Sunday, July 29, 2012

The road in front of us is long, but doable if... (aka What I Know on Family Of a Vet's 5th Birthday)

So, this weekend Family Of a Vet is celebrating it's 5th Birthday.  When I sat at my computer at a makeshift desk in the hallway of the small apartment our family lived in during the Summer of 2007 and started a "small website I hoped a few people might find helpful", I had *no* idea what I was doing.  I did, however, know that our family was in big trouble... and that the families out there like ours... families drowning in the face of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), TBI (traumatic brain injury), and Life After Combat™... weren't faring much better.

In the five years since, Family Of a Vet (now often affectionately known as "FOV") has grown from a tiny ten page website into a national non-profit organization that has literally served hundreds of thousands of veterans, spouses, parents, children, siblings, friends, and concerned patriots.  FOV stopped being "me" long ago and is now run by a all volunteer staff and almost 400 volunteers who are scattered around the world (46 states, 5 countries at last count).  We are the largest non-profit in the country addressing the "family side" of PTSD and TBI.  We are growing faster than most of us "original FOV'ers" can track the majority of days.  It's been a wild ride... and the reason for that is not because we're some super stars at marketing or promotion... but simply because the need is so great (and constantly increasing).

We had planned during a staff call in January to make a big deal out of our 5th Birthday.  We were going to spend the month kicking "grass" - doing wonderful promotions, rolling out several new education packets, launching a new section of our website.  Instead, the birthday has passed with a barely a blip... not because we're not excited or because we've forgotten... but simply because the ever increasing workload and sheer numbers of heroes and families in trouble have taken first "dibs". (Which, of course, is the way it should and will always be.)

So, here's what I know about the next five years... the next ten... the decades to come... for these warriors and loved ones living with the most common injuries sustained in Iraq and Afghanistan (PTSD and TBI)...

We're going to have to keep putting ourselves on the frontlines of "fixing" this ourselves.

No one knows the hearts and needs of our families and heroes like we do.  While we need (and monumentally appreciate!) the help and aid of those "outside" our community who try to step in and do what they can, in the broken places where the "rubber meets the road", we're the ones who *get* ourselves and others like us.  We HAVE TO continue to step up, speak out, and effectively explain what we need.  We CANNOT let ourselves hide our struggles, our brokenness, or the not-so-pretty things these invisible injuries are doing to the fabric of our homes.  It can be as uncomfortable as hell to let people who don't live in this "life after combat" with us see into our dark places, but without those glimpses (and the understanding they bring), nothing is going to get better.  We are our own best advocates.

Our children are paying hefty prices, too, which are often being ignored.

Our children, like the children of Vietnam Veterans, and the issues they're developing as part of this confusing post-combat world, are being largely ignored.  No one is quite sure what to do about their anger, their sadness, their "behaviorial" issues.  Very few want to recognize that this young generation of heroes is raising a generation of "little heroes"... many of whom are already developing Secondary PTSD.

Our family has spent the last week in the center of what has been jokingly called a "grand experiment"... 2 PTSD/TBI families, with four children between us, living under one roof.  Our house is full to over-flowing with PTSD and Secondary PTSD.  There are little ones with sound "issues", a pre-teen with marked challenges with crowds, nightly nightmares (and not just the ones stemming from the Veteran in the house).  It's a Russian Roulette of mental health state... "Ok, you're the calmer parent right now, you're in charge"... "This child is having the hardest time at the moment, we need to figure out a way to get him/her some time alone"... etc, etc, etc.  In many ways it's undeniably comfortable as we all "get it", and in many ways it's a tiny microscopic look into our community as a whole - a look at the undeniable impact and cost of war - and a scary look at the decades to come if we don't start also effectively helping our children.
Too many of our heroes aren't getting better... a lot are getting worse... and we better figure out this PTSD/TBI Combo FAST.

I'm sort of an "old hat" at this world by now.  Many of the families and veterans I work with are people that I've literally been working with for almost half a decade.  I know their stories.  I know their struggles.  I've talked with them hundreds - sometimes thousands - of hours.  Heck, my six year old can pick out on a United States map where many of them live because they've become part of our family's daily life.

There are many gifts that come with that kind of shared history... but in the last 12 - 24 months, there's also a scary picture that has started to emerge.

Many of these families that had been on "stable PTSD footing" (aka as stable as it gets in our sometimes very unstable worlds), have gone majorly downhill recently.  And, those "downhill moments" have been something akin to PTSD on a few tons of steroids.

