigger happens and they walk out because they can't deal with watching it? Then they get seen as failing to appear for an appointment. What if they get agitated and say something because of the PTSD and well, come on, the emotions and pain and anger we all feel hearing about these tragedies? Then perhaps security is called because they are “causing a scene”. Yes, this could be a possibility. Yet the trigger could simply have been because of a television showing some emotionally painful and traumatic news with a sign boldly placed nearby stating not to touch the TV.

If you feel uncomfortable watching such coverage in VA waiting rooms (or other waiting rooms), then politely and maturely write a letter (as my support group friend suggested) to the head of the center where you go and bring up your concerns and ask if the channels can be turned. If they deal with PTSD in their clinics and hospitals, they should be the first to understand what your concerns are regarding stressors.

As for Sandy Hook, all of us here at FOV will continue to pray and hold you in our thoughts.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Love Letter Campaign ~ Forever Love


Tim (My Love)

We started on this journey together, now what seems like a lifetime ago. As our relationship grew I began to learn about the PTSD and the major effect it had on your life, and now the effects it would have on our relationship and life together. You were always scared I would leave because of the strain on our relationship that PTSD would cause, but I have always promised you I never would. I remember the first time I really seen the effect of this disorder,and felt that distance,almost like a barrier between us and I couldn't understand why this was happening,why that passionate love you had always shown me suddenly froze,for just a short time. But I looked into those big green eyes and I still seen that love, I still seen that heart of gold! You are the man I am deeply in love with, and come what may, I will be the wife that stands beside you through good times and bad.

As we have continued our journey in life together, we have faced many bumps, but they only have made our love that much stronger. Most recently we found out about the TBI. I was so scared, I didn't know what to do, what to say. I knew I had to be there for you, I had to be strong and I prayed to God please give me strength! After all these test results you still continued to be sure I was OK, that I knew you loved me more than anything, and never hesitated to continue with our wedding plans.

Baby, I am here to tell you today that I am always going to be here. I will be right here beside you through the sleepless nights and all the bad dreams, just us holding each other. These monsters do not make me love you any less, fact of the matter is I love you even more, and every time I hear your voice or just look into your eyes I fall in love all over again and it becomes deeper and deeper each time. I can not wait to stand before God our family and friends and pledge our love for each other as we become husband and wife. Not many people are blessed to be able to marry their best friend,and I thank God everyday that He is allowing me to. I love you and cannot wait to be your wife!

Submitted By: A Military Wife To Be

This blog post is part of The Love Letter Campaign... a project started by FamilyOfaVet.com to encourage those who love a hero to write a letter sharing their story (where they started, what they've faced together, and why their love endures). It's not just for spouses, but also for parents, siblings, caregivers, and friends. It's about telling the "rest" of our stories... stories that continue despite PTSD, TBI, and the challenges of life after combat. To share your love letter or find out more about the campaign, visit http://www.familyofavet.com/love_letters.html

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Love Letter Campaign ~ My Dad - A Retired 30-Year Veteran Who Never Said A Word


I guess I can use this to vent; to express my true inner emotion concerning the loss of my father who died at the young age of 64 from Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma Cancer w/Sepsis Bacteria. We were told it was from radiation. I thought "radiation?" What radiation. Then I remember way back when I was younger, my dad did mention that he was stationed in Tianan (sp?) Island during WWII. He then mentioned they received orders and were shipped out to Nagasaki. They remained on the ship off the coast (don't know how far off the coast) and went in two weeks after the bomb was dropped. OK--so far so good. Now we are in the 60's. My dad just made E-7 (I laughed because my dad's record shows when he was a young lad his rank went up and down sometimes). He was right at 20 years. After his promotion, he received orders for Vietnam. My mom was scared and I remember her telling him that he put in his time and he could retire. My dad responded that the military has taken care of him and his family and he couldn't just quit. (BTW-he retired after 30 years service). He first went to Cam Ron Bay (SP?) but then was shipped to a place called Phan Rang (SP?). He came back after 13 months and we were assigned back to Germany. My dad retires in 1970 and gets a job at the Mannheim PX in Mannheim, Germany. On Memorial Day 1988, I receive a frantic phone call (I'm in the Army at this point since 1972)and my mom is crying. Said my dad went for a hernia operation and was bleeding like a "stuck pig" so they could not operate. She said he was not doing so well. I must add at this point that I can't remember my father ever being sick and missing work. I immediately flew to Mannheim and noticed my dad was losing weight and not to energetic--for my father this was unheard of. He said he was OK so I flew back home. I got another call and flew back over. This time, I took him to Landstuhl, Germany where the U.S. military had a hospital with MRI equipment. My dad went in and they thought it was something to do with the liver but weren't sure. He got worse after that so we had him admitted to the military hospital in Heidelberg, Germany. They tried to tell us he had a bad liver. I didn't buy it so I had him medevac'd to Walter Reed. His groin area was swelling up like a basketball and he was losing weight quickly. Come to find out, in Germany the doctors had mis-diagnosed him but it was too late. He had Non-Hodgkins w/Sepsis Bacteria. He was gone in 10 days. We buried him at Arlington National Cemetery. I was the Chief of the United States Army Intelligence Command Army Attache Management Division at the time. One day we had a Colonel who was in-processing and I was reading his records and found out he was in VM during the same period my father was. I asked him if he ever heard of Phan Rang (SP?) and his response caused me to almost fall off my chair. "Oh Yeah" he said. We dropped Agent Orange all over that area!
weeks on end"

In the end, and after much research, my mom and I found out that not only did my dad die because of Agent Orange; but the possibility of lingering effects of the radiation from Japan might have occurred. We were told that radiation from Japan could affect a person 50 or so years afterwards. I wrote many senators and congressman about this but no one responded. The radiation did not only kill my dad; it began the slow depression and death of my mother. My mother was the most out-going woman I've ever known. After my dad passed for 24 years until her death a few months ago she became a recluse; developed dementia; never went to the hospital for check-ups; and eventually passed away from the onset of severe dementia and Stage IV Ovarian cancer. It affected me and my kids as we were all close to my dad and mom. Although I served 21 years in the military I fault them for not informing the men and families of the possibilities of exposure to radiation, chemicals, bio-materials, etc so that preventive care and monitoring could take place. The military takes care of their own up to a point as long as you don't make waves. But, after saying that (so why did I leave the sentence in this write up? Because I write as I think), I am seeing this country taking care of the soldiers and families as well as having great respect. Remember the soldier didn't create the war the politicians did. The soldier fights the wars so that the politicians can sit back and watch. I blame them as well for the loss of both my parents not just my dad. My dad never said a word about this except for the few sentences that I mentioned above and he never complained nor ever blamed anyone for his situation. When he found out he was dying, he said "I've fought enough battles and I'm ready to go." He winked at me. My mom asked me to ask my father, while he was laying in bed, where he wanted to be buried. I did not want to do this but I did. Tears were flowing down my face like a waterfall when I had to ask him. He never talked about his war battles nor, if he ever had any, his internal battles. He never said a word. I'm 60 years old now and I miss my dad and my mom big time.

