Memorial Day: Sales -VS- Sacrifice…Which Is More Important?

Make the sacrifice of NOT SHOPPING today…..

Johnathan Guillory,, age 32, War Veteran. Suffered for years from PTSD and was denied care at the Phoenix VA. He was shot and killed by Phoenix Police on January 20, 2015

Johnathan Guillory,, age 32, War Veteran. Suffered for years from PTSD and was denied care at the Phoenix VA. He was shot and killed by Phoenix Police on January 20, 2015

As we watch them stride confidently toward the big carrier plane, the one that will take them away to a place we can never really get a true understanding of…..tears slide down our faces. We choke down fear filled sobs…. Shove aside any notions that they will not return to us intact. Or that they will not return to us at all.

A year goes by— and its painfully slow. You’ve written letters. Once a week. Twice a week. Sent care packages. Hoped and prayed as hard as you could. Bargained with God…promising to give up anything and everything if it meant your loved one would be one of “the lucky ones” to come back home to you intact…alive…so that life could go on as normal and joyous as it had been before they were called up for duty.

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…..The day finally arrives when you, your family members, and friends stand together in a crowd of other families…cheering together and waving flags as the big jumbo jet lands on the tarmac. The party has been lovingly planned for weeks, every detail has been attended to, and all their favorite foods are prepared.

Relief sets in for everyone as the soldiers begin making their descent down the steps of the plane….each one stopping to look up at the sky in disbelief as they take their first steps back on US soil….some of them kneel down to touch the tarmac with their bare hands for a moment. Now, you know it’s all going to be okay. Everything is good now. The pause button can be released. Life can go on as it was.

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Until it can’t. Until it isn’t OK. Until…as the days and weeks go by, you discover they have changed and something is definitely not right, not the same, and you have no idea what to do…or say….to begin to figure it out.
But that “connection….”   Your way of “being” with each other has changed—

dramatically….

The person who is sitting next to you watching a football game isn’t the same person you sent off to war one year and a handful of days ago. They are distant. Distracted. Easily agitated. They appear deep inside of themselves, far away from you….the realization sets in that this isn’t the same relationship you were in…. This isn’t the person you remember…

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On the eve of Memorial Day weekend 2015 its important that we not just memorialize those who were lost in the line of duty over the decades while defending our flag and our freedom….but the thousands of men and women who are still serving and making the ultimate sacrifice every day: the sacrifice of self in the most personal and devastating way.

PTSD and concussive TBI have emerged to the forefront as more and more of our service men and women have come home forever changed not just physically….but emotionally. We are just now learning how much the veterans from previous wars like Vietnam have suffered for decades without a definitive diagnosis. As a nation we left them flailing out there, without support, without understanding, in a sea of judgment and peril.

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A relative of mine who returned from a 5th deployment described his frustration with people who casually observe he made it back “without a scratch.” “It’s the most frustrating thing, and its irritating, because they have no idea what my life is like, what it feels like, and that just because the marks aren’t there for them to see it doesn’t mean I came back just fine.” Vets often struggle with an acute identity crisis while trying to go through the steps of reintegration in the days and months after returning from a combat setting. Their life roles are different. Their motivations for making every movement throughout the day —have changed.

Our soldiers may make it home from a “place,” but as now deceased Daniel Somer’s put it in his last letter: “I can’t find peace when my mind is still in a war that I can’t even go back to.” Yes, they are HERE, but their minds…their hearts….their identities are still entrenched in the desert terrain overseas. In fact, many vets will endorse a sense of “not feeling normal here.” “I feel more like myself THERE.” They also experience a sense of guilt for being away from their brothers and sisters who remain in theatre. Perhaps they even feel a sense of guilt for surviving an incident one or more of their comrades did not.

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Those of us with Veterans in our lives should be reading up on PTSD, Combat Loss, Combat Bereavement, TBI….learning what they are, what they mean for our soldiers, and what one or more of these afflictions can mean for the day to day self -perception and quality of life of our loved ones.

