Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Love Letter Campaign - Finally Free

 Finally Free...those are the words tattooed down the side of your right shoulder blade. I find those words to be so meaningful and inspiring as well as hoped for by you and I both. 

When we first met, we were in high school and introduced by friends. You were 17 and I was 16, just living life like normal high schoolers do. When you graduated in 2004, you signed up to be in the U.S. Marine Corps. Wow, that's a huge step right after getting out of school. But, you were motivated, determined to make your life count for something, and doing what your family had done for generations, be apart of the U.S. Military. I on the other hand, still had one more year of school, I was dating your friend and silently struggling through that relationship with abuse. But, I held on, staying in school, making great grades, seeing my future of being a chef in front of me. But, then, I succumbed to the pressure of my boyfriend wanting me to stay here. Not to go away to school. So I did. 

Once I graduated in 2005, I went to live with him and his mom in a horrible situation. I stayed there for 2 years. During those two years, I put up with mental abuse, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. All under his mom's knowledge. But, according to her, I brought it on and that's what happens when I get out of line. While I was fighting to live, dealing with thoughts of suicide or dreaming of a new life away from this mess, you were fighting for your life in Iraq. You had been deployed to Iraq in mid 2006 and I remember the day you left. You had came down to see your friend and say "goodbye" to him, but in my heart, I felt as though you were also there as a comfort to me. I remember thinking to myself, I may never see this amazing man again...But low and behold, In the midst of my nightmare, one day there was a phone call to your friend. He picked up the phone and said,"Its Jason" and I burst into tears. I hadn't seen or heard from you in mon!
ths and all of a sudden, you call. I remember grabbing the phone from his hand and screaming "Oh, my God!! You're okay!!" I was so relieved to have heard from you. The hell I was going through was all made better because I had heard your voice and I knew one day, I would see you again.

Months went by and finally, April 17, 2007, you came back to America! Not too long after that, I got to see you because you came down to see your friend, but I knew after seeing you then, you also came down for me. I started to grow my own relationship with you outside of my boyfriend's friend. You were my friend as well. My light in the darkest times. You seemed to come down to visit at the most perfect times when I truly needed someone else. You brought me hope. I remember, one night in the summer of 07, my boyfriend and his mom were in the house and you and I took a walk outside and sat on the trampoline. We had a few serious moments then, and I almost slipped up when you asked me,"What do you want?" And the words that were being held back were, "I want you" But how would I say that? You were my boyfriend's friend and I couldn't do that to him. So, I sat there and said I wasn't sure.

A few more months went by but you and I kept in touch by phone. It seemed like I spoke to you more than he did. Which of course, made things so much worse for me. But, I didn't care, I had a friend! 

Two days before my 20th birthday in October 2007, things were worse than ever. I was being bullied by my boyfriend's mom, being abused by him, and I was spinning out of control. But, I knew who to come to. I called you. You met me at a park and it was like a light just came on. It all made sense. So, I got the courage to leave him and his abuse behind. And, I haven't looked back sense.
Soon after that, you and I started hanging out more and more. We went on our first date the day before your birthday. Then it became a regular thing. Before long, we realized our feelings for each other and we moved in together. 

It was apparent to me that we needed each other. I started to see that you were suffering from PTSD. The night terrors, alcohol dependency, the anger toward simple stuff...the signs were all there. But you never took it out on me. Not once. I could see that you needed someone to help you calm down, some one to take the pain away. I tried so hard to help you to realize it's okay. Not everything is a battle. I sacrificed 4th of July fireworks, because I knew it made you uneasy. We didn't go places were there were massive crowds or groups. But, it was okay, for me. Because I had you. You had helped me more than I could ever express and for that, I loved you. 

Finally in February 2009, we got married. It was an amazing wedding. We eloped and it was just perfect. Not one thing would I change...maybe I would change falling asleep on you on our wedding night, but other than that, not a thing. You had made me the happiest woman on earth. You vowed before God to be my husband and to love me and watch over me forever. And I, did the same.
In December of 2010, we had our first baby boy. We had prayed for that boy for a long time, I remember being in labor and there you were, right beside me. You never left me. You sat beside me while they performed a c-section, holding my hand and anxiously awaiting the birth of our baby boy. Once he was born, you picked up the daddy roll quite perfectly. You would help me with him, let me sleep while you took care of him, gave me assurance that everything would be okay, when I started spiraling down into Post Pardom Depression. You carried the weight of our family on your back while I got myself together.

Fast forward a couple of years and we enjoyed birthdays, Christmases,  Easter, and all the small days with each other. Here we are today with our almost 3 year old son, and a baby girl on the way due in a few months and I am so excited about our new life together. Everyday is a new experience and I couldn't imagine doing this with anyone but you. But, we are struggling still. Your PTSD has recently flared its ugly head again and now, my being a mom, I have more responsibilities than ever. I am trying to raise our son properly, take care of a household, make sure we have food on the table, and most importantly making sure you, my husband, my rock, my love, are okay day to day. Its a challenge, that doesn't seem to stop. Some days are better than others, but most importantly, we are doing this together.  We haven't split up or talked about divorce. We are handling this the best we can. 