I will tell you that because of our "experience" in this world, FOV was talking about the prevalence of PTSD and TBI occurring together years ago before there were any "official" stats (now, there are statistics that put the chances of PTSD and TBI occurring together in a Veteran of Iraq or Afghanistan in the 80% range).  I don't say that as any sort of "wow, aren't we so wonderful", but more as a point that because this IS what we do 24 x 7... working with PTSD and TBI and the families and heroes they impact around the country and on bases throughout the globe... we tend to "see" things that start to be a trend.

And, I'm telling you that we're seeing a lot of these heroes getting worse.  Speculation is that it's Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), and I believe (in my "lay" opinion) that's probably accurate.  But, whatever it is, we have GOT to continue to educate ourselves and push relentlessly for treatment options.  Our heroes (and those of us who love them) deserve it.

As caregivers we've got to do a better job of taking care of ourselves... it's a marathon, NOT a sprint.

I'll be the first to say I truly suck at this.  But, as the time is marching on (I've been a caregiver to my own dear hero for a little over 6 years now), I'm working more and more on it.  I know that I've got decades stretching in front of me - years of nights that are too short, days that are often waaaaaay to filled with stress, and endless juggling of a million different needs and responsibilities.  I also know that a lot of my household hinges on me (and it does for many caregivers).  If I'm physically sick or if I run myself into the ground mentally and have to go vacation in a padded room, things for my hero and child are going to go downhill pretty "darn" fast.

We have to breathe.  We have to sleep when we can.  We have to know it's OKAY to take time for ourselves... to be (gulp) selfish enough to say "it's my turn right now".  We have to be willing to place as much importance on our own health (physical AND mental) as we do for the health of those we spend our days and nights caring for.  If we don't, this is SOOOOO not going to be sustainable.

When it comes down to it, we CAN do this.  Here's why.

There's something I've come to know in my past almost 7 years as the wife of a Veteran... and in the 5 years before that as a proud Army wife... but it's something I am still continually and deeply amazed by.

In many ways our segment of the population has been broken in the past 10+ years of war. Our heroes and families have paid heavy prices. BUT every day I am amazed by the strength, solidarity, and beauty expressed in that brokenness.

It's hero helping hero... spouse reaching out to spouse... mother comforting mother... it's "older" Veteran helping "younger" Veteran find his or her way. It is people continually pushing past their own hardships (some of which are monumental) to reach a hand out and help a brother or sister find their feet again.

It is a beautiful, amazing, deeply moving dance that so few get the privilege to see.

I'm here to say that while we may be broken we will never be defeated for one simple reason... our hearts for one another beat too strong.

So, here's to five years... and to many more.  Here's to all who are part of our "dance" at Family Of a Vet.  Thank you for being part of what we do.  For your work, your prayers, your support, your encouragement and love, I can't begin to ever say "thank you" enough.

Looking forward,

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

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Caregiver Corner: The Wife in Me

           I am standing here watching, watching him as he sleeps.  He is on the couch again.  He often times ends up on the couch.  The only sound in the room is his snoring.  Snoring that wouldn’t be there if he were sleeping in the bed wearing his CPAP mask like he is suppose to be.  Of course most nights despite starting out wearing it, I will wake up to his snoring and the mask off to the side forgotten.

            The Caregiver in me wants to stir him awake long enough to move him back to the bed and coax him to wear his mask again.  It is suppose to help him breath and thus help him seek better rest.  The Caregiver in me wants that for him so he doesn’t struggle so much during the day because he is exhausted.  It’s bad enough he has to fight through the drowsiness his medications cause him, helping him find more restful sleep is suppose to make it easier for him to fight that, but it doesn’t work if he doesn’t use it.

           The Roommate in me wants to scowl and yell at him to wake up.  There is cleaning to be done and I don’t wish to be stuck with doing it all.  I have to handle our two young children as it is and trying to clean with them underfoot by myself is a battle I just don’t want to deal with if I don’t have to.  I mean he knew our plans for today so he should have known I wouldn’t want him sleeping the day away.  It doesn’t help that it seems like every time we make plans to handle something, he won’t wake up or he doesn’t feel good.   It really grates on a person’s nerves and thus makes me feel like he doesn’t care.

           The friend in me wants to let him be for another hour or two and try again.  He probably had a bad night with pain and nightmares that he could use the rest.  Why bother him when he needs to rest?  If I did bother him he would just wake up grumpy and then we’d all have to deal with the negative fog that would fill the house.  No, letting him rest another few hours won’t hurt.  It is still early enough in the day that we can tackle things later.