Its crucial we get reacquainted with our soldiers WHERE THEY ARE TODAY and not where they USED TO BE YESTERDAY. With every deployment….they may come back a little less who they used to be before they left for another tour….reminding them of that does nothing to help them reintegrate back into a family, a home, or into society. You see, no one knows MORE THAN THEY DO, that they are different. NO ONE is more painfully aware that they can never go back to that “normal person” you used to know and love…but who is now forever changed. For many, the guilt and burden of that is just as overwhelming as their efforts to please you and be the person you want them to be.

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If you stop and think about it, all of us go through personal growth and change in our lives….changes that will make us a little bit different as we get older and wiser and as we live and learn our way through challenges.

Veterans are expected to go through these changes and adjust to them at lightening speed. They also have to try and and reintegrate and relearn who they are—at lightening speed….in fact, some vest state that they do it more for you than for themselves. They try hard to be who you remember them to be, who you used to love them for being….and who you hoped would step off that plane.

If you want to honor your soldier….let go of expectations. Love and honor the person that is standing before you in this moment. Stop what you are doing and give them an unconditional message of love by telling them they are perfect as they are right now, today. Reassure them that they will be just as perfect —if not better—each day that lies ahead. It’s what many of our soldiers so desperately need to hear. The gift of knowing that the pressure is off of their shoulders…that they can put down the burden of pretending to be someone they just cant get back to being anymore, that they cant seem to reach any longer.

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Think about it for a second. If you had just emerged through a catastrophic health crisis that left you changed physically, emotionally, or both—would you not want your loved ones to love you just as you are and not hold you to the impossible standard we call “the past?”

I think one of the most precious things we can do for our vets is give them hope and the knowledge that no matter what lies ahead for them, no matter how they may change, there is always that special person or family that will be there to love them, grow with them, remain steadfastly patient with them, celebrate them, and stand by them not just under the best of circumstances….but some of the worst.

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These men and women go overseas to fight for our freedom. For our right to “be” who we are and do as we wish. It just seems fair, and just, that we afford them those same basic rights—to return back into our arms and our hearts just as they are…and where they are on their own journey. Believe it or not, it’s the expectations we impose on them that can do the most harm….and push them farther away into a dangerous, dark, and lonely place.

To me, that is what Memorial Day should be about. Finding ways to reach and hold on tight to a connection with our Veterans. So they always know they aren’t just remembered or honored for their service and sacrifice on a single day…but that we as a nation, alongside their loved ones… will fight just as hard for them as they did for us—every day of the year.

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About the Author: Amanda L. Trujillo BS-MSN is the daughter of an Army VietNam Veteran who has suffered from PTSD and TBI for decades. She also has many friends who are veterans.  A passionate advocate for veteran health and PTSD/TBI Awareness, she is also the Director of Nurse and Patient Advocacy with the Humanitarian Advocate Coalition in Phoenix, Arizona.

 

A Soldier’s Last Mission, A Medic’s Battle For Survival….and Sharon Helman’s Albatross

  Note: Much of this blog posting was taken directly from an article written by Dennis Wagner that was published in the Arizona Republic Sunday August 14, 2014.

The following incidents directly involved former Chief Administrator at the Carl T Hayden VA Medical Center Sharon Helman as she was made aware of the difficulties that veterans were having accessing mental health care they needed to help them with their PTSD and other mental health care concerns.

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Sharon Helman was fired from her post as the VA scandal continued to evolve throughout 2014. She is currently trying to get her job back at the VA Medical Center and her legal team is petitioning the court to be able to do so.

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Brian Mancini served 13 years as a U.S. Army medic and was on a 2nd combat tour when a roadside bomb blew up his military career in 2007.

Mancini says he spent more than 3 ½ years at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center “Getting my face rebuilt” and undergoing therapy. He returned to Arizona with 2 purple hearts, posttraumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, a missing eye, chronic pain, and a titanium plate in his head.

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As Mancini sees it now, America is afflicted by a delayed casualty syndrome. During the Vietnam War, the ratio of combat fatalities to nonfatal wounds was 1 to 2.6. In Iraq and Afghanistan due to improved armaments and medical technology, just one of 17 casualties is fatal. But many survivors are haunted for life by PTSD and concussive brain injuries from improvised explosive devices.

