Today I am grateful to celebrate Chaz's 8th month Alive day with an incredible family. Today is the Verra family's one year Alive day. To me the Alive Day is such an important day to celebrate! We wish we didn't have the 22nd in common with them, but if Chaz and Anthony were not injured we might not have ever met. We are so blessed to know this incredible family. We are so thankful that we have been able to heal together!!! Happy Alive Day Verras, I hope you have an incredible day!!!! I know this Sept 22nd will be way better than Sept 22, 2010!
Watch out kids, it's soapbox time!! Or as I have learned it's really time to pull back the curtain and see the Wizard of Oz. To me this whole experience is so eye opening. I want to educate people on what all we go through so maybe just maybe we can help one (or I hope many more) families. I am only referring to what I know as an Army spouse. I am not sure of the policies and procedures of the other branches (Navy, Marines, Air Force) except for a few things, which I will touch on. My granddaddy always told me if I was going to waste my time complaining about something, then I need to make up for wasted time by trying to fix it. I see something that desperately needs to be fixed!
When your solider is injured the Army invites the primary contact and two other persons (usually the secondary contacts) to come and join them at the military treatment facility to help care for that soldier. So the Army invited me and Chaz's Mom and Dad when he was injured. The casualty affairs office arranges for your first flight and hotel accommodations. You are granted one round trip plane ticket every 60 days. Your hotel room is yours as long as you remain in the area. If you leave you must sign out and back in and request a new room each time. You are also each granted a per diem pay of $71 per day that you are there helping the soldier. This is all awesome, because you need all of this to be taken care of when all of this goes down. Every time I left the area I filled out paperwork to leave and come back. Thank goodness, I am a paperwork friendly person. But please keep in mind the only contract I have ever signed was my DEERS (Defense registration) when I got married. I have signed vouchers for pay, but I have never entered into a contract for service to the Department of Defense nor Army.
All of these initial benefits stay in place while your soldier is still in their initial inpatient stay at their treatment facility. When they discharge, someone must be assigned as their NMA (Non-Medical Attendant) for our situation that was me. So Chaz's parents orders were terminated and if they want to visit Chaz it's on their dime now. (By the way, they live in Oklahoma, so popping by for a visit is not an option and is not cheap). My new orders stated that I was ordered to stay with Chaz in his outpatient housing situation to care for his needs and would continue the $71 per day payment since I was being displaced from my home of record. Once again no type of contract was signed, therefore the Army is allowed to terminate it at any time. I don't normally discuss money, because I feel it is too personal, but I think now I need to speak out and you'll discover why.
As of yesterday, my NMA orders have been cancelled because my soldier has been assigned here to Bethesda. Prior to yesterday he was assigned to Fort Campbell KY and attached to Walter Reed, then Bethesda for medical treatment. There's a big difference between attached and assigned. Yesterday I was informed that now I am just a dependent. I was also informed that technically since he is assigned here, his need for an NMA goes away according to policy because I am listed as his primary dependent I am expected to relocate and take care of him. I have two news flashes first I have been a dependent for military purposes for over ten years. And second Chaz will ALWAYS need an NMA. He is an above the knee double amputee with a fused right arm. His need for me is not going away any time soon. I guess the Army is trying to tell me I can leave now, but then to come back?! So I've been here off and on since January 26th taking care of Chaz, but now that a piece of paper says he's assigned to Bethesda, his needs have instantly changed? Funny, his legs and arm haven't instantly healed or grown back. I'm confused and you know what's even funny so are the people who gave me this information. I cannot get a concrete answer, because no one knows.
Here's my problem with all of this; what about all the parents, siblings and friends who gave up their full time jobs to come take care of a soldier? When their soldiers are assigned they also lose the compensation. I am lucky because I get medical insurance because I was already a dependent, but what about the non-dependents? That's right, they are screwed!
Chaz and I are also lucky we have been debt free (except for the house and car) since we were 23. We have always lived on Chaz's pay only and any income I bring in goes towards our extras. But what about the others? What about the ones who left their full time jobs to care for these soldiers? The Family Medical Leave Act only covers people for so long. I met a mom that ran out of the FMLA option and then lost her job, so now her daughter supports her. Her daughter is only a SPC, that rank is two ranks below Chaz and DC is freaking expensive. There is no cost of living adjustment for living here and no adjustment for her to support her mom.
What did I do with my per diem? All of it, yes, all of it is in the bank collecting interest because we have a house to build. Can our family survive without me collecting that per diem? Oh yes, we can because I never used it anyway. But what about the others?! I am going to be very blunt here. Our government needs to wake up! We did not ask for these soldiers to deploy, we did not want to drop everything we were doing to come take care of these guys. We all came as soon as possible because we support our soldiers out of love! We sacrifice for them because we love them! Our government ordered the soldiers to serve and they did it. Now the families are being asked to clean up the government's messes. Some of these families are having a very, very hard time in so many facets. The psychological effects of all of this is enough to clean up. The government has put a big burden on our shoulders and the very least they can do is provide caregivers with insurance, compensation and a GS (government service) level or certifications for their resumes if they ever can return to work. I have learned more in the past eight months about the medical field then I ever cared to learn, but I cannot put that on a resume, I can only say I did it. So why not extend certifications to the families so we have something to use later? Why not extend Tricare to any caregiver that must remain to care for an active duty soldier?
Yes there's the new VA Caregiver program. That program is only for caregivers who care for persons in the VA system. Therefore those of us supporting someone on active duty do not qualify. Those of us in my similar situation are stuck with nada!
I am lucky because I was already a dependent going into this. Chaz has received amazing medical care, but the bureaucracy component needs to be reexamined. As we are traveling on this journey I have seen many things that need to be repaired. I know others share my opinions, but they are scared to speak up. Well my give damn, broke a long time ago! So I am calling for our elected officials to advocate for the families who are caring for the soldiers they ordered to war. If you going to create a war, then you are going pay for the effects of that war.
President Eisenhower warned us about creating the military industrial complex. I have news for you all. We have created it, we did not heed his warnings at all. If you are going to create it then you need to accept responsibility for it. The families of our soldiers are our governments responsibility. It is time to rip that band aid off and see the damage you have done and let's try to fix it together. We are all really intelligent people and we have reasonable solutions if you will just listen to us.