           The Wife in me gives him a kiss on the forehead and lets him sleep; taking the mug of coffee I made him back to the kitchen.  The Wife in me understands.  The Wife in me has done this before, many times.  The Wife in me doesn’t need an explanation, she doesn’t need an apology, she already knows.  This is why she makes being a Caregiver easy.

           Since the Wife in me has done this for years and learned to adapt to most of it, I say most because it is unpredictable so I am always learning more, but the point I am making is the Wife in me has been playing Caregiver long before the title was ever given.

I was already monitoring his moods.  I was already handling his medications.  I was already picking up the slack in the house when he couldn’t do something.  I was already bringing calm to his chaos.  I was already bringing light to his darkness.  I was already giving him something to lean on when he couldn’t stand.  I was already doing all of this and more because I was here.  No one told me how to do it.  I didn’t take any classes or formal training to make it work.  I just went with my gut instinct based on the things I already saw and dealt with regarding his trouble. 

I struggled with it in the beginning because I didn’t understand.  I shed many tears and screamed many words.  Sometimes I still do, but they are different tears and different screams.  Instead of tears of sadness and pain because I didn’t get it, they are tears of frustration or mental release because it isn’t always easy.  Instead of screams of insults and “Why’s?” I scream from frustration because other people don’t get it.

The truth though is it doesn’t matter. 
It doesn’t matter if other people don’t get it, because I do.  Since I get it and I care enough to help my husband work through it all, he knows he isn’t forgotten.  He may not see it on the surface, but deep down under the stress, the anger, the depression, all of the struggles, he knows.  That helps him keep fighting, fighting to still be a part of this life.

So, the Wife in me turns to the Caregiver, the Roommate, and the Friend in me and gives them a big calm smile and tells them in a soft but firm voice, “It will be alright.”  Then they return the smile and altogether they make a new plan to handle the day ahead.

Submitted by Aimee T

Friday, July 27, 2012

Frugal Friday: How to Coupon

The one thing that people always ask me is “How do you do it?” or “Doesn’t that take forever?” My answers are, “It’s actually quite simple once you learn how to do it, and no, it doesn’t take ME forever!” When people see me in Wal-Mart or Target with my coupon binder, some people smile at me, some people laugh, and some people come up and ask, “Are you one of those people on TV?” LOL No, not quite! I am actually NOT what you would call an extreme couponer. I’m a SMART and saavy couponer! I do not buy mass quantities of things I do not have a need for just to say, “Hey look what I got for free!” The first thing you need to do before learning to coupon is to learn store and corporate policies and rules on using coupons at their stores. Each store is different. Each state is different! Some chains will do coupons one way in one state and then it will be different in another state, although it’s the same chain. You can go to the stores you use and request a copy of their coupon policy. Some stores will post it in their stores. You can also go to their store websites and find their coupon policies there! ALWAYS HAVE A PRINTED COPY OF THE COUPON POLICY WITH YOU BEFORE TRYING TO USE COUPONS AT THAT STORE!

Step 1: Make a list of what you NEED or WANT.

Step 2: If you get a newspaper that has coupons in it or magazines that have coupons in them, go through it and see if any items you need or want have coupons available in those printed materials. If they do, grab them! If they don’t, put them to the side. (Just because you don’t need them now, doesn’t mean you can’t use them at another time or pass them along to someone who can use them.)

Step 3: Do a search of online coupons for items on your list. You can do a Google search that says “printable coupons for _______”, and it will bring up all the sites, blogs, etc. that have a coupon for that item. You can also try going directly to the company website and seeking out coupons there. Facebook pages getting liked will sometimes bring you a coupon too!

Step 4: Figure out an organization system that works for you to store and separate your coupons. I use a binder with dividers that have sleeves in them, and I put tabs on the ends that say “Grocery,” “Restaurant,” “Baby,” “Household,” etc. Taking a few minutes to create a system will save you tons of time when you are doing your shopping.

Step 5: Figure out what store you are going to shop from. Wal-Mart and Target both match competitors ads, so if you have a mom & pop store local to the Wal-Mart or Target, that has your items cheaper, TAKE THE AD, (the items MUST BE same item, same size, same brand…and can’t be BOGOs!), get the items and show the ad when you check out. **I always use a pen or marker to circle the whole item, description and price on the ad. That way I don’t lose track of where the item to match is. Always make sure you tell them you need to Ad-match at the START of the transaction!- Also the ad HAS TO BE from that week!**

Step 6: Now once you have matched the price of the item, you can use your coupons! Don’t do coupons before ad matching!

