Monday, March 26, 2012

Monday Momism: First Steps for Dealing With "Firsts"

Remember your child's first steps? As parents, they are imprinted in our hearts, our memories, in pictures and video if we are lucky. There are so many more “firsts” in the lives of our children: the first day of school, first sporting event, first dance, first date, first time behind the wheel of a car. Exciting times, right?

There are other firsts, too, that we don't look forward to. First peer pressure experience, first heartache, first day of combat. We watch the news, we keep a phone nearby, we pray, we go through family albums, we sit in their room, smell their sleeping bag, pet their favorite stuffed animal, feed their beloved pet.

If we're lucky, they come home. A lot of them don't come home alone. This brings on a whole new set of firsts. First noticed changes, first feelings that something's not “quite right” First nightmare, first argument that doesn't make sense to us but makes perfect sense to our veteran.

How do we deal with these firsts? Trying to find a way may be exactly what brought you to this page today. The “first” thing to do, the most important, is to understand that you are not alone and this is not as uncommon as others might lead you to believe. More and more of our combat veterans are coming home with brain injuries, PTSD, epilepsy, mood swings, headaches, memory loss. The very ones who say differently usually do not have a family member dealing with these issues. Some that did go over? Those bunkers protected them or they never saw the front lines and still don't get it. Personally, this mom doesn't get how that could be but it has been confessed to me by some of those same veterans.

It may be hard to get your veteran to seek help. In that case, perhaps bring help to the home. Perhaps you could invite a veteran that has been through a similar experience, whether in the same war or a different one, to the home. I have seen firsthand how these veterans have a bond and can open up to each other. Why? Because they “get it”, they understand what the other has been through.

This is the number one problem in my opinion. So many don't get it. The irony is, I remain hopeful and thankful that someone else's child hasn't gone through what mine has. I don't have vindictive feelings about not being understood. I've even seen a parent who thought I was overreacting change her way of thinking after she experienced the same thing with her combat veteran son. Then she came to me seeking understanding. Yes, I was there for her. Her apology was heartfelt and I accepted it. Still, wouldn't it be nice if our combat veterans, if us as family members, could get that understanding without everyone having to go through it before they decide they want to help?

Another first step is to seek a group for yourself as the family member. More and more are opening up to parents. If you don't have one in your community that does, then perhaps it is part of your journey to open one yourself. I was about to do that here in mine when an active one invited me in. I was a mom but I was being accepted.

Eleven years ago, I would not have seen myself on this journey. To be honest, and I believe you other parents can attest to this, if I could have my son as he was, I'd gladly be one of those people who don't get it. But I'm not. My son's defense of his country led to his brain injury. His injury led to my fight for his physical needs and my need to not feel alone.

You are not alone, either. If you are having problems finding a group in your area, feel free to leave a comment or email me at monica_newton_writer@yahoo.com. I will be happy and honored to help you to find the right resources in your community. If there aren't any, it could be a sign that you need to be the first to take it upon yourself to make a group.

We were there for their first steps. Now let's be there for each other's first steps into life as the family members of combat veterans dealing with PTSD and TBIs.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

This is Me

Hey Friends, 

Just going to lay it all out on the line. Whatever you think of me or what he's told you, I don't care. I'm the one who has lived with TBI and PTSD the last almost 6 years and I know the deal.

First, I don't think anyone understands the depth of his injuries. He sustained a penetrating brain injury, Suffered a sub arachnoid hemorrhage and as a result had part of his right temporal and parietal lobes of his brain removed from an anti-tank grenade thrown at his Humvee. He has pretty extensive brain damage to include damage to his right frontal lobe from the blast, not just the damage to the temporal and parietal lobes.  He took another blow to the head in November when he was helping our landlord trim trees. Of course he decided to help trim trees when I had gone to a VFW meeting for the ladies. I took him to the hospital after I got home because he had all the signs of a concussion.  Docs confirmed it was a concussion, but since then he has gotten progressively worse, especially in the paranoia department.