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In Phoenix, Mancini says he turned to the VA Medical Center and immediately learned that his cocktail of medications, which took years to perfect that the Army hospital, was not on the official formulary, so he would have to start over. He found himself waiting interminably for appointments, unable to get approval of outside acupuncture and chiropractic treatments for agonizing headaches and other pain.

“There was a really dark time in my life when I literally just lay on the floor in my house crying,” Mancini recalls. “I just was really frustrated with the lack of care. I felt betrayed. All they wanted to do was throw a lot of drugs at me, and those drugs were having an adverse effect. They had me on 12 medications. At one point I finally said, you know what I’m done.”

Mancini says he decided to use his medical background to develop an alternative treatment regimen with therapies available in the community: from brain training, to yoga, to fly-fishing. He wrote up a handbook and founded an Arizona nonprofit known as Honor House, then arranged a presentation to Phoenix VA Healthcare Systems Director Sharon Helman 2 years ago. The session did not go well. He recalls. “She was more appeasing me than anything.”

Mancini turned next to Terros, Inc., a community health care organization that focuses on inspirational life changes. Terros adopted the treatment program and lost a pilot effort, then joined in the 2nd attempt to get Phoenix VA involved.

This time, Mancini says, Helman who now faced termination in connection with alleged mismanagement at the Phoenix VA reacted defensively.

“I emphasized the need to go out of network to get veterans the services they so desperately needed regarding PTSD. He wrote in an email, “I specifically commented on the ridiculous wait times and presented a solution with very little interest on her part.”

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Later that same year, Helman would find herself intertwined with the death of another soldier who had been desperately trying to get mental health care. His name: Daniel Somers. He took his own life the summer of June 2013 after losing the battle of his life against PTSD.

Jean and Howard Somers said their son Daniel went to the Phoenix VA Emergency Room seeking hospital admission, where he was told there were no beds available. He lay on the floor weeping and pleading for help. “There was no effort made to see if he could be admitted to another facility,” his father recalled. “But he was told: you can stay here and when you feel better. You can drive yourself home.”

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(I wonder was this possibly an ER nurse who told him he could just lay there and go home when he felt better??? Who had the authority, audacity, and lack of human compassion to watch a soldier curled up on the floor in a tortuous state suffer, weep, and beg for help, and then advise him to go home whenever he felt ok? No one ever identified the staffer who allowed him to go….)

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Daniel Somer’s parents said they had met with Sharon Helman after their son’s death and were informed that wait times for mental health care had dramatically improved. They have since learned that VA patient access records were a fiction. They don’t even know if Daniel’s final act was counted in the Phoenix to be a suicide tally. “It’s like with any statistics out of the VA,” Howard Summers said. “What data are they using? Where did they get the numbers? All we can think is, we were being lied to, like everyone else.” The couple testified before Congress last month and created a reform plan for VA suicide prevention. They also have done the math: if 22 veterans kill themselves daily, and the number has been constant for years, more than 100,000 men and women who served America have taken their own lives since 2001. That’s roughly 15 times the number of US military personnel who died in Iraq and Afghanistan during the same period.”

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Daniel Somers was a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was part of Task Force Lightning, an intelligence unit. In 2004-2005, he was mainly assigned to a Tactical Human-Intelligence Team (THT) in Baghdad, Iraq, where he ran more than 400 combat missions as a machine gunner in the turret of a Humvee, interviewed countless Iraqis ranging from concerned citizens to community leaders and government officials, and interrogated dozens of insurgents and terrorist suspects. In 2006-2007, Daniel worked with Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) through his former unit in Mosul where he ran the Northern Iraq Intelligence Center. His official role was as a senior analyst for the Levant (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, and part of Turkey). Daniel suffered greatly from PTSD and had been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and several other war-related conditions. On June 10, 2013, Daniel wrote the following letter to his family before taking his life. Daniel was 30 years old. His wife and family have given permission to publish it:

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“I am sorry that it has come to this.”

….The fact is, for as long as I can remember my motivation for getting up every day has been so that you would not have to bury me. As things have continued to get worse, it has become clear that this alone is not a sufficient reason to carry on. The fact is, I am not getting better, I am not going to get better, and I will most certainly deteriorate further as time goes on. From a logical standpoint, it is better to simply end things quickly and let any repercussions from that play out in the short term than to drag things out into the long term.

