color: SOME SOLDIER'S MOM: Invisible Wounds: The Army Still Doesn’t Get It.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Invisible Wounds: The Army Still Doesn’t Get It.

Let me start this rant with a little perspective.

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.


At 6/27/2007 6:33 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your life as it is dealing with this issue.
I wonder if the bureaucracy is just so entrenched that there is no way to change it? Are the people who have the power to make a decision for change so far removed from reality that they can't see it? Are they so bogged down in paperwork and rules and regulations that they can't think about anything that would go beyond those rules and regulations?

At 6/27/2007 6:35 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have only been reading you for a short time. I'm a nurse and have studied some of the 'unconventional' methods (the government will not pay for or recognize as it is 'alternative' medicine)for dealing with PTSD. Have your read the book 'War and the Soul" by Edward Tick? It may help him find a way back, never the same, but relief for his soul.
Thanks for sharing your experience and prayers for your son. Cathy B

At 6/28/2007 6:31 AM , Blogger Lee Anne said...

What an honest and heartbreaking post. Thank you for sharing your experience. Sending good thoughts to you and your family.

At 6/28/2007 8:04 AM , Blogger ma content said...

The Army is slow to get it, and I don't believe the VA is much better. I don't know how the Army rates disability, but with the VA it is guaranteed that a claim will be rejected initially. It takes alot of determination and perserverance to get a decent percentage.
And I'm probably preaching to the choir, but the VFW and American Legion have service officers to help with this should N have to transistion from DOD to VA.
You are in our prayers!

At 6/28/2007 8:35 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi, I came accross your page! i'm an army girlfriend. Your blog is awesome.

At 6/28/2007 11:31 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

It isn't just the army who "doesn't get it" we as a society have had the luxuary of not having to deal with the horrors of war thanks to people like your son and all members of the military, and public saftey people here in the states.

Keep fighting the good fight. Your blog is one more tool we can use to help people understand that thier PTSD are nothing more than normal reactions to abnormal situtations.

Hopefully with proper treatment
and time things will get better.

At 6/29/2007 7:15 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The video has left me speechless...

At 6/29/2007 1:02 PM , Blogger wendy said...

Thank you for sharing your son's story. I'm feeling a little ticked off for you, and him.

I'm so glad, though, that your son has you to stand up for him, and remind him of who he really is.

At 6/30/2007 8:43 AM , Blogger Sue said...

It's been awhile since I've visited your site, so although I knew that your son was injured in Iraq and I followed his physical recovery for awhile, I am so sorry to hear of his PTSD. All who serve need an advocate - with the protesters, and the apathy that they (and we) have to deal with every day, and the red tape you have described. Always, they have those who love them - but support for them needs to be widespread. Most of our American citizens support them, but they don't understand how things work behind the scenes. They see them go to war and when they see them come safely home, they think it's the end of the story. No one understands more than a soldier or his/her family. I've been a military mom for nine years - first with our daughter, now with our daughter and her husband. Likely I will be a military mom for the rest of my life. Thank you for representing us so well. My children came home safely and without PTSD or visible after effects but I don't take that for granted. War changed our lives - and theirs - forever.
I know that you would give anything NOT to know so much about this disorder. We don't usually ask to be so knowledgable about things so troubling, but you do a heartfelt job of speaking about it - no doubt your being so close to your son is helpful for both of you.
Songs like the one you mentioned always bring tears to my eyes as well because the songwriters always seem to reach our hearts. Your family will be in my prayers each day - not that my feeble prayers will make a difference, but rather the answers that God gives us as we stand together at the foot of the cross. I think I need to visit you more often.
God bless you and your family.

At 7/03/2007 9:34 AM , Blogger CShack said...

That video took my breath and my words away. I will be praying for you and your son. Please keep up posted on how he is doing.

At 7/04/2007 3:55 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing. We'll keep you and your son in our prayers. Having done some searching on Vietnam Veterans and PTSD's - I have read about many who have turned to Traumatic Incident Reduction (TIR) and have found success. I know you've done a lot of research yourself - just didnt want to not mention it just in case.

At 7/08/2007 2:16 PM , Blogger MaryAnn said...

Haven't been able to get that video out of my head since you posted it.

At 7/12/2007 8:26 AM , Blogger dyzgoneby said...

I have been thinking about this post since you wrote it. It has hit so close to home for me and us. Everything in your post could have been written from me as a spouse.

My husband is currently on the PEB board for PTSD along with a few other injuries. It has been a long road we are traveling on, one without an end insight.

We both know the rating he will recive from the DOD is going to be crap. He gave over 15 years of his life for this Country (only 4 1/2 years left until full retirement)and it just makes me sick to think of the injustice that him and other's like your son will recive.

I just wanted to thank you for writing such a heart felt, but extremely honest look at what our Military goes through.


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