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.

 

This One’s For the Veterans!

This one is for all you vets out there.

I’m going to TRY and keep it short and sweet as I know many of you out there have much more important things on your mind and stuff going on in your lives that requires more attention than a blog posting. But really, sit for a minute—especially if you are at the VA waiting for one of your many appointments. Because it involves your health, your healthcare now, your future health status and how your healthcare is administered in the future.

Whether you realize it or not you have an advantage over lots of us healthcare consumers here in Arizona. You get real time access to ALL OF YOUR MEDICAL RECORDS. Unfortunately this is just one area that you veterans are failing to see how you can catch certain things that will impact your mental and physical health not just now but in the years to come—

When the VA Medical center throws another batch of narcotic refills at you to solve all of your health problems  and says “we’ll see you in three months, or call for a refill when you need it,” it doesn’t mean you just take that advisement and go on your merry way without question, to your next appointment.  Narcotic medications are deadly and debilitating, many of you Vietnam vets have probably been taking them since you were overseas, as well as some of you returning veterans. The most common diagnoses I see among VA Medical records when vets ask me to look at them is “Low Back Pain, Muscle Strain, Degenerative Disc Disease, Degenerative Joint Disease, and Arthritis.” In fact, there is much lacking in the way of performing a simple differential diagnoses in lots of the records I help vets with. If you actually started doing some research you would probably find out that there may be something completely different going on that you hadn’t considered— but now makes a whole lot of sense since you WERE EXPOSED TO AGENT ORANGE OR OTHER TOXINS IN THEATRE!

 

  1. FIRST AND FOREMOST: When a VA doctor sends you out on a “referral or consult” with a specialist DO NOT ASSUME THAT YOUR PRIMARY DOCTOR WILL ACTUALLY “IMPLEMENT” what the specialist is recommending! For example—-The condition Ankylosing Spondylitis requires a much much different care approach than a simple lower back strain or sprain. What is usually done when this diagnoses is suspected: The primary will send you out to see a Rheumatologist for a battery of testing that will include a good history and physical—asking you lots of questions about your symptoms and your pain. Along with the exam the specialist will order imaging studies such as X-Rays, MRI’s or CT Scans and labwork that will include things like a “ESR” (Sedimentation Rate) to get an idea if inflammation is running rampant inside your body. Now, heres the important part: When you see these results come back in the form of a “Letter of consultation” to your main primary care physician, LOOK CLOSELY AT IT AND ACTUALLY READ WHAT IT SAYS! Then put your doc to the test. The next time you go for a follow up ask whether there will be any changes in your treatment. If he says no, this is when you bring out YOUR COPY of the recommendation letter and ask about why each recommendation is not being carried out if that specialist thinks it should be. In doing this, you are advocating for yourself, your body, your future and your quality of life!

 

  1. As most of the nation knows, the VA Healthcare System has gotten some pretty bad press as of late…especially here in Arizona (BIG SURPRISE THERE, EVERYTHING IS CORRUPT HERE). For those of you waiting desperately for your applications for benefits to be approved (or rejected) and are struggling, there may be a light here in what I have to say. Number one— if you are suffering from mental illness such as PTSD and are in crisis and the VA Emergency Department won’t let you in— You call 911 and ask for help ASAP, you go get help elsewhere like UPC or Terros or another local Emergency Room. You do not suffer alone. You do not “try and just get through it.” For the Veteran’s Crisis Line, dial 1-800-273-8255, press “1”… Every Emergency Room in the valley is obligated to see every single person that walks through those doors—and that includes YOU. NO VETERAN SHOULD EVER BE TOLD TO “GO LIE DOWN ON THE FLOOR UNTIL THEY ARE FEELING BETTER” AND SENT AWAY ALONE WHEN THEY ARE IN CRISIS! (Nor should any human being for that matter) You can get evaluated in a local ER and in most cases will be able to see a case manager who can help to coordinate a safe place that will help get you stabilized—at the very least. While you are waiting for VA benefits consider this: If you paid into FICA—meaning if you have had money taken out of your paychecks over the years to pay Social Security, then YOU MAY HAVE A GOOD case to file for SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS AND DISABILITY BENEFITS!!!! In addition to this, you may also be able to collect on existing disability policies you already have while you receive social security benefits!

