Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Bathrooms and Education

The biggest story I am seeing right now is about who uses the public bathrooms.

Let me tell you what I worry about when I go into a public restroom. I worry about the bathroom being clean and if there's toilet paper available when I need it. That's it.

What do I worry about when our children use a public bathroom...the exact same thing. Why?! Because I don't let them go alone. I am right there with them. And guess what....I have always worried about them being in public bathrooms. Why?! Because there are people out there who will hurt our kids.

Our girls are 10 and 13, and I still do not let them go to a public bathroom alone. Call me overprotective, I do not care. They are mine and I will protect them. When we travel, I stick to Starbucks and a few gas stations chains because I know the cleanliness level I will be dealing with. I even use my Starbucks app to find the bathroom sometimes. For safety reasons, I also prefer the large open single bathrooms rather than the big ones with several stalls. This is mainly because I can have eyes on my girls the entire time and I control who is in the bathroom with them.

Want to know what a much larger issue is....the state of our education systems! I am still waiting on the equal level of outrage.....looks like I'll be waiting a while.

Our children are being taught to test to take the test to take the test to (wait for it) take the test. And now in Tennessee our wise leaders have now cancelled the test. They dumped over one million tax dollars into a testing system that show us what exactly?! I am not sure, but I know our teachers were going to be held "accountable" for their students' performance. But wait, we'll never know what that means and what our children were going to learn from this massive "investment" because (wait for it) they cancelled the testing.

So teachers, students, administration and staff, you spent the entire year preparing....whoops, sorry about that. Teachers, you poured so much time and effort into planning and teaching for these exams rather than teaching like you always wanted to, whoops, the state just said, "My bad."

Kids, y'all have tested to test to test to test. You are now so full of anxiety you cry to your parents and some of you are even seeking treatment for the unnecessary stress of it all. Some of you don't even want to go to school because of all of this testing. Turns out our state was just pushing you to see how you would cope. I hope you survived their test without needing a prescription. 

I can only speak for the state of Tennessee because that is the system our girls are in, but I know this issue is not exclusive to our state. Kids everywhere are developing anxiety and other stress related medical conditions thanks to the insane amount of testing they have to go through. We are setting the kids up for failure, but we are not outraged about it.

Our teachers are NOT being listened to at all. Let me assure teachers do not teach for the money, the fame, or the summers off. They teach because they were called to teach. The teachers I have been privileged to receive my education from and those who are teaching our children are amazing and they are deserve our respect. Our state just basically showed us they are oblivious to the needs of our children and educators. To me, the state told the teachers that this year they did not care about them teaching, they wanted test results. To me, this entire school year was a waste of time and who knows what damage it will have on our kids.

Apparently the state didn't think to test drive the (one million dollar plus) testing system because it crashed upon going live and then they ordered the kids to paper tests. Apparently they didn't think that through either because they couldn't get the tests out to the schools and the schools that received the tests received incomplete tests and/or the tests were assembled in the wrong order.

What a disaster, disaster, disaster we have on our hands. Time has been wasted and our educators and children are the victims. Our communities will suffer for it in the long run. And what has the state said you ask, the word "whoops" about sums it up.

They used our tax dollars on this system that was supposed to do something for our children. I am still looking for exactly what it was supposed to do. The only thing I have seen is stress, stress and more stress in our girls. As a parent, I am horrified at what our state has done to our education system this year. I feel that the Governor should clean house. I propose that he put actual educators in there to fix this mess ASAP! I would hope real educators wouldn't burn a million dollars on something as ludicrous as this debacle.

Here's the thing with the bathrooms. You have the right to boycott the establishments, make sure and do your business at home only, and various other options. You can end that issue with your individual actions.

Our schools are an entirely separate issue. These kids are our future leaders, doctors, teachers, and citizens and they are being screwed!! Where is the outrage over our children being put on an assembly line and experimented on? Where is the outrage over our teachers spending an entire freaking school year teaching a test because that is what the state said to do?!

When you get out into the real world you do not spend a year preparing to take a test to take a test to take a test year after year after year like what our school systems are forced to make our children do. Life is full of tests, but amazingly bubble sheets don't randomly appear.