Step 7: If you have a coupon that is a store coupon, like Target, most stores like Target (but double check) will allow you to use ONE store coupon + ONE manufacturer coupon for the same item. So, if you ad matched the item, then used the store coupon, plus you used the mfg coupon, you have already TRIPLED your savings. For example, shampoo $4: comp. ad $3 on sale, store coupon $1 off, mfg coupon $1 off, that makes your $4 shampoo cost only $1!!! Great deal!

Step 8: If you are using a store coupon that says “Buy one, get one for free.” You can still save money on that FREE item! So, this is what you need to do: If you have you are getting those 2 items, you will need 2 mfg coupons of the same item, but they must be for one item each…not “$ off 2”. If you have a BOGO item that is $5 each, you are getting the 2nd $5 item for free, so you have already saved $5. Take a $1 off one item coupon x 2 items, then you have saved $1 off your paid item and you have MADE $1 on your free item! Yeah, you just got paid to buy! Now there is a trick to making that work, you must use your DOLLAR OFF coupons FIRST, so put the BOGO coupon at the bottom of your coupon stack to be used after all your other coupons. If you use the BOGO coupon first, then it will not allow a $ off coupon to be used for the 2nd item.

Step 9:  Now congratulate yourself….you just learned how to save a whole lot of money! It may sound like a lot of steps, but once you get the ball rolling, you will learn that it does not take much time at all…and hey, if it does take a little time, but it’s saving your family some much needed money, then isn’t it worth it?

Everything that I have put in this article is well-known within smart couponers communities and blogs. It is all legal to do, unless a store specifically states in their policies otherwise. PLEASE BE A RESPONSIBLE COUPONER AND LEARN YOUR STORES’ POLICIES!

Some examples of my great shopping trips:
I once got $300 worth of groceries at a Wal-Mart in Wisconsin for $90!!!
I once got $300 worth of Leap Frog learning toys at a Target in Wisconsin for $30!!!
Both trips followed all of the above steps. Each trip took some time at the checkout, but with savings like that, it was well worth it!

Good luck! Check back next Friday to see what great deals or tips we throw your way!

Submitted by Jami Van Brocklin.

Jami has approximately 10 years of experience with seeking out great deals and discounts, couponing, and just being an all-around smart shopper! She wasn’t always shopper savvy. It took becoming a mom and learning how to make money stretch for her to get this way! 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Married to the Mirror Man

I have been married for 37 years,there is so much I could say about it all. How Vietnam has hurt me and my children and we weren't even there. I have been writing about it for years in my journals. I started because he told me the thing he did didn't happen or weren't happening. The physical and emotional abuse, not coming home at night, the drinking, never being good enough none of us.

My son who went into the Army and served two tours in Iraq (didn't have it as hard as him). Today I wanted to share with you today some words from my journal and a poem I wrote. I wrote this after my daughter got messed up on booze and pills. She never had a problem until she turned 34 years old.

Over time,but it seemed like a day, I saw everything differently. It was like a awakening from and deep slumber and having a dream which made everything clear. The dream made me realize my life could be different without you. The awaking hurt and it made me cry, it was not easy. I would hold my pillow to my chest and cry into it's folds so you could not hear. Only the soft creeks and canyons which my pillow made as I held it to my face. It seemed like all the abuse, which I had locked in the dark left ventricle of my heart had leaked out and spilled out into a puddle of light. The light was my daughter  It was her sickness which awoke my like a phoenix coming out of the fire. I saw her empty eyes, her sadness. The liquid sickness which consumed her and now me, I realized I could not contain you and her in my room. You became like a weed I had become use to, but needed to pull.

Everything you did mad me afraid. You were always lying so you could do the same thing over and over again. you were like a rat always nibbling on poison, but you were immune and never died. I would wake up afraid, because I was the one dying. There was no love in me anymore.
I just felt empty like you. The poison had seeped into my skin. my only salvation was the stars I gazed up into each night and early in the morning., and my God who I cried out to.

I would always hope when I looked out into those heavens. That all my children would hear me and know how much I loved them and wanted them to forgive me for always being being their fathers point man and protecting him. Always trying to explain to them why it was so hard. I wanted them to understand I was tired of being there for everyone, but nobody was ever there for me to understand.

You are the mirror man, a hard cold reflection.
Inside glowing embers of the past, light up the empty tomb within.
They swirl and dance upon the rotting dead, the faces in your dreams.
I hear your cries as you play the game.
Hunter and hunted like tiger and prey.
Horror filled landscape I can not enter.

Then silence, the demon is there with you and leaches.
Delusions, I am the angel who wraps my wings around.
The warmth you sometimes reach for.
I see your dark curls wet with moisture
Memories of moist damp places drip away.