You will perhaps be sad for a time, but over time you will forget and begin to carry on. Far better that than to inflict my growing misery upon you for years and decades to come, dragging you down with me. It is because I love you that I cannot do this to you. You will come to see that it is a far better thing as one day after another passes during which you do not have to worry about me or even give me a second thought. You will find that your world is better without me in it.

I really have been trying to hang on, for more than a decade now. Each day has been a testament to the extent to which I cared, suffering unspeakable horror as quietly as possible so that you could feel as though I was still here for you. In truth, I was nothing more than a prop, filling space so that my absence would not be noted. In truth, I have already been absent for a long, long time.

My body has become nothing but a cage, a source of pain and constant problems. The illness I have has caused me pain that not even the strongest medicines could dull, and there is no cure. All day, every day a screaming agony in every nerve ending in my body. It is nothing short of torture. My mind is a wasteland, filled with visions of incredible horror, unceasing depression, and crippling anxiety, even with all of the medications the doctors dare give. Simple things that everyone else takes for granted are nearly impossible for me. I cannot laugh or cry. I can barely leave the house. I derive no pleasure from any activity. Everything simply comes down to passing time until I can sleep again.

Now, to sleep forever seems to be the most merciful thing.

You must not blame yourself. The simple truth is this: During my first deployment, I was made to participate in things, the enormity of which is hard to describe. War crimes, crimes against humanity. Though I did not participate willingly, and made what I thought was my best effort to stop these events, there are some things that a person simply cannot come back from. I take some pride in that, actually, as to move on in life after being part of such a thing would be the mark of a sociopath in my mind. These things go far beyond what most are even aware of.

To force me to do these things and then participate in the ensuing cover-up is more than any government has the right to demand. Then, the same government has turned around and abandoned me. They offer no help, and actively block the pursuit of gaining outside help via their corrupt agents at the DEA. Any blame rests with them.

Beyond that, there are the host of physical illnesses that have struck me down again and again, for which they also offer no help. There might be some progress by now if they had not spent nearly twenty years denying the illness that I and so many others were exposed to. Further complicating matters is the repeated and severe brain injuries to which I was subjected, which they also seem to be expending no effort into understanding. What is known is that each of these should have been cause enough for immediate medical attention, which was not rendered.

Lastly, the DEA enters the picture again as they have now managed to create such a culture of fear in the medical community that doctors are too scared to even take the necessary steps to control the symptoms. All under the guise of a completely manufactured “overprescribing epidemic,” which stands in stark relief to all of the legitimate research, which shows the opposite to be true. Perhaps, with the right medication at the right doses, I could have bought a couple of decent years, but even that is too much to ask from a regime built upon the idea that suffering is noble and relief is just for the weak.

However, when the challenges facing a person are already so great that all but the weakest would give up, these extra factors are enough to push a person over the edge.

Is it any wonder then that the latest figures show 22 veterans killing themselves each day? That is more veterans than children killed at Sandy Hook, every single day. Where are the huge policy initiatives? Why isn’t the president standing with those families at the state of the union? Perhaps because we were not killed by a single lunatic, but rather by his own system of dehumanization, neglect, and indifference.

It leaves us to where all we have to look forward to is constant pain, misery, poverty, and dishonor. I assure you that, when the numbers do finally drop, it will merely be because those who were pushed the farthest are all already dead.

And for what? Bush’s religious lunacy? Cheney’s ever growing fortune and that of his corporate friends? Is this what we destroy lives for

Since then, I have tried everything to fill the void. I tried to move into a position of greater power and influence to try and right some of the wrongs. I deployed again, where I put a huge emphasis on saving lives. The fact of the matter, though, is that any new lives saved do not replace those who were murdered. It is an exercise in futility.

Then, I pursued replacing destruction with creation. For a time this provided a distraction, but it could not last. The fact is that any kind of ordinary life is an insult to those who died at my hand. How can I possibly go around like everyone else while the widows and orphans I created continue to struggle? If they could see me sitting here in suburbia, in my comfortable home working on some music project they would be outraged, and rightfully so.

I thought perhaps I could make some headway with this film project, maybe even directly appealing to those I had wronged and exposing a greater truth, but that is also now being taken away from me. I fear that, just as with everything else that requires the involvement of people who cannot understand by virtue of never having been there, it is going to fall apart as careers get in the way.

