As you all know by now, I spent the 8th down in DC attending a panel discussion. The hardest part of the day I knew was coming in advance: Riding the DC Metro. I don't do well in subways. Too many people to watch, too many points of ingress and egress. It sets me on a very dangerous edge most of the time.
Knowing that I was going to be riding the DC Metro to and from the National Press Club meant I needed to prepare for the ride so that I didn't paint myself into an anxiety corner. The panel discussion was too important.
What I decided on was taking my new sleep apnea machine down with me to DC the night before and getting a REALLY good night's sleep. That thing works like a dream. I may sound like Darth Vader when I'm breathing, but I woke up very well rested and better equipped to face the day. It was pretty amazing. It was my first night sleeping using the apnea machine and I felt like someone had flipped a switch in my brain. I felt a whole lot more stable. Regardless, I took an extra dose of anxiety medication to ensure I didn't freak out or get irritable on a morning when I couldn't afford it.
Then it was time: I got on the Metro car and stood next the the door with my back to as few people as possible and a good view of the rest of the car. It was rush hours, so there was no chance of putting my back against the wall. I got a little jittery but the DC Metro is nothing like New York. It's clean, quiet and comparatively efficient. On the way back it was even easier. The ride was off-peak and easy.
I felt incredibly proud of myself. I recognized that the PTSD could cause a problem, identified ways of coping with it so that it wouldn't keep me from doing something I really wanted to do. It was refreshing and a major step in the right direction. Let's see what tomorrow brings.
One thing has become abundantly clear after listening to what this panel had to say. We know what the major issues are that face our transitioning service members and our current veterans: Unemployment, homelessness, women's issues, PTSD and TBI, timely care for our veterans, substantially more efficient claims processes. I could keep on going, but those are the major issues. When I was listening to everyone talk and listening to the concerns raised by others during the Q&A, I also discovered a larger and more disturbing issue that is impeding everyone's endeavors to render aid: overdeveloped and cumbersome government bureaucracy. Time and time again, it was brought to everyone's attention that the bureaucracy at the VA is causing most of these issues. I would contend that it is government bureaucracy as a whole that is the problem. The VA is run by an even bigger bureaucracy - Congress and it's army of administrators, chiefs of staff, assistants, office clerks...
Yes, we've identified the problem. Now it's time to do something about it. Find ways to facilitate private and public organizational hand shakes so that we can all become part of a network of support, working toward a common goal. Even if it takes time to make this happen, the process needs to start now. In the interim, we have a year until the next panel discussion and I am throwing down the gauntlet:
The Volunteers of America and ReMIND illustrate how cooperation leads to results. Let's continue to focus on solutions and cooperation. Thank you for being organizations of rare vision and action. Please let me know what I can do to further advocacy over the course of the coming year!
Betty Mosely Brown carried herself very professionally and passionately advocated for women veterans' issues.
This could not have been the most comfortable experience for Betty. With how much the VA has been vilified online and in the press recently, it appeared she expected a certain amount of backlash, especially during the Q&A portion of the panel discussion. Despite this, Betty brought up some very good points.
Betty's greatest asset is her ability to listen. I was talking with her in the hallway after the panel was over. She gave me her card and asked me for my input on how I thought the VA could address their inefficiencies, what the VA could do to get more assistance to the veterans faster. I definitely plan on taking her up on that offer.
There is no doubting General McCaffrey is an expert on Military Affairs. He recognizes the unfair burden this war has been for so few to carry. He also recognizes that our current generation of military and veterans are the most battle-weary of any generation preceding them (the downside to an all-volunteer force in the modern age). Aside from these acknowledgments, McCaffrey brought up four major points:
General McCaffrey demonstrated a keen understanding of the many different facets of the challenges facing our service members and our veterans. Despite this, I still was left with a sour taste in my mouth. While I recognize his years of service and his dedication to his country and its men and women in uniform, one simple sentence is what I will remember him for: "PTSD can be cured within a year"
I am not going to address this comment here. Because I feel so strongly about this comment, I will be drafting a letter to General McCaffrey (which I will post in the blog and forward to him) and afford him the opportunity to respond.
Barbara Banaszynski exhibited a lot of passion for veterans' issues and very much seemed like a 'doer'. She made strong points on a number of issues:
Lastly Barbara said one thing that really stuck with me: "It is not what we say, it is what we do."
*A Note to Barbara Banaszynski*
I was honored to be invited by your organization to be part of this discussion. I look forward to learning about your initiatives moving forward. As the year progresses and we get closer and closer to next year's panel, I would love to catch up with you periodically and learn about your successes and your failures and what the VOA has learned from both. Your organization recognized that more needed to be done to provide for veterans and are acting now to make a difference. David Burch has my email but if you ever want to contact me directly, you can send me an email.