Breathe; he is but an illusion with out direction.
Tell me how to heal the wounded boy who is without sin.
To kiss away the scourge who haunts the jungles and swollen streams.
Scream no more my broken warrior; I am here just the same.
Hands reach to pull you from the enemy within your center.
No foreign mud to sleep in, you are in your bed okay.

Let me be the stronghold where the demons can not breach.
What? I hear you whisper and the stars and moon make no sound
Just a dream, just a dream standing at our door
Go back to sleep I’ll watch the garden gate
So you may live without feeling for another day.

Submitted by The wife of a disabled Vietnam Vet

Monday Momism: Write Your Own Sequel to Life with PTSD

Do you ever find yourself reading a book and the storyline ends up going where you least expect it? You were absolutely sure the outcome was going to be a happily ever after and suddenly, a main character dies; the perfect couple breaks up; a stranger takes over your life. What happened? You either walk away more confused than ever or you get deeper into it and find yourself absorbed by the experience.

Living with PTSD sometimes ends up being a chapter in our lives. How we deal with it, whether we are the veteran, the family member or the public in general ends up being how strong and into that particular character in the book of daily life we really are.

Ten years ago, I could have never imagined the roller coaster life I have today. Even though I was a single parent in the middle of raising three children, the eldest in the Army, in many ways I felt I had a wonderful life. We were all close, none had ever been in any trouble and I was grateful every day for my three blessings. When the oldest got out, he was planning to be either a police officer or a history teacher. Today, he is a combat veteran living with a physical brain injury, epilepsy, memory loss and PTSD.

The storyline in the book of our lives took a significant plot twist we never dreamed of. Shock, denial, fear, anger, disappointment, they were all feelings we had to deal with. Our happily ever after looked like it wasn't meant to be after all.

That's when I realized: okay, so there was an unexpected ending I wasn't happy with. Fine. Then it's up to me to write the sequel and I am. I'm working with other combat veterans, I'm writing and encouraging others to seek help, I'm getting up every morning with a thankful heart that my son may have been taken over somewhat by that stranger mentioned above but he is still here when he could have so easily died that day. I'm going to make my own happily ever after out of what happened by educating the public about what PTSD and a TBI really are.

I read about Vietnam. I even have a picture of when I was about six years old with a family friend I called Uncle Willie in his uniform. But honestly? War to me were the old black and white movies my mother liked and what I was taught in history class. I never had a real clue about what combat veterans and their families dealt with because my generation didn't go to war until we had teenagers old enough to go.

I want to encourage you today, if you are living with PTSD in your home, to find support. I want to encourage you to write your own sequel to the book that was written with a plot twist you never envisioned. If your veteran is alive, be thankful. Whether you are a spouse, a parent, a sibling, a friend, you can make decisions that can aid you as you go through the part of the war that came home with your loved one. It didn't turn out the way you dreamed but it can still turn out blessed and fruitful.

Write your sequel. It can be just as good, just as inspiring, just as awesome because it is YOUR story. It is OUR story. It is our heroes' story. Personally, I have faith we can make the sequels just as good as the originals, especially when we have the love and support of others who are experiencing the same storyline. Contact us here at FOV or email me at and we will help you realize you are not alone.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Boy Next Door

I met my husband shortly after he left the Army in 2008. He had been out only a few months before he came to my door. That day is so special and is the defining moment in my life. He had been my neighbor... I had naturally noticed him, but it seemed he hadn't noticed me. Until that day he knocked on my door and told me that he wanted to kill his girlfriend and then kill himself. I had no idea what to do or say, so I just listened.

He told me he was an Iraq war veteran. He told me about the lives he had taken and the lives that had been taken in front of him. He told me his girlfriend broke up with him and he felt like he had no place in the world. I asked him if he could call anyone, family friends etc. (I think back to
that moment so often and wonder if I could do it over, if I would have called help for him?) In any case, that night help came. It came in the form of flashing lights and the SWAT team. I had been at work when I came home to find that I was not allowed to enter the property. I spoke with one of the officers and told him about my neighbor and what had happened earlier that day, he asked me
which apt was his... I showed him. I prayed and prayed that he was okay, that he would come out of that apartment alive. He had apparently barricaded himself in his apartment and was threatening suicide.

