This past weekend I had a few conversations with a few people. One of which read my blog the next day and reached out to me to help. Her hubby has a very important rank so upon reading my blog and reading about our journey he called a very important meeting with the Joint Chiefs. It turns out at the same time some people were also researching Chaz and I. Then Monday I get a phone call from General Pete Chiarelli. He said that he had heard and read we had a few problems on our journey and at Bethesda. I said yes we have. He then asked if I would come to the Pentagon Wednesday at 9 to discuss these problems and that he wanted to help me with them. I of course immediately said yes. I was beyond excited to get a entire hour with the Vice Chief!
Later that night a CSM (Command Sergent Major) calls me to discuss the agenda. He and I talked for a really, really long time. He said of my gosh I am beyond excited about this meeting. You know exactly what these families need. I laid out to him the things I felt were the most important to fix immediately and then a secondary list and then we talked about the things I knew they already knew were being worked on.
Tuesday turned into a very interesting day. Ever want to scare the crap out of a ton of Army personnel?! Let the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army call a meeting with you, a simple Staff Sergent's wife. My cell phone rang off the hook Tuesday. I still have not checked all the voice mails yet. Everyone wanted to make sure any problems we had with them were resolved or if there were any they could address now and not bother the General with them. My personal favorite was the CSM of our WTB. He was absolutely panicking. He stopped Chaz and I and made sure that Chaz knew where I was going and how big a deal it was. Then he told me several times that I cannot be late. Then he wanted to provide me a van and a driver to get to the Pentagon on time. I told him I would not waste the Army resources and that I was going to ride the Metro. The General's staff even told me that was the best way to come. As I rode the Metro over and back I saw exactly why. That traffic was crazy!!
I arrived (early of course) and was escorted by my very own Lt Colonel. That was kind of cool. He was really friendly and nice. We talked about why I was there and he told me that there are many people excited about the meeting. FYI: The Pentagon is freaking huge!!! And the Army's hallway is beautiful. It's full of offices and then display cases of the Army's history. It was very cool to see that.
Just before 9am arrived I was greeted by General Williams and CSM Scott who are with the WTB. They run the entire WTB, not just the components. We had a delightful chat. We talked about where was I from what were our future plans, etc, etc. Then we were called into the General's office.
We all sat around a round table. The General told me he was there to listen so to fire away. I first of all thanked him for his time. I know time is an extremely valuable commodity. Everyone's time is precious, especially the time of a high ranking man in the US Army and the people that surround him. He wanted to know what was scribbled on my yellow pad. I totally don't remember what we talked about first, nor the order it came in but it was an hour filled with conversation. It was amazingly optimistic and productive.
We talked about how the Army has a "death" card. The soldiers fill this out so that way if anything happens their last wishes will be completed for them. The problem is we don't have an "in case I am wounded" card. So DA Casualty refers to the death card to decide who gets put on orders to meet the soldier when they are injured. If they don't have the death card they just refer to their next of kin. Here's the problem of that. Just because you want a flag to be presented to someone upon your death while in service to our country doesn't mean you want them by your bedside when you are gravely injured. I have watched fights and screaming matches at the hospital over a soldiers' care. I know of a soldier who was in a coma. The Army authorized his biological father to come up to DC on orders. The soldier hadn't seen his father in over a decade. Every time the father came near the soldier, the soldier blood pressure spiked, not just a bit, it was substantial. Remember the soldier was in a coma. The mother pointed it out and they had the father stay out until the soldier woke up. Another time a soldier's current wife showed up with him in a coma and when he woke up he demanded that she leave. He informed the Army that they were filing for a divorce due to her infidelity while on deployment. He also questioned the policy on who to have sent to the bedside. I have a ton of these stories!!! I mean a ton! So for the welfare of these soldiers we need to address the notification policy and who gets sent to the bedside and it needs to be at the soldiers request, not the Army's. If we have a form that the soldier could fill out like the death card this would help minimize the issue. I know we will still have incidents, but we can isolate them with proper planning.
I told them how our girls don't want to be at the hospital. They like WTB thanks to our chain of command. They like the SFAC because they have a bookshelf to play with and they like to visit the in-patients, because they like passing out goodies. But they don't want to be in the hospital. They don't feel welcome. I haven't found a way to make that part better yet. As you know I am very creative, but until we get some children friendly areas in the hospital I will not win that battle with the girls. It is getting better, because we take them there and we find other positive families to be around. But we still don't have a playground for them. It's sitting in storage. The lack of the non-profits presence also has a big impact on this too.
We also discussed that the SFAC (Soldier-Family Assistance Center) is under staffed. I came to this realization after discussing with a friend about the SFAC deciding that now in-patients only are to get benefits from The Yellow Ribbon Fund, Hero Miles, etc. The SFAC has only a few people to handle all of our patients throughout the hospital. So I think to help them handle the flow better they are deterring the out-patients from applying for benefits. Let me tell you first hand the needs for assistance for the in and out-patient is still there. I told them that when you are an in-patient you are not in the mood for a thousand people to come by. So to limit these benefits to the in-patients only is absolutely unacceptable. I have contacted the organizations. They serve ALL branches and ALL patient status. This is an SFAC limitation that is unnecessary and needs to be addressed immediately. The SFAC does not need to control who benefits from the organizations. The organizations are created to help. They have their own limitations and the SFAC needs to only serve as the intermediary between the patients and organizations. The SFAC is a great resource for our families. But if you give the families the impression that you won't help them because they are out-patients then you will add to their frustration and stress level. So my solution is help the SFAC by providing them with more staff. I feel they are grossly understaffed. I think if they had at least 3 more people then it would help them serve the families more efficiently.