We are setting these kids up for failure in life, but making sure the right person uses the right bathroom appears to be a higher priority. I guess I shouldn't confess I have used a few bathrooms marked for men, because I could not hold it any longer. I am so glad laws dictating against that didn't exist then, because I would have totally have went to jail a few times in my past. ;)

Monday, February 22, 2016

Red Tape Diary #5: New Patient

Chaz has been seen at the Murfreesboro VA for over three years now. Once a year we go in for his yearly check in. He called last week to make his appointment to find out his PCM (Primary Care Manager) left the VA in December.

Were we notified? No.
Was he reassigned to a new PCM? No

We only happened to find out because we were being compliant by calling in for a yearly appointment. When Chaz attempted to make his appointment, he was informed that he has to now go through a "New Patient Exam." I probably laughed more than a person should. I looked at him and said something to the effect of you are a new patient when you go to a new practice not when the practice forgets about you and doesn't know how to transfer files.

Here's my problem with all of this. Chaz was a "new patient" in January 2013 when he had his first exam at the VA. He has been reassigned to new providers in the past and never was required to start again as a "new patient." Actually this will be his third PCM since we entered the VA. With this one, they only see "new patients" on certain days and only at 10am and 1pm on those days. Chaz can't be seen until the end of March.

What happens if he needs medical care prior to that date? He should go to the VA's urgent care or ER and get in line there.

And now I am done....Our 100 % permanently and totally disabled wounded are required to also take Medicare and have Tricare for Life so they can see civilian providers. That will be happening this week. We will seek a civilian PCM to care for him. Someone that he can build a relationship of care and trust with. We may have to shop around, but when Chaz becomes a "new patient" it will actually be warranted. We would love to use Chaz's free health care at the VA, but we'll just use the Medicare we have to pay for. After all they say you get what you pay for.

Murfreesboro VA we tried. We worked with you. We gave you the benefit of the doubt, but now we are out of patience with you. The red tape is exhausting. And now you just pushed the starting line back again. How many more times are you going to make our wounded restart their journey to healing? How many more times do they have to rehash events and injuries with new PCMs and attempt to develop a relationship only for you to make them start all over again? Don't worry I'll be there at the "new patient" appointment with him so I can meet the newest person who will probably only stick around for a year, maybe 18 months if we're lucky. I am sure this person will be as nice as the last, but we will just be in check the box mode, because we know they'll leave too.

We have actually liked our providers there, but we feel it's pointless to continue going there where the faces are just going to change. We need continuity of care. We do not get that with the VA. No we get whoever can see him when he's there. Keeping up with all of names is exhausting. This is where I am thankful for all the paperwork I keep because how else could we keep up with all the names?!

I keep reading and hearing that the VA wants to be the veteran's choice for service. Well if you want to achieve that goal you seriously need to get to work. Our families have trust issues and you are not helping by putting us on a carousel of care, where we get whoever stops the ride. We need the spinning to stop. We need people we can trust. We need care. VA you need to do better!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Caregivers and Income Tax Filing

I have had numerous requests to blog about this topic so here we go.....

Let me state my qualifications on this topic.
The topic of income tax in the wounded world is often very confusing. Many do not understand a few key concepts that can make you income tax filing a bit easier or even eliminate the need for you to file. I fully acknowledge that you need a translator to understand the IRS at times. Let me help with a bit of the translation. (Please take note I have linked sites to many items listed.)

Let's start with income itself. We have two categories: earned and unearned.
  • Earned income simply means you have actually worked a job of some sort and received payment from working. You will receive a W2 or 1099 MISC from this income. If you are running your own business, you will need a detailed log of your income and expenses in order to report them. 
  • Unearned income simply means the income came to you through passive means, meaning you did not work to receive it. The most common type of unearned income I see comes from interest earned from savings accounts and/or social security.
In the caregiver world here are the sources of income that primarily concern us.
These sources of income are non-taxable and are unearned income. Social Security Income only becomes taxable when your earned income exceeds the limits set by the Social Security Administration. However even if your SSI is taxable it is still unearned income and will not be considered for tax credits.

Now let me post a few questions that are frequently asked.

What if my child(ren) receive Social Security?
Here's a great link that will go into further detail, but usually the child's social security income is not reported on an income tax return.

How do I receive Child Tax Credit and/or Additional Child Tax Credit?
You must first have earned income to be eligible for the credit. If you have earned income, then the credit will be calculated based on that income and the amount of qualifying child(ren) you have. Unearned Income will not qualify you for this credit.

How do I receive Earned Income Tax Credit?
Like Child Tax Credit you must have earned income to be eligible for the credit. If you have earned income, the credit will be calculated based on that income and the amount of qualifying child(ren) you have. Unearned Income will not qualify you for this credit.

