Friday, June 24, 2011

Communication is Everything

Greetings, friends,

      This will be short, because the message is clear:  only through direct communication, follow-up, and proactive connection will you be able to gain information you need to forward your Veteran's recovery or your Caregiving challenges.

      Know how to succinctly state what you need before calling the helplines and organizations. If you aren't satisfied, ask for a supervisor.  Some matters may require time to research before a response. Yet, many issues aren't understood due to confusion or semantics, so be clear and fair in what you're requesting.

      Finally, if you call resources and do not receive a callback in a timely fashion, please write them to document the issue.  Let's face it, when you're at your wits end, waiting for days just doesn't work.  Try telling your Vet that the call they expected didn't come yet, and many Caregivers will say that they are now the verbal target. Let us know if you need support and we'll advocate for/with you. 
     Change will only come through education, perseverance, clarity, and follow-through.  We care about making the system work for YOU.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

When is a Business not a Business?

Well, I guess the answer is when it is the VA!

So to add to Linda’s previous and excellent Blog about how to deal with the VA and your Congressman or Woman, I wanted to add the following.

Back last March I contacted our VA over an issue on behalf of the disabled Veteran that I care for. I also forwarded the same information to our Congressman who has been very helpful in the past. I like to keep him in the loop!

As of June first I still had not received any response from the VA, although I did get a response from our Congressman in May, who also sent a copy of the letter that he received from the VA.

I figured that if the Congressman could find the time to answer my communication, then the VA should be able to do the same, so I sent off yet another fax which I followed up with hard copy via mail.

That elicited a phone response from the VAMC, from a man who identified himself as ‘from the executive office’, but he was not, as he was quick to inform me, the actual person who was responsible for dealing with this issue, he was merely a stand-in for him! I felt like responding that the VA’s staffing problems were not my main concern, but I restrained myself with admirable calm.

I did not feel quite so calm when I heard his explanation of why I received no acknowledgement of my communication. He told me that when the VA are contacted by a Veteran and also by a Congressman on any issue, they respond to the Congressman and let him or her respond to the Veteran!!!

In other words, the VA obviously do not feel that the Veteran is deserving of any kind of response or acknowledgement. Aside from any moral aspect of disrespect for the Veteran, this goes against all forms of good business practice, which dictates that if someone take the trouble to contact your business or organization for any reason, the very least they should be able to expect is the courtesy of a response.

The VA are also using the Congressman to do their work for them, namely expecting him or her to act as their secretary and deal with their mail. As our Congressmen are elected by their constituents and are supported by our tax dollars, I find this quite incredible.

Therefore, please be aware that if you should need to contact your VA for any reason, either by letter or fax, you probably also need to send the same information to your Congressman so that at some point in the future, you can expect some kind of third party response.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Hill & Help for Vets/Caregivers

Dear Friends,

     As you know, a part of what VeteranCaregiver does is to contact Congressmen and Senator staff liaisons for Veterans Issues on your behalf, or to start the conversation for a specific issue.  As a constituent (a voting member of your district or state), your state's Congressman or Senator will open a case file and try to assist with the challenge you've identified to them.  There are many kinds of inquiries, but I will just outline the simplest measures to follow in this blog because they've come up recently and we want you to be most effective with your limited time.

     Here are some facts that you should know that will help you:

  • Identify your legislators by using the Tell My Politician feature on VCG; obtain the phone number
  • CALL the Washington, DC Office first and state your need
  • FAX a follow-up letter to the office and also email a response to summarize your request
  • Do not mail letters, as the security precautions for snail mail will delay your inquiry by up to 6 weeks
  • If asked to sign releases, ask what the release is for?  In most cases, you do NOT need to release your medical records in order to have them assist you.  Be prudent, but make the best decision possible to obtain what you need.
  • If you do not hear back within a reasonable time, CALL again; you must remain persistent
     If you support a legislator's efforts on a particular bill or effort identified in a press release (and available on VCG in Hill Notes or the Hearings links), DO write them by email and also on their Facebook pages; social media is used widely to read the "political wind" and to calculate public opinion.

     Know that if you send inquiries to legislators OUTSIDE of your state, that by "professional courtesy", that office will simply send on your inquiry to the Committee staffer for YOUR state area, and you will likely NOT receive a response.  Just this morning, I spoke with a high-ranking member's office about a non-response to one of our Vets/Caregivers, and was told that "we can't respond to all the emails".  As you can imagine, most people receive high volume email, so when you don't hear from them, place a CALL; it will be answered and your issue temporarily moved to the top of the pile.  You will then hear what they have done on your behalf.

     This sounds a great deal like working with the agencies, I know, but please know that these folks are elected and sworn to serve YOU, the constituent.  If you can make the time to call, document, and follow-up, chances are very good that you will receive help.  Make friends with the Veterans Liaison staffer; it's well worth the effort.

     Finally, know that we will continue to advocate for you when the load is just too much - this is a case of multiple contacts, persistence, warmth, caring and follow-up.  Hope this helps some of you just a little bit!  Washington is a world of its own.