Submitted By: G.M. Rominger, Sr.

This blog post is part of The Love Letter Campaign... a project started by FamilyOfaVet.com to encourage those who love a hero to write a letter sharing their story (where they started, what they've faced together, and why their love endures). It's not just for spouses, but also for parents, siblings, caregivers, and friends. It's about telling the "rest" of our stories... stories that continue despite PTSD, TBI, and the challenges of life after combat. To share your love letter or find out more about the campaign, visit http://www.familyofavet.com/love_letters.html

Monday, December 10, 2012

Monday Momism: Reverse Flashbacks


Flashbacks are a big part of PTSD. We have witnessed them in our family a few times. A dream where he thinks his brother and sister are in the Humvee with the Tigris River on one side, innocent Iraqis on the other and insurgents in front coming towards them. A taillight out and understandably, an officer pulling him over only he takes off when he sees the lights because he has to get his people to safety. Never even had a traffic ticket up to that point. We now know the lights set off an epileptic seizure due to a TBI. Thus began our journey into the world of PTSD and TBIs.

Sometimes, though, we see reverse flashbacks. A football game, a Rangers baseball game, a TV show, a conversation. Some can be painful but when they allow us to see the person he was before combat, it makes us stronger. It makes ME stronger.

Another thing that helps me deal with PTSD in my family is writing in journals and scrapbooking. I have a journalistic scrapbook I am putting together for my grandson about his father as a child and a teen, about 9/11 and how it changed not only our country but our family and what being a combat soldier is really all about.

As I put this project together, I again see reverse flashbacks. I see them in pictures of a young boy, whether he is playing at home or at a sporting event. I see a young man with children in a war zone. These children are clustered around the soldier with smiles on their faces. It brings back memories of a phone call where he told me walked a little girl into a school for the first time in her life. I see and understand why he came home so protective of his little sister, why he and so many of our veterans can not sit in a public restaurant unless they are facing the exits.

I have stated before that if I could have talked my oldest child out of going into the Army, if I could have kidnapped him the day he left for the Middle East, I gladly would have. While I do not regret having the precious grandson I have, I do wish he could know ALL of his dad, the past as well as the present and future. Through this project I am working on, I hope to give him some of my own reverse flashbacks.

If you have a grandchild, or even a child of a veteran in your home, I would encourage you to do the same. It would be a precious and priceless gift for that child and, as I have discovered, it could be quite therapeutic for you. It can help to reconcile the courage and strength of the soldier who went to war with the veteran who now suffers from PTSD and possibly a brain injury.

We don't always understand war. December 7 just passed and many of us were not born yet when Pearl Harbor was attacked. We are now living our own moments in history and our children/grandchildren are living with the outcome of September 11, many of whom were not born yet, either. We are finding out firsthand that they aren't only historical events or good movie plots, they are active life-changing situations hitting right in our own homes.

Reverse flashbacks. They can be quite healing if we allow them to be. They can also be priceless gifts to the newest generations in our lives.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Love Letter Campaign ~ To My Best Friend



To My Best Friend,

I remember 6 years ago chatting online with this guy. He was funny and charming…and a hopeless flirt. But I could hear a note in his voice when we talked that I couldn't identify. The first time I met that guy, he was all smiles and oh so respectful. And every time he looked at me he had a twinkle in his eye.

After a while, he and I went our separate ways…physically…but we stayed in touch. We talked about everything from the differences in organic foods to what routes to take when driving through the Rockies. I eventually learned what that note in his voice was…it was the sound that I’d heard my entire life and never learned to identify…the sound of a soldier that had seen too much. This man, this soldier, became my best friend…the one person on this earth that I could say anything too without fear of judgement…the one person on this earth that I knew I could count on if I ever really needed anything.

I eventually had a beautiful son with my best friend. Granted, it wasn't necessarily planned…but my friend taught me that sometimes the best things in life aren't planned. Over the years I learned a lot from my friend. I saw what war could do from a grown-up’s eyes, when I had only ever seen it from a child’s. I learned a lot more patience…both with myself and those around me. I learned, from my friend, that just like love can come in many forms, it can be expressed in many forms. And I learned to listen to that little voice on my shoulder that I had ignored for so long…the voice that told me that my friend wasn't just my friend anymore.

On June 16, 2012, God truly blessed me. On that day I got to marry my best friend. I stood before God Himself and man and promised that I would always love my friend…now my husband. I promised that no matter what got put in our path, I would stand next to him. I promised to carry him when he fell, and to let him carry me when I did.

It’s not been an easy road with this man I met and became friends with, then married. There have been fights…some much worse than others. There have been hard times when there wasn't enough of this or enough of that. There have been times when we disagreed. There have been just as many tearful and stressful nights as there have been joyous and loving nights. But, when things are tough…when my best friend talks in his sleep, or has a little too much to drink, or lashes out over something that could be easily resolved, or even when he says nothing at all…I remember the words I repeated the day we married: “And for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother’s house and the two shall become one flesh.”…ONE FLESH. What hurts him…hurts me. What joys him…joys me. I know that no matter where Uncle Sam or even God Himself takes us in this life I will always have, at my side, my best friend…my rock…my provider…my light…my strength…my husband…YOU.

I Love You Husband...Me

This blog post is part of The Love Letter Campaign... a project started by FamilyOfaVet.com to encourage those who love a hero to write a letter sharing their story (where they started, what they've faced together, and why their love endures). It's not just for spouses, but also for parents, siblings, caregivers, and friends. It's about telling the "rest" of our stories... stories that continue despite PTSD, TBI, and the challenges of life after combat. To share your love letter or find out more about the campaign, visit http://www.familyofavet.com/love_letters.html

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Love Letter Campaign ~ Can't Thank You Enough...



I can't thank you enough for all that you have endured so that I may walk freely down Main Street in Lisle, Illinois without the fear of repression from some unknown enemy...

I will never be able to repay you the debt of gratitude that I owe you for sparing me the harsh ordeal through which you so valiantly triumphed....

I know that your life will never be the same...

But I also want you to know that I APPRECIATE the fact that you endured so that MY life might retain the same freedoms and rights that those who came before you secured for the people of this nation.

If nightmares keep you awake at night, PLEASE know that my prayers are with you that you might enjoy peace in your dreams...

If aches and pains of invisible wounds haunt you by daylight, PLEASE know that I will forever be indebted to you for your sacrifice of suffering...

