Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Hi Friends,

So, the past year has brought many surprises, and those who know me well, know that I consider surprises to be over-rated.  To me, surprises are best reserved for 4-year olds, because often surprises are not good things, but instead new challenges to overcome!  For an optimist, this is a strange position and I thought about that on this last morning of 2010.

I may need to change my position on surprises.

This year has brought a huge number of wondrous surprises!  We created and launched this website, made friends with caregivers and veterans across the country, we learned so much that our heads are full, but that’s nothing compared to how full my heart feels today.  Please know that your stories, your daily challenges, your strength, and even your exhausted moments bring out the best in all of us.  For, isn’t it easier to help someone else sometimes?  I have watched while many of you carry heavy loads of your own (which I learned directly from you) turn around 15 minutes later and post a message completely inspiring to another caregiver.

Friends, we never, ever know when a post response, a cyber hug, or a phone call will literally save someone.  I’ve counted beyond my fingers the number of miracles I’ve witnessed this year.  You are simply remarkable people and our team salutes you all. 

May He lift you and guide you in the year ahead.

Happy New Year!


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Road to Recovery Conference

Good morning,

What a remarkable conference run by the Coalition to Salute America's Heroes!  The 6th annual Road to Recovery Conference was held in Orlando FL earlier this month, and for five days, nearly 100 Wounded Warrior families were provided one-on-one support, superb motivational speakers, and many presentations and exhibits about resources, care, and empowerment.

VeteranCaregiver was included in the speaking roster and just as we find on this website, many caregivers are unaware of the large number of resources, how to find peers to share their experiences with, and in short -- how much Caregiving and family participation can help in the recovery process.  Both Dave Roever and Dana Bowman spoke of their personal recovery and renaissance after serious trauma, and heroes were found throughout the week.  Hats off to Donny, BJ, Gary, Mike, Doug, Nadia, Donna, Steve, Patrick and many others for coordinating and tying together all of the public elements of the conference.  And grateful thanks for the Coalition sponsors for strongly supporting Caregivers in their program.

Pat Rowe Kerr was superb in sharing knowledge of how to learn of benefits and the variance among states, and our Caregiver and Benefits table was in constant motion.  It was also gratifying to be able to talk to Caregivers who had resigned themselves to a particular life rhythm, but who now saw hope and peer support available to them.  As we often say, resources and websites, social networks and helplines are good – but it is the people who care that matter the most. 

The week started with a performance by Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band, and the energy stayed high for the next four days. A warmer, more receptive evening could not be imagined, and you’ll see pictures on the home page of VCG.  Our Jill was even treated to a late night songfest with the band as they relaxed and did karaoke!  J  On a more serious note, the speeches and presentations, along with the smaller breakout sessions were very helpful in addressing TBI/PTSD, Intimacy, Benefits, Mental Health Counseling and Assessments, adaptive vehicles, a robust Job Fair, and opportunities for families to be very, very comfortable among those whose lives were very similar.  As we said in our presentation:  “What is a successful reintegration?  It is coming as close as possible to the life that you led before injury.”  This conference was one more step toward that goal, and the experiences so varied and rich that I cannot do them justice in a short blog entry.

Please stay abreast of these organizations so that you’re aware of the next conference in December of 2011.  They are truly committed to supporting both veteran families and especially the Caregivers, and we were very gratified to know that they will allocate double the time for our presentation next year.  Benefits alone feels like drinking from a fire hose, and learning of a resource intended just for Caregivers was new to most everyone in the conference. 

Please spread the word to those you know who would benefit from the conference and VCG, and keep the questions and peer support coming.  We are much stronger together – so speak up, let the VSO’s and VA know what you need, and keep supporting one another. 

Happy New Year!


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Blessings this holiday season.

Christmas gets me thinking about family a lot. My family are scattered all over the world but our roots, way back, were from Ireland. I wanted to wish everyone here a very happy holiday season and I can find no better words that this old Gaelic Blessing.

Deep peace to you,
deep peace of the quiet Earth to you,
deep peace of the shining stars to you,
deep peace of the gentle night to you,
deep peace of Christ the light of the world to you,
deep peace of Christ to you.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

You got 'possums?