This past weekend, he told me he thought his close friends were monitoring his computer activity. How, I don't know and he doesn't either. Monday morning he came home from his AA meeting telling me that someone was "following" him and he had to take evasive maneuvers in traffic to get away from whoever was following him. I played along with it. This isn't the first time. Last time it was random strangers hacking his accounts and placing tracking devices on his truck and listening devices on his clothes. He was hospitalized for that. That time he voluntarily went.

When he took off this time, he accused me of cheating on him while he was in the hospital. Between visiting him everyday, sometimes 2x a day, the kids, school, and work, it's not like I had a whole lot of time to run around on him, but he doesn't think things through logically. I've never ever run around on him period. Ever. I know he's also told people I was out to take his money because I had him sign some documents. He accused me of it in counseling, he told his sister, etc. Ok, so I've been plotting the last 15 years of marriage to wait for the right moment to steal it?? No, what I had him sign was papers for his social security disability because it's being re-evaluated and he had to sign off on the paperwork. He's not rational. At all. He has moments of clarity alongside moments of instability. He doesn't trust anyone. Like I said, he even expressed thoughts that was of his closest friends was monitoring him.

I tried to talk to his sponsor and I got the "you need to attend AA meetings because family is important". Excuse me, I'm trying to keep my family in tact. Family is of the utmost importance to me. I so wanted to tell his sponsor off and not in a very nice ladylike way either. And Please tell me when I have time to attend AA meetings between my husband, children, graduate school and work. I'm barely keeping my head above water as it is and his issues go far far beyond alcoholism. He has brain damage and PTSD on top of it.

The last 2 times he has taken off is because I told him to chill when dealing with our son. Our son is autistic. After disciplining our son once the other night, which I agreed with, my husband crossed the line. He grabbed our son's face and screamed at him for not looking him in the eyes. Autistic s don't like eye contact. Our son does the same to me. Autistic s don't like to be touched. Our son will push me away, his mothers  But in this instance our son had no clue what he'd done. I saw the look on his face. His IQ is 70.  It's the nature of the beast. My husband then began to push our son several times into his room. That's not discipline, that's bullying. He's not going to push the autism out of him. He's not going to yell it out of him. Our son's issues are also due to a chromosome deletion, a rare one at that. It is what it is. My husband's problem is that he has not accepted our son for who he is. But my husband has not accepted who he is post-injury. He's been avoiding it like the plague.

So the result is that my son is scared of his Dad. Understandably. I am too because I never know when he's going to flip out. So I drew the line and said chill. I wouldn't let my husband do that to our daughter either. I did the right thing. And I don't regret it one bit.

Our daughter has expressed wanting to hurt herself. I even had a deputy from her school call me and tell me.  She is in counseling. This is enough. I just ask that y'all as his friends, encourage him to get help. I've done all I can at this point. I don't want a damn thing from him except to figure himself out. I want the best for him.

That said,  I think he's a powder keg waiting to blow. I've told the VA and I'm telling you. His paranoia is out of control and if he doesn't do something about it, he will break at some point and become another statistic. He's deteriorating.

He knows he needs help because he keeps going back and forth on it. He even went so far on Monday as to call the place he went to in 2009 asking to come back he said because he knows he's so up and down. My husband is his own worst problem. The doc at the psych ward  said he needed at least one medication for the rest of his life to regulate his moods. He refuses to take anything. At least get squared away, If not for anyone else, he needs to do it for his kids.

I think I've said my piece/peace. You can think what you want of me, but I know what I've done and I know who I am as a person, woman, wife, and mother. I know he blames me...he has to have someone to blame because it keeps him from having to deal with himself.  I haven't always handled things perfectly, but it's not like this came with a manual. I've spent the last 6 years of my life living this...from Walter Reed to poly-trauma rehab in Richmond to this very point, I've been trying to keep him from imploding. I've been there every step of the way and I'm exhausted physically, emotionally, and mentally. But I don't want you to worry about me. My kids are suffering far worse than I can imagine. At least I can handle it. They can't. This unfortunately is their defining moment i life. I  just pray they will learn from it and be okay.

