For the first time in US military history, women are combat veterans. With this latest trend, the needs for veterans' care have changed drastically over the past decade of war. What has been done to address this?
Essentially Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch.
In my area there are hundreds of beds for male homeless veterans. From what I have been able to discover, there are FOUR beds for female homeless veterans. This is disturbing and reprehensible. It's not like this change happened overnight. The first female POW was rescued during the first year of the war in Iraq.
Despite this, there are very few services for female veterans. There is even still a stigma from male combat veterans. We need to provide for female veterans' needs and it needs to start now. Veterans' Organizations need to carry the torch and advocate for their female members and provide resources as well. We all need to do our part. The biggest responsibility falls on the male combat veterans. We need to remember that this war has bred a large number of female combat veterans. The "good 'ol boys" attitude is exclusionary and does not encourage female combat veterans to come forward. We need to understand that this issue affects all warfighters, regardless of gender.
Female Combat Veterans, please come forward and let your voices be heard. We can't do this without you either!
Here's the answer that I promised from yesterday's post.
When the doc asked me what the trauma in PTSD was that every combat veteran shares, it really did throw me. I thought about this and thought about this before the doc answered. He said, "The trauma is death". He went on to explain how witnessing and being confronted by death and the frailty of the human body is the trauma each and every combat veteran shares. One second, your friend is alive. The next he is dead. Helping to lift a wounded detainee onto a stretcher and sliding your arm into his chest cavity. The spectre of death is everywhere. Every combat veteran has to confront his own mortality. I a combat zone, daily. It is a truth that hangs over us like a shroud.
This truth (and I felt the truth of what he said down to my bones) was so simple that I couldn't believe that no one had ever asked me this question before in 8+ years of therapy. It was a realization didn't sit easy with me, but I don't think the doc intended it to. I think he wanted me to realize and appreciate the profound change that combat trauma brought into my life. I finally feel like I have a good starting point to really attack my PTSD from.
Up until I met this doc, I didn't realize how all over the place my thoughts and methods of coping really were. He made me realize that recognizing that I am exhibiting behavior I don't like is a good starting place, but unless you address the underlying trauma that is the root cause of the behavior, that's as far as you can go. He is going to help me learn how to do this, and for that I am grateful. As I learn and make realizations, I look forward to sharing them with you all!
For those that have been following my recent posts, I had a meeting with a new doctor today. He was going to evaluate me for admittance into his group therapy sessions. This has caused me an unbelievable amount of anxiety. What if I didn't get into the group? Well, that question in now answered. I am in. It is a Cognitive Behavioral Processing Group and it's goal is to help me identify problematic behavior, assess the triggers that cause it and trace the trigger back to the source. That's the cut and dry version. Here's more info if you want to learn more.
This new doc is driven. He's focused on helping veterans with PTSD and has been doing it for almost 34 years. I am very excited about being a part of his group. He asks a lot of questions and he wants me to be prepared before I go to group for the first time. We are going to have another session so that he can better educate me on what to expect. We sat and talked about my PTSD and my life and my upbringing and...well, everything. It was refreshing.
So, I can officially scratch one stressor off the list for the week. It is a great relief. In parting, the doc asked me one question that seemed really simple but it threw me for a loop. He asked, "For Combat Veterans, what IS the trauma in PTSD?" I didn't know how to answer. I responded that the trauma is different for everyone and he said I was wrong - that the trauma was the same for everyone. He said it just manifests differently for different people. He let me sit and squirm for a little and then he blew me away with the simplicity of his answer...which I will discuss and my reaction to it in one of tomorrow's posts. I ask that you ask yourselves that question as well:
For a Combat Veteran, What is the Trauma in PTSD?
As a whole, whether we realize it or not, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans have it pretty good. We have the respect of our peers. We came home to parades - not empy airports and apathy. We have the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill. We have social media - the ability to find others like us all over the country...
