Invisible Wounds: The Army Still Doesn’t Get It.
Every year around the 4th of July, a local church group puts on a patriotic play or show right smack in the middle of the town on our courthouse square that celebrates the military. This year’s program was prefaced with a song called “Letters from War” that (surprise!) made me tear up. I leaned to the DH and said, “You know, these days I don’t think too much about how we almost lost him, but this song has brought all that rushing back.” He said, “I think about it every day.”
My son’s physical wounds have healed, but invisible ones remain.
My son knows he has PTSD. I know my son has PTSD. The doctors know that he has PTSD. The Army knows he has PTSD. And the Army knows it affects his ability to perform his duties because after a number of tries to continue in the Army, they have determined that he cannot be retained because of his PTSD. To be as blunt as I can, my son has had a hard time of it. I have written many times (although at my son’s request not in as much detail as I’d like) of his depression, anxiety, anger, vigilance, insomnia, nightmares. Things that happened to him and things that happened to his friends in Iraq prey on his mind.
With continued and intensive counseling and drug therapy he has slowly progressed since his lengthy hospitalization last summer and fall. He is so much better than he was last year... but he is not cured. He must take medications every day to stay afloat. Just as insulin will not cure diabetes nor completely diminish the ravages of the disease, medications and counseling cannot cure his PTSD, although the medications allow him to manage his symptoms and get through the day. There are many treatments for PTSD; there is no cure. He now understands the symptoms and the condition and he deals with it as best he can. He has good days and bad days. He accepts that. He does not run to the doctor for every little episode, but he still has bad spells and he still wrestles with some aspect of his PTSD every single day. Trust me on this.
As regular readers of this blog know, I have a close enough relationship with my son -- pre- and post deployment -- to tell you honestly that I worry if he will always be this “new” person. I wonder if I will ever hear my son laugh again; I can’t remember the last time he did. My “glass half full” son now lives with a glass turned upside down.
The deliberative, frugal son that went to war returned a spendthrift, married a girl he had known just weeks (although that seems to be working out very well - whew! Hugs & kisses to you M!!), and can’t decide from day to day what he should do with the rest of this day let alone after the Army.
The “can do” guy who always did "what I have to do before I do what I want to do” procrastinates doing tasks that he knows must be done until he has let some chore or situation become a calamity. He can't seem to marshall the "umph" he needs to do more than his job most days. That's not to say he is laying around in a drug-induced stupor. He's not. He just doesn't focus and achieve the way he did before.
The easy-going young man who so willingly served his country has an angry seam that is too easily irritated. He is quick to apologize and I know he is genuinely sorry… and distressed that he cannot understand why some days his anger is beyond his control and flashes at innocuous and unimportant things. Can you imagine how these “new” traits will translate to the work force?
So the doctors have determined he is unfit for duty and have pronounced him to be suffering from chronic PTSD. The Army acknowledges that his condition is a combat (Line of Duty) injury. They have said it affects his performance. They have a (legal) obligation to determine to what degree his PTSD will impact civilian job performance (without consideration for any other physical effects he may have suffered that have not impacted his ability to be a soldier.) After taking more than 3+ months to get the paperwork together, after losing his medical records (multiple times!), after neglecting to tell him that he could be simultaneously evaluated by the VA, the 48 pages of records were informally reviewed by a Medical Evaluation Board and they made a determination. Privacy (my son’s) won’t permit me to say what his informal [disability] rating was, but (in my opinion) my son is about to get shafted.
It seems apparent to me that the people charged with looking at these cases and making a "fair" determination of the impact of a soldier’s wounds STILL cannot fathom the significant impact PTSD (and TBI) have on the daily existence of soldiers. They still have the mindset that “if you can’t see the injury, there isn’t one.” If the medications are masking or decreasing the symptoms (they certainly don’t cure the injury), then you must be “better”. If you aren’t cutting your wrists, drinking yourself into oblivion, if you’re not attacking people or if you’re not wanting to stand in a bell tower with an AK-- you must be “better” or “ok”. If you cannot see a disability, there must not be one… or if there is one, it can't be much.
They would never consider telling a soldier with a prosthetic hand that he was doing “better” because, after all, he has a new hand and he responded to treatment. Nor tell a soldier with hearing now assisted by hearing aids that his treatment was working and he must be doing “OK” and therefore his wounds will have little impact on civilian performance. Just as the soldiers with visible injuries will be impacted by those injuries, so, too, are soldiers with the invisible kinds of wounds, including those with TBI -- who still can function, but not as well as they did before they went to war as is the case of another soldier we know.
None of these wounded soldiers will ever be whole. Their lives and future performance will be impacted and they should be justly compensated. But it’s not happening for guys like D with TBI or my son with PTSD and, I fear, too many others. Is it because the military doesn't want to admit the degree to which PTSD and TBI impact soldiers? Is it that they want to shift the monetary burden to the Veterans Administration? Or is it that they truly don’t -- or won't -- acknowledge this serious problem and do what is right?
It just boggles my mind that with all the attention and focus in the press and in Congress and at DoD on PTSD and TBI -- and after all the studies, recommendations, howling and shouting and all the press releases about how they take PTSD seriously and how they will care for these Wounded Warriors, that when the rubber meets the road, the Army still doesn’t get it.
Just so we're clear, this is MY rant and MY opinion. Like so many others, there is pressure on these soldiers to just take the rating and leave... eager to get on with a life in limbo and implications that any appeal would be fruitless 'cause no one listens anyway... and you can actually get a rating even lower if you ask for reconsideration. There is something wrong with this picture...
I recently came upon a MySpace account of a veteran who served with my son in OIF3... now you can watch for yourself (multiple camera angles!) the insurgents’ videos up of the VBIED attack "that day" in 2005; despite the "holy #$%!&" size of the explosion, there were no deaths and only D & N had injuries requiring more than a band-aid. (The Arabic chanting and soundtrack are annoying, but it’s worth leaving the sound on.) That is where my journey as Some Soldier’s Mom got REALLY interesting (ok, maybe interesting is not exactly the word I’d have used two years ago…) The journey continues.