Thanks for listening,

Your Friend

Monday, March 12, 2012

Monday Momism: We are Not Alone

Hi. Are you sitting there, looking through the internet, feeling alone and isolated because of a situation beyond your control? A situation looked on by others as no big deal, the deed is done, get over it? If so, look no further. You have come to a place where your feelings, your experiences, your pain is understood. If you had a loved one serve in a war zone, you do have a place where people understand. You do have a family beyond your physical one. You have us.

It honestly does not matter if you are a spouse, a sibling, a child, a parent or even a friend. Here at Family of a Vet, we understand those moments when you miss how it used to be, when you have your own moment of survivor's guilt because thankfully, your loved one came home but he or she came home so different. We understand that PTSD and brain injuries are just as real and just as painful as losing an arm or a leg, just in a different way.

Many times I have been told how wonderful it is that I want to help our veterans. Many times I have made the statement that if I could turn back time, if I could keep my son from going to war, I would have. I didn't. I couldn't. But I can take our experience and use it to help not only my family but those who are also going through it. You, your family, your veteran.

There are times when I am angry, really angry, at what going to war has done to my family. But I am taking that anger and I am turning it into an educational process, an aid to help others who are dealing with the same fears and anger that I am.

I am proud of my son just as I am my other two children. My son's service deserves to be saluted and recognized just as every warrior's does. He was willing to fight for his country, his homeland, his family. So were hundreds of thousands of others. Some didn't come home and my heart truly breaks for those families. Some came home seemingly shrugging it off and saying it was no big deal. Those are the ones I look at skeptically. Perhaps it just hasn't hit them yet. Some, like my son, came home with physical problems that now cause headaches,
epilepsy,memory loss and pain. There is a comrade with him 24/7 called PTSD. It causes nightmares, pacing, trust issues, flashbacks.

It also causes roller coaster days and nights. One day he seems fine. Yet in a matter of minutes, it can turn around. You know what I'm talking about, right? That's what brought you here. We found out the hard way that the phrase that pays tribute to our veterans about being willing to write a blank check up to and including their lives is more than a phrase. It is a very real fact of life and those lucky enough to come home? They and their families seem destined to pay “overdraft fees” for the rest of their lives.

Let's help each other. You are not alone. I am not alone. Our loved ones are not alone. Let's support each other and them by taking that first step. Reaching out to each other. Reaching out FOR each other. If you need someone to talk to and you want to help others know that they are not alone, contact us. We are a family. All of us.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Today in my life... let's talk about SUICIDE.


I typically share these "today in my life" updates on my private Facebook wall, but it is with a heavy heart tonight... and an ongoing mission... that I share it here, and several other places as well.  I hope that you'll do the same.... I pray that you'll do the same.  We've *GOT* to move people to action.

Today in my life...

I am the founder of Family Of a Vet and in that role I talk to, by phone, e-mail, and message, hundreds of veterans and loved ones a month.  Truthfully, I've lost count.... and not because I don't care to count, but because these people are *SO* much more than numbers to me.  They're family... heroes... and mirrors of myself and my own dear hero.

There was a new study highlighted this week in the headlines, stating what most of us who work in this "world" already know.  The suicide rates among our heroes are continuing to climb.  The members of our military, our veterans, and their spouses and caregivers are at an EVER INCREASING RISK OF DYING.

In the last few days alone, I've talked with two people who attempted suicide, one who stopped at the last moment, and to the loved ones of three heroes who were lost to suicide.  TWO days... SIX people directly tied to these "statistics" we're talking about.  It's heartbreaking... and it's everywhere.  If I chose to, I could let the the sadness of this overwhelm me, but I won't.  I refuse to.  Instead, I choose to call out to you... to the world... and beg for, plead for, and demand help.

There are studies that indicate the suicide rate among veterans (currently said to be 18 per day... 1 every 80 minutes) is approximately 2 or 3 times that of the "average" population.  The military suicide rate is now officially also higher than that of the average person.  So basically, being a hero makes you more likely to die at your own hand.  There's something incredibly, terribly, monumentally wrong with that.

We *HAVE* to stop waiting for someone else to "fix" this... for the government, or the military, or the VA, or whomever, to come up with the solution.  While they're catching up to a problem no one was prepared for, people are dying... and they're dying fast.

