Tag: veterans

Contrasts

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When I stay with my daughter and son-in-law, I have a morning routine that takes me out onto their front porch. There, with my cafecito in hand, I breathe the morning air and take in the view of the oleanders, the fruit trees in the neighboring yard, the dragonflies trying to avoid the aggressive bluejays. I love the quiet of these mornings and watching the earth wake up along with me.

This particular morning, Instead of relaxing and quiet thoughts, I recalled yesterday's conversation with a stranger about her brother who suffers from Agent Orange poisoning, PTSD and alcoholism. This conversation was particular poignant, because as a health care worker, she understood her brother's symptoms, issues and remedies, but after years of trying to help him, he continued to suffer.

She described to me, how their father, who is a WWII veteran, had advised his son, he was eligible for a claim with the Veteran's Administration, because of his poisoning and trauma symptoms. The father had told him where he could go, who to speak with and how to get some assistance with the claim. The son could not get past the forms. He became anxious and overwhelmed with the information required. His sister said to me "He wouldn't fill them out". I replied, "Perhaps, he couldn’t.”

I expanded on this comment by telling her that the anxiety of taking that first step for a veteran is not about filling out the countless forms. Forms are part of military life. Ask any active duty or veteran, forms are what runs the bureaucracy of our military. Filling out those forms for the PTSD veteran, opens the door to the past. A door they would rather keep shut.

For most of us, civilians or even dependents of active duty or retired personnel, forms are a necessary evil, a means to an end. For a veteran who has been avoiding the memories, dealing with the nightmares, flashbacks, or self-medicating, opening that “box” means dealing with the pain, the recriminations, the anger, the horror, the reliving of how you felt then, as a teenager or twenty-something, through the eyes of a middle age man, twenty, forty or more years later.

When I said goodbye to this stranger, she wished me luck with the book I am writing, telling me, “You have a perspective of your husband’s struggle to contrast with a story like my brother’s”. It gave me pause when I remembered that comment, this morning, because it took my husband twenty years to identify he needed help. There are thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans returning from the theatre who have had three, four, five plus tours, who, even with the current programs in place to help them deal with any combat trauma, suicide rates for combat veterans are up. For every active duty personnel or veteran, there are a number of family members that are touched by Combat Related Trauma or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. For every family member, there are a number of civilians and strangers that are affected…the ripple affect.

I have seen this nation come together for the families of natural and man-made disasters. Thousands of volunteers went to New Orleans and Mississippi. Millions of dollars went to these and disasters abroad. We have a vested interest in helping our active duty personnel, our veterans and their families deal with “coming home”. In our own communities, in our own families, everyone knows someone, who knows someone who served. Take the time to know who they are, to inquire about them, to ask about their family. Our future does not have to be about “contrasting stories”.

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Semper Fi, Babe

My male cat jumps on the side of the bed to wake me. If hitting the side of the bed does not do the trick, he jumps on the bed and walks over me, meowing, just in case, I didn’t feel him, I could now hear him. I throw back the warmth of my comforter and get up to either feed him or put him out, still half asleep, I am not sure which it is. I stop short at the end of the hall because there is my husband, playing his new video game…he has not been to bed and it is now five in the morning.

I have not figured out why Christmas is a tough time for veterans. I get a little insight each year since we have been married, that I go thorough the holidays and watch my husband’s routine and sleep patterns alter. He told me early on he didn’t “do” Christmas and we made a compromise, because I do “do” Christmas, it is not only a religious celebration for me, it is a defining time with family for me.

Something a young veteran said to a group of us at lunch this last week. He said society does not make a place for “warriors” to just “be” when they return from war. Society wants returning warriors to assimilate into every day life and in essence, fade away. We don’t ask any other group in our society to give up their identity and fade away, why would we do that to those that protect our freedoms, fight
for their lives in lands 95% of us have never seen? This comment did more for me in understanding my father and my husband, than anything I
had read in PTSD articles. Why would our veterans, who are conditioned to hunt the enemy and kill, be touchy-feely about the holidays? I
have watched my husband say nothing when he brings my totes of decorations from our shed, but the look on his face speaks volumes. I
stopped being offended because he expresses his appreciation for how
the house looks once the decorations are up, but his initial response
is irritation. How could I expect it to be otherwise? His memories
of Christmas during wartime are ones of duress and incredulity. We ask our teenaged and young men to kill in the name of God and Country and then we ask the to sit quietly in church and sing “O Come All Ye Faithful”.

