Sunday, July 28, 2013

What it all comes down to (aka What I Know On Our 6th Birthday)

So, last year I attempted to start a tradition (I honestly am horrible at "traditions"... I get distracted by the NOW and forget to replicate the past).  I wrote a blog post about what I / we here at Family Of a Vet were seeing for the future of our heroes and families.  The title of that post was "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,

Brannan

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!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Finding Patriotism in Unexpected Places (aka, soooooo staying here any time I need a hotel room!)

So, as most of you know... in the world of non-profits, we're sort of a "little engine that could".  We serve *A LOT* of heroes, hearts, and homes (tens of thousands a month) on a budget that most organizations would laugh at.

We - heroes and families around the country - all volunteer our time (many of us routinely work 100+ hour weeks in between caring for heroes, families, annnnnnd dealing with PTSD and TBI ourselves).  We're a bit of an enigma... and, honestly, we're proud of that.

But, that budget means we do a lot of creative thinking (and asking).  Everything we need to help veterans and families (many of them in increasingly challenging situations) comes from asking - from explaining to people "outside" of this Life After Combat what the need is (and hoping, praying, and wishing that they'll step forward to help).

This week a Veteran family that 10 days ago was out of options and trying to figure out *how* to handle an impossible situation is headed for safety, security, and support.  They have a bit of hope.  They will not (thank God) be living in their car... an unfortunately ever increasing occurrence among heroes and those who love them.

But then, we had the "point A to point B" predicament.  With almost 40 hours of road between them and their new spot, it meant days and nights on the road.

Several Veteran families stepped up and offered homes along the way.

But, we were stuck without any options on a looooooooooooong stretch across Texas.

This morning, I picked up the phone, called the LaQuinta Inn in Columbus, TX, and started my "spiel".  I explained the predicament, explained that we were a 501(c)3 non-profit, and asked if they had any sort of discount they could offer.

Now, you've got to understand at this point, I spend many of these calls (or calls like them, but with other needs), sort of trying to convince someone in the span of 60 seconds that I'm legitimate, that the need is real, that I'll offer paperwork, a tax deductible receipt, etc, etc.  It's 60 seconds convincing a stranger to help me (whom they've never met) help someone else (whom they've never met).  Often, the answer is something like a 10% discount at best.  Sad, but true.

And, I'll also say that the reason I was calling sooooo close to the night that the room was needed is because this week, my family's own "Life After Combat" has been at it's worse.  We've been in suicide prevention / no holes barred / holy crap I just need a breath mode.  That's the good and bad part about "living" and working in this life... it often means we're pulling rabbits out of tattered hats at the last hour because we've been trying so hard to just keep our heads above water at home.

(but, let me tell you, in many of these situations... especially the really "messy" ones... no one except people who live this are willing to reach out and help... if you don't believe me... well, I'd have to write a book)

Anyway, so... made the phone call.  TWO SECONDS later the manager at the Columbus, TX, La Quinta isn't offering me a discount... she's offering to donate the room.  She's stepping in, stepping up, and showing the kind of *REAL* patriotism that I can't tell you how much these hearts we serve (and that I soooooo love) need.  She's not offering a bandaid for a gaping wound - she's offering a solution.

And she went on to assure me that everything would be ready and that they would be warmly (and happily) welcomed.  I can't tell you how much that means.  A lot of these folks live so thoroughly in me that I start my days worrying/praying/thinking about them and end my (sometimes 20 hour) days doing the same.  Not just this particular hero and family... but each and every hero and family... so need (and deserve) those soft spots of warmth and compassion... unfortunately most of the time they just don't get them.

So, from now on my "rule" about travel is La Quinta.  I've shared this story with a few others today (also veterans and loved ones) and heard several other stories of kindness and soft spots.  May not seem like a hotel chain is part of the answer... but they are... and I am sooooooooooooooooooo thankful.

THANK YOU La Quinta for loving "my" heroes and families... and for apparently teaching so many of your operators, managers, and staff to do the same.  THANK YOU for being such an unexpected and completely incredible example of patriotism! (realllllll patriotism)  Your tagline ("Wake Up on the Bright Side") is certainly appropriate!!

***AND, if you'd like to help us say thanks to La Quinta, here are five ways to do it***

  1. By phone: 1-800-642-4241
  2. By mail: LQ Management LLC / Guest Assistance Dept / 909 Hidden Ridge Suite 600 / Irving, TX 75038
  3. Through their website: https://laquinta.custhelp.com/app/answers/list (then click "Contact Us" on the second yellow tab)
  4. Via their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/laquinta
  5. Via Twitter: @LQ  / suggested tweet: Thanks @LQ for showing us how the #LQbrightside really works (and what a *GREAT* example of patriotism it is!) http://blog.familyofavet.com/2013/07/finding-patriotism-in-unexpected-places.html #sot


Sincerely,
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!