I wish you feel pride as you walk down your own Main Street, wherever you may find yourself in this great land: YOU GAVE THIS PLACE TO US!

And, whenever you see the flag fly, I want you to know that I KNOW all that you have given to me...

I WILL NEVER FORGET YOU.

I WILL ALWAYS BE GRATEFUL FOR WHAT YOU HAVE SACRIFICED FOR ME AND MINE.

May Great Spirit bless you with peace and long, happy days free from worry and filled with abundance and prosperity for as long as you shall grace this earth.

Submitted By: Words just aren't enough to thank you for your sacrifice, an American Mom

This blog post is part of The Love Letter Campaign... a project started by FamilyOfaVet.com to encourage those who love a hero to write a letter sharing their story (where they started, what they've faced together, and why their love endures). It's not just for spouses, but also for parents, siblings, caregivers, and friends. It's about telling the "rest" of our stories... stories that continue despite PTSD, TBI, and the challenges of life after combat. To share your love letter or find out more about the campaign, visit http://www.familyofavet.com/love_letters.html

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Love Letter Campaign ~ Still So in Love With Him




I made the biggest mistake of my life the day I broke up with him.

Back then I didn't know how serious it was to become, I had almost no knowledge about what PTSD was at all. I just figured oh okay, he is handling everything well, I have to respect his wishes. I just didn't wanna fight with him, and it was all so new to me, so I just left it alone. And then the attitude he would get would just surprise me because he was never like that with me in all the time we were together, and then the bad attitude would rub off on me. And that would eventually lead to that fight that ended our relationship.

Thinking back now, I wish I had known why he was acting the way he was, it could have saved our relationship, and all this heartache.

I thought I had started seeing the signs of the PTSD, well the little I knew about it, and I told him to go get help, but he insisted and insisted that he didn't need it. And more and more things just weren't the same anymore. We had the perfect relationship once upon a time, never fought, we had nothing to fight about. And then this came full force. It completely blind sided me, so I can't even imagine what it did to him. Because now he wants nothing to do with me.

Here was this man that i felt the most safe with, the person i loved more than I loved myself. The person I was supposed to spend the rest of my life with. It was always us, and now he is so angry with me because I made him worse. How could I do that? Why then couldn't I handle it, and now I think I can? Why do I wake every single day and feel guilty?! I love him still. I always will. I need to be with him, I want to be with him. But he says no no no, over and over. And I do not know how to let go still.

Submitted By: Hope

This blog post is part of The Love Letter Campaign... a project started by FamilyOfaVet.com to encourage those who love a hero to write a letter sharing their story (where they started, what they've faced together, and why their love endures). It's not just for spouses, but also for parents, siblings, caregivers, and friends. It's about telling the "rest" of our stories... stories that continue despite PTSD, TBI, and the challenges of life after combat. To share your love letter or find out more about the campaign, visit http://www.familyofavet.com/love_letters.html.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The "WHY" Behind the Caregiver Mental Health Summit



Over the last 8 weeks, my mom has been in the hospital three times, my husband is in "that" time of year where everything in our household goes south (oh... and it's also "that" time of year for a lot of the Family Of a Vet staff households), my aunt died, I've had bronchitis and pneumonia, a gigantic tree limb fell on part of our fence, and.......

Literally that list could go on for several more paragraphs.

I am a caregiver.  And honestly, my life often comes in endless, neverending waves of "HOLY CRAP" that I have to manage, juggle, fix, deal with, cope with, and try my best not to be completely overwhelmed by.

And, all of this swirls around me while I deal (or try to) with my own "mental health issues"... Secondary PTSD, Caregiver "Fatigue", depression, anxiety, insomnia, anger, sadness, blah, blah, blah.

I can't honestly name a caregiver (I know A LOT of them at this point) who lives here in PTSD/TBI/Life After Combat world with me who doesn't face a similar issue.

HOW DO WE STAY SANE (or at least as sane as possible) WHILE WE TAKE CARE OF OUR HERO, OUR FAMILY, AND ALLLLLLLL OF THE OTHER "STUFF"?

That's "why" we're having this Summit (which starts today!).  To talk.  To talk about what's working.  To talk about what isn't.  To get ideas, feedback, and new things to try.

We are a strong community.  I see proof of that every single day (and most days I see examples dozens of times).  But strong does not equal unbreakable. And, we have to make sure that we  don't break (or at least break as little as possible :) ) so that we're HERE and ABLE to keep marching forward.



So, please register.  You can attend for free, online, from anywhere.  If you can't attend the "live" Summit, register anyway so that you can be notified as soon as the free, recorded version is available.

This is a really BIG DEAL... the first of its kind... and hundreds of hours of work by dedicated volunteers and caregivers (and professionals who are donating their time!) to spend two days talking about the Mental Health Issues sometimes faced by military/veteran caregivers and to provide *ACTIONABLE* ways to cope and feel better.

Today (November 29th) is a day specifically for professionals or volunteers who work with Military/Veteran Caregivers and want to know how to better serve them.

Friday (November 30th) is a day devoted to Caregivers and information, ideas, and real-world talk about the Mental Health Issues we sometimes face when caring for and loving our heroes and *HOW* to cope.

You can attend in your PJ's... promise we'll never tell! But whatever you do (and however you dress ;) ) come take advantage of the the handiwork (and heart work!) of military/veteran caregivers (who are wonderful Family Of a Vet volunteers!) who have designed, coordinated, and worked their "sixes" off to make the Summit such an incredible event!

To sign up, or for more information, visit the official Summit site: http://fovsummits.com/

AND... if you have QUESTIONS:

Sharlene Prinsen has been kind enough to donate 10 copies of her book, "Blind Devotion: Survival On the Frontlines of PTSD & Addiction," (and cover postage!) in support of the Summit. 5 Caregivers and 5 Professionals that submit questions for the Summit will be selected at random to receive a free copy!

MILITARY / VETERAN CAREGIVERS, submit questions here: http://tinyurl.com/ctpt9yk

PROFESSIONALS / VOLUNTEERS WHO SERVE CAREGIVERS, submit questions here: http://tinyurl.com/c8vp656

For more information about Sharlene's book, visit this link: http://blinddevotionblog.com/book-information/

Come on!  Let's DO THIS!,

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 Life After Combat!


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Love Letter Campaign ~ Dear Jon....I always swore I'd never write you a Dear Jon letter




Dear Jon,

The day I met you, it was totally by mistake. If I had not been so darn curious about where you went to basic training, we would not have the family we have today. I guess sometimes life throws you in the lap of the person you are meant to be with, even if you never expect it.