As a wife of the PTSD veteran, I learned early on in my marriage, it does not matter how many years have passed since my husband was in conflict, it is as fresh and clear to him today as it was when he was nineteen. The process of PTSD is that thee recollections, emotions and memories are brought to the surface every year he survived his conflict. My husband has refined his coping tools to deal with these feelings and emotions that come every year. This makes a difference for him in how he processed his emotions twenty years ago, and how he processes them today. He is a warrior, he will always be a warrior, and he has not ever faded or assimilated into society’s preceived corner for him and others like him. It is as it should be. Semper Fideles…always faithful. Makes sense to me. Semper Fi, Babe.

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“God Did Not Give You To Me, To Let PTSD Defeat Us”

Chet and I

From a journal entry dated 21 April 2005 – Last night he came to bed not long after I, because he had not slept much the night before. 

He said, “It’s like I’m on duty  – four hours on, then sleep for four hours, or four hours sleep, then up all night.”  All day long.  

Yesterday was when members of his troops were shot.  Next week on the 28th was when he was shot.  He said “I saw that guy’s face.”  I asked him, “Was he killed?” He said that they told him they heard screaming all day and into the night and then one shot and no more screaming. 

I asked him why he hated the Michael J. Fox character on “Platoon”.  He answered “Because he had a conscious…he had not gotten to scared, mad, don’t care.  He never got to don’t care and not at don’t care stage will get you killed or others killed.  I said that “Platoon” was a movie.  That character was just that, a fiction character.  “Calley wasn’t fiction”, he answered.  I told him I had forgotten about Mai Lai.  Calley wasn’t fiction.

He then told me the reason he didn’t have flight mode was because I didn’t put pressure on him when he was sleepless, or fragile.  It made it ok for him to go through these rough months.  He said he’d gotten better over time, to the point, it bothers him now to be like this.  (That was the first time I remember him every saying this.)

He said,  “I need to tell you that you got a compliment.  Our guy Ray, the group leader, said to him ‘Your wife really cares about you because she is involved.’  I said to him ‘Because I am in the wives group?’ He answered, “No, not just group, all of it.  Salem.  You came to Salem, all of it.”

“Well, why not?” I asked him.  “I am crazy about you.  And when I met you I didn’t know what you had, the extent of the PTSD.  When I realized the extent of it, I wasn’t going to let it defeat us.  God did not give you to me to let PTSD defeat us.”

When I met my husband, I was forty-two and he was forty-seven.  We both had been married twice.  I met and knew I wanted to know him.  He met me and says he knew he was in “so much trouble”.  Trouble, because he had been diagnosed with PTSD, was going to counseling, was on medication for depression, and he found a face he was drawn to, but he was so very gun-shy.

We were married nine months later.  It was the beginning of our journey with PTSD and the journal entry I posted above, is indicative of how far we had come in seven plus years of marriage.

2005 was a big year for us for several reasons.  Megan, who had been eleven when we married, was in the Navy and had been for almost a year.  I had been going to a six-week session of the wives of the PTSD group my husband was in.  At the time of the journal entry, I had pretty much given up on us getting a house, but in July of 2005, we would move into Evansridge.

I am sharing this journal entry with my readers because it the beginning of a turning point for us.  Chester was at a point where he wanted to be better, but his “anniversary”, when he received his trauma on April 28, 1969, surfaced every year.  Every year from 1969 to this day, he relived his troops being wounded, he relived his own wounding, he relived and is reminded of his own role in taking life.  It was distressing to know that after a year of doing fine, he would approach his anniversary and anxiety, or anger, or flight mode would set in.

I realized from the group session I had been in, that spouses and family members were not equipped with the tools to manage the stressors their veterans were going through.  The group counseling merely scratched the surface of the second-hand PTSD wives and loved ones were experiencing.  I didn’t know what was needed.  All I knew,  was in that group setting, I wasn’t the only one going through anniversaries with my husband, I wasn’t the only one suppressing my own emotions, I wasn’t the only one waking up at three in the morning to hear the TV or the Playstation going, I wasn’t the only one going through the day, in the same house with my spouse, with only a handful of words being exchanged… if I could have used that group meeting for an extended period of time,  I am sure others did, as well.