OK, so today I went to see the allergist and here's what I am very allergic to: Animal Dander, Feather, Mold, Dust Mites, Cockroaches, Trees, Grasses, Ragweed, Weeds, and Wheat. In essence, my environment. I have to completely change my diet, stop burning candles and other fresheners, keep the windows closed at all times...Change my life around completely to improve my long-term health and wellness and bring my asthma (that is what I have, the allergist says) under control. Just when I was starting to feel some semblance of stability and regularity in my home life, I have to change everything all at once.
This is just about the worst thing a person with PTSD can do. Needing to change everything at once erodes my sense of security and stability. If I am not careful, I am concerned that I will regress. So most important things first. We closed the windows and turned on the central air. We are no longer burning candles. Now I have to figure out how to eat and be satisfied without eat food with wheat in it...good good. This is a lot harder than people realize. I have to completely change my diet. No pasta. No cereal unless it is 100% corn. No bread. The list just keeps on going. That's the next big hurdle. On the bright side, I won't be able to eat all the junk food I love. I won't feel like eating much either. It won't be nearly as satisfying.
I have to stay focused and be there for my wife through all of this too. This is going to completely change her habits as well. My daughter is the only one who seems to be unaffected by all of this. Smiles and hugs all around.
I still don't like the feeling. I feel like I am snorkeling away from shore and am looking over the shallow shelf and the bottom of the ocean is dropping away. It gives you a sense of vertigo. So how does a person recover and maintain their equilibrium? I guess I will have to find out...
I decided it's time to start getting involved at the local level. After seeing where the breakdown is from a top-down perspective, it's time bring that knowledge to our local community. I have reached out to a local non-profit, Lehigh Valley Military Affairs Council. One of the directors for the organization is an acquaintance I met through my father. They have a meeting tomorrow and I am going to try to be there to learn more about their initiatives. I know that the goal of the organization is to collect all of the local resources into one group, one strategic partnership - the pooling of resources. It is the kind of thinking that could get the attention of groups like Volunteers of America, the VFW, American Legion, Blue Star Families and others. This could be an interesting experiment. I have done a lot of looking online and I don't see any other local organizations that have the same approach - local efforts elsewhere are disparate and disorganized.
I have a vision of where this could lead but I need to see if the organization is just another bureaucracy or an organization focused on results. I know that some other states organize veterans services a lot more effectively than we do in PA. It is time that best practices get adopted - create a template for success that can be recreated anywhere. I intend to leverage my online influence to make things happen locally. It will not be easy, but I am optimistic. I will fill you all in on the details after the meeting tomorrow if I am able to attend (allergy testing in the morning). If not, I will be meeting with a member of the board one on one.
As things develop, I will keep you all posted!
Recently, I have gained a lot of weight. When I went into the hospital for respiratory distress back in March, I learned that allergens (pollen) had caused the reaction. After I got out of the hospital, I have been afraid to go outside, fearful of the consequences. This is not a good thing for a veteran with PTSD. The last thing we need is more motivation to cloister ourselves away from the world and hide in our homes, bereft of contact with other people. So what did I start doing when I was bored? I ate. And ate. And ate.
Now it's time to undo the damage. Yesterday, I decided to confront my fear of doing things outside. I went for a jog with my wife and daughter at the park across the street. It felt wonderful. A little cold - the wind was ridiculous - but wonderful. My lungs felt great. I kept on wondering when my lung were going to rebel. They didn't. At all.
So this is what freedom feels like. I didn't realize how much I had been allowing my fears to imprison me in my home. I don't even recognize the fat-ass in the mirror. I never thought I could let my body go this far...
Today, I resolved to do something about this. I have a new goal. I want my body back. I want to be able to run without my body getting sore before I get tired. I want to be proud to see what is staring back at me in the mirror. It's time to take this to the next level. I am going to talk with my wife and set goals. Maybe I can find an advocacy 5k or 10K later this summer. I don't know. So, PTSD, I have a question. Is it Okay for me to go outside?
Dear Gen. McCaffrey,
First, sir, let me preface my remarks by telling you I have the utmost respect for you and your continued service to our country. You are a no nonsense leader. You aren't afraid to speak your mind, no matter how difficult the position you take. Your advocacy efforts on the part of service members and veterans everywhere are laudable. That being said, I do have a major point of contention that I need to address: The recent view you expressed on PTSD.
During the 'After the Uniform' Panel Discussion on May 8 at the National Press Club, you asserted that, in most cases, PTSD can be cured within a year. By stating this, I feel you demonstrate a disturbing lack of understanding of the issues facing veterans and service members who suffer from PTSD. In the public arena, you are perceived as a material expert on military and veterans' issues. What you say informs many people's opinions on pivotal issues like PTSD. I am concerned that the view you recently expressed on PTSD is dangerously outdated and uninformed. These kinds of comments could have the potential to do a lot of damage to PTSD advocacy in the military and in the country at large, which is why I am reaching out to see if you would be willing to clarify your stance on this issue.
I do not intend to sound alarmist, but I felt the need to impress upon you the importance of this issue. As a combat veteran with PTSD, blogger, and PTSD advocate, I hear every day about the struggles facing our veterans, many of whom still suffer in silence. I hear the discouragement and the disillusionment in the establishment. The negative stigma and public misgivings about PTSD keep many men and women from pursuing treatment for a serious and potentially life-threatening disorder.
My first impression of you at the panel indicated that you are a man who values directness and productive discourse. It is a sign of a strong leader to surround himself with people who will challenge his opinions and positions on issues. I hope you understand that I am taking the time to write this letter because I am confident you are the type of man who will recognize this criticism as an opportunity to learn and grow. I invite you to contact me directly so that we can candidly discuss this issue and work together to better advocate for those who suffer in silence, before they become a statistic.
*NOTE: This is the body of the letter that was sent directly to General McCaffrey via email. The full document can be found below.*
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.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.