So, the words that I read on your back everyday, "Finally Free" they mean more to me now than ever. You got that tattoo when you came back from Iraq, because you were "free" But who knew you would be held down by the constant nag of Combat PTSD, so really freedom hasn't came yet, though I'm sure its close, we're still waiting. As for me, "Finally Free" meant getting out of my horrible relationship, starting a new life, being happy. However, with having suffered PPD myself, I still struggle daily to let go of my anger and have to remind myself that I am no longer in that place anymore. I am trying to stay strong for my husband and my children. I am also realizing that "Finally Free" isn't a reality. But, it will be soon. We both also have a love and peace with our God and I know that once we let go of our difficult pasts, we both will be "Finally Free".

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, visithttp://www.familyofavet.com/love_letters.html.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Love Letter Campaign - To My Daughter and Son-in-Law

Sean and Melissa, 

I hardly have words to tell you how much I honor you, and how humbled I am by your courage, your faith, and your unfailing love for each other.  Your life together is a gift to all veterans and their families who are struggling.  Your example shows what is possible.  You have done so much through Family Of A Vet, touched so many lives - many of which you will never know.  The ripple effect of your courage, love, and determination will go on long after you are done, helping veterans for all the years to come.  Because of your hard work and loving example so many more have hope.

Jim and I honor and love you so much.

Mom and Jim

Submitted By: Linda Cameron

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, visithttp://www.familyofavet.com/love_letters.html.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

David’s House from My Eyes

For Joe and I, Davids House was a concept without a name.

It was a concept that began as a vacation area in the mountains of Virginia specifically for Veterans, because honestly who is going to understand a Veteran better than another Veteran. Joe was still deployed while these ideas were surfacing. I would get emails from 8,000 miles away asking me to check on how to do this or that. So being the research nerd that I am by the time that Joe returned from deployment I had a binder full of information for him to review.

By the time he returned and settled into life at home (as best he could) the property had sold.

A new search began for a better piece of property. Found one that was about 700 +/- acres in the mountains of Washington State. This had been an old Dude Ranch decades ago. With a change in property came a slight change in focus.

The new focus was about Veterans and families struggling with homelessness. The statistics blew me away  these homeless Veterans with their families were not Vietnam Era like everyone believes, these were current war Veterans with young families. They cant make ends meet, let alone keep a roof over their heads.

The one thing Joe and I discovered in our journey is that we cannot do this alone. We were only 2 people in a very large playing arena and while others loved our idea, getting support for such a project as 2 unknown people was next to impossible.

It was a chance conversation with Brannan Vines about “Davids House” being a place for Veterans to feel at home. I then knew I was with the right group of people. I told her that we had a similar vision. I shared my research and power points with her.

I cannot begin to describe how it feels to know that someone else has a similar vision to help Veterans for the long term goals in life.

Little did I know Brannan had already talked with 2 other couples with a similar vision?

Similar visions with like-minded people, only God could bring those people together, created The Davids House Project.

Davids House is designed to create hope for Veterans & their Families to create sustainable living once they leave Davids House.

For more information on this project, ways you can help, or to donate, please visithttp://haven.familyofavet.com or email haven@familyofavet.com.

Thank you

Pam Busenius

Davids House Project Manager

Thursday, December 5, 2013

DIY Christmas Gift Ideas

With the holidays fast approaching, I know it sends alot of people into a panic- "How am I ever going to afford to buy for all the people on my list?" I can relate to this panic, which is why I went on a mission to create a list of nice Christmas gifts that are DIY (Do It Yourself.) In my honest opinion, no store bought gift could ever compare to a homemade gift that someone put their time and love into. Christmas doesn't need to break the bank and better yet, almost all of the supplies can be found at your nearest Dollar Store! *Keep calm and craft on!*

How about this for a festive gift? This is a $1.50 lantern that can be found at Lowe's. Just toss in some inexpensive Christmas bulbs and tie a decoration of your choosing to the handle using ribbon!

Aren't these adorable?! Dip Mix Ornaments. Buy cheap clear Christmas bulbs and fill with either premade dip mixes, or use one of the recipes from the site!  


Got a baker in the family? How about making a cake stand using dollar store glasses and plates. Probably would need Gorilla Glue to keep it together.

Frame filled with jingle bells, scrapbook paper as background, and sticker letters!


Got a collection of empty wine bottles? Recycle them and make these cute Santa Clause wine bottle decorations. Just paint and rhinestones!

Know someone who loves wine? How about bedazzled wine glasses?!


There's nothing like a cup of hot cocoa on a cold winter day. Could do all kinds of variations and give with a dollar store coffee mug.

Know a candle lover? Get a vanilla candle and hot glue peppermint candies all around it. Will smell like peppermint and vanilla as it burns!

If you can paint, how about these American Flag mason jars? Would make great vases!


Get a dollar store frame, some stickers, and the possibilites are endless!

Fabric bleach art. Could do tea towels, shirts, anything really!


Glitter mason jars. Add tea lights, and voila! Pretty candle holder.