You were such a wonderful man, a hero in my eyes, to me and my daughter. You loved us so much and cared about us like we were family almost from day one. I knew we were meant to be a family when my then-3-1/2 yr old daughter accidentally kicked you in your crotch, but that same night you still told me that you really liked me and her and you wanted to continue seeing us.

We have had so many wonderful memories made in our lives, but unfortunately, the trauma of PTSD has encouraged painful memories too. No matter what we've been through, I continue to stand by my man. It's been hard. I've doubted myself many times. I've wanted to walk away and divorce you. You already know this because I've voiced it many times. Something keeps me here though. Maybe it's the fact that we have such a beautiful family. Maybe it's the fact that we've been through so much. Maybe it's the fact that I've invested so much love and heartache into this marriage and our relationship. Or maybe...just maybe...yes, most definitely...it is because I love the man you are! Like Kelly Clarkson says in her song, "Dark Side," 'everyone has a dark side.' Well, I'm here to tell you, Jon, I love you even with your dark side. I know that dark side will always be there. It may creep its ugly head when we least expect it, but deep down inside, you are and always will be the man I fell in love with 6 years ago. That part of you will never change, no matter how much PTSD has changed you. No matter how long it takes to lift you out of the shell that PTSD has placed around you, our children and I will always be here for you.

I promised to love you through the good times and the bad, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer...and I don't break promises! My love for you has already been tested to the max, yet, it still remains in my heart...and only for you.

I am here, Jon, and I always will be. Just don't ever give up the fight...don't let PTSD win! You fought your way through Iraq and now you are beginning your fight through Afghanistan...if you can beat those battles, then PTSD has no chance of winning!
You have 2 amazing and beautiful children and a wife who has always been by your side...you really ARE the luckiest man in the world! And we are the luckiest family in the world...to have you...our HERO! We love you!

Submitted By: Jami VB, wife to a wonderful Veteran battling a nasty illness





This blog post is part of The Love Letter Campaign... a project started by FamilyOfaVet.com to encourage those who love a hero to write a letter sharing their story (where they started, what they've faced together, and why their love endures). It's not just for spouses, but also for parents, siblings, caregivers, and friends. It's about telling the "rest" of our stories... stories that continue despite PTSD, TBI, and the challenges of life after combat. To share your love letter or find out more about the campaign, visit http://www.familyofavet.com/love_letters.html.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Love Letter Campaign ~ Dear Travis My Dearest Love




Dear my love,

I know that we came together as you were getting out of the military, swearing I would never get "involved" with anyone in the military I fell in love with you from the moment I laid eyes on you. I think we both did. Anyhow, No it hasn't been easy, I did not know what in the world I was getting me or my kiddos into. By my goodness we have pushed through on some serious hard days, weeks, months or longer. It took a bit for us both to understand where all of the arguing and pain came from but between learning to be honest, truthful, the best Dr. in the world and trust we have come to the other end. I know I wasn't there when you deployed and all the hard things, but now we are going through the toughest. I have so much faith in you Travis, I trust you with all of my heart. But my lord PTSD and TBI is not a blessing, but you are. As your VA Caregiver staying home with you daily is often tough but the love we carry is even tougher. I promise to be there for you on the days you don't want to be, to hold you when you are falling, to not leave on the hardest days. you have supported, loved, trusted, as I have you since the day we have met. The Lord has challenged us and we succeeded to work through those challenges, and I love you more now than I have ever loved any man. I know that you hurt and that you struggle and I hurt with you. Thank you for letting me in and trusting me with life and your life after all you have been through while your life was Iraq and I was not there until Iraq was behind you at least physically, You are a true hero, more than you let yourself know. Your wife, children, family-n-law, and many more love, respect, and are more than proud of the man you are and are making yourself be. Baby you are amazing even on the hardest days and I look forward to spending the rest of our long lives together, even if it isn't always easy. You are our blessing and I thank the Lord above for putting us in each others lives and Match.com ;)! Thank you Travis for loving me and the children , you will forever be appreciated .

Always, your Boo

Submitted By The Wife of a Veteran

This blog post is part of The Love Letter Campaign... a project started by FamilyOfaVet.com to encourage those who love a hero to write a letter sharing their story (where they started, what they've faced together, and why their love endures). It's not just for spouses, but also for parents, siblings, caregivers, and friends. It's about telling the "rest" of our stories... stories that continue despite PTSD, TBI, and the challenges of life after combat. To share your love letter or find out more about the campaign, visit http://www.familyofavet.com/love_letters.html.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Love Letter Campaign ~ Open Letter




I'm a retired Sailor who was married for 18 years of a 26 year career. I served in Grenada, Lebanon, Panama, Desert Shield/Storm, Somalia and Afghanistan. I thought I had it made because my marriage had survived the deployments. Wasn't long after I retired that my lovely bride found someone else, the family friend. Im disabled with PTSD among other things and I knew it was an issue and got the help I needed. Guess it wasn't good enough. I guess I'm writing this to please help those of us who don't have a support network of people to love us because our spouse abandoned us. My kids love me and understand I fought for this country and have seen and did bad things, but they are young and don't need to be saddled with this. I'm just asking that you remember those of us who have no one to write us a love letter.

Thank you

Submitted By Veteran of Lost Love

This blog post is part of The Love Letter Campaign... a project started by FamilyOfaVet.com to encourage those who love a hero to write a letter sharing their story (where they started, what they've faced together, and why their love endures). It's not just for spouses, but also for parents, siblings, caregivers, and friends. It's about telling the "rest" of our stories... stories that continue despite PTSD, TBI, and the challenges of life after combat. To share your love letter or find out more about the campaign, visit http://www.familyofavet.com/love_letters.html.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The hell I live

*WARNING: The language in this post is not "PG-13" (as often the language in our lives is sadly not either).  While we're normally careful to limit curse words in posts, etc., the raw nature of this one sort of calls for it.  If you're bothered or upset by curse words, please don't read.  Certainly NOT our intention to make anyone uncomfortable, but instead to share from different perspectives the hurt, anger, internal conflict, and struggles we sometimes feel.*

What hell man has created. What HELL! I tell you with urgency and unedited truth the hell I see. I want you to know my story and when you hear it and when you know my heart I want you to be as shocked as I often am. I want you to cry and be miserable and know, really know what hell man has made.

I have in the past 5 years learned so much about how man, or woman, often have absolutely no regard for eachother that they, whether knowingly or not, actually contribute and participate and perpetuate this hell I speak of.

When I say "hell" I want you to know what that means. Hell to me is a "place" a "mindset" an "existence" that is so repulsive, it breeds hate and infiltrates even the most loving heart and it breaks it and it rapes it and debases it over and over and over again. You will either continue to exist in a way that perpetuates it, feeds it, and complicates it, or you will demand of yourself to remove yourself from it, you will not be blind to it, you will not chose to be complacent, you will not feel so hopeless about changing it, and you will make a choice to stop it.

