Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Our Wounded Family - New Blog URL

Just wanted to stop in and share that my blog is now over at:

Our Wounded Family

All posts from here have been moved over and archived.  I'd love it if you'd follow me over there and connect!


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Time for a Change!

I've been thinking for awhile now that this blog title just wasn't fitting anymore and that I was wanting to change some of the direction of it. This is the name that I chose for the Cafepress store that I started 7 years ago (wow has it been that long?!) and was originally intended to be used as advertising for the store. The only reason that I didn't change it was once I had established my shop in the marketplace I didn't want to start over with an unknown name so it just kind of stuck.

My husband has never viewed himself as a hero and has always felt that the true heroes were the ones who never made it home. Since he doesn't feel worthy of the title, it's only fitting that I change it to something more family oriented. The shops will remain open and will retain the original name for the time being.

I can assure you this is something that I thought about long before reading this article, although it makes me feel that much more strongly about my choice to switch to a new blog.

I transferred my previous posts over to the new blog and have written a few new ones since then.  I still felt it was important to share our journey as the family of a wounded warrior, but not just the hardships. We have had many good things to come from his injuries and I intend to post more about the good stuff instead of just blowing off steam about the bad. I don't know if I picked another lame title but it's just something that I kept circling around for a long time so I decided to just go with it.

So please follow/update to Wounded Blessings if you want.  I promise will make a huge attempt to be more upbeat and positive even when the VA and the military keep threatening to sabotage my efforts!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Reality Check

This past weekend, I came to the realization of the true impact that my husband's injuries have had on me. Not even just him being wounded, but how I've handled other things that have come my way, like dealing with death and moving across the country to a new place, far away from my family and friends. Somewhere along the way, I lost a part of myself and simply became an extension of my husband.

When asked to describe myself, I would immediately say something like I'm a mom of two great kids and the spouse of a wounded warrior, etc. Look at my blog description and you'll see just that. While I'm proud of my husband and kids, that's not what truly describes me. I don't even know how to describe myself anymore. It's so easy just to go on and on about my husband's recovery and what he's accomplished and I just kind of fade into the background. He said to me this weekend that despite what happened, he's pretty much done everything that he's wanted to in life except for a few things and he has goals set in mind for those. It feels like I have a bucket list of regrets and things that I wished I had done.

I was so focused on his recovery and being the caregiver that I ended up shortchanging myself and the kids. I was stuck in survival mode because I was certain that's what I had to do and there was no other option. People would constantly tell me that I was so strong and they didn't know how I did it. The thing is, I never felt strong. I felt like I didn't do anything differently than anyone else would have done if they were in my shoes. Before I realized it, I had become a victim of my situation. I got so used to the constant wave of stress that I didn't know how to function when things finally calmed down. The depression felt like it was eating me alive and the more depressed I became, the less support that I felt.

There were so many times that I stayed in bed all day just hiding behind my laptop or just trying to sleep the pain away because my mind wouldn't shut off at night. It was easy to chalk it up to my hypothyroidism and getting used to daily medication. While I have no doubt that does contribute to it, I was still hung up on the events of July 2, 2008.

When I talked to my doctor about getting on medication for my depression, he asked me if I had any desire to harm myself or others and I said no, which in turn disqualified me so to speak from obtaining a prescription. While suicide is not ever an option for me, because I refuse to leave my kids without a mother since I know first hand how painful that is, I often wondered if I could just simply fade away and give up. I didn't want any responsibility for our lives. I didn't feel safe or secure and constantly worried to the point of being afraid to leave the house at times. I was once this strong, independent military wife and now here I was codependent on my husband. My emotions were just below the surface and I would find myself crying at random times over the most stupid things. I guess I had suppressed those emotions and feelings for so long and never had an outlet to deal with them.

Eventually it began to affect my marriage and my parenting. I would see pictures that my friends posted online of happy times with their families and I would feel sad that our lives would never be "normal" like that. My husband couldn't handle crowds and didn't have the opportunity to take trips because of his schedule and not knowing when he would be retiring. Instead of taking the initiative on my own to do stuff without him, the kids and I missed out. I thought if we couldn't do things as a family then there was no point in doing them at all.

I was also envious of my friends whose husbands were able to work normal jobs and come home for dinner every night. Not have to be gone for a year at a time or be disabled. I was wishing that I was as successful as they were and didn't have to give up my opportunity to go back to work or finish school because I was suddenly thrust in the role of being a caregiver.