Jewelry lover on your list? How about these earrings made of buttons? Can make some seriously unique earrings no one else will have!


Got a food nut or someone who loves to cook on your list? Make this awesome kitchen decor using dollar store frames and silverware.


Dollar store or thrift store vases get a makeover by painting them on the inside!


Bow tie paper clip book marks. Perfect for the reader on your list!


Submitted By: Chelsea

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Love Letter Campaign ~ You Are My Universe

 I can't believe I am the lucky one that gets to spend my life with you.  I knew you were someone special from the first moment I saw you.  You were so shy, you couldn't even look me in the eye.  I thought that was impossibly adorable.  I'm so glad I took the lead and went out to sit with you while you let your dogs run in the yard.  We started talking then, just a little bit, and I'm sure it was very awkward for you.  But later, when you chose to spend 5 hours at the lake talking with me, we got to know each other quite well.  We were inseparable after that.  Everyone said it was too fast, and how could we trust each other, and what if thus and such happened.  But I knew I had found the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, and you did too.  We were married 2 months later, and it was the happiest day of my life.  When you looked in my eyes and teared up as you said "I do" I just wanted that moment to last forever.  

We've been through quite a lot in our first year.  Traveling an hour one way for all your VA appointments, getting to explore the city with you by my side, window shopping, moving, spending a month without you while you tied up the loose ends with your schooling, snowmobiling in and out from the house to get to appointments and to run errands, dealing with a dog that is getting older, adding a new furry baby to our little family, and dealing with VA claims and doctors and living 5 hours from the nearest medical center.....
I don't regret a single moment of any of it.  As long as I share my life with you, I am ready to face any adventure and any hardship.

I remember right after I met you when you told me matter-of-factly that you did not have PTSD.  I questioned this statement, but didn't say anything to you at the time.  After living with you for a couple months, and hearing from you about things your therapist had said or done, I didn't care for her very much and I felt like she was misleading you.  I'll never forget the morning when you had such an early appointment that we stopped for breakfast on the way back home.  I remember you confiding in me about the PTSD you had experienced when you first got home from your tour, as we enjoyed our meal.  This gave me even more question marks about what you had been told regarding this diagnosis and claims.  After we moved and you had to switch all your VA care, you asked me again if I thought you had PTSD, and showed me some of the paperwork you had from several years ago.  After reading it and based on what I had noticed, I told you that I was pretty sure you did.  You decided to try to file a claim for it.  I remember how nervous you were, and how you thought they would summarily dismiss the claim, since your therapist had told you that you did not have "enough" to claim it.  I remember how little time it took for the doctor to talk to you, and the long drive back home.  Then we waited for the letter.  When we received it, you had me open it because you were so anxious about what it would say.  When I read that they had approved your claim and you now had a rating for PTSD, you were so surprised.  

I remember later that day when you admitted you had cried during the evaluation.  I was so proud of you for standing up for yourself! And I was so thankful that you have finally been able to get what you deserve instead of continuing to be minimized by someone who could not do their job correctly. 

You are my hero.  I am so proud of who you are, and I love you endlessly.  I can't wait to share many more years with you as my partner in this adventure we call life.  I hope that I will be able to always be there for you, as you are always there for me.  

I love you, J.

Submitted By: Your Wife, Sarah

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, visithttp://www.familyofavet.com/love_letters.html.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Love Letter Campaign - My Home is In Your Arms


I've come to look forward to writing this letter to you each year... an opportunity to pause in the middle of our daily rush and chaos and think about you... think about us.

I continue to be amazed by you. You and I both know this life we lead is not easy - and that "statistics" say we are in an uphill fight - but I can't think of anyone I'd rather face that fight... face this life... with.

I still find, curled in your arms, safely tucked against you, my home.  I still find myself grinning as you sneak a kiss in the middle of the night sometimes (even when you think I'm asleep ;) ).  I still find my refuge in you.  My future in you.  My friend, and ally, and lover, and friend.  I still find, dear husband, myself drawn to you and grateful for you - even after almost seventeen years together.

Thank you for being mine.  Thank you for continuing to stand and fight with me.  Thank you for nudging me, holding me up, protecting me, letting me be me (even when my own ways in the world are sometimes difficult for you to swallow)... thank you for loving me.

Thank you for being "that guy"... that guy that I am still so proud and honored and amazed by.  Thank you for being to stubborn to give up and to strong to let me.

Thank you, my love, for the amazing daily gift that you are to me and to our family.

You are much more than a hero... you are my hero.  And I, my love, am gratefully honored to be your wife and partner and friend.


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 13, 2013

The Love Letter Campaign - My Brother Trevor

Big Bro,

I had always wondered why you chose to go into the Navy at such a young age, and why mom didn't let me watch the News from 2004/2008. As I grew older, I began to understand why you left. It was so that you could save people who needed your help, and  when I realized this, my heart grew with pride. (It felt akin to something like what the Grinch felt when he found out that he loved Christmas and his heart grew two times its size). 