The last thought that has occurred to me is one of some kind of final mission.

It is true that I have found that I am capable of finding some kind of reprieve by doing things that are worthwhile on the scale of life and death. While it is a nice thought to consider doing some good with my skills, experience, and killer instinct, the truth is that it isn’t realistic. First, there are the logistics of financing and equipping my own operation, then there is the near certainty of a grisly death, international incidents, and being branded a terrorist in the media that would follow. What is really stopping me, though, is that I simply am too sick to be effective in the field anymore. That, too, has been taken from me.

Thus, I am left with basically nothing.

Too trapped in a war to be at peace…too damaged to be at war.

Abandoned by those who would take the easy route, and a liability to those who stick it out—and thus deserve better. So you see, not only am I better off dead, but the world is better without me in it.

This is what brought me to my actual final mission.

Not suicide, but a mercy killing. I know how to kill, and I know how to do it so that there is no pain whatsoever. It was quick, and I did not suffer. And above all, now I am free. I feel no more pain. I have no more nightmares or flashbacks or hallucinations. I am no longer constantly depressed or afraid or worried….

I am free.

I ask that you be happy for me for that.

It is perhaps the best break I could have hoped for.

Please accept this and be glad for me.

Daniel Somers

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What troubles me about Arizona are two things: The media and the State Legislature. Change is dictated by what is sexy and profitable at the moment, by what gets ratings or soundbite opportunities for journalists and lawmakers. Journalists get prestigious awards, lawmakers get voters and win elections. But the problem stays a problem. PEOPLE ARE STILL DYING. We don’t work together and pool resources to make change happen in this state. There is no cohesive effort that binds together the talents of “award winning” journalists, experienced intelligent lawmakers, healthcare agencies, and the citizens of Arizona affected by the problems. Everyone does their own thing…..each with a means to an end in their own mind. In all of that—the important stuff gets lost somewhere along the way.

     The journalists love to drop the bomb, they make us aware of the travesties and the injustices occurring, people get mad….….and then they silently walk away like their job is done. Like somehow, because they brought light to the issue, it will magically correct itself and go away. WHY NOT KEEP THE ISSUES FRONT AND CENTER?!!!! Legislators will often posture and pace behind podiums and microphones making strong, passionate declarations and demands in front of the flashing lights and microphones…..but when it comes time to walk the talk on the House Floor…what has actually been done? I reference Veteran Health and Patient Safety as just two examples of major issues that have been brought forward in the past two years on many a newscast…..and still, we are losing Vets. Still, we AS A STATE, are failing to rescue.

See, everyone likes to talk about the problem, and around the problem, and what could potentially be done to attack a problem….but as the media attention fades, the legislators go back to fighting about other issues such as who can use a public toilet and who can’t……and people go back their own lives and forget about Brian Mancini and Daniel Somers…the urgency and impetus for change dissipates.

There is no longer this life or death need to get up and do something to prevent another soldier from dying, to prevent the loss of another wife, mother, daughter, husband, father, son….friend. Lawmakers go back to other things like immigration or education….and the mountain toward change gets harder to climb, dangerously steeper. The terrain becomes that much more complex to overcome. If you are a soldier with PTSD, you know that every day the terrain is difficult and often times unpredictable to navigate. In fact, there are some days you have no desire to even try.

This is not YOUR MISSION.

It is ours….

Or, at least, it should be.

     Without the help of concerned citizens, activists, lawmakers, journalists, and healthcare agencies these Veterans cannot get the job done themselves…AND THE POINT IS—they shouldn’t have to. Because it is our turn now. Whether we like it or not, our draft card has been pulled and it’s our turn to figure out what the battle plan should be. It’s our turn to put on the gear and do the work. It’s our turn to protect and serve THEM.

….And we’re doing a pretty crappy job.

In fact, I’ll be so bold as to say– WE…..are failing THEM.

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 “It Matters.”

Amanda L. Trujillo, BS-MSN

Director of Nurse and Patient Advocacy

Humanitarian Advocate Coalition

Phoenix, Arizona

https://www.azhac.us/

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