The road in front of us is long, but doable if... (aka What I Know on Family Of a Vet's 5th Birthday)".
I've been thinking the last week or so about HOW to write this post. You see there are many things that I'm watchful and mindful of, but to me one of the most important is not dimming or destroying the hope of those we serve. Our families and heroes deal with a lot of difficult places every single day (sometimes 24 hours a day). They don't need to hear me "yelling" about things getting bad. They don't need for me to talk about doom and gloom and desperation. They sooooo get it.
And, honestly, I (and my hero and family) have walked some dark and scary places lately in our PTSD world... places that had us hovering dangerously close to that suicidal line... places that had me up for nights at a time and rambling through seemingly endless days... grasping for ways to nudge my dear hubby forward.
I've also walked that line... and many other difficult, scary, unimaginable by most of the "civilian" world lines of heartache and hardship... with many others lately.
I'm actually writing this blog post at 3 am (though I am going to schedule it to actually post during the day when the majority of the world is awake ;) ) because today has been one filled with "those" lines. It has been a day that started much too early and is ending much too late... a day where I and many here at FOV have walked heart to heart with others like us (all while juggling our own households and heroes and children), trying to make sure that those rambles through endless, desperate days aren't faced alone.
So, I haven't known how to write this post without sounding... well... depressing.
The "bad" stuff this year:
The suicide rate among heroes is up. No one is tracking the suicides among spouses, children, and parents yet. The "official" increase in the suicide stats got a lot (but not enough) coverage and discussion. But, honestly, those of us who live and work in this world could have told them it was up... that it's still going up. Either way though, it's too many of "us" dying. And the "tools" for the most part aren't working (would give examples of that... but don't actually want to discourage the use of the tools... because sometimes they do work... just soooooo not often enough).
The mental health issues in families are soaring. No stats on that yet, but sooooooo true. Many of us are 10 years out from initial deployments. Our minds and hearts and many bodies are showing the wear and tear of a decade of living with and loving someone with PTSD and/or TBI (not to mention other injuries). The Post 9-11 Caregiver Program thankfully made Mental Health care available for many caregivers. But, that's only for a small percentage of the people that need it. And some Vet Centers have individual counseling available for family members, but many don't. Give An Hour is still (thaaaaaankfully) connecting family members with providers who offer free counseling, but many of those providers are full. Other non-profits that were offering mental health services have run out of money.
We're seeing more and more heroes and families who are homeless or on the verge of being "residents" of their cars. The theory in place is that the VA is moving to end Veteran homelessness by the conclusion of 2015. That theory was announced in 2009 as part of a "five year plan". We've made some progress (and at least there are some programs and organizations in place to offer housing and help now). But, uhm... for example... of all the families we've tried to recommend the HUD-VASH (Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing) program to, we have yet to have a family *actually* find that a voucher is available. I now start that "recommendation" talk with "Well, it's not a program that normally works, but it's still worth a try. Maybe you'll be lucky... and if not hopefully they'll have recommendations of other places they're working with". Most often, though, it's a wash and we have to try our best to help people find other means.
Many non-profits that have in the past offered emergency assistance or grants for heroes and families in trouble are routinely running out of funds. Other non-profits with "deeper" pockets are no longer concentrating on basic necessities but are mainly handling the more "fun" stuff (which, don't get me wrong, I'm sooooooo pro-fun, but find it difficult to swallow tens of millions of dollars going to "fun" when tiny bellies - and the bellies of hero moms and dads and their spouses - are going empty and people are liquidating/pawning/selling/bartering everything they own to maaaaaybe keep a roof over their head long enough to get through various waits for benefits).
And, while I am not anti-VA, anti-big nonprofit, or really "anti" any agency or organization that helps heroes and families (and believe wholeheartedly we should each do our best to work with and help those entities do better!), I'm saddened that many are still struggling (and likely will be for years to come) to catch up to the sheer number of "unforeseen" injuries and issues. Some days it's like watching a gigantic, slow, cumbersome ship try to change its course while pushing all of the wrong buttons and ignoring the flashing "danger, danger, daaaaanger" signals.
See, told you... sort of struggling this year not to be depressing. But, now, let me at least tell you the "good" stuff.
The "good" stuff doesn't have a whole long rambling list of different points. It really only has one, but it is a MAJOR one... one that saves lives, addresses mental health struggles, puts roofs over heads, fills tiny (and big :) ) bellies with food, and finds ways to meet needs when all hell breaks loose.
The good stuff is simply and beautifully and amazingly and incredibly and ohhhhhh so thankfully the heroes and families themselves and the concerned citizens that so often step forward and say "nope, not going to let that happen."
I watch on a daily basis PEOPLE fill the gaps.
I watch on a daily basis PEOPLE bring hope.
I watch on a daily basis PEOPLE offer kindness, compassion, and real help.
I watch on a daily basis PEOPLE help heroes and loved ones lost in an often struggling system, find their way through.
I watch on a daily basis PEOPLE save lives... PEOPLE save families... PEOPLE step in, step up, and refuse to walk away.
I watch the very hero or caregiver who is (and often has been for years) walking an uphill battle of their own step in an teach another how to cope... or maybe just to get through that minute or hour or day.
I watch small churches and community organizations and non-profits few have heard of with very little funds come together and put a roof over a family's head... or to wrap their arms around and love a family in a season they are struggling to move through... who offer warm, soft words and tender, kind understanding when many others shut them away.
I watch hearts meet hearts.
I watch hurting people find ways to share and begin to move through those places.
I watch, in my humble opinion, miracles... big and small.
So, today on our sixth birthday I am feeling a little weary and ragged... a little jaded and angry at times... a little like I want to scream and cry probably a bit too often. But, much more than that, I am more proud than ever of the heroes and families I serve and serve with. I am more amazed than ever by the citizens and employees and individuals within agencies and organizations who take the service of Veterans to heart and who answer that service with service of their own. I am more humbled... and grateful... and blown away by the PEOPLE who refuse to let us fall, who refuse to let us go hungry, who refuse to let us walk through dark places lost and alone.
And that, to me (and for what it's worth) is and will continue to be the answer. The answer lies in hearts that refuse to do anything other than love our heroes and their families... hearts that refuse to turn away... hearts that steadfastly refuse to give up.
And my final challenge for this year's "tradition" is to please, pretty please, *BE* one of those hearts.
With humble thanks (as always) to all of you who are making a difference,
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!