And then you came home with the stink of war etched onto your clothes and the memories that no one else could see besides the Veterans who were beside you in the horror of what happened. I had hoped that you wouldn't come home with PTSD or anything drastic that would make my big brother cry, but then you did and I promised myself that I would help you in any way I could. If it means going to see a councilor with you, talking it over on Facebook, or anything that would make you feel better, I will do it. (Because that's what family is for, and no one could ever deny it). You're not alone in this Big Bro, and nobody wants to see you suffer in silence. We all love you too much.

I love you big bro,
From your little sister!

Submitted By: Megan

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, visithttp://www.familyofavet.com/love_letters.html.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Love Letter Campaign - To the Toughest of Them All

My love letter is written to all the caregivers of the wounded American soldiers.
On behalf of all of America, {even the people who haven't taken the time or interest to consider the struggles of families dealing with the wounds of war], I want to say a big thank you for your service.

I know from personal experience what all of you are going through. Although I am an older woman now, I still remember the daily struggle I had to wade through to survive my families problems.
My wounded warrior was drafted into the Vietnam war two months after we were married. He was a valiant soldier, and like you, I was as proud of him as I could be. He was handsome, brave, strong and a responsible leader. He was a mans man. 
He was in Vietnam for a year, and when he came back home, he was a completely different person than who he was before he left. He was critical of everyone and everything. I thought he was as mean as hell.
PTSD. We had never heard of such a thing. The Army never told me there might be some problems ahead for us when he returned home. As far as I know, no one at that time was given a heads up about PTSD.
I knew he was wild, uncontrollable, and he had become a daredevil of sorts. To make a long story short, he ended up crippled, walking on crutches, disabled for life, but he was still alive. Thank God!
I'm sorry to say the VA was not there for us. He was sent home to me without any help from the VA. Although we tried to apply for assistance, they said his disability was not service connected, and he was not eligible for any assistance from the VA.
I took care of him and dealt with his PTSD for thirty-five years by myself, without any help from the ones who were responsible for his condition. Then in 2004 he finally went back to the VA to see if he was eligible to receive some glasses. The VA immediately diagnosed him as having PTSD. The VA has been kind to him ever sense; I'm glad to say.
 We struggled many years not knowing what our problem was. I think I would have been better at handling my stress if I had only known he had PTSD. That would have answered so many questions for me, and it would have empowered me to control myself around him.
 Before he left for Vietnam, I made a vow to myself to stay by his side, no matter what happened to him in the war, whether he was captured or wounded. I promised myself that I would take care of him, and I have.    
 He is still the love of my life. He has been worth all the work and effort I have invested in him. 
 I love that man. He is still as wonderful today as he was the day I married him.
 I would simply like to encourage each wife or caregiver to a wounded veteran to stay solid, focus on the love you have for your soldier. Your soldier belongs not only to you, but to all of America. 
I'm so glad you have national support now. You deserve it.
I know you don't have the life of your dreams, neither does your soldier, but you still have each other, and that is the most important thing in life, having the one you love with you.
I wrote a book about our life and our struggles. I can't tell you how much that helped my feelings. I highly encourage everyone to put on paper your experience, say your feelings, get them out so you can recognize them and deal with them. It worked for me.
In conclusion, I want to say to you, I do love the work you are doing. I know you have the long term, toughest job of all. 


Submitted By: The Survivor

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 2, 2013


Intimacy is a touchy topic for most of us, but it becomes especially tricky in relationships involving PTSD, TBI, and assorted illnesses and injuries.  Some barriers to intimacy may include impotency due to depression, medications, or injury, decreased libido, low testosterone, or on the other side of the spectrum an increased sex drive or “hypersexuality.”   Decreased energy and libido in caregivers due to stress and fatigue from the demands of caregiving, along with health issues associated with caregiving also play a role.   Lack of day to day hugging and kissing and other affection due to isolating behaviors of PTSD, pornography addictions, infidelity (both may be related to seeking an adrenaline rush, or trying to feel “alive”).  Caregivers also report that lack of regular affection make it difficult for them to be sexually intimate with their spouse who feels like a stranger and have related the interactions to feeling as if they are being raped.

So it’s no small thing when an intimate moment arises in our house.  In fact, it’s something that only occurs every 9-12 months and is normally an isolated event.  The other night my husband pulled me close and whispered that he loved me and missed me.  At first, I was hesitant. “Just lie close to me.  Hold my hand.”  My heart and my head struggled to catch up.  In his eyes I saw HIM and in his voice I heard HIM.  This man next to me was my husband—the one I remember from the years before war ravaged his body and mind.

Yet I was scared, unsure.  I had to work to keep my brain focused on who he was at that moment, instead of letting uncertainty and discomfort take over.  It feels odd to find my husband a stranger, his touch foreign. These are normally the times where I may need to “check out” and make mental grocery or to-do lists, when I just cannot relax.  But this time, as I lay with my head on his shoulder and listened to his voice I felt comforted.  Loved.  Oh, how I've missed you!

In the morning, he was gone.  In his place was the regular guy, the one who is distant, and angry.  Silent, emotions suppressed.  The shell of my husband. I wanted to shake him and scream, “Where did you go?”  “It’s not fair!”