How does the Affordable Care Act impact us?
Everyone must either have health care coverage or meet the requirements for an exemption. If you do not have coverage or meet the exemption then you are assessed a penalty on your income tax return. If you have only unearned income, then you will meet the requirements for an exemption. If you have Tricare, Champ VA, or other health care coverage, you will receive your 1095 form from your company for you to show your tax professional and to keep in your records.

Do we need to file a tax return?!
Visit this IRS link to find out or contact a professional.

Please remember every income tax filing situation is fact dependent. It is always best to consult a professional with any additional questions. Here are a few links to help you find a professional.
Best wishes on your tax filing! May the odds be ever in your favor!
Jessica Allen, AFC

Friday, January 22, 2016

5 Years Ago.....

Five years ago the morning of January 22nd was so normal when it started.

Five years ago I was just another Army wife trying to get through another deployment on her own.

Five years ago our girls were 5 and 8.

Five years ago my husband was just another soldier on a routine patrol. 

Five years ago our journey began....

I have learned so much in the past five years. I have learned about myself, my character, my ethics, my heart, and my strength. I have learned that God sure knew what he was doing went he put my husband on my path. I have learned that our children are absolutely amazing. I have learned about the art of medicine. I have learned that love can really conquer all. I have learned normal doesn't really exist. And I have learned healing from the wounds of war doesn't get better, it just gets different.

I am very proud of our family's journey. We have been through a lot. We have seen a lot. And we have been blessed more than I can say. 

Everyone's journey is different. I know some have not approved of decisions we have made along the way. Maybe they were right, maybe they were wrong. One thing is for sure we made the decisions that we felt were best for the four of us.

Our journey isn't about one person; it is about our family healing together. Sure my husband was the one who stepped on the bomb and has the most visible injuries. However, others so quickly forget the wounds in the heart and mind that they cannot see. And they seldom look beyond the chair or the prosthetic legs.

When I saw my husband for the first time, I immediately noticed his legs were missing and all of the machines he was attached to. Do you know what I remember the most about that moment? The look he gave me when I walked into the room. He needed someone who loved him to tell him it was all going to be ok. That was my job on that day and it is still my job each and everyday that he or the girls need it.

This journey is never easy. As soon as one fire is put out, two more pop up. Dealing with the mounds of paperwork and drama is absolutely exhausting. I often wonder how I am not an alcoholic by now. However every January 22nd I am reminded that no matter what fire comes our way, I can remember all we have overcome since that day in 2011. These memories show me that together we can overcome anything that comes our way!

Friday, January 1, 2016

I Don't Know How You Do It?!

My title is a sentence that is said to me so often I have lost count. I thought I would give the cliff notes version of my daily schedule.
  1. I get up at 4:30am Monday to Friday. On weekends I am up in the 5am hour. Why?! Because I need a good 30 minutes with my own brain before I add in any other brains into my day. 
  2. The first thing I do is consume my vitamin drink then I follow it with one half of a lemon squeezed into 2 cups of warm water. I get my breakfast ready (usually a poached egg with one piece of toast and a cup of chai) and make my way to my desk.
  3. One weekdays I am working by 5am. Why?! Because no one answers their emails that early. I get so much done between 5-6. I even amaze myself sometimes.
  4. Kids get first wake up call at 6. They have to be at school by 730. First call is at 6, then serious wake up call is 630. We have learned that rather than rushing and panicking (which still happens sometimes) we do the multiple calls to get them moving. At some point hubby is up and moving so then this is where the me going in a gazillion directions kicks in. 
  5. Once the girls are up and moving and/or at or off to school (we take turns driving them) I look at the board to see what we are doing for dinner. I live by the crockpot. My mother says our home is where crockpots go to die. I have to admit she is correct. I kill at least one crockpot per year. 
  6. Then I am back to work. I spend my days bouncing between work, hubby's needs, cleaning and whatever else gets tossed in. It is really crazy, but I do find time to take a lunch break with my hubby as many times during the week as possible.
  7. Kids are back home in the 3pm hour. It's homework, extra curricular activities, and chill/snack time. I try my hardest to have all of my work completed by 3. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail. My ultimate goal is to give the girls as much of my time as possible since they have been gone all day.
  8. Dinner is served in the 5-6pm hour. 
  9. Then it's reading, baths, snacks and bed.On school nights everyone here is in bed by 8. I am usually the first one out, but 8 is our shut down and be quiet time.