No woman should ever have to sit with her husband and tell him of this hell. No woman should ever have to become so hateful, so full of spite, so brutally honest, that she forces her husband to face this hell and make a conscience choice to either continue to participate in this hell, or leave. Remove himself. Extract himself from not only his own internal hell peppered with images of a past life, shattered by life after combat, destroyed by society and their inability to relate to any other human being other than themselves, or their fucking SUV.

Tonight I am raw and so angry, dangerously angry. Violent and hostile and not fit for society angry. Let me share with you, dear reader, my hell. Let me invite you to come and sit next to me while I recant my hell. Let me poison your sweet mind with my hell. Let my hell rape you.

I hung up the phone with a feeling of joy and childish excitement I have not felt in a very long time. Christmas WILL be good! Oh God I love that feeling, the "christmas" spirit I guess you would say... I don't remember the last time I truly felt it. I know for sure it has been gone from my sight since I met and married my husband.
Christmas was always special to me. Memories are so far gone that I only remember just a few at this moment; the big tree in the Great Hall, the giant beautiful golden birds that decorated it, the snow, the way the world looked protected and blanketed by snow, trees naked, but safe, a foreign concept to me. A beautiful type of gray. Corners of the world like the Campus of St. Johns frozen in time, no students making their tracks. Deer right in front of the pallestra. Moving right along, the only sound was the crunch of snow under my tires as I drove slowly toward the massive bells and stained glass windows. Peace. Inside these quiet buildings was an unseen force that moved you to want to learn. It did. I was never a student there, only a health care worker, but it was an environment that bred the deep desire to learn as much as you could.

Another memory was my parent's christmas tree. Always a real pine. The smell, the reprieve from tension in my dysfunctional childhood.... the smell signaled a moment of distraction. My younger brothers and I would always want to sleep under or around the tree. Children scattered like a litter of puppies, overlapping, upside down, dreaming of happy things. Warmed by the multicolour lights strung up the tree. I love their tree so much, it was not a "theme", it was true to life. It was an ornament from school, popscicle sticks painted red glued like a sled, hung by a small cut of yarn, a golden angel, a bird, a mailbox... It was the most random collection, but damn, every year, we looked around at each ornament like we had never ever seen it before.... and moved by the spirit of Christmas, we just couldn't bare to sleep anywhere but right up underneath it. Perhaps my brothers don't have such fond memories of a tree, or sleeping under it. But I did, and they were there, and I loved when Anna our cat, was right up in the melee of children sleeping tangle of limbs.
So tonight as I hung up with my girlfriend, I ran up the steps, hurried the children off to bed, and told my husband. It was going to be our first family vacation. It was going to be their first plane ride. It was going to be our first Christmas where we would have these memories, together, as a family! I told him our plans, which, I had fully committed too. He knows how much I love I christmas, sure, traveling with him and kids would be difficult, but I had it all worked out, a little benadryl for kids, fly at night, quiet air ports, I will ask his doctor for a better medicine to calm him, Valium, I thought.... There is no way any doctor would not do this, knowing what our lives would do, just one for the way there, one for the way back.... Once we get there, we would be just fine, and we could do what normal families do at a holiday....
His response was alittle anticlimactic, and he was concerned about going their. It will be hard for him, it will be be difficult for him......

"You know WHAT?! I was SO excited, I was so hopeful, like a naive little girl, what the FUCK was I thinking." I looked at him and wanted to go to him and start hitting him and screaming and making him bleed. He just sat..... *blink* *blink* His eyes the only thing that moved. Which infuriated me even more. I was so full of hate and repulsion, I wanted him gone. I wanted him away from him. I was so mad at HIM.

"YOU ARE SO CONCERNED ABOUT YOU, YOU, YOU, YOU, do you EVER think about us? Creating memories with our children? You do not know me anymore. Or, You are so far GONE, this is not how you would have responded years ago...." He just sat..... *blink* *blink*

Nothing moved, not even a twitch in his face, no change in breathing, no nothing. I was raging, I was going for the kill. Goddamn it, if he can not save himself, and I cannot save him, and the doctors are not saving him, I WILL TELL YOU THE TRUTH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Out spewed the words that I will forever regret, "Get the fuck over yourself. For this one time. You have flown before, you have been to this house, you are the father. You fucking PUSSY get the fuck up and fight for yourself! Do this, for your sons." I know before the bullets had left the gun, that this might be it. I have fear that I will drive him to kill himself, either by my occasional painful "calls to action" or by the rare moments when he realizes that his pain is *killing me*. I felt him rising inside of himself, I saw the tell tale signs of the beast awakening. I braced, but only this time, not out preparation to soothe, to help, to encourage, but this, I braced, for incoming, and for the fight that was rising within me. I was ready for the fight I wanted the fight I wanted some sort of reaction out of him that if it meant screaming and bloodshed in my living room, I wanted it.

He BURST out of the chair, and standing tall over me he screamed " I am tired of this! I will NOT be called names!" I didn't flinch, but I closed my eyes, I didn't want to see what he looked like hitting me. I didn't want to know that wild eyed far away look as my husband.... I have seen a man like that before, and I refused to know my husband as such.

But the first sound I heard and the first rumble I felt was not of his fists against my body, or the whooshing and roaring of blood in your ears after being hit upside the head, it was of his angry body weight stomping away from me, his foot hitting the floor so hard the house shook. He went to the island, grabbed his cigs, and stormmed off to the door. I closed my eyes again. I didn't want the last memory of him to be leaving me, his back to me, angry and hurt. And I was aware that this very well could have been the last... He is so close to ending his pain, that I wouldn't be surprised. Infact, I am waiting for it.

I am waiting for him to kill himself. A wife, a houseful of children, she waits for it, knowing she cannot stop it, that she cannot time it, nor can she prepare, but she sits, always, knowing, that this very well could be the last. That is my hell. That is my pergatory. Knowing it will happen, but there is nothing you can do. There is no amount of love in my heart, money in the world, that can make him love himself. Right now, at this very moment, I tell you honestly and painfully, that this is not just my hell alone, but I share it with many, many, other women. Waiting in this timeless hell of anticipation. I have become good at pretending it "isn't that bad". "He would never, he just is very sad...." "I will see him through this,I will love him through this.... I am worth living for, surely he would live for me... He will live for the kids...."

The other day, I was reminded, not so gently, that I am NOT worth living for. It is NOT ME who must want to live, it is NOT ME who will keep him alive.... He must find within himself, he must find it Beyond himself, it is him, not me, who will be enough to encourage him to carry on. He has emotionally flat lined. It is painful to see. His affect is so flat, and stone cold. It makes me rage. I often incite a riot within himself just to see some sort of response, some sign of life.....