I crave a glimpse, an hour, a day when my husband is the man I remember.  But when that wish is granted I’m left sad and hurting...  Overwhelming loneliness takes over for months where hugs and kisses are few and far between, and perfunctory at best.   I build walls to keep my emotions at bay as well.  I wonder if it’s better to have a taste from time to time, or none at all.

I will continue to search for the man I love while simultaneously searching to know this new man in my life, hopefully to find a bridge between the two.

Submitted By: Anonymous

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Valuable Lessons Learned

As I sit here I just finished watching CNN with the deal being struck on the both the Debt Ceiling and the Government Shutdown and thinking there are some valuable lessons to be learned from the stress of the last 16 days.

Lesson #1 – Be Cautious

        Be cautious when sharing information, there are so many politically biased news sources out on the internet it is hard to discern if the sources are creditable.

        Be cautious when depending on specific things, especially when it comes from the government.

       Be cautious when spending, try to build a little reserve fund since we never know when all you know what will break loose.

Lesson #2 – Shop Smart

It never hurts to have too much in the pantry, noodles, vegetables, tuna, canned and boxed goods. They will last longer than fresh ingredients.

It never hurts to buy a bit extra of ground beef, chicken, or turkey. These can help stretch a tight budget.

Think twice before making a purchase on a credit card. Do you really need it or is it a WANT.

Lesson #3 – Don’t Panic

Never panic over something you have no control over, waste of energy.

Be proactive and think ahead.

Lesson #4 – Talk to Others in the Same Situation

When working together we can accomplish more than by trying to do it all ourselves.

Ask you friends how they would prepare. Share tips, tricks, and cheap meal ideas.

With all of that being said I now get to figure out how much ground beef my family is willing to eat before they go on a hunger strike.

Submitted By Pam B.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Blind Etiquette and Guide Dog Etiquette

Yesterday was White Cane Safety Day!

On the 15th of October, 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson made a proclamation designating the day as White Cane Safety Day to recognize blind and visually impaired individuals and their achievements.  The white cane serves as a symbol of independence and mobility.  The long, straight cane is a valuable tool used to detect objects in the path, allowing the user to navigate with confidence and safety.  A white cane is an international symbol to alert others of the user’s visual impairment.

My husband is legally blind.  He lost the majority of his vision in 2008 due to a traumatic brain injury (TBI) sustained in 2006.  In fact, nearly 74% of TBI patients experience visual complaints ranging from light sensitivity and double vision to vision-threatening complications and blindness.  Visual pathways in the brain are very complex and aren't completely understood yet, making diagnosis and treatment difficult, especially when combined with TBI.

During blind rehabilitation training, my husband learned to use a long white cane as part of his orientation and mobility training.  He received training on using a GPS device which allows him to maneuver about the neighborhood without losing his bearings.  Last fall, we welcomed a guide dog into our home.  All of these mobility devices (and many more) have increased his level of independence and feelings of confidence.
I have included etiquette guidelines below, but will pause to add a personal commentary.  Please use courtesy and caution when you see a person using a white cane or with a guide dog.  While most people we encounter are respectful and understanding, numerous times we encounter someone who tries to cut him off or quickly jump in front of him.  This is not only rude, it is not safe for either party.  It’s important to remember that many individuals using a mobility device, like my husband, have some usable vision…which means he may be able to see you rushing to get past his cane.  Be aware of your surroundings and extend a courtesy to those who use a mobility device.

Blind Etiquette Tips from the Blinded Veterans Association

When you address a blind person, identify yourself immediately so there is no mystery as to who you are.
Speak directly to a blind person so the individual can follow your voice.

Don’t assume that a blind person is unable to participate in certain activities. Let that person make the decision.

When guiding a blind person, offer your arm for assistance. A blind person can anticipate your movements by walking slightly behind you.

When you’re leaving … say so.

It’s okay to use words like “look,” “see,” and “blind.” Avoiding them may make a blind person self-conscious.

Offer understanding, consideration, and friendship to a blind person – not pity!

Caution a blind person about ascending or descending stairs, curbs, or obstacles.

Offer assistance when you see a blind person trying to cross a busy intersection, but don’t be discouraged by a “No, thank you.”

Offer to read newspapers, magazines, and other printed material for a blind person.

Let blind people speak for themselves – they don’t need interpreters.

When speaking to a blind person, don’t raise your voice. Remember, that person is blind, not deaf.

Don’t distract a guide dog from his main purpose of safely leading his master. Ask for permission before petting.

bva.org http://bva.org/support/whattodo.html

Guide Dog Etiquette from Guide Dogs for the Blind

As tempting as it may be to pet a Guide Dog, remember that this dog is responsible for leading someone who cannot see. The dog should never be distracted from that duty. A person's safety may depend on their dog's alertness and concentration.

It is okay to ask someone if you may pet their guide. Many people enjoy introducing their dogs when they have the time. The dog's primary responsibility is to its blind partner and it is important that the dog not become solicitous.