While there were so many things out of my control, I wasn't doing anything to change any of the things that I could control. It was simply easier to use him being wounded as an excuse to stop living my life. Before that, the excuse was him being deployed or my mom dying, or whatever was convenient at the time. I wasn't being strong this whole time, instead a part of me was dying inside because it was easier to be a victim than to do the hard work that it took to get what I wanted out of life. It was easier to put my education on hold, to stop being interested in doing the things that I once loved, to procrastinate, and to hide behind a wall of pain.

My husband nearly stopped talking to me. He said it was too hard to sit there and watch me destroy my life. In a way I had taken on some of his symptoms of PTSD and blamed him for the way I was reacting. I did let his mood swings affect me at times. He opened my eyes a lot this weekend and made me realize that life is short and our kids are growing up fast. I don't need medication, I need to get serious about what I want out of life and go out there and make it happen because no one is going to do it for me. I can't keep being sad that I miss out on opportunities unless I take the initiative to make them happen in the first place.

My husband's injuries don't define me. There is so much more to me than that. I got lost along the way and it's time to start living again.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Red Tape Saga Continues

FYI: Don't go overseas and get blown up. You're government will find any way possible to screw you.

Seriously though, I thought we had it pretty easy with my husband spending the past nearly three years in a WTB. He had a whole network of people, case managers, social workers, etc to help him out with his recovery. Instead of battling for years to get SSDI, all he had to do was sign the application and it was processed and approved for him. Same thing with his VA claim. His wait was a lot shorter than someone who submits a claim on their own and again most of it was done for him with all of the necessary medical info attached. Once his rating came back he was given a retirement date, terminal leave and was able to outprocess within a few days. The whole process felt pretty streamlined and although was still stressful at times because it felt like we were always in limbo, he had plenty of resources at his fingertips.

Right now I'm thinking it must've been too good to be true. I'd heard horror stories from many of my friends who dealt with this stuff and from the sound of it, we had it pretty good compared to them. Pretty good that is, until retirement.

When you're found unfit for duty and forced to retire, you would think that you'd be properly taken care of. After all you fought and nearly died for your country, one would think that you wouldn't have to fight for the benefits that you've earned. That couldn't be more wrong. One day my husband was active duty with full benefits and the very next that he became officially retired, he also became chopped liver. Suddenly the Army didn't want to help him with any of his questions anymore and he immediately became ineligible for many programs. Things that he had qualified for just the day before. Not to sound like we should be entitled to some of this stuff, but it rubs me the wrong way that a brand new soldier with no combat experience whatsoever is able to have a membership in a program that my husband who nearly died now cannot.

All that pales in comparison with the "minor" oversight that just happened to our family though. My husband received his last paycheck in April. Although they could find no outstanding debts that he owed, the military still helped themselves to a large portion of his check. We can't figure out what it's for, nor is anyone willing to help. He gave them nearly twelve years of his life and gets treated like crap every time he's called to find out what's going on. We have an inquiry into DFAS but that could take months to find out an answer.

While we've received his last check, the VA usually takes about a month to catch up and for him to start getting his disability payment. Unfortunately his paperwork has been sitting in Houston, TX the entire time. Even though he's gotten his rating back and they retired him, someone never bothered to put any of it into the computer. Hense the problems that we've been having with his VA appointments. He has a rep in Texas and in Tennessee and has left several messages with both of them and can't get anyone to return his calls. He has a new case manager here as well and has yet to hear back from her. He called the main number for the VA today when he started getting billed for his medications. They were able to confirm that while his claim was processed, the paperwork never made it to it's final destination and therefore he's not getting any of his pay or benefits. All they could see in their computers was that yes he has a claim but they can't see anything about his status. The only thing that has saved him from more headaches at his clinic appointments is being able to prove that he has a purple heart and his DD 214.

Our next step is to try and get some assistance through the VFW or Disabled Vets. We had a Recovery Coordinator in Texas but we need to find someone local to help on our behalf. In the meantime, I think we'll be able to pay most of our bills yet this month, although I'm beginning to play the shuffle game and put off who I can. I'm hoping the military friendly bank who we have our car loan through will let us skip the payment for the month as they often do once in the summertime. We are literally draining our savings though and that makes me nervous. I've had a couple of job interviews but haven't heard back yet. I've even signed up with a few different temporary agencies but I know I'm in the same boat as thousands of people when it comes to a job. Hopefully things change soon.