After he came back in, he sat down. He stared forward, I stared at the computer screen. I was still very mad at him. We sat in silence, for several minutes... I wanted him away. I was like an abused child, just HIT me already, get it over with.... But, true to the nature of my husband, he just sat quietly. He would never hit me, and this time, I wish he would have. I deserved it.

I turned to him and I said we will not sit in silence and end this day like this. You tell me and you tell me right now, do you want to die? Did you think of killing yourself tonight? He admitted he did. Just outside, he thought of ending it. I raged, inside and out.

"If you kill yourself I want you to know I will hate you and I will hate you forever and ever and ever, and I will fucking spit on your grave and WILL SCREAM AT YOU and I WILL HATE YOU. GOD DAMN YOU I LOVE YOU and I have spent the last 6 years of my life fighting and endlessly working and fixing and mending and creating and lving for you, if you kill yourself, I WILL FOREVER FUCKING HATE YOU." I was shaking, and I was serious. But he just sat and sat and sat. Flat. Dead. A few minutes passed us just sitting in the middle of this hell together. Together....

"Please, I'm sorry, listen to me when I say that I can not fix this for you, I can make you want to live, I clearly am not enough to make you WANT to live, nor are the boys, but, I promise, I will never stop fixing this WITH you, fighting WITH you, but I have for a while now, been fighting for you by myself.... I know you are very very very down and circling the bottom, but please, you are scaring me. And if you went to the hospital tonight, there would be nothing they could do for you, but if you stayed there, I would feel relief, like we were taking action, like I could breathe and not have to worry just one minute about you...."

It was then, when our 5 year old came out into the living room and demanded comfort. "I'm scared." No you aren't, go to bed. "I'm scared." Of what? "I don't know I just am I need you to come and lay by me." There is nothing to be scared of, go lay down, and daddy will come lay by you but we have to finish our talk first. He would not move. He refused to go. I stood up. You will either go by yourself back to bed, and wait so we can finish our mommy and daddy talk, or you will be carried, and you will wait there until we are ready. He fell to his knees and kneeled over as if he was in a modified childs pose, or someone praying to Mecca.

GET. UP. But this child, as stubborn as he is sweet, wasn't going anywear. I picked him up and put him in my bed and told him he will wait.

I came out in to the living room. My husband in the SAME position in the chair, a leg thrown over the arm.... Flat. I asked him to just go lay by our son, that I just had nothing more to say. That I needed him to sleep and know that I will call his doctor and we will get this taken care of, and it will get better, and once again, I am fighting for him come morning.

WIthing minutes, I hear him snoring in the bedroom. I wanted to crawl into him and cry and urge him to be happy, but, knowing this is beyond me, I came here instead. As he snores, I get to relive a little hell to share with you.

So at this point, I am again, exhausted just from having to think about it and write it out to you, but, I am not the only woman who waits for his end, planning for the worse, it will hurt less then, I will bounce back faster, for the boys.....

I have met women who have lost sons, who have lost husbands, who left behind children..... Women who have lost their loved one in more ways than just death.... Being victimized by a broken system, being poisoned by medications that do not work so they add and increase and add again, yet when a wife screams that the medications tasked to help, are actually making things gravely worse, she is dismissed, ignored, and actually bashed and painted as an adversary in the medical record..... This is true. I testify. Not only have I experienced just this, but so has so many others.... to the demise of the Veteran.

Now. That. That was our night. That is, unfortunately more often than not, a typical night in combat household. Its an unfortunate thing that we have to have these conversations, but, they are incredibly important.

And in the words of a very wise friend and mentor, Sweet Dreams or None at all. ~

** And I realize that the words I spoke to my husband were upsetting to you, but, I realize, that what words that come out of mouth, will anger God, but that because of Grace, I was forgiven before I even spit them out... That what makes Him happy, instead, would have been to use words that lifted my husband up, rather than put him down. It was only until this minute, that I came across this:

(Eph 4:29-32 NASB) Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

Written by Kateri P. Wife and Caregiver of a Veteran with PTSD/TBI, and other war related illnesses, who hopes that her candid and often jarring accounts of random moments in this Life After Combat, will either move the reader to action and become informed, or, be a source of comfort in realizing, You are not alone. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Love Letter Campaign ~ My Best Friend




You said "I love you" to me today and it was sincere. There are times when all I hear you say is "I don't know how to love anymore, I am not even sure that I love myself". I was asked why I stayed with you even when times got hard for us. I thought about it and i think I am ready to express myself to you. When I first met you, I was a country girl who had just lost her mother and it felt like I was losing my life! You did not judge or mistreat me, you became my best friend. You grew on me and I grew on you. You gave me purpose and helped me to pick up the pieces of my life. As we grew, I noticed a change in you, that I was not expecting. You found out you had PTSD and TBI in the early stages. As things got worse so many times, I wanted to leave, but my heart would not let go. We have had good and bad days and it seems like at times, the bad out weighs the good. Then I look at you and I realize that my love for you looks past the PTSD and it gets past the TBI. I did not marry those conditions. I married a man who is kind-hearted, loving, and funny just to name a few. No matter what we have been though on this journey, we have done it together. I am honored that you chose me to be your wife. Just like you have always been my best friend, I will always be yours. You always have told me that you would do anything to protect me and never let anything happen to me. To this day, that is a promise that you have kept for me. As I look into your eyes each day, I fall in love all over again. You are the owner of my heart. I cherish each moment that we have together, because of God, you and so many others that helped to make it possible for our freedom. No matter how much I hear you say that you love me, I know that you do, because you show me through the little things that you do for me. Just remember, when you wonder why I stay, its because, you are my hero, my lover, and my best friend.

Your Wife








This blog post is part of The Love Letter Campaign... a project started by FamilyOfaVet.com to encourage those who love a hero to write a letter sharing their story (where they started, what they've faced together, and why their love endures). It's not just for spouses, but also for parents, siblings, caregivers, and friends. It's about telling the "rest" of our stories... stories that continue despite PTSD, TBI, and the challenges of life after combat. To share your love letter or find out more about the campaign, visit http://www.familyofavet.com/love_letters.html.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Monday Momism: When a Song's Meaning Changes


Yesterday, my husband and I got together with two other couples and played dominoes at one of the couple's house. Ever hear of Chicken Foot? It's a pretty fun game. As we played, the husband part of that awesome couple got up and put on some classic Country music through the cable company they use. I'm talking the real deal here: Patsy Cline, Conway Twitty, Charley Pride, and many others.  It was also the moment when I realized that when a song's meaning changes, it's because of a deeper understanding based on personal experience. 