So, what can we do?  Believe it or not, there are some straightforward (while not completely simple) answers that CAN help.

First - If you know a Veteran, get informed about PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) - a leading cause of suicide.  You can click HERE to get started.  If you don't know a Veteran, go to your local VA, Veterans Service Organization (like the VFW or American Legion) and tell them you want to help a local veteran.  I promise they can find you someone.  Make a connection.  Get involved.  Let these heroes (and their families) know you care. 1% of our population has served in the military... that leaves 99% to be the eyes and ears... the watchmen... the lifelines.  Surely that's an even trade?  They laid themselves down for your freedom... so now you spend a little time trying to make sure they don't die as a result?

Second - Don't be afraid to TALK about suicide.  Saying "Are you thinking about killing yourself?" is not going to cause someone to suddenly decide to commit suicide.  *BUT* not asking can be a matter of life and death.  If they answer yes, then call their local VA Mental Health Department (during business hours, if they aren't immediately at risk) or the National Crisis Hotline (available 24 hours a day, for those immediately at risk, or those who are worried they might be). The number for the Hotline is 800-273-8255.  Press 1 if you're a Veteran, anyone else can just dial directly.  By pressing 1, Veterans can get help, referrals, and a host of other services within the VA.

Third - Help us spread awareness and keep this conversation *GOING*.  Share this blog post.  And, if you're on Facebook, please CLICK HERE to share a photo with a ton of information about who heroes and family members can contact if they're in crisis (the same photo featured at the top of this blog post). 

HELP US SAVE LIVES.  It's not up to "them"... it's up to each and every one of us.  Heroes dying is not okay.  Caregivers dying is not okay.  We've got to start not only paying attention but TAKING ACTION.

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

Friday, March 9, 2012

Book Review: The Things They Carried


When I first encountered “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien, it was 2003 and the book had just been announced as the “One Book, One Chicago” selection at a press conference.  A friend had given me a copy and even though it was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and five inside pages were dedicated to glowing reviews, it sat on my bookshelf unread, collecting dust for six years until rather unexpectedly, I met and fell in love with a wounded OIF soldier and my search to understand him began.    

Tim O’Brien is not only an award winning, critically acclaimed, great American writer, he is also a Vietnam Vet whose bold and vivid storytelling creates an experience the reader won’t soon forget.  “The Things They Carried” is a war story, a collection of short stories of the men of Alpha Company fighting the Vietnam War, it is also a story of the fragile yet ever-enduring human spirit as it struggles with both the horrific reality of combat and the foggy, shape-shifting memory of it.

“The Things They Carried” is a masterly crafted book, deeply insightful, shockingly brutal and for families of a combat vet, may even feel strangely familiar.  Once left on a shelf to collect dust, my copy now contains scribbles in the margin, earmarked corners and highlighted passages far too many to quote, this book has become an essential part of my journey to understand my vet and all the things he still carries. 

The Things They Carried
Written By: Tim O'Brien
Published: 1990
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Submitted by: Amber

Monday, March 5, 2012

Monday Momisms: From Just a Mom to Supermom


I walked in Monday morning and got a seat in the second row.  I couldn't believe it.  I was actually beginning my first day of training in a program to bring people awareness of what our service members and veterans and their families were going through, as well as learning steps I could take to help them in my own community.  There was just one thing I was nervous about thanks to my personal experiences the last six years dealing with the aftermath of my son's brain injury: I was just a mom.  Would these veterans accept me? 

Our trainer was awesome.  She made us all feel welcome.  She gave us an opportunity to introduce ourselves.  Again, I was nervous.  I wasn't a veteran, I wasn't the spouse of one.  I had been at one time, but my ex had been fortunate enough to have a desk job and never had to deal with any conflicts during his time in the Air Force.  Still, our lives as a military family living in housing out in California and in Texas had been a piece of cake compared to what my kids and I would go through as the mom, brother and sister of a soldier literally in a war zone, and even more so what our soldier and his comrades would face.

