Thursday, August 18, 2011

Have You Experienced 'The Shrug'?

Greetings, friends,

If actions speak louder than words, it appears the road ahead is rocky indeed. However, there IS hope if we persist in idea exchange and candid communication.

In this context, The Shrug is the non-verbal equivalent of "whatever". Every example below comes directly from VCG families.  Do you recognize any of the following examples of The Shrug as you've traveled the Care Continuum? 

You're a caregiver for an active duty service member (DoD side) and after a year, you don't have a stable Triad, you are chastised for missing appointments you didn't know about, and you work to dress your soldier with severe pain and depression for morning formation, and when you ask why? Shrug.

As the Caregiver, you're moving into the rehabilitation phase of the service member's injury. You have no Comprehensive Care Plan, your daily load is very heavy, and you're living at the hospital/medical center with your spouse, adult child, sibling. You may be a single service member and you lack a Caregiver to advocate for you and your visible and invisible injuries. Both of you ask for help or resources that don't function as the brochure, website, or briefing said they would. Shrug.

As the Caregiver, you're trying to make ends meet, you've lost your job (by email), the household bills don't stop, and you're full-time caregiving while living away from the home you're trying to keep, children who need to start school in a week, and you ask for assistance. Very little exists unless you fit a particular set of circumstances for a specific NPO. Shrug. If you are in the DC area, also get ready to move with your service member to a new facility where you begin anew and now need to carry a map along with the new staff. Shrug.

As the Caregiver, you're finally home and in the VA system, your Vet has serious medical and emotional conditions and you know you cannot work, nor are you finding it smoother to communicate with the new medical professionals at the VA Medical Center. You're still requesting a Comprehensive Care Plan... You are now an expert at leaving voicemail and writing succinct emails. Shrug. The bills continue to mount, the ratings and funds are greatly delayed, your family wonders why you put up with your spouse or child's now-unfiltered behavior (PTSD/TBI), and your neighbors forgot you after the welcome home cookout. Shrug.

As the Caregiver, you're home after a serious suicide attempt by your Vet, you have sheltered your children or other family, but now those invisible wounds of war are exposed -- and you're really very scared and scarred yourself. Your calls to various coordinators are not returned for many days and when they are, they are either unable to assist or cannot until/unless you fill out more or duplicative paperwork. HIPAA is used as a barrier when you hold the medical and general POA's for your Vet. The helplines you call refer you to your local facilities, but you've already been down that road, or why would you call them? Shrug.

Continuing on, your Veteran is angry and depressed at the caregiving toll on you. Or, the Vet could also be angry with you for not making their world what it once was. (BTW, no one could ever fit in those tight shoes...) Personal counseling is impossible to schedule with your caregiving responsibilities, though you now feel as though you have secondary PTSD/anxiety/depression. Your world is closing in on you and you're merely coping, numb, or ready to quit. You have enlisted a good VSO, your state Dept. of VA, and your U.S. Senator and Congressman, and the machinations still go in a circle. You are adrift, feel overwhelmed, a wee bit furious, and very, very exhausted. Shrugs aplenty.

You're a single Veteran and you have done your level best to find a way to quietly obtain information, care, and resume your life to the best of your ability. You advocate for yourself and you feel isolated and forgotten. You may have experienced MST, homelessness, loss of your buddies, your ability to return to work or school, and you aren't sure who you really are anymore. Unreturned calls, ignored pleas for help, and a shrunken world only reinforce your perception of being "disposable". Shrug?

Most of life's successes result from great communication. So too the worst failures.

Let's replace The Shrug with respectful, two-way communication and understanding, shall we?  With open minds, logic, and compassionate care, this change is very possible.  Here's working toward that change together!



  1. Respect! Communication! Understanding! Sorry not in the same world as the VA. In our world here at VCG yes these things flourish and are often the only thing between us and total despair.
    As human beings I believe we are all entitled to respect and understanding. In the world of the Government, of which VA is part, a request for help is immediately seen as the need for a form or several forms, in triplicate, and if there is no form for your particular problem, then a study is needed to see if a new form is required. No form equals no problem. Actually it would be easier to deal with R2D2 or Spock where we would not even expect any human feelings.
    The Shrug is another way to Pass the Buck - in effect saying, I cannot help you, fill out a form, go away, not my problem or any or all of the above.
    Here at VCG we do not Shrug at one another. We do not say 'whatever' and we do not indicate that someone with a problem should go away. This is why the VA can never match up to what we have here on VCG.

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