Do I think everyone needs to be up at 430am? No, this is just what works for me and our home. While the first 4 hours of our day Monday-Friday are basically the same, no day is ever the same around here. We tend to stick to this format, but life happens and sometimes our format gets tossed right out the window. When we are on vaca, I usually stick pretty close to the up in the 5am hour, but everything else is up in the air. I am a creature of habit and function best on a schedule, but I do love vaca!!

As you can see I carpe that diem, then sleep, and repeat. There are 24 hours in each day, I am highly selective on which ones I chose to use as pause time. You are correct to assume I received excellent marks in school for time management. Ha!!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The More You Know......

2015 will be the year I wish I knew less. I always joke about the NBC "The More You Know" banner that would run after they enlightened our country about an issue of some sort when I was growing up. As I have learned things this year, you could hear me saying "The More You Know" and could imagine my own NBC banner with the rainbow star coming across. But as I get older, I find that sometimes I wish I knew less.

I miss my happy bubble. I miss thinking that our government took true care of the veterans they chose to send straight into harms way. I miss thinking that everyone cared about other people. I miss thinking that everyone could see past the end of their own nose. I miss thinking that a person's word truly meant something. I miss promises made were actually promises filled.

2015 brought us another roller coaster year. We had another 12 months of twists and turns. We held on and we have made it through....again. (We're getting pretty good at this roller coaster thing.)

How did we make it through?! Because we have made the peace with the fact that we are on our own. The white horse is not coming. Promise makers have their own lives and over commit. We acknowledge life just happens. People forget they even made commitments and promises. We fully embrace the fight for the wounded never, ever ends and truly only the wounded and those who fight with them know the battle continues.

What does that mean for us?! It simply means things will get done when we get to them. We can either sit down and count all the things people never followed through with or we can make a list of what needs to be done and sketch them all out in 2016. We chose the later.  

This year we learned that we will focus on the few amazing people who were brought into our lives rather than focusing on the turds that need to be smacked in the face a few times with a hard object. There was so much positive in this year, we will choose to focus on that rather than the negative that attempted to take root and tried to ruin our happy. 

Let's highlight some of that awesomeness.....

  • We now have this amazing home that Chaz can get around in with almost zero difficulties!!! That in itself is huge for us! For years we have waited for him to have freedom like we have now.
  • The girls chose to go back to school. Their school is fabulous and we are all very happy with the choice.
  • I have been granted some greatness with my job at YRF for 2016. Lots and lots and lots of planning, research and work has gone into what we are launching. I am thrilled over it. 
See three awesome things. Boom! There there's the super, duper short list and we close 2015 and welcome 2016 with open arms!!

2015 was not a bad year, it was just another year of hard lessons that had to be learned. We will take our lessons, combine that with our faith and keep moving forward. Bring on a new year!!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Elfin' Fun

It cracks me up to see what polarizes people these days. It's like we have to be on a side of every issue. Sometimes we make an issue out of the issue. Take the Elf on a Shelf for example.....

I have had people tell me they hate that we participate in such foolishness. Then I have friends text me, scolding me for forgetting to post pics of what our elves are up to....whoops that just reminded me....

We invited the elves into our home in 2011. Why?! Because our life kinda sucked then. We were still dealing with Walter Reed and trying to heal and hit set-back after set-back. Our girls missed their friends. We all wanted to just move on and go home. We were stuck in the blahs. We needed to have some true fun. Yes, it is that simple.

Why have we continued? Because it's fun! Our little family of four enjoys having the elves for the short time they are here. 

Our elves do not tattle on our kids to Santa. Our girls know the true meaning of Christmas. For us the elves are just a way to make the holiday season even more joyous and fun. Seriously, it's that simple. There is no underlying theory of destruction of the true meaning of any holiday or religion, nor are we supporting the theory of perpetuating a police state. It's just simple fun!!

I believe we could all use a little more fun in our lives. Sometimes life really sucks and it kicks your ass. And when you are a child trapped in a situation that most adults can't handle, you deserve a little bit of fun every once in a while. Sure there are lots of other ways to have fun, this is just one way we have fun in our home. It's just simple, harmless fun.

Here's the thing with the elves....if you want to do it, do it. Have fun with it and don't let anyone spoil it for you. If you think it is silly and you don't want to do it, don't. But don't be a Grinch and ruin another person's joy because you disagree. It's just that simple. ;)