Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Thoughts


As we welcome Memorial Day today, and after the final parade or television special has faded, I’m hoping that we can take time more frequently as a group to consider those who paid the final and absolute sacrifice.  They will always have our respect and our compassion because they hold precious memories, while our group goes on.

Did you watch, participate, or read of Memorial Day events this weekend?  I was struck once again at the genuine attempts to illustrate to Americans what our brave troops experience, with footage of reasonably graphic field operating rooms, the challenges met when in the recovery and rehabilitation phases, and in trying to explain what living with TBI and PTSD can mean to a family. There has been some progress made in exposing the general public to what military families experience, especially in the case of the wounded, ill, or injured.


Yet, there were many references to America’s families throughout these local and national programs and newspapers, but often the camera or photo was of the veteran and a child, and very, very rarely, the veteran and their family or caregiver.  Below are vets and caregivers at WRAMC; surely we all recognize that a picture is worth a thousand words? 

Until the Caregiver is understood as the heartbeat of the family, and often the most critical link in the continuum of care, we still have much work to do. As long as the government feels that the intention to provide the programs they feel are helpful is enough, we have more work to do.  And, if the belief is that full-blown programs are already available and effective when they are not fulfilling many of the family needs, we have more work to do.  Finally, if programs are rolled out months and even years after the time they were needed, many more families will move far too slowly to successful outcomes.  Or not…

On this Memorial Day, we hope that the Gold Star Families are feeling supported, loved, and affirmed.  Our hearts go out to you.  It is our fervent hope that bureaucracy will give way to the needs and the dreams of the Blue Star Families.  Since wars are not going to end, as a group, we need to focus on logical, field-proven, integrated two-way communication, and peer-mentored programs to guide our newer Wounded Warriors through the every-evolving care system.  We need to firmly acknowledge the role of the family Caregiver as vital to America’s interests.  Caregivers and veterans, on this Memorial Day, please know how honored we at VCG are to be supporting YOU.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Wishing you a Happy Day

I had been thinking of writing another Blog on here but was looking for something cheerful and uplifting. I think we have all had to deal with a long hard winter, struggling with different aspects of the VA, fighting each day for our loved-ones and also, for many of us, the extra stress of flooding, tornadoes and other severe weather related problems.

This morning when I woke, the sun was shining and the sky was a clear blue. I took my dogs and my camera and went for a long walk. I am lucky enough to live in a rural area so in a few minutes I can be surrounded by trees, flowers and water. I know just how soothing and healing this can be. As I know many of you may not be able to get out and enjoy nature like this, I wanted to share my bit of bliss with you.

Not far from my house is a large area that was originally destined to be a building site for a number of new houses. When the housing market slumped, the area was abandoned and nature has taken back her own. I love to ramble over this area, especially to the lake, as a number of birds have made their home there. This morning, I saw to my delight, that a Canada Goose had nested on a tiny island on the lake and appears to be sitting on eggs. She certainly chose a safe place.

If you would like to see my photos, I have loaded them via Flickr, and you can see them here.

My small bit of good news is that the Caregiver Coordinator at our local VA appears to be taking her new job seriously. She has called me several times, just to check up on me, which I find to be comforting. She also talks with my care receiver, which is even better.

I do feel that we caregivers are making progress, even though it is not always apparent. It is a lot of work to keep educating people about who we are and what we do. On the days when I get discouraged, I look back and think of the advances we have made just in the last year. I know we cannot rest on our laurels. We have to keep up the pressure (yes, it is tiring) but small victories are certainly worth sharing.

I wish everyone a peaceful weekend, and if you have the chance, get outside and enjoy a little of what Mother nature has to offer.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Life You Save May Be Your Own

Greetings, friends,

       It has been such a tumultuous two weeks at VCG, which is no surprise given a full moon and a long holiday weekend/week of family, group gatherings and meal, and travels.  Amid the generally accepted positive that holidays may bring, also comes the specter of additional stress and self-analysis.  It has been an especially busy and breakthrough time for caregivers and vets.
      What you don't see online at VeteranCaregiver are the behind-the-scenes direct Caregiving with advocacy, education, and coordination to navigate the system.  These are the innumerable phone calls, the text messages, the emails, and the discussions with many in order to provide solace, support, resource coordination, or actions for veterans and caregivers alike.  The caring is very close to 24/7, and the needs growing. And, as a small sampling of what occurs in the background of VCG, the end of this week was marked by several positive outcomes for two veterans with NO caregivers; those who need to advocate for themselves.  This is a measurable group; can you imagine the load this group carries – often alone?
      The first is a Reserve soldier with a serious TBI who had not received attention for his TBI for four months due to the prioritization of more acute physical injuries. His concerns were great since he could no longer read or write and his intellect and strong vocabulary were working against him in the system.  With half a dozen phone calls, and inquiries, this vet who'd "fallen between the cracks" was now aided by the organizations he didn't know of or how to ask for help.  He needed an advocate, and an existing caregiver called to ask for help on his behalf.  It was readily provided.  Remember, just because organizations exist to help, doesn't mean that there is proactive outreach to do so.  Personal contact and Advocacy made the difference. 
     With permission, below is a personal blog by a soldier who uses the VCG site as her Caregiver, and her site Friends as her safety net.  She is courageous, extremely private, and extraordinarily generous with her thoughts on the need for dynamic support from people who care.  In her own words, here is an excerpt of her thoughts on the challenges each day and the daily choices to fight to live:
       some of the injuries veterans face today are different than wars past.  traumatic brain injury is complicated, may have nary a symptom one day and the next day the same person can not function safely alone.  PTSD is being revisited to this country in a way that hasn't been felt since Vietnam.  loss of limbs and motor function is seen daily from soldiers coming home.  somehow we imagine in the civilian world that 'they' are being looked after.  
       surely we learned something from the 60's.  surely our soldiers now have it different.  yes, there has been some change but the truth is there is yet another population that nobody imagines to think of because the rationalization is that the government is looking after vets and their care.  i can assure you from personal experience that simply is not the case. even that world is give and take, appointments and paperwork, communication and organization.  if you don't possess the faculties or a home address to receive and review, the decisions will be made without examinations to determine the current health of the veteran and  the paperwork simply stops right alongside the 'care'.  
        they assume the last address on file is where you may be reached and if they don't get you there, they don't look. there is a reservoir of patience necessary to deal with this worn out and worn down, overloaded system.  the people who take care with vets and soldiers have to constantly be on guard to file all the right paperwork, keep track of medicines, appointments, reviews, emergencies, and review records to be sure everything gets from point A to B and on down the line to the many places that may be needed for care.  computerizing these systems have actually made it more difficult in my opinion rather than less.  if you don't know WHO to talk to it's a rough road. 
     our world is intricately connected by what we do and what we choose not to do.  every person matters.  caring matters.  love matters.  holding hands matters.  doing something today matters.  if it were you all alone, crying in the night, holding onto the old photo of what used to be, knowing it will never be the same again, what would you do?  how long do you think right now reading this that you could hold up in that pressure no matter your love for the person being cared for?  the difference any of us make is up to us.   the life you save may someday be your own.
"Those who can not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."  George Santayana
~aho mitakuye oyasin~
we are all one
     This week, please consider those seen and unseen on VeteranCaregiver and in the various medical centers and communities who do not know where to go for help, or don't have an advocate to assist them.  We ALL matter in the continuum of care.  Please proactively reach out; extraordinary lives depend upon it!

     Wishing only good ahead for each of you,