At first I was a little concerned and still am: Bob Woodruff was supposed to be the one sitting on the panel. I hope that this posting finds him in good health.
That being said, Lee Woodruff is Bob's wife and the co-founder of his Foundation. I was very impressed with her depth of knowledge on issues facing veterans returning home, especially PTSD and TBI. Lee is a lead from the front personality. She understands that we can't tackle these difficult issues sitting behind a desk in Washington and discussing policy. She is out on the front lines of this battle every day, meeting with veterans. She understands their concerns, their hopes.
Lee is not afraid to ask difficult questions. At the same time, she understands that antagonizing the VA or any organization dedicated to the welfare of our country's veterans is counterproductive. Yes, she voices a lot of concerns, but she understands that she and her organization need to work with the existing organizations and infrastructure to effect positive change in the system as a whole. Lee is aware that there are literally thousands of local organizations that want to help, but the bureaucracy in place that runs the current system makes it near impossible to work together. She is working to change that. She also brought to everyone's attention what she calls the 'hidden casualty' of this war: Intimacy
Lee recognizes that medical technology has advanced to the point where guys that are making it home never would have in previous conflicts. She also points out that a lot of these young wounded are concerned that the opposite sex won't be able to see past their wheel chair - that they will never be able to connect with someone romantically, intimately. This doesn't even take into account all of the folks with PTSD or TBI that have difficulties connecting emotionally or intimately with their spouses or loved ones. When we should be enjoying the prime of our lives, we are instead left wondering if we are ever going to be able to enjoy the fruits of our labors, our sacrifices.
As a combat veterans with PTSD, I understood this a long time ago. What I failed to understand is that most of America has no clue. That's got to change and Lee is making sure it does. This is an issue that needs to be on everyone's radar.
*A Message to Lee Woodruff*
I applaud the efforts you and your husband make on the behalf of veterans everywhere. Your compassion for the plight of the young wounded, especially those with TBI or PTSD is a shining example that others should strive to emulate. We had started to discuss the disconnect between local organizations and the national ones when we were unceremoniously shooed out of the room and into the hallway. I would love to continue that discussion and see what we can do to work together to further the cause. Here's my email.
David Gregory did an admirable job of moderating the panel. He did a great job of keeping everyone on point. When folks would start to go off on a tangent about an unrelated subject to the question at hand, he would find a way to gently interrupt and refocus the panel.
David asked a lot of difficult to answer questions and didn't shy away from asking even more difficult follow-ups. As a mediator, his job was to not have an opinion on any of the subjects discussed and he did a great job remaining objective during even the most emotionally charged topics.
There is one point he brought up as a moderator that he felt very strongly about that he had to make sure he impressed upon the listeners and the panelists: Media Accountability
He brought up how the media has a responsibility to ensure that the plight of returning veterans does not fade from the collective consciousness of the general public. He didn't really expand upon how the media was going to do this, but it was nice to hear that coming from a prominent member of the media establishment. I will be interested to see how this plays out in the coming months.
*A Note to Mr. Gregory*
If you do, by chance, actually read this, I would love to hear more about your perspectives on media accountability and what you believe the media can do to advocate more effectively for veterans' rights and services. You can reach me by email.
Earlier this evening, I arrived home after a long and productive day in DC. I learned a lot about veterans' advocacy while I was there and what direction the discussion indicates we are headed. I want to be able to take the time to address this carefully and here's what I plan to do over the coming days:
After a long day, I am tired and ready for a good night sleep. I will catch everyone tomorrow with the first post: David Gregory: Moderator.
This is a touchy subject for everyone involved. Even family members of veterans with PTSD are stigmatized to some degree. This really needs to change and it needs to change on two fronts:
Later today, I travel down to DC. I will not be posting until after the panel, but be sure to stay tuned to twitter. I will be tweeting the subjects covered by the panel and any major developments. Also, I would love to hear what others think about today's vital issue of advocacy. Please chime in!
I am so freaking tired from the constant anxiety that this past week has caused. Small problem. I have the sleep study tonight and I am prohibited from napping and I am prohibited from drinking caffeine. By the time this evening rolls around, I am going to be a mess. At least the vast majority of what has caused my anxiety this week has passed. I am pretty confident I know the outcome of the sleep study. I just don't know what they plan on doing about it. I almost think I would prefer they take out my tonsils and adenoids. Guess we will see.
I am trying to keep the irascibility at a minimum today, for my wife's sake. She has been very patient with me this week. It would be nice if I could take a break from this feeling for a day. Just a day. I just want all of the hoopla to be over with. I want to be able to spend a day with my daughter without having to worry about the anxie
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.