I had a post almost all zipped up and decided I had to wait to post it. This post is not about paint, my brand or any of the reasons you normally would read a blog post from me. There are no pictures, no color names. Feel free to close it now if that is what you came for, as I am about to go down a rabbit hole.
As most of you know I was once what is called a MILSPOUSE. My husband was in the Army. For a time, he was also a reserve member of the South Carolina Army National Guard. However, this post is not about him either. It is about “Bob”. Or maybe is is “Jane”.
Bob is a soldier that my husband served with in the SCANG and was activated and deployed with on several occasions. The last deployment was to Iraq in 2005-2006.
Bob calls me Momma. From day one of me meeting Bob, I knew he was a little different. He is one of those unique personalities; cut just a little differently than most people. Asymmetrical: he is the kind of person I like. He is incredibly intelligent but to his detriment, not as worldly as some in ‘working the system’. I guess Bob is in his mid forties now. He has retired from the SCNAG (which means he will not draw retirement pay until he is 60). At this point, a regular job is not possible. He does receive a partial VA disability.
Bob was physically injured in Iraq. Bob also suffers from PTSD. Bob’s physical injuries still cause him pain. Bob cannot sleep. Bob has been going to the VA seeking treatment for both the mental and physical ailments. Bob has been self-medicating with booze and cigarettes (lots of cigarettes and probably too much booze). He has been asking for help with the pain, PTSD and insomnia. He has been on different meds. They were not working well. For years, they have not found the right cocktail. For years he has been near suicide because of his injuries. My husband gets middle of the night calls from Bob. My husband gets early morning calls from Bob. My husband gets evening calls from Bob. We now live 2000 miles from Bob. My husband is his lifeline. We are both okay with that. Once, we were in Montana, at an airport, on our way back to Arizona. Bob called. My husband spent the rest of the time in the airport talking to Bob. We did not know if when we landed in Phoenix if Bob would be alive. We were making the mental preparations for my husband to get off one plane and get on another to fly east.
Over the years of watching my husband deal with the VA for physical and emotional injuries, I have learned what a chore it is for the service member. A revolving door of doctors and therapists, nothing ever offered in the way of services, unless you count a pamphlet or a poster. You must ask; you must demand. You must have someone standing beside you as your advocate because as a service member with emotional problems, you really cannot assess yourself. Your therapist may ask how you are doing and you say fine. You do not know how to open the door to the hell you are living. Ever-rotating and ever-pressured medical providers just need to be able to check that you were seen and that they asked ‘the questions’. I believe many of them know in their soul that the answers given are probably not factual. I believe they even know that the service member doesn’t truly know how they are. I do not know if this is the exact case with Bob. I do know it is the situation my husband has experienced in VA’s in both SC and AZ.
Over the years as Bob’s condition has deteriorated, my husband has spent countless hours encouraging him to fully express to the VA staff how his condition was detraining. How well he did that is hard to know. I wonder how trained medical staff could not notice. To watch as a once-active man became reclusive and withdrawn from society is heartbreaking.
This weekend was a tough one. Bob was at a breaking point. Thankfully he listened and he called the phone number. A short while later an ambulance and 5 patrol cars and their armed officers show up. He is transported to the local county hospital. Reports came in that all went well until Bob needed a smoke. They told him no. The report continued that they then needed all of the officers to restrain him. Unceremoniously, he was held in a small room until Monday. On Monday, he was transferred to a regional (non-veteran) mental health facility. My husband was able to speak with Bob yesterday. The doctors at the facility have gotten his pain under control. They have given him meds that help him get a restful sleep. Yes, they found meds that work in just a couple of days. He will be released in a couple of days. He is being sent home. Hopefully, the VA will allow him to continue the meds that the civilian doctors have prescribed. If you dealt with the VA, you know that might not happen.
Time will tell how Bob does. It has been a decade since these troops fought. Those that have dealt with lasting injuries know that pain has an evil way around long-term meds. They will need to be changed and adjusted. This is only one chapter in the saga.
These things I know are true: much reform is needed in the VA Health Care System; service members who primarily served as part of the Reserve Component are at a disadvantage as they never learned how to work a government system; if Bob or a handful of other troops needed, my husband would still lay down his life for them.
A recent conversation with my husband had us discussing the often seen adage that paraphrase goes ‘a service member writes a check to the United States for everything up to his/her life when they join the military’. Most people would shake their head in agreement with that. What so many fail to comprehend is that everything ‘up to life’ often includes giving up one’s mind, soul and heart, while the body still lives.
It is estimated that 18-22* veterans a day die from suicide. We are not yet seeing any tangible results from the 2015 Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act. How many veterans live in constant physical pain due to trauma suffered in service? Coupling the number of those enduring physical and emotional leads to an unknown, but assuredly unfathomable number.
Bob’s story, or is it Jane’s story, is that of countless others. This is wrong. The next time you tell a service member or veteran “thank you for your service” follow it up with an email to your congresspersons. Ask them what they have done TODAY to help our troops, sailors, marines, airmen (& women), coastguardsmen (& women) and veterans.
*To learn more about how the 18-22 daily suicide number was calculated, read here.