Friday, June 10, 2011

VeteranCaregiver/ROR Trip 2

Hi friends,
        Though I couldn't participate in this second ROR trip for couples, the communication has been very good between us, and I will fill you in just a little bit more.  It is evident that Caregivers receive so little time being spouses or parents (without the caregiving), that being provided the opportunity to return to simpler roles and days is life-sustaining.
Again, learning a new set of skills together, be it calming techniques, fly fishing, or just regaining the equilibrium of a more equal relationship away from appointments and obligations seems so therapeutic to our couples. 
        And, since caregivers receive so little recognition (most cannot find the time to make a video, picture or comment for Caregivers Matter! LOL!), having someone else be in charge for four days is restorative. Recreational therapy with a purpose to support caregivers and injured or ill veterans has a place, and hopefully more organizations will recognize the important contribution made when the Caregiver is allowed to be "just" a spouse or parent again.  It is a blessing and a gift!
     Yes, more fish pictures, and it's hard to say what's bigger:  the smiles or the fish!

      Wishing our VCG couples calm waters, lively fish, and many memory revisits ahead!


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

ROR Vets/Caregiver Day 2

Greetings from home,

Day 2 of the Rivers of Recovery Vet/Caregiver Trip was remarkable from the first morning breathing/yoga exercise forward.  These couples had taken advantage of the beautiful scenery, the renewed connection with each other, and the confidence of the previous day’s successes.  For each couple, the second day was calmer, the comaraderie stronger, and the smiles just unsuppressable.  And, the fish kept biting. Even for me:  :-)  LOL!

In watching the ROR process unfold, and while data is collected to quantify the research results, there was no waiting for personal observations.  Each couple was visibly more relaxed, their interaction was quick, humorous, and kind – and sleep had come easily for the first time in a long time.  As the second day concluded by the firepit under the dark, unspoiled nightscape, the participants all spoke of how they had new tools, new techniques, and new confidence in being able to help one another with stressful situations in the future.  My favorite vet, who has suffered especially severe injuries and often debilitating PTSD was the most changed.  He stood up with a huge grin after dinner, and said with great enthusiasm, “My anxiety is gone – it’s just gone!”.  He was awed at the change in himself.  And, his Caregiver was overjoyed with the lifting of her 24/7 care for these days – now that’s priceless…

We're also glad to report that the return home also went smoothly, and each couple voiced their enthusiasm for returning as a guest guide next summer.  Conclusion:  learn and share multiple new skills together, spend time in nature’s glory, interact with those that understand, and depart with coping skills to “bring back” the serenity and laughter shared. Trip 2 begins today and the new participants headed off for a strong start yesterday. 

Good stuff –


Saturday, June 4, 2011

Green River - Day 1

Greetings from a mile up,

Today marked the first day on the Green River for the Vet/Caregiver couples.    This is not a couples retreat, nor is this venture merely  a fishing trip.  This collaboration is being studied intensely to determine which aspects of this innovative, tailored program best manage to help diminish and sustain PTSD progress to assist couples.  Combat PTSD, as you know is often very stressful on both people in the relationship.  With the prevalence of PTSD in the news this week estimated at 95% of all OIF/OEF vets, programs that are able to help both vet and caregiver are crucial.
And, while nearly all relationships could benefit from being together in a beautiful place, ROR is taking great care to study and analyze best practices in providing fun AND practical tools that can be used upon returning home to diminish and/or to manage PTSD symptoms.  Regaining the peace provided during the trip can then be returned to again and again.  This unique experience also gives both partners the ability to support each other when stressful times arise.  And, when couples support their experiences more closely and with strengthened connection, it is possible to regain improved quality of life.  

This is an experience that taps into all five senses, and brings visible calm, joy and laughter within minutes.  This a serious effort to make a difference in the use of recreational therapy that goes beyond the trip experience.  And, it works.

The Green River was fast today, and each couple caught multiple fish for a day total of 28 fish in this catch and release program!  (BTW, when a fish cannot be brought into the boat, it is called a "remote release"!)  :)  Below, one of the couples and their guide:

Suffice it to say that the crew from today is smiling, pleasantly tired, and looking forward to tomorrow.

It’s good to know that not all research is dry (no pun intended!), boring, or academic, and that progress is being made!  Better yet, that ROR is focusing on caregivers and acknowledge the vital role you play in bringing the best quality of life  to vets and families. 

Bravo and thanks to ROR!


Friday, June 3, 2011

VCG & Rivers of Recovery Journey to Well Being


Rivers of Recovery and VeteranCaregiver have joined forces to bring this proven and remarkable recreational therapy program to 12 veterans and their caregivers.  Yesterday marked the beginning of the first 4-day program with a pickup of half the group at the Salt Lake City airport, where it was wonderful to meet folks we only knew through interaction here at VCG.  Matching faces with names was a pleasure!

We then embarked on a 3.5 hour drive northeast of Salt Lake City, driving through beautiful country, complete with snow-capped peaks, rolling hills, verdant valleys (I always wanted to write the word "verdant" in a sentence!), and arrived in the small but remarkable town of Dutch John, Utah, population 80.  We settled in for a great dinner and lots of fellowship, with the preface by Dan Cook, the founder of Rivers of Recovery that we would be on the Green River tomorrow, absorbing and appreciating with all our senses the beauty and fun of this gorgeous location by 8am.  Included in the morning and evening would also be specific relaxation tools, sessions one on one with a remarkable recreational therapy staff, and in conjunction with medical leadership at the highest levels.

For most, this was a challenging day just getting on a plane and embarking on this journey.  Yet, we know that neither veterans nor our remarkable caregivers lack for courage.  Stepping into new situations, trusting those they don't know in a new situation, and opening up to new experience is a valiant step.  For those of you picturing warm temps and calm blue water -- well, it's very chilly a mile up, and the clothing is layered for the high of 52 and a low of 39.

It's going to be a good day!  Pictures to come --