As songs such as Johnny Cash's “Ballad of Ira Hayes” and Merle Haggard's “Fighting Side of Me” came on, the memories of listening to an 8-track in the back seat of my mom's car blended with the very real feeling of having a loved one, in my case, my son, in a war zone. It wasn't just a song a little girl was listening to, it was a very real reminder that what I was experiencing now, family members of other veterans from other wars were going through and had dealt with similar issues.

As a young girl, I just thought Ruby and the soldier were fighting and breaking up. It sounded like she was cheating on him. That was wrong, especially since it seemed he was in a wheelchair. As the mother of a combat vet, I now hear and understand what the verse about not being the man he used to be is all about. Just as hearing Alan Jackson's song literally brought me to my knees and in tears on the award show the first night it was heard, I now “get” the double meanings...the hidden meanings...the REAL meanings behind so many of those patriotic classic country songs.

PTSD and TBIs are in many of our songs. We can have PTSD as jurors in a trial where someone is brutally murdered. We can have it when we are raped. We can have it when we have to go to the morgue and identify our son or daughter who was killed by a horrible person. No veteran would deny a civilian having PTSD or a brain injury because of something that person went through. Yet many people stigmatize veterans who have served in war and that can cause worse damage for that veteran and his or her family because it makes a veteran hesitate to seek help.

Twenty-five years ago, when Lee Greenwood's song “God Bless the USA” came out, I was seeing him for the second time at a concert. The first had been five years earlier when I was pregnant. I showed him the photo from that first concert. Pregnant me with Lee Greenwood. I also showed him a picture of my little boy and said “God blessed ME with my son.” He said “God blessed the USA, too.” I never forgot that, especially when he grew up and joined the Army, went to Iraq, helped save lives and risked his own every day.

Alan Jackson's song “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?” is my favorite country patriotic song. It also defines PTSD if you let the words sink in. That moment in history changed my family's life just as it did so many others. That day was even confirmed to cause PTSD in many survivors of those attacks, as well as thought possible if people sat and watched the footage over and over and over sitting at home hundreds and thousands of miles away.

There are many other songs that affect me because my family is living them. “Letters from Home” by John Michael Montgomery inspired a contest in my hometown and I was one of the three winners and the only parent of a soldier winner. I'm not sure if they even had any other parents enter the way they acted when they gave me my prizes. Tim McGraw's “If You're Reading This” reminds me of that special letter so many get when the soldier wants to write that “just in case” letter. I got one from my son. Thankfully, he came home but I still hold that letter dear to my heart and it's in a special hiding place in my room.

There are other songs and other talented musicians out there who are expressing an appreciation for our veterans and our active military just as these wonderful ones named above do. Maybe they don't touch some people as deeply as they do those who are dealing with war and its aftermath. But just as I have a deeper understanding and appreciation for the songs I heard about war while growing up, I know that it literally takes someone who has “been there” to understand. If you are there, dealing with PTSD and/or a TBI, we want you to know that here at FOV we understand because we are living with it, too. If you're reading this, you're not alone. 



Monday, November 5, 2012

Monday Momism: Veteran's Day Thoughts


Sunday is Veteran's Day. This past Saturday, we held a parade in honor of Veteran's Day in my community. There were several organizations that came together to march in gratitude and appreciation for those who have served in our Armed forces.

I marched with a Veteran Outreach group I volunteer with here in Texas called BEITZ, which, along with this awesome non-profit group, Family of a Vet, has opened its arms to include me, the mom of a combat veteran suffering from PTSD and a TBI. As I walked along helping to hold up our banner, I felt a multitude of emotions: pride, thankfulness, companionship, acceptance, and yes, a bittersweet sense of “if only”.

I felt pride in our troops, just as I have from the time I was a little girl taking pictures with our family friend, “Uncle Willie”, a Vietnam soldier home on leave and later on, as a military spouse. I felt thankfulness for being able to live in a land where I can be free to worship, free to vote, free to be female and live out my dreams thanks to those who have stood and defended this country for over 200 years and those who still do so today.

I felt companionship because I was walking with a group of family members and veterans who understood my roller coaster days living with a loved one who has PTSD and a brain injury from combat. Being understood is something we all hope to find in our daily lives among our friends and yes, strangers we come in contact with. Being supported and encouraged by others who walk or have walked in your shoes is a wonderful light in a tunnel where you are unsure of which way to go. I feel accepted by FOV and my local group because we truly are a team of fighters and spirited people ready to go the distance for our loved ones and each other.

Still, there is that “if only” feeling. If only my son hadn't joined the Army just weeks before 9/11. If only I had never had a special fondness for the military, if my kids had not been raised as military brats, maybe he would not have shown the interest he did. If only I had hog-tied him and kept him home and refused to let him go to basic three weeks after that fateful September day. If only.

I am PROUD of my son. I miss the part of him that PTSD has taken over but I am still very much proud of who he was and, most of the time, who he is today. He and so many others are part of why we have the freedoms we have, the the pride we have, the uniting as a family we have when things like Pearl Harbor and 9/11 happen.

As we walked along, I saw some women on the sidewalk holding pictures of loved ones in uniform. While holding up my end of the banner with my left hand, I saluted them with my right. One started tearing up and said “Thank you!” I don't know if their loved ones were away on active duty, at work, had passed or, like my son and many other veterans, staying home because their PTSD makes them uncomfortable being recognized and around crowds.

If you feel any or all of these feelings, please know that FOV is a family that understands. Email us if you would be interested in our organization or if you need help finding local resources. We are here for each other and we would like to be here for you.

Happy Veteran's Day.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Veterans, PTSD, and Simple Customer Service (Wouldn't it be nice...)

It seems best to start with my husband's Facebook status from last night.  It alone will get my point across (but of course, I'll have to add my two cents :) ):

"Well I went to the VA today. For a shrink appointment but at the check in was told that my doc wasn't seeing anymore patience because she has been promoted. I never got a letter or a call. So the VA mental Heath dept. has yet again canceled my Heath care. I don't have a social worker anymore because he's to busy to care and don't show up for group meetings. Are when he's there he leaves early saying he got work to do. Now I don't even have a shrink and cant get my meds anymore. people wonder why Vets do the things they do. We can't get help from any where. We are truly alone in our fight. NO HOPE."

In the past two years, my husband... a hero with severe (VA's words) PTSD and well as Traumatic Brain Injury has been shuffled through FOUR different people to handle his psychiatric medications.  For anyone, changing doctors constantly is at the very least uncomfortable... but for a Veteran who has to really, really, *REALLY* work at developing any sort of bond, it's almost catastrophic.