You know, those big rather scruffy looking creatures with a long naked tail that look like a rat from a nightmare. Well I got possums and I really wish I didn't.
I am not sure when they arrived but some months back I saw this tiny gray creature in the backyard, in daylight mind you, foraging among the plants. On looking closer I saw it was a baby possum. No sign of Mom anywhere and I thought she must have got hit by a car or something. That was then! Now, I think it was just a ruse to make me feel sorry for her kids so she didn't have to feed them! Of course I felt sorry for the little 'orphan' at the time, so I set out a bit of dog food for it, well at least that was until I realized it was helping itself to the cats food, and all the cats were complaining long and loud because their food dishes were empty.
I tried putting the cat’s food down in the daytime, thinking, in my foolish way, that as the possum got bigger it would be nocturnal. Oh no such luck. This possum obviously does not know the meaning of the word, because I have caught him strutting the backyard at all hours. Not only that, but Momma has decided they are onto a good thing and she has been coming out to feast also. They have outfitted themselves with a cozy nest at the back of my garden shed. I know where they are, sleeping in the very back corner and emerging to have a quick snack and then dodging back underneath to warmth and safety. OK I know I should get to the back of the shed and remove them, bodily if need be, but you have no idea what is in my shed. It would take the combined efforts of three men and a strong boy to get it all out! Even then, as the shed is about on its last legs, they would for sure be back in through one of the holes, once I had all the junk, er I mean stuff, replaced.
Tonight I went out to check the cat food and I thought it odd that the cats did not come out of their bed, which is on a table in front of the shed. THEN, I realized that the 'cat' had a naked tail - yep, it was the back end of the possum, curled up with its fat butt in the entrance of the cat’s bed and chomping on the food in there. I shook the bed and Momma just stuck her head in the back corner and ignored me. Finally I had to resort to low dealings and I tipped the whole table until she fell or rather rolled out onto the ground. Did she run? Did she heck! She shoved her head into the honeysuckle bush and ignored me. I figured she was working on the assumption that 'if I can't see you, you can't see me'. Short of removing her bodily I had no choice but to leave her there. I am hoping that she goes off in the spring and finds a mate, preferably in the next county.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Suicide - Active or Passive.

Suicide is not a subject that many people want to discuss, however given the huge numbers of service men and women who are dying, not in combat, but from suicide, we need to not only discuss it but to work long and hard to prevent it.
We know about the active suicides to some extent. These are the ones where they are found with a gun in their hand and a last note written to friends or family. These are bad enough, but what I have been thinking a lot about are the passive suicides. These are the ones where the will to live is lost. Even though there may be no gun involved, there is a certain intent to come to an end of the current existence in some way. Often I believe it is not so much the though of “I want to die” but of “I cannot live like this”.
If we acknowledge that suicide, any suicide, is the result of stressors being way larger than the ability to cope, then we see that death, whether active or passive, could be viewed as the only possible option.
Standing on the outside, it is hard to know what goes on in someone else’s mind. It would be easy to say that there are many other options other than death. However, these same stressors can prevent anyone from being able to see the other options or being able to act on them, even if they are there. This is one reason why family support is so very important in suicide prevention.
I do have to say though, after dealing with the VA for so many years, I wonder how they believe that the options given to some of our service personnel could result in anything other than a desire to die, either quickly with a gun, or slowly in a passive way. I see such things as depression and lack of good pain control as being two huge hurdles that so many Vets have to deal with. Vets are expects to ‘suck it up’ and try and live with or ignore the pain and this is not only physical pain but also emotional pain. Being able to ‘suck it up’ is possible for most of us on a short term basis. Most of our Vets are dealing with this over the long term. Living in constant pain becomes so wearing that almost any alternative would be a relief. I know there are Veterans who believe that their family would be better off if they were gone. Their spouse would get over it and find happiness with someone else. Many Vets try and alleviate the pain and depression with alcohol or illegal drugs. Once these enter the picture, rational thought is distorted and suicide may seem to be the best or only choice.
There is also another and darker aspect to the medications that so many Vets are given. Veterans who indicate depression are almost guaranteed to be given an antidepressant. The problem is that so many antidepressants actually make things worse rather than better, and can cause someone to take their own life.
I do not think that the VA takes this seriously enough. They do not pay enough attention to the things that they are doing, or in many cases not doing, which causes someone to think of suicide.
I do not have any magic answer for this but I do know that unless we bring this out into the open and discuss it, we are going to lose a lot of valuable human beings whose lives will be cut short far too soon.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Why most people do not understand Veterans Injuries.

I have noticed quite a few remarks on this subject, both here and in other places, and I have been giving it some serious thought. With our ability today to show what life is like in Iraq and Afghanistan, you would think that most people would understand how so many of our Vets are so badly hurt. Particularly so at the start of the recent encounters, when the TV news stations had a minute-by-minute view of the death and destruction. This being so, why are folks not seeing what this does to the men and women who are on the spot?
I think I place at least part of the blame on the violence in so many movies. These movies show as many explosions as it is possible to fit into a few minutes of screen time. We can enjoy falling bodies and burning debris in slow motion. What the movies do NOT show are the after effects of such violence. The hero comes through unscathed; his face is never burned beyond recognition; he has both eyes and both arms and legs. He, or she, appears to suffer no adverse effects from being thrown on the ground from a fast moving vehicle, dropped from a helicopter or dumped off a bridge in a fiery crash. Even though at some level, we must recognize this as being very unlikely in real life, I think most audiences never really equate what they see with what real life is actually like for our troops.
Little is reported about those who are injured. If the injured are thought of at all, it is assumed that all the injured are well taken care of. Anything about care that reaches the national news is usually of the dramatic rescues or the drama of field surgery. How often do we see the effects of brain injuries or of the family who struggles with a disfigured son or husband. I mean, this wasn't in the script, was it.
I also lay blame on the violence in video games. Recently I watched one of my Grandsons playing a particularly, to me at any rate, horrible game. The main object appeared to be to spread as much of your opponent over the screen as possible and in the fastest time. Again there are no repercussions for the hero.
I do seriously think that what the TV news shows, comes over as just like another movie or X-Box game. No bad after-effects, and at the end of the day they wash off the fake blood and go home.