I'm finding it hard to keep plastering a happy smile on my face and not be so negative all of the time. Of course the more that I get depressed, the less support that I feel that I have. I'm so used to being strong and dealing with whatever comes my way and yet my emotions are right below the surface so I find myself crying at the worst possible times. Sometimes I feel like people think that now that he's retired that life is just grand and all of our problems have gone away. It couldn't be farther from the truth. It's safe to say that things are more stressful now than they were when he was still in the military.

I keep trying so hard to keep my head above water but it just feels like I'm drowning.

Monday, May 30, 2011

American Flag

As a military family, we've made a few moves over the course of our marriage. My first order of business when setting up a new house for us is to put up a flag. Since we've opted to rent for each move, putting a flag pole into the ground hasn't really been an option so we usually attach a smaller pole and bracket to the side of our house. To me, a house isn't a home until you get the flag put up. I don't just fly it on Memorial Day, July 4th, or Veteran's Day either. I always had a flag long before 9/11 when suddenly there was a huge rush for everyone to show their patriotism. I was raised in a home where I understood the significance of sacrifice and what the flag stood for so even before marrying a guy in the military, I made sure each place I lived in had a flag outside.

All that being said and today being Memorial Day, all day long I felt like something was missing. That's mainly because something was missing. The house we've been renting for the past couple of months feels naked and that's because we don't have a flag hanging up. I assure you this is not by choice. When I signed the lease I told the landlord/homeowner how important it was to me to be able to put up a flag, especially being married to a wounded veteran. Unfortunately my landlord doesn't want us to do that. As soon as the lease was signed he informed me that he had decided to leave the house on the real estate market. He felt that mounting a flag pole and bracket would possibly damage the outside of the house and in turn hurt the chances of selling it. Not just that but a flagpole in the ground would damage the landscaping and have to be mowed around.

One of the first things that I noticed about our neighborhood is that almost every house has a flag on display. I live in a very patriotic part of the country and I loved seeing that. I'm just disappointed that we can't put ours up. We have several flags, one that was flown over my husband's base in Iraq, and one that was flown on his behalf over their base in Afghanistan. He also received a new flag upon retirement and has one that was given to him during Freedom Salute. I think he also got one when he received his Purple Heart. We also just bought a brand new one to replace the last one we flew in Texas. No matter what there is no shortage of flags around this house but unfortunately they remain folded instead of flown.

If I haven't made it obvious, this is something that definitely bothers me. All week long we were searching for a medium sized flag pole that we could possibly put in a heavy duty bucket and fill with cement and hide it in the front bushes. We get some strong winds here so it would have to be something that could withstand the weather. We haven't had much luck finding the right sized pole yet but at least we have an option.

Part of me wants to just say screw it and mount the flagpole and bracket to one of the poles on my front porch. For as picky as my landlord is being, it's ironic because we had a hail storm go through here the other day. They said on the news that some of the hail was baseball sized and that wouldn't surprise me because it did a bunch of damage to our siding. It basically dented it and tore off tiny pieces all over the entire side of our house. We notified the landlord and haven't heard a word back. I'm not terribly surprised since it took him 5 weeks just to fix the locks on our front and back doors and we've been without A/C for over a week now. I realize that things come up but if he's serious about selling this house, it's kind of important to keep it maintained. Granted, I'm not too eager for him to sell the house or even to have to keep showing it to potential buyers but that's a whole other blog.

Hopefully soon we can have our flag up one way or another and feel a little more complete. In the meantime, I'm doing the next best thing and have it decorated in my usual Americana. It's not nearly the same especially because I want this house to feel like a home.

Monday, May 23, 2011

More Red Tape

It's extremely frustrating that my husband just drove nearly 2 hours away to the VA hospital only to be treated like a benefits seeker. I guess he's not in their system so they show no injury or rating. Had he not thought to bring some of his paperwork with him, including his Purple Heart, they probably would've sent him a bill. This happened before in TX and it was supposed to be fixed months ago. Now I can't help but wonder if his first disability check will hit our account on time. We've already gone almost a month and a half without any income so we're draining through our savings at a rapid pace.