A Guide Dog should never be offered food or other distracting treats. The dogs are fed on a schedule and follow a specific diet in order to keep them in optimum condition. Even slight deviations from their routine can disrupt their regular eating and relieving schedules and seriously inconvenience their handlers. Guide Dogs are trained to resist offers of food so they will be able to visit restaurants without begging. Feeding treats to a Guide Dog weakens this training.

Although Guide Dogs cannot read traffic signals, they are responsible for helping their handlers safely cross a street. Calling out to a Guide Dog or intentionally obstructing its path can be dangerous for the team as it could break the dog's concentration on its work.

Listening for traffic flow has become harder for Guide Dog handlers due to quieter car engines and the increasing number of cars on the road. Please don't honk your horn or call out from your car to signal when it is safe to cross.  This can be distracting and confusing. Be especially careful of pedestrians in crosswalks when making right-hand turns at red lights.

It's not all work and no play for a Guide Dog. When they are not in harness, they are treated in much the same way as pets. However, for their safety they are only allowed to play with specific toys. Please don't offer them toys without first asking their handler's permission.

In some situations, working with a Guide Dog may not be appropriate. Instead, the handler may prefer to take your arm just above the elbow and allow their dog to heel. Others will prefer to have their dog follow you. In this case, be sure to talk to the handler and not the dog when giving directions for turns.

A Guide Dog can make mistakes and will need reminders to maintain its training. Correcting a mistake usually involves a time-out or leash action. When the dog regains focus and correctly follows a cue, he or she is frequently praised and rewarded with a kibble. Guide Dog handlers have been taught appropriate management methods to use with their dogs.

Access laws, including the United States' Americans with Disabilities Act and Canada's Blind Persons' Rights Act, permit people who are blind to be accompanied by their guide dogs anywhere the general public is allowed, including taxis and buses, restaurants, theaters, stores, schools, hotels, apartment and office buildings.

Before asking a question of a person handling a dog, allow them to complete the task at hand.

Remain calm in your approach and mannerisms.

Never tease a dog.

guidedogs.com http://www.guidedogs.com/site/PageServer?pagename=resources_access_meetguide

Submitted By: Melissa

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Our Story: Wouldn't Be Pretty...

While I am extremely thankful that the VA recognizes the need for to provide services to caregivers, I regret that my experience with the Caregiver Program process has not been a pleasant one. Our application process began in January of 2012 and at first appeared that it would go smoothly. Valerie Silvers is the CSC that we dealt with at the Denver VA. Shortly after submitting the form I was contacted by Ms. Silvers to discuss the care needed for my husband by telephone interview. I was in no way informed that this would be the only time I would be able to contribute information on what duties I perform in caretaking for my husband.

We were scheduled for an appointment with a psychologist to do the exam for the program.  This clinician was not one my husband had seen prior to this exam. I was not allowed to be present during this examination and was actually quite rudely informed “you will get your chance later.” My exclusion from the exam came in spite of pleading from my husband that I go to all his appointments with him as he does not function well in a medical environment without me. 

During the exam, my husband was extremely anxious and reported to me that he “just wanted to get out of there as soon as possible.” He also felt the line of questioning implied that the clinician performing his exam had not even looked at his medical records pertaining to his PTSD and TBI.

I will note that this has been the only exam I have ever been excluded from, including all his exams for his Compensation and Pension. I have also been able to attend all his counseling sessions with him, without problem, and have been made to feel more than welcome. There is documentation in his medical record that actually pertains to me being a nurse and that is the only reason one of his psychiatrists increased his medication levels-because she knew I was managing his medications at home.

Shortly after this appointment we also had an appointment with a TBI doctor at the VA and mentioned the caregiver program. We were very bluntly told by the physician that “you don’t want to be in that program anyway. It’s only going to last for 5 years and people are just going to be dependent upon that money”. At this point I was at a loss for words and she continued with “that program is only for people who can’t wipe their own noses or butts.”  As a clinician, I cannot even begin to explain how horrified and appalled I was that she would actually say these things to a patient. I attempted to contact the patient advocate regarding this issue but was never able to meet with anyone and could never reach a live person on the phone.

Following these appointments I received a call from Ms. Silvers stating that we were denied the program. I explained my disagreement with the decision and she advised me to appeal through the patient advocate office. I called the office and never heard anything. Approximately a month later I heard from Ms. Silvers again and she asked if I had started the appeal process. I explained that I had never heard back from the patient advocate office. Upon further review, it was found that the patient advocate office does not handle appeals, but rather the Chief of Social Work. Once directed to the right place, we started the appeal process with Joanna Kadis.

I submitted a lengthily appeal letter to Ms. Kadis to present to the appeal board. I also asked that documentation from his psychologist examination during his Compensation and Pension exam be reviewed as the documentation was drastically different that the original psychologist evaluation. Dr. Richards performed the exam for his PTSD during his C and P exam and stated specifically that if the review board had questions regarding his need for a caregiver that she could be called.