Earlier that day after I left for work, he had attacked his girlfriend.  After a few hours he finally came out of his apartment, I saw them handcuff him and take him to the ambulence. He looked in my direction and made eye contact with me. It sounds so cheesy but I knew at that moment my life would never be the same.  When he was released from the VA he came over and appoligized to me.
After that we were best friends. He proposed to me shortly after, I said yes. He was too amazing. He has problems yes but nothing that I couldn't handle. I had assumed the worst was behind him and five years later I think I was right. We have had many hard times, all including the storms of PTSD, but each time they seem to pass quicker. I have gone through all the struggles of "what is wrong with me?!", "what is wrong with him...can't he just let this go! why is this so hard? why does this keep happening I am doing everything I can to make him happy...why can't he just be happy?!?"

I have finally realized, with the help of  Family of a Vet's articles, article from numerous organizations including VetsVoice and talking with other wives of veterans that this is not US and it is not THEM. It is PTSD and it is WAR and it is NORMAL for them to go through this. I still have a
hard time letting go at times, but I believe telling my story is a big part of that. This is the first time I have done this publicly and have included the story of our meeting. I think people would think I was nuts to say yes to a suicidal, homicidal man. Yet I did and maybe I am crazy but I love him and I want to help make his life good, I want to help him see that life is not just pain and war, it is happy and full of love. I sometimes get caught up in the storm of PTSD and I forget that. That's why I have been reaching out more and more. I want to be positive and hopeful for us. It can be done and the more that time goes on and I adapt myself to this new way of life I find that it gets easier for the both of us.

Submitted by VetWife

Monday, July 16, 2012

Not Just Army Strong...FAMILY Strong

My husband served in Iraq with an Army Cavalry Scout unit from October 2006-Oct. 2007, stationed at Camp Spiecher. While he was stationed there, his brother was with an Infantry Army unit stationed
in Baghdad. It was very hard going through our first deployment...all the "what if's"...all the sleepless nights...all the sadness and heartache...all the stress. It was even harder because our daughter was only 4 years old at the time, I was in college full time working on my second college degree, while working part time as a nurse. I tried to stay busy with school, work, our daughter, volunteering with her preschool, and running my own non-profit program that I started during his deployment. I
have worked as a psychiatric nurse for most of my nursing career, and I was trained in PTSD. Even though I was trained and made sure that I had plenty of research completed on PTSD before my husband arrived home and though I was already expecting him to have PTSD, nothing could have prepared me or our daughter for what was to come.

My husband came home from Iraq in October 2007, but he never came home completely. I often said that my husband died in Iraq, and the Army sent home a stranger for me to learn to love. He was a complete stranger. Everything about him changed. PTSD changed his life and our lives forever.
We grew apart. Our marriage was being destroyed by this evil monster known as PTSD. The little bit of help we were able to get didn't do anything for us because the most evil part of PTSD is how it makes the Soldier feel like nothing is wrong with him or her, and most Soldiers do not think they
need help. This was the way my husband was for a long time. Five years later, my husband has been redeployed to Afghanistan. These past five years have been a constant roller coaster ride...five years of not knowing what would happen next or what would set him off. Divorce has come up many times. Sometimes I feel like I want to throw in the towel, but then I remind myself of our wedding vows and what I sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, in good and
bad times. Those three statements make me hold on when I want to let go. My husband and I are finally getting to the point where I think we may make it through all this. He is finally starting to realize what has been going on these past five years and has finally decided that he doesn't want our past to define our future. He has plans in mind of getting the help he needs, when he returns from Afghanistan. His plan is to do whatever it takes to make sure that this time around...he doesn't lose us to his he has in the past.

Submitted by Jami VB

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Book Review: Once a Warrior, Always a Warrior

"Once a Warrior, Always a Warrior" by Charles W. Hoge, MD, Colonel, U.S. Army (Ret.)

Navigating the Tranisiton from combat to home. Including combat stress, PTSD, and mTBI

This is written by a retired Colonel, who is a mental health professional. He includes active, retired, vets, civilians, family members and anyone who is affected by a loved one's battles with PTSD, TBI and combat stress. He provides skills for dealing with these three issues, no matter how much time has passed since the event.

What I love about this book is that it includes written letters from those who give the very personal battle most of us are afraid of speaking of, by those from the Vietnam war all the way up to recent veterans to the current wars. And it shows that even 20 years later, a patient can be helped with PTSD or TBI or combat stress. He list skills and techniques that can help to ease the triggers and he also gives a very personal view on how deeply one is affected by this. He talks about medications,reflexes, sleep, reactions, navigating the mental health system, coping and living with major losses and he lists strategies for spouses, partners, and family members. It's not a boring book that you will get tired of after a page or two, well at least for me it wasn't, he does include humor so there are some laughs to have.

I highly recommend this book to everyone! I checked it out from my library but am going to buy the book to keep notes in. By the way, if you do check this book out and have a sense of humor aboutPTSD...check out page 147! Trust will have a whole new meaning for you after you read that!