Since his initial appointment at our local VA, he's been scheduled for stuff left and right to keep him busy all summer long. I went with him and the doctor asked me to "fill in the holes" and give my perspective of things. Because I've always felt that both the military and the VA in TX glazed over anything to do with TBI and his documented concussion, that was the first thing that I mentioned. He's done plenty of their stupid questionnaires where his answers should've raised enough red flags but still to this day no one has ever bothered to order an MRI. This doctor was surprised to hear that so he put in a referral for an MRI with the TBI clinic at the VA up north. He also was ready to diagnose him with sleep apnea on the spot, even though his sleep tests in TX came back inconclusive. He ordered a new sleep test that's scheduled for next month.

Today was the appointment at the TBI clinic. Around the VA, TBI seems to be the new scarlet letter. It's like they hear that and get suspicious that you're trying to get money from the VA that you don't deserve. At this point, I don't even care if my husband were to be compensated for it. I just want him to have his quality of life back and if there's stuff that can be treated then let's get it taken care of.

So whoever he saw at the TBI clinic decided that since he's not in the system and they don't show any injuries or ratings, they can't prove that he was wounded overseas. Yet somehow they found some of his records from TX and based on that they decided that he doesn't need an MRI and that he's fine. I guess I just figured that since he just saw his doctor here in TN that his doctor would have put his recommendations and referrals into the computer (since we watched him taking notes and then putting them into the computer), that those records would show up at the TBI clinic. Common sense is apparently not something the VA is familiar with.

We live almost an hour from both VA clinics where he has appointments, and almost two hours from the VA hospital, yet because he's not in their system, he can't even submit a claim for travel pay. It's not much but we've also recently discovered that either the VA rep or his PEBLO completely miscalculated his VA rating. It's such a mess that we can't even make heads or tails of it. In all honestly, it looks like someone added a zero to the end of an amount that he was owed and calculated everything off of that incorrect amount. He was promoted right at the end of his career so it's definitely based off of the wrong rank, but either way it's almost half of what it should be. It's enough to make me feel uneasy and wonder how we're going to get by. I'm praying that the interview that I went on last week went well enough that they offer me a job. In the meantime, he's in the process of getting his pay issues fixed but here we sit wondering what's going to happen.

Monday, May 16, 2011


My husband was at a store the other day and a guy in the same aisle started staring wide eyed at the jagged unforgiving red and purple lines that encompass his entire arm. The scars that leave a mystery to the unassuming yet tell a story of life changing in an instant.

It was obvious that he was trying to figure out what he had to have done to end up with an arm that disfigured and fingers slightly curved and paralyzed in place. It wasn't long before his curiousity finally got the best of him.

"What happened to your arm?" he blurted out, as though it were any of his business.

This is usually the part where I would've explained what happened, which is usually followed by apologetic looks of sympathy and a mumbled thank you for your service.

My husband simply said, "I got hurt." He left it at that and walked away because he's not about to be into all of that hero stuff.

At one time, his body had over a thousand stitches. In the first few months after he was released from the hospital, people would stare when we went out somewhere. Eating was awkward for him because he couldn't hold any utensils and it took some practice learning to use his non-dominate hand. Sometimes I had to cut up his food for him because he couldn't do it. Even now he'll randomly drop things or spill something because there's no strength in his arm or his hand just won't work.

We take so much stuff for granted. Sometimes the smallest things are the biggest challenges for someone else. He works hard at just being normal and making the most out of the hand that he's been dealt, that sometimes I forget he's wounded. I don't really notice the scars and to our kids they are just a part of who he is. We spent so much time at the hospital and in lodging around other wounded warriors that the kids learned to just be accepting of everyone else. I never had to tell them not to point and stare or not to ask questions. If you ask my oldest what she remembers most about her daddy being in the hospital, she'll probably tell you that her little Lightning McQueen car fell down into the elevator shaft. Or maybe she'll recall blowing out four birthday candles while sitting on the hospital bed.

Sometimes I miss being at that hospital and being around other wounded warriors and their families. As stressful as it was at times, there's comfort in being surrounded people people who just simply get it and understand the same sudden detour that our lives took. We never had to worry about people staring or asking questions. Everyone had some sort of battle scars, telling their own stories without words, yet connecting them all from where they'd been.


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