After a 60 day review process we were informed that we were once again denied for the caregiver program. This came as quite a surprise since my husband’s PTSD alone was rated 100% by the VA and according to the board he meets special criteria for homebound compensation. I do not understand how there are two such drastically different opinions regarding his needs for a caregiver. When speaking with Ms. Kadis I could not get a definitive answer as to why there were two different conclusions. I was informed that the appeals review board had thoroughly looked at our case. When asked who was on the board I was informed that the Chief of Mental health and a podiatrist reviewed the information and it was then presented to the Chief of Staff. I will state that I have issues with a podiatrist being a deciding factor in a mental health case.

I asked about a second opinion and was informed that the review board “was the second opinion”. I informed Ms. Kadis that I disagreed because for a true second opinion to be clinically appropriate and accurate, one must actually see the patient. No one on the review board actually evaluated my husband. The basis of the review was on the original psychologist’s documentation. I have personally reviewed her documentation in my husband’s medical record and completely disagree with it on a professional level. It also does not correlate with any of the documentation by the psychologist who performed my husband’s exam for his PTSD during the C and P exam, nor with any of the documentation from the psychiatrist that had been seeing him on a regular basis. I find it extremely odd that the one exam I was forbidden to be a part of is the one exam that is being used to deny us from the program and the results of it are so different from all of the other evaluations my husband has had.

At this point I was advised to do a second appeal. I sent the information to a Ms. Mary Lee at the VISN level. After many unanswered phone calls and emails to even receive verification that my appeal letter was received, we received a denial that stated it was final and we had exhausted all appeals.

To say that this process was frustrating does not even begin to describe the emotional turmoil of this ordeal. Also, to have repeatedly stated my professional disagreements with the exam finding and to have them ignored is alarming. Even more alarming is that in the appeals process the continued denials were based on documentation that I had already stated in writing I disagreed with…a true appeal or second opinion should have meant a re-evaluation by the healthcare provider handling the appeal. To base a decision on someone else’s documentation and never lay one’s own eyes on the patient is extremely poor practice and should NEVER be done. It is worth noting that since being denied the program and being told that he didn’t need a caregiver (or more accurately “that while it wouldn't be pretty, we feel that he could function without you”) he has needed to go back to inpatient treatment for his PTSD for the third time, has started and stopped school an additional two times and has started and stopped a part time job twice. His needs have not changed and I continue to provide care for him daily. He continues to attest to the fact that he “would not be able to make it without me” and that “the only reason I am doing as well as I am is because you are here to help me.”

To learn more about the State of Heroes and Families project, please visit our main site or visit any of the following direct project links -

Why This Started: www.familyofavet.com/state_of_veterans_families-why.html
The Statistics: www.familyofavet.com/state_of_veterans_families-statistics.html
Our Stories: www.familyofavet.com/state_of_veterans_families-stories.html
What We Hope For: www.familyofavet.com/state_of_veterans_families-hopes.html
FAQ About the Project: www.familyofavet.com/state_of_veterans_families-faq.html

Our Story: Need Communication and Understanding

I am the wife of an OIF/OEF Army Veteran. We have had numerous experiences within our VA system, some good and others not so much. We regularly go to the VA Outpatient Center in Jacksonville, FL but on occasion have to go down to the VA Hospital in Gainesville, FL.  I suppose I should begin with the negatives and get them out of the way.

We have had numerous issues with different doctors in both locations. My husband suffers from PTSD, mTBI, migraines and chronic back pain that causes spasms throughout his body and requires him to use a cane. In the five years we have been using the Jacksonville VA we have had around seven or eight Primary doctors and the changes never come with any warning. When you have a patient with PTSD, sudden change with no advance notice is never a good thing. It causes paranoia, discomfort, and agitation. Not to mention it then takes a longer period of time to build trust with the veteran, established trust necessary to develop and open and outright relationship. 

My husband was hospitalized at a local non-VA hospital a few years ago for extreme pain in his back and legs. He experienced pain he described as feeling like he was being electrocuted. This pain caused him to have full body spasms (looked like he was seizing) and then he would pass out. He had been experiencing these issues for quite some time, and while the VA was aware of it, nothing was done to find the cause. We spent almost a week at the hospital where they ran numerous tests, including a spinal tap, and informed us that he had a larger than normal amount of fluid on his brain. They were concerned that he may have the beginnings of hydrocephalus and he needed to be closely monitored by neurology. We then learned that the VA wanted him to be transferred to the Gainesville VA hospital or the VA would not pay for his care.  Since he had no other health coverage we didn't have a choice. We weren't too upset at the time because we understood that a medical body would rather use its own facility and staff. 

However, my husband was there less than 24 hours before I received a call that he was being released and I could pick him up at 9 pm. The VA doctors had done an MRI and the neurologist tapped his leg with a tuning fork. The doctors decided it was not hydrocephalus and sent him home. When we spoke to the primary physician about being seen by neurology regularly, as recommended by the civilian hospital, we were told it was unnecessary as neurology had already seen him that year. 

These events occurred in Oct/Nov 2010 and my husband has not been examined by a neurologist since. It is now Oct 2013. Our requests for an appointment are never granted.