Submitted by April Raines

Monday, July 9, 2012

Monday Momism: An Hour a Day Keeps Burnout Away

I just need a few minutes to myself. Let's see what's on the computer. My Facebook friends seem to be having a good day. Wow, look at all their activities, wish I had some me-time. I love my family, love my veteran but is it selfish to just want a little time for myself?

The answer to that is NO. In fact, a little time for yourself could even help. An hour a day can keep you from feeling closed in. What some people don't realize is, that hour could cover a wide variety of things. The key is finding what makes you feel good. It could be a hobby, reading a book, writing, coaching a soccer team, power-walking, playing dominoes or cards online, or even window-shopping at the mall. How do you figure out just what to do with that hour?

Let's start with a little bucket list, not due to aging or illness but a list of things you love or enjoy. What are five things you would do if you could right this moment in time? Sure, it could be traveling, breaking a record in some field. Put those on the list. Long-term goals are good to have; they help with motivation.

Now, what else did you write down? Something you might consider as small or “silly” could actually be the secret to keeping you from burnout. Maybe your desire is to write a book. Maybe you want to paint a picture. Maybe you just wish you had time to play a game or two of dominoes, Phase 10 or pinochle but there's no one around to play. Perhaps you want to put together those scrapbooks for your kids or grandchildren you've been promising yourself you would do.

The thing is, you don't have to change the world or spend a lot of money that you may not have. You just need to remember that another important person in your life is YOU. Now, the other half of this equation is usually “When do I find the time?” For most people with a veteran suffering from a brain injury and/or PTSD, the days are filled with emotional roller coasters.

Are you a morning person? I am. It actually started when my son was in Iraq. I found myself getting up early and having my coffee on the front porch while writing poems and essays. People think that's neat when they hear it but the truth is, I was getting up early “just in case”. If a car pulled into my drive with a Chaplain and/or an officer in uniform, I wanted to make sure my younger two children were not awakened by a knock at the door. Thankfully, that never happened. Still today, years later, I get up early and I write. It is my quiet time, my hour a day keeping the burnout away.

Look at your schedule and find in it one hour to put aside just for you. Get up an hour earlier or do something in the afternoon while the kids are at school or with friends or do something for an hour after the family has gone to bed. Some people even break it up into two half-hour sessions of alone time. It just depends on what works best for you.

Take that hour and fill it with whatever fulfills you inside. Work on something creative, relax and read a book, get some exercise in, play a couple of online games. You will find that having an hour to yourself each day will help you when you are dealing with the aftermath of having a loved one come home from war with PTSD, a TBI or any type of injury whatsoever.

Do not feel guilty taking that hour for yourself because you will find that by doing so, you will be making yourself stronger and more patient when you are needed by and for your loved ones. An hour a day keeps burnout away. Try it and you'll see.

If you need any help figuring your little list out or how to fine tune your me-time, feel free to email me at Your emails will remain confidential.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Monday Momism: Don't Set Off Your Veteran's Fireworks

Wednesday is the 4th of July. It's a great day and so very important to all of us, not to mention a fun day for getting together, swimming, cooking out. However, this week's post is going to be in the form of a Mom telling her kids to be careful.

Yes, there are the standard “be careful out there” spiels that we mamas say to our teens. “No drinking” or “No texting and driving”. To college kids: “No drinking and driving”. “Be home by curfew.” “Get your room cleaned up.”

Even when they reach adulthood, we have things we continue to go Mama about. They roll their eyes but deep down, they know the truth: it's because we care. They know they will be the same way in the future when they have their own children.

What I did not expect to add to my Momisms are the things I have had to since 9/11. “Don't be a hero, watch your back.” “Don't miss that appointment.” “Don't forget to take your medicine.” “Don't forget, don't forget, don't forget.” That seems to start nearly every conversation with my son these days.

Now here's a Momism for all of you: “Don't forget to remember that while fireworks are a way of celebrating the 4th of July, they are also a very real stressor for combat veterans who suffer from PTSD.”

What? Fireworks? Come on, how? No way! (Yes, way.)

Look up an old war movie if you haven't been in combat. Hear the gunshots and the explosions. Pretty good special effects, right? Well, those “special effects” are particularly good in fireworks. Now, do this: close your eyes and imagine yourself on that field. Can you feel the special effects? Most of you can. You can see how the fireworks could sound like explosions, right?

A combat veteran doesn't have to imagine. He or she can really put themselves mentally back in a combat field. When this happens, the stress of feeling it can make them believe they are physically there, resulting many times in negative actions and reactions.