We wait for months to get appointments, when we are able to get them they are often first thing in the morning (which, for those of you who don't live in our world of PTSD, TBI, and the related sleep issues, can present a monumental challenge) despite my continued pleas to make sure that he is scheduled no earlier than 11:00 am so that I, as his wife and caregiver, have the best possible chance of getting him there on a "bad" day, and then after seeing someone once or twice, without notice, explanation, or an opportunity to see the current physician a last time, we are unceremoniously swapped to someone else.

His first psychiatrist in our current VA system was actually good.  We saw her once a month.  She listened.  She didn't balk at my hubby's sarcasm and she sort of got our odd sense of humor (a coping skill we've developed over the years).  But, she was moved into the C&P department.  That time, however, we did at least get one last appointment for her to explain to my husband what was happening (an ideal move in a less than ideal circumstance).

Then, we were assigned to a psychiatrist who barely spoke English.  I don't say that to be cruel, I mention that because it meant the two times we were able to see him (one time that he forgot to even put his notes in the system and my husband was recorded as a "no show" despite the fact that we'd spent 30 minutes in his office), the conversation was almost impossible.  It consisted of me explaining what medications we had tried, including some that had caused really *BAD* reactions, and then him re-prescribing those medications.

Then, for a short time we were able to see the Nurse Practioner who does double-duty in our VA's TBI clinic and in the mental health clinic.  In many ways, this worked well because she's familiar to us (we see her quarterly in the TBI clinic), but in the State of Alabama she can't prescribe certain types of medications (including some of the hubby's sleep/anxiety stuff), so while she could help with some things, she couldn't cover everything.  She also explained that in our VA it's not "preferred" for there to be a crossover between the two clinics (the same provider seeing a patient both places), though honestly that doesn't make a lot of sense to me... especially when you're dealing with Veterans who need consistency to a greater degree than most.

So, then we got assigned to yet another psychiatrist.  This one, thankfully, was actually pretty good.  But, since our mental health clinic was short staffed by this point, it took 3 - 5 months to get appointments with her.  We had the first appointment, the next was scheduled for 8:00 am on what ended up being a horrible PTSD/TBI day and we had to cancel, that appointment was re-scheduled (almost 3 months later) for yesterday... and now we're back to the start of the story.

Honestly, in dealing with ANY hero... but especially when serving heroes with mental health problems... good old fashioned customer service should be the first order of business.  There's a lot of this scenario that can't be fixed overnight (understaffing, high turnover, etc, etc, though there are initiatives in place to hire more providers but in all honesty that may take years at best to trickle down), but simple CUSTOMER SERVICE can be fixed.

  1. If a provider is leaving or changing jobs, that provider should meet with patients at least once more to explain and if, at all possible, introduce the Veteran to the new provider.
  2. If there isn't time for a provider to meet with patients, then someone else that Veteran is familiar with should be tasked to do that job.
  3. Veterans should also be notified... not with just some computer generated form letter... but with a signed letter AND phone call explaining what is happening and what steps are being taken to ensure their continued care.
  4. When a provider leaves and a Veteran already has an appointment scheduled, that Veteran should AUTOMATICALLY be assigned to a new provider and an appointment scheduled to prevent any lapses in care.

This is basic stuff.  And, in any situation where patients are choosing to stay with or move to a different "civilian" provider or clinic, these steps are in place.  When there is a concern about patients/customers leaving, there is an emphasis automatically on customer service because it impacts the profitability of the business and the wallet of the physicians involved.  While that may not be the case in a VA setting, we should be so much MORE dedicated to going above and beyond in service to the "customers" because those customers have literally laid their lives, bodies, and minds down in service to us.

So, we do have another appointment scheduled with yet another provider... a month away... more waiting... more hoping and praying for my hero and others like him not to give up.  If we really are going to start making a dent in the growing suicide, divorce, substance abuse, death, and destruction being left in the hearts, mind, and homes impacted by combat, we have to start the places that can be changed NOW and keep working towards the long-term changes needed overall.  To put it simply, our heroes don't have years to wait for people to start getting this right.  By then, they will have lost hope in a system put in place to help them and we as caregivers will find it nearly impossible to get them to the resources they need. 

Hoping (and praying) for better,

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 Life After Combat!

 


Monday, October 15, 2012

Monday Momism: Tough Noodles


There's a story that has long been shared in our family. When my oldest child was born, I was just 20 and not the greatest cook. One of the best examples was the not-so-simple task (apparently for me) of making macaroni and cheese. My son had just turned five years old when I made him a bowl one afternoon. My mother informed me that I needed to cook the noodles longer. She got on to me about the “tough noodles” and how macaroni and cheese was one of the easiest things to make. I'm not sure if it was the look in my eyes of not feeling like I measured up once again or the tone of her voice but suddenly, I had a hero come to my defense as my little boy exclaimed “I love you tough noodles, Mommy! That's the most you can love anyone!”

From that day on, “I love you tough noodles” became our own symbolic way of saying how much we cared about each other. It was the phrase used for the longest time as he would get out of the car each morning for school. He used it the first time he saw his little brother and his little sister.

Through the years, people would raise their eyebrows when they heard our expression. Some raised them even further when they heard the story behind it. Still, it was a phrase of deep meaning and love and those who knew us understood how special they truly were when we used the phrase towards them as well.

In time, my son outgrew that special phrase. When he read it one day on my old blog, he showed it to his girlfriend. It brought up memories for all of us, my mom, me and my kids. Although my now adult children think I need to “let go” at times, I think even they still appreciate such moments when I go down memory lane.

When my older son returned from war, I knew there were major changes within him. We found out he had a physical head injury on the left side of his skull that caused a brain injury, epilepsy, mood swings and memory loss. It was after the discovery that he read my blog post about our “tough noodles” phrase. We began using it a little more, usually when it was just family around or in a text.

One day, in a moment of frustration with his TBI and PTSD, my son asked me why I bothered to help him. I looked at him and said “Because I love you tough noodles and that's the most you can love anyone.” He hugged me and walked away.

The five year old boy who declared his love for his mother in spite of her lack of cooking skills, the one who was so proud of his younger siblings, the one who loved his country and his family enough to go to war for, that is the person I continue to fight for (and yes, sometimes with) so that he continues to get the help and respect he deserves.

Just the other day, I talked to him on the phone. Once again, I was reminding him of things his memory issues have made it hard for him to remember. He has decided to allow me to help him with those reminders as he knows I just have his best interests at heart. Before we hung up, he said “I love you tough noodles, Mom.”

That's why I help veterans. For the five year old still inside the soldier who left to defend our country and came back different, injured, stigmatized by society. If you have a family member who fought for our country and came back different, please know you are not alone. We are here to help all of you. We understand. We are moms, such as myself, we are spouses, such as so many within Family of a Vet, we are family members dealing with PTSD and/or TBIs every day on some level. We are here for each other and we are here for you. Why? Because we love our veterans and our FOV tough noodles.