 

  1. The plain truth is–It is not YOUR FAULT the VA is backlogged and understaffed , which makes it all that more CRUCIAL to take your health and  well being INTO YOUR HANDS and morph into a Private Investigator of sorts to ensure you are getting the same standard of care for your medical conditions that ALL PEOPLE should be getting. You see, for health conditions such as Congestive Heart Failure or COPD there is a specific government “gold standard of care” that they have set as the “bar” all healthcare providers and facilities must meet to pass healthcare quality assessments. This is their way of ensuring that people are getting the right care for the right condition at the right time and aren’t falling through the cracks. Unfortunately, from what I have been reading in both the news and records—its you guys who are falling through the cracks RIGHT NOW.

 

Most Veterans have no idea that they would even be considered a qualifying recipient for Social Security Benefits, so they simply keep waiting for the VA System to process their applications for benefits all the while struggling to keep up paying for the basics—food, medication, a roof over their head. Why not apply for Social Security and Disability Benefits while you are waiting for the VA? Chances are, if you are qualified, youll be getting the Social Security/Disability payments way before the VA comes through. When the VA approves you for a percentage based on your “rating” you can still receive the Social Security benefits at the same time! If you are interested in pursuing this you need a good attorney. Given the circumstances surrounding the past few years of my life, I happen to know a few good ones in different areas of law who really know their stuff. If youd like me to give you a few names please email me at fyrhoneybsn@yahoo.com ASAP. Hint–a good attorney will always do a first time consult for free.

As you may or may not know,  a lot of your health conditions are a direct result of  time spent in service overseas, especially if you were exposed to certain chemicals over prolonged periods of time. I brought up Ankylosing Spondylitis because it is often misdiagnosed as mechanical back pain when it is actually a progressive chronic inflammatory condition that, when treated the right way and in a timely fashion, wont have nearly the impact on someone’s health and quality of life as those who went years being misdiagnosed and dismissed with concomitant diagnoses such as anxiety and depression and a handful of scripts for various narcotic medications that barely touch the pain. Ankylosing Spondylitis actually takes years to become overtly present on x-ray and in scans. In fact,   its diagnosis is largely dependent on patient history/physical as well as certain characteristics of the pain, and some subtle tell tale signs on imaging studies. The Veterans Health Administration has a website that briefs Veterans about chemical related health conditions and they are categorized by campaign and/or location. You can find that by clicking HERE. You can also find out more about the back/joint condition Ankylosing Spondylitis, and answers to the most frequently asked questions by clicking HERE.

The take home message is: Really take the time to read your medical records, and if you don’t understand them and have been suffering with the same symptoms (that seem to be worsening despite visit after visit to the doctor)  for years, ask someone who does know how to read records to help you understand them. There are plenty of us out there who would be glad to help a vet or two advocate for themselves and get what they deserve! Advocate for yourself by making sure that the recommendations made by the specialists the VA sends you to go see are ACTUALLY CARRIED OUT! For those of you living with chronic debilitating pain—consider that there may actually be more answers out there than you thought. The hunch or gut feeling you have “that there is something really wrong here” ….may actually be right on point.

     Lastly—and I cannot urge this enough: Seek out experts on Social Security Disability Law to see if you can apply for benefits while you continue to wait on the VA. A word of caution—check your State’s Bar Association first before considering ANY ATTORNEY. If you live in Arizona you can find that by clicking HERE.  I learned THAT LESSON the good ol fashioned hard way. My quality of life suffered for it, and I most certainly did not get effective representation. Don’t make the same mistake and pick up the phone at the next commercial you see for Social Security Representation, Criminal, Administrative, or Civil representation. Be proactive with your health, AND your pocketbook!

 

 

 

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