The number one thing I want you to get out of today's post is that it is okay for you to have not been there but don't judge or think it's no big deal that someone else has. If you have a combat veteran in your family, show your appreciation by NOT setting off fireworks this year. If you don't have a combat veteran in your family, believe it or not, I'm happy for you. What about your neighbor? Someone you know has had his or her life changed forever by combat duty and so has their family.

We all have something that kind of scares us, bugs, clowns, guns, darkness. I love clowns but I don't judge adults I know that are scared of them. I kill or remove bugs because I know a lot of kids AND adults who are scared of them. I don't judge those people. So please, do NOT judge that combat veteran who freaks out over fireworks that sound like IED explosions in a war zone. Take my advice on this, please, and don't set off your combat veteran's "fireworks".  If not, then make sure you are prepared to end the party early if he or she is agitated over something that wasn't even their fault, their injury, their PTSD, their willingness to serve and protect this country.

Just remember, “Mom” told you so.

Becoming His Caregiver

I have never blogged or written my story for public consumption.  After November 5, 2009 I have kept feelings, emotions and words to myself.  Maybe, just maybe this will allow some type of escape for my mind & soul.  

I began dating my beautiful husband (in my eyes, looks like Kirk Douglas), after meeting him on a Cruise, in March of 2009.  We knew instantly that we would be together forever.  We dated, loved and laughed…..I knew from the beginning that he was in the Army, but I was surprised and caught unaware, when he shared with me that he needed/wanted to go on “one more” deployment.   I saw how much it meant to him as his military career of 20+ years was drawing to an end….I understood that financially it was a good decision, so I trusted him, I trusted the Army and I trusted God with the love of my life.  

He began training exercises in July of that year and before we knew it, he was at Ft. Hood, awaiting deployment.  Taking my soldier to the airport that time was the hardest and most painful thing I had ever experienced.  Did I mention that I had no experience with military life? Have I mentioned we were still dating…seriously dating…planning for the future, but just dating none the less? 

Anyway, on November 5, 2009, Major Nidal Hasan entered the SRP at Ft Hood TX, my love was being processed when Hasan opened fire….barely missing love, killing 13 people and injuring many many others.  My cell phone rang, Love said, “Something horrible is happening here…..”  I hear BANG BANG BANG……I hear screaming…I hear shouts to my love, “Soldier…are you hit???”  Soldier…are you hit”  Love replied “No Sir.”  Love says to me…..”Call my family…..tell them I am OK… not believe everything the media will put out there.”  

This was when our journey in PTSD land began. My love became confused…..I could hear fear. He said he didn’t know where to go or what to do. I had to step up and say "find your unit….find your unit…..hang up the phone…be safe and find your unit. I will take care of everything here".  That day, I became his Caregiver, only I didn’t know there was a word for what I was going to start doing.  

My love deployed 4 weeks after that horrible day.  He was numb, angry, scared, frustrated and depressed.  He was dark, harsh and unfeeling.  He was disconnected and disengaged, yet enraged. 
When Love came home, I had taken a lot of time researching and learning everything I could about PTSD.  As soon as leave was up in January 2011, we were at the VA, knocking on doors.  We documented everything well and found a great support team for him.  I will say that support and care for me, the spouse was non-exiisting.   No one on his team, even though I went to every appointment  he ever told me about told me that I  was qualified for the Caregiver Program.   Our days are filled with meds, appointments & uncertainty.  

Love’s anger began to turn violent toward me.  Many bruises, lots of fear, life threatened, led us to seek out inpatient treatment facility.  

So what has helped us……counseling……He goes to his, I go to mine and we go to couples counseling.  Support groups, even those on Facebook.   I have learned that there is a network of women out there who have gone through and are going through the exact same things that we are going through.

I stopped expecting Love to be the man he used to be.  I love who he is and I understand that my roll in his life is critical.  I am the constant……but I do have bad days.  I recently lost my dad…..Love was there for me….as much as he could be

I do not believe that you overcome PTSD, but I believe that we have tools to protect ourselves from PTSD overcoming us.  I have learned that I do not have to be perfect in the world of imperfection, but I do have to be adaptable.   I have risen to this point by staying focused on his treatment without losing myself.  I never stop looking for things to benefit him, thus benefiting our life together.  

Hope is the key to rising above.  When I feel hopeless, I reach out to others who can encourage me.  We cannot lose hope. I have learned that the occasional glimmers of progress and hope are to be received and treated with the same excitement and jubilation of fireworks on the 4th of July.  

Happy Fourth of July Everyone…..