We also have had issues with the Caregiver Program. I have cared for my husband since we were married in 2008. I am with him 24/7, wherever he is, I am. As a result of his PTSD he has very poor short term memory. Most days he couldn't tell you at dinner time what he ate for breakfast. Many doctors ask him how often his pain occurs or recall the last time he has passed out (still unsure what causes this as doctors won't investigate it) and he is incorrect with his answer. He tells the doctors that it hasn't occurred in a couple weeks when he experienced three episodes that week alone. When I try to correct the response so the doctor has accurate information I am often told not to answer for him or that they can only use information from the patient. It is unfair to expect someone with memory impairment to recall those details. My husband is fully aware of what happens around him but he has poor time judgment. How can they effectively address his problems when they knowingly use the wrong information?

There are numerous issues regarding his pain medications. My husband has a prescription for narcotic pain medication that he is told to take as he needs it and the prescription is written to take twice daily as needed for pain. He has a relatively high pain tolerance and will take his pain pills only when he absolutely can't handle his pain as he fears becoming dependent upon narcotics. Most doctors would prefer you take them this way but when the VA drug test he takes regularly did not show his pain medication in his system his primary doctor threatened to take his benefits away since, in his opinion, my husband was not as bad off as he claimed. I could not believe it when the doctor went on to tell my husband he needs to take these pills twice a day, regardless of whether he is in pain or not, or he will lose his benefits. We requested pain management from this same doctor and were informed that narcotics ARE his pain management. When my husband complained months later that the pills were no longer as effective (after following doctor’s orders and taking twice daily) he was treated as though he was fishing for more pills instead of legitimately needing a higher strength. If you expect someone to take a narcotic on a regular basis there will come a time when that person's tolerance increases resulting in a need to increase; it does not make that person a recreational user.

Another issue with pain medication is when we receive the pills through the mail the counts are always short. I immediately open the bottles when they arrive and count for accuracy.  EVERY month the bottles range from 3 to 8 pills short of the prescribed number. We have notified the pharmacy and the response is a shortage is not possible because the pills are counted out by a machine--there is nothing that can be done. 

Our biggest problem with our VA is communication about appointments. We do not always receive notifications about upcoming appointments. I cannot count the number of times that we have received a letter alerting us that we missed an appointment on the same day I receive the letter informing us about that same appointment.

Another scheduling issue is when we have to cancel appointments. There are mornings that my husband is not in a good place. He is either passing out, sick, highly agitated, or in too much pain to move. On these days there is no way I can get him into the car and into the hospital and I have no choice but to cancel or request to reschedule an appointment. I do my best to make sure these appointments are canceled as early as possible. Without fail, within a few days we will receive a letter stating that since we missed the appointment and is considered a no show. His benefits have been threatened over this as well as my caregiver stipend.  The nurse who did my last home visit said it could be taken away since it is my job to make sure he attends appointments.  I ALWAYS call as soon as I THINK there might be an issue. I don't let him miss appointments simply because he doesn't feel like going or would rather be going somewhere else. When we cancel it is unavoidable. The threat of losing benefits because he couldn’t walk three feet, let alone the distance to the car and into the VA, does absolutely NOTHING to ease the stress in already extremely stressful lives. I don't feel it’s fair to threaten our income and medical care when the reasons are misunderstood. 

We have only had a couple positive experiences in our time with the VA and ALL of them are situations specific to the people we worked with rather than the institution. The most constant and positive experience we have ever had is with my husband’s first case manager. She has always been, and still is, amazing. Her name is Linda and she has always gone out of her way to help us, even after she moved to another team. My husband adores her and she truly CARES. She doesn't mind if we stop by after an appointment to discuss a problem and she does everything in her power to assist us or, if she can’t assist, tell us how to get what we need. She has truly been an amazing addition to our support team and on more than one occasion has helped keep my husband calm when his stress got the better of him due to an issue within the VA system.

The second person who has shown us that there are actually people in the VA system who care is my husband’s Federal Recovery Coordinator. He is awesome and always makes time when we have questions. He never leaves us in the dark for long when we are looking for answers, he cares enough to remember situations we are dealing with, and will do anything he can to assist us.

Lastly, and our BEST experience within the VA system, has been the PREP Program at the VA Hospital in Tampa, FL. The entire staff there was amazing and supportive. My husband spent three weeks in the program and during that time more was accomplished than our local VA had done in three years. The staff stayed fully involved in my husband's care and the doctors were great about calling me when I requested information and keeping me updated on his test results, their plan of action, and his progress. When I drove back to Tampa to pick him up, each of the doctors took the time to sit down with me personally and lay out everything they had done and discovered and gave me what their recommendations. As a caregiver, having someone within the VA system sit down and talk with me about the things I needed to know (even though my husband had already been told) showed me that they truly valued the caregiver's role in the health and continuing treatment of the Veteran.

To learn more about the State of Heroes and Families project, please visit our main site or visit any of the following direct project links -

Why This Started: www.familyofavet.com/state_of_veterans_families-why.html
The Statistics: www.familyofavet.com/state_of_veterans_families-statistics.html
Our Stories: www.familyofavet.com/state_of_veterans_families-stories.html
What We Hope For: www.familyofavet.com/state_of_veterans_families-hopes.html

FAQ About the Project: www.familyofavet.com/state_of_veterans_families-faq.html