I could keep on going. In a nutshell, we have it really good. I am not saying it's perfect. Far from it. The VA is understaffed, overworked, and underfunded. We have a huge number of veterans seeking aid and not enough resources to help them all. Despite all of this, conditions like PTSD are recognized as serious issues. The focus in Washington (and around the country) is on how we can help the returning warfighters and veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Very little has been said and very little gratitude shown to those who came before us. Vietnam Veterans, Korean War Veterans, and even the children of WWII Vets brought many of these issues to light. It has been their sacrifices, their suffering that originally put the spotlight on a broken system and inadequate support for veterans.
They still need our support and should not be left out of the equation when we consider how veterans' services get shaped moving forward. NONE of our vets should feel forgotten or less than. And that's what is already happening. All of the perks veterans of current wars have that are not available to veterans from other eras has already started to foster resentment from those who came before us. We need to provide services for veterans equally or not at all. All veterans issues should be addressed - not just those who happen to have strong advocacy in Washington. It is our responsibility as veterans and Americans to ensure that all veterans have a voice, especially those who can't speak for themselves.
Let's make sure the people making the decisions never forget that.
On May 8th, there is going to be a very important panel discussion on Veterans' Issues in DC. It's called After the Uniform. As a way of celebrating this initiative, I am going to be counting down the top seven issues facing combat veterans with PTSD according to my readers. I wanted to give people one more chance to be heard before I finalize the list and the topics for the coming days. Please take the time to learn about After the Uniform and its purpose. Think about what challenges are most challenging for us to face and write me about it. You can comment on this blog entry, fill out the comment form on the home page, comment on the Facebook Page, or email me (email@example.com).
Please take this very seriously, folks. This is an opportunity to have your voice be heard on the issues facing veterans and influence how initiatives are prioritized in the coming years. Let's work together to improve the prospects of veterans everywhere!
It's Monday again. You know what that means!
I am grateful for:
-The most amazing little girl ever!
-Supportive family. They're like gutter bumpers in the bowling lanes of life!
-Weather that's warming up again.
What are you grateful for?
OK, so busy week ahead. I have a psych screening appointment on the first that will dictate whether I get into a group CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) Group at the VA. On the fourth I have early morning pulmonary function testing to see what condition my lungs are in. Then on the evening of the sixth, I go in for a sleep study to see what the docs are going to do about my sleep apnea. And then, on the seventh, I drive down to DC to stay with a friend the night before the big Veterans Issues Panel the morning of the eighth at the National Press Club. As I said, busy week. And I'm already getting irritable.
Issue One: The CBT Groups
I keep telling myself that there is absolutely no reason for the doc not to accept me into the CBT Groups. I pretty much do that on my own and I am focused on learning how to cope successfully with PTSD. Not to mention that I can share a lot of what i learn on my blog as I learn. Regardless, there is a nagging doubt in my mind that the doc won't see me as a good candidate - then where does that leave me? I will beg if I have to. I am not to proud. I need to find other like-minded veterans who are at the same place I am - willing to learn.
Issue Two: Pulmonary Function Testing
What happens if they tell me I have irreparable lung damage and that I will never be able to be active like I used to be? What will that do to me? I am asking myself the question now and I hate the prospect of living that way. Ever since I was in the hospital a month and a half ago, I have been a non-smoker. I just hope it wasn't too little too late.
Issue Three: Sleep Study
What if they tell me that I have to wear a mask for the rest of my life when I am sleeping? What if they want to do surgery to take out my tonsils and my adenoids? What if they want to do surgery to fix the deviated septum? I shudder at the thought of all three for different reasons. One of the above is going to be the outcome of the study.
The fear of the unknown is making me extremely anxious. All I can do it stay as positive as possible and communicate with my wife. I already told her I am getting irritable and why. We have a game plan. I am going to continue to work on deep breathing to help control the anxiety. The last thing I need is a panic attack on top of everything else that is going on.
As much as I am looking forward to the Forum in DC, I am really putting myself out there. I am nervous as hell that my questions and comments will not be well received. Time will tell. At least I will be facing that with a guy I served in Iraq with. I know he's got my back!
But, tomorrow's another day. Monday, in fact and I will be starting off the day with a little gratitude.