We signed confidentiality statements and quickly became comfortable with each other.  I was grateful.  I could feel I was being accepted.  The stories that were shared hit home.  I even made the statement that I could put my son's name in place of some of theirs, the experiences were so similar.  They all felt that way. 

The training class was filled with veterans from Vietnam and the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We quickly went from being “students” to being family.  Just as Family of a Vet is made up of veterans and their family members, Bring Everyone in the Zone is made up of family as well, people who's lives have been forever changed by combat situations.  Both share a common goal: to let veterans and their families know they are not alone and to bring awareness to the public regarding these special heroes and their families. 

I learned a lot last week.  I was also told something while standing at the elevator by two of the veterans I had come to know: “You're not just a mom.   You're Supermom.” 

Supermom is back home and ready to legally and ethically make changes in my own community to better serve our veterans and loved ones.  From experience, I know I'm not the only one.  Let's join forces for those who took their job as defenders seriously.  Supermoms, Superdads, SuperSpouses, Superkids, Supersiblings, you can do it.  

Submitted by Monica Newton

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Living with TBI

My husband is retired Army National Guard.  He was deployed to Iraq for 18 months and while there suffered a TBI due to a Humvee accident. TBI has become a very large part of our life. Emotions are different, thought process is different, tolerance is different, mobility is different…welcome to our world TBI.

As a caregiver for someone suffering from TBI, I see his frustration and struggles. The desire to recall words that use to come easily to him, the daily search for his keys, the headaches, the mood swings and balance problems, TBI has become the focus of our lives. It is there at 6am in the morning when we wake up, and it is there at 10pm when we go to bed.  It is an all-day struggle. It interferes with the small daily tasks, with job performance, and it interferes with hobbies and the things in life that use to be pleasurable. It is an invisible wound that most people are not aware of because on the outside a person who suffers from TBI may not show signs of an injury.

Despite all the differences, in many ways my husband is the same.  He is courageous, persistent, honorable, adaptable and determined. Many of the traits that made him an excellent soldier are the same traits that serve him in his struggles with TBI.
Although he relies on me to be his memory, to find his glasses, to bounce off of when he loses his balance and to handle most of the finances, he still finds something humorous in his daily struggles with TBI. 

For my husband, some days are better than others. On the good days we make small steps forward…..and we gladly take those small steps because you have to learn to walk before you can run.

Submitted by Karen

Friday, March 2, 2012

Dancing in the laundry room... finding romance even in Life After Combat

So, for those of you who follow my updates, you've probably noticed that our family has been in a really yucky place lately.  It's been our "PTSD on SUPER DUPER steroids" time of year, that thanks to a bunch of anniversary dates clustered all together for about 6 months means that our fall and winter each year are... uhm... we'll go with "interesting" (and those of you who live in this "world" will TOTALLY get that).

But two nights ago I was doing my normal nightly running around like crazy to get laundry and school bags and lunches ready for the next day when the hubby found me in the laundry room.  To the sound of the running washing machine, the "thump, thump, thump" of tennis shoes in the dryer, and the not so romantic smell of the kitty litter box, he held me for a moment and rocked me back and forth... and we danced.  It lasted maybe 30 seconds... a brief moment in the middle of a chaotic day and a difficult week... but a brief moment that I've stored in my heart.  A light in the darkness.

I find in living this life that holding on to those moments is one of my most important coping mechanisms.  I could have pulled away... thought of all the "stuff" that had been said (or yelled) in the preceding days and weeks and months... I could have held on to the hurt and anger... I could have rightly (at least by some standards) still been not "okay" enough to give in and enjoy that moment.  But, if I had made that choice, I would have been on the loosing end.  Because, I tell you honestly, in the most unlikely place, we found a bit of romance... a bit of connection.

And, not only would I have lost, but my husband would have also.  In his PTSD/TBI world, that 30 seconds was a big effort.  It was him reaching out, showing his heart, and offering up his emotions.  And, if I had shut him down, there's no telling how far I would have pushed down and away the glimmer that was trying to work it's way out.

So, here's me saying that romance in Life After Combat isn't easy and that it often appears in the most unlikely places.  And, this is also me hoping that we all remember to keep setting aside the "stuff" so it has a place to grow where it can.

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