Remember yesterday when I said I didn't know where to place the next step? Well, I think I've figured it out and it's going to take a lot of work and constant awareness to make it happen and make it stick: Acceptance
I need to learn how to accept that it is OK to be afraid. I used to be OK with that, but since my daughter was born...Being afraid was not acceptable. I had to be the big, strong daddy. I ignored my fears and it led to a lot of what I went through over the past year and a half. I need to learn to accept my fears as valid and put them in proper perspective - it's the only way to remove the hold they have over me and get back to living a constructive life. Just one problem: How do you do that?
Once a week I am going to 'Face My Fear'. Here's what I plan on asking myself:
I am hopeful that using these questions will help me work through what I am most afraid of over time and help me learn to accept my fears. Here goes...
I thought a lot yesterday about what was causing the obsessive perfectionist behavior. What I realized is that it all stemmed from fear. Fear that I wouldn't be able to provide for my family. Fear that I wouldn't be a good father. Fear that the PTSD would ruin everything. Fear that I would scare my daughter. Fear that I would scare my wife. Fear that I would scare myself...
I could keep on going. I was afraid of everything. I was afraid to live my life and see what comes my way. At the same time, my fear motivated me to work like a mad man. My fears of scaring my wife and daughter contributed heavily to closing myself off emotionally from my family. I felt like I was damned if I did, damned if I didn't. The only way I saw out of the corner I had painted myself into was to be perfect. I figured if I could be perfect at one aspect of my life (being a provider), everything else would fall into place.
Boy was I wrong. I am continuing to think about how I can avoid falling into this trap again. I don't know if I have it figured out yet. I wish I did. I recognize that fear of my PTSD, fear of living my life, precipitated a lot of this. Acknowledging that fear was running my life is the first step. I just don't know where to place the next step...
I took some time off for family birthdays these past few days and I ended up discovering something about myself that was unexpected: I had really unrealistic expectations for myself as a father. I am not sure when the thinking started this way, but it caused me a lot of problems and made me feel helpless to do anything about it. It caused my PTSD to flare up and I needed to make sure that this never happened again.
After my daughter was born, I felt a lot of pressure to provide for my family. All of that pressure was put on me by...me. I was already providing well for my family, but I didn't feel it was good enough. I wanted to be a good father and a good provider, so I doubled my efforts at work, thought about how I could get better and learn faster. I became obsessed with the next promotion. I began neglecting the emotional needs of my family - not intentionally, but because I was obsessed with being the perfect provider and husband.
Boy did I have a serious disconnect. By striving to be perfect at work, I lost sight of what it really means to be a good father and provider. It means being a good husband and partner. It means being there for your child when she needs a hug. When I realized that I had become emotionally detached from my family, I thought it was because of my obsessive behavior at work - coming home with nothing left in the tank. I realized the past few days that this was not the case. You see, I have this little problem. If I think I don't have the ability to be 'perfect' (like I thought I had the ability at work), I avoided what would cause me not to be perfect. In this case, it was my family.
It all started with simple comments: "You are an amazing father. Your daughter loves you so much. Oh wow is she a daddy's girl! You are so calm! Are you sure you haven't done this before?"
I heard these questions and comments everywhere that I went with my daughter after she was born. Everyone seemed to think I was this perfect father and I kept on thinking one thing: What happens when they find out I am not? I need to be perfect for everyone. I need to be the perfect father for every one...I need to be perfect...I need to be...but I can't be a perfect father...I don't know how or what that means, but I need to be perfect...
This circular train of thought was latched onto in a very unhealthy way by my PTSD. I started having catastrophic thoughts about royally screwing up as a father. I thought through every possible scenario I could imagine and how I was bound to screw it up. I became so afraid of making a mistake as a father that I stopped trying to be one. I closed myself off emotionally and focused on the one thing I felt I had control over: work.
This is where PTSD can get ugly. The PTSD wouldn't let matters stand. There were other insecurities it could latch onto and boy did it. I started thinking about how I was screwing everything up at work. I became more and more agitated about trivial things as the year went by. I lost the ability to control my temper. It just kept on getting worse. And worse. And worse.
And then everything came to a head. My family was reaching its breaking point because of my drive/need to be perfect. When I realized this a few days ago, I swore to myself that this would never happen again. The problem was I had no idea what had caused the obsessive perfectionist behavior in the first place. I am still trying to figure that out. Maybe that will be tomorrow's post...
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.