In addition I told him the only visible non-profits we have at Bethesda is Red Cross, Fisher House and Wounded Warrior. It is crucial we get these non-profits into the hospital immediately. Our soldiers need to be reminded how much Americans love and support them. Non-profits embody the American spirit. The non-profits at WRAMC would come in and have events and BBQs and all sorts of things for the families. But I discovered the Cafe in Bldg 62 (where our families go upon being discharged) is ran by a third party. They have a contract of some sort agreeing that no one will compete with them. This means the non-profits cannot come in and offer food to our families because it would deter from the Cafe's bottom line. We also discussed the price points of the Cafe and the General was not happy that I spent $8 to eat lunch there on Tuesday. I got a hamburger, carrot and celery sticks and a bottle of water. He said that is unacceptable. He agreed that is abusing the families' pocketbooks. He said I am even a General and I don't want to pay that much. That was funny!
Prior to this meeting I was selected to the committee to add a new space for the families to retreat too. We are working on creating a new space away from Bldg 62 so we can bring the non-profits back in for their BBQs and such. I also told him about the playground sitting in The Yellow Ribbon Fund (YRF) storage unit. YRF is just waiting to be told where to stick it. He agreed that we have to get those non-profits in asap.
We talked about Capt Tammy Phipps and Help Our Military Heroes and how they are helping get our warriors back out on the road. I explained the process and what it meant to us to be blessed by these people. He didn't even know they existed. Then I told him the story of the parking wars and how I won that one with a little help.
We talked about the lack of buttons in the America Building. This building is where the outpatient services are held. You know the little buttons you press to open doors. Well we don't have those. Wait we have 3, one for the main door to the main entrance and to the garage and one for the pool. So if our soldiers are in wheelchairs and need to go to the bathroom, they ram the door or hope someone will open it for them. The General was a little upset that we don't have those yet.
We discussed the Med Board and that I was told they lost Chaz's medical records in the transition. That issue was addressed quick and yes they found the records. It's so funny how a call from a General makes records appear so quickly. Oh but now I have been asked to produce Chaz's initial physical from 1998. No I am not kidding. So I guess since we found the "missing" records now we have to create another obstacle. Yes I was a smarty pants and said "So does the VA think he entered the service as an amputee?" One more obstacle. Oh well. I deal with it later!
We also discussed financial planning for the soldiers. I told him that I have a 5 point plan (as of today). These guys are coming out of high schools that teach them nothing about personal finances. Our soldiers join the service to serve. We have to educate them on life. Financial education is a big part of that. He agreed. I then said that during deployment planning we need to talk about what if your soldier is inured or killed. The information needs to already be out there before they are injured. We need a what you might need to know book.
I also suggested that at the Town Hall meetings at Bethesda we should have an NMA/Caregiver lead it. Anyone standing up in a uniform is going to be a target. Those in uniform are standing up in front of a firing squad. I think we should have a family member lead the discussion and have persons from all the branches there to help respond to the questions. But no one in uniform should lead it. It was at this point the General said that was "an A-ha moment." I told him until we help them with their anger you will be shot down every time and the meetings will not get very far. I also said we need to tell the families where we started, where we are now and where we're going. Visuals would be great! I realized later that I should have suggested that all persons in uniform, regardless of service need to all sit together. We are now the Joint Task Force and we need to show that. You can show that you are working together by sitting together at these meetings. Such a simple action will speak volumes.
I did not wag my finger at him I offered my solutions that I thought could work. I know that meeting was extremely productive. I know how much our families mean to our Vice Chief. I can speak first hand on how much he cares about all of us wounded or not. He wants to help make it better. I am hoping this is the first of many meetings. I am hoping we opened a dialog that will continue for a long time. I walked away knowing I did not get everything in there, but I got a lot in. I walked away feeling like I spoke for the families. I feel like I championed them and I feel like we will make it better.
Of course I met with our CO and 1SGT yesterday afternoon. They were so excited for me. Our CO told me I reaffirmed his faith in the military system. He said it is beyond cool that our Vice Chief sat down with an E6's wife. It is so amazing to feel that so many people are proud of you and support you. It is amazing (and sometimes exhausting) that people come to you because they know you care and that you want to make it better and that you are not afraid to ask. All I want to do is blaze a trial to make lives a little bit easier. I think my biggest frustration is that people think our leaders don't care. Yes they do care, they care a lot. But if you don't take the time out to tell them what's going on how do you expect anything to change. And what are you afraid of?! Remember no one can take away your birthday.
Our leaders are just like you they are human. They are going to make decisions they think will work. But until someone stands up and puts in input we can't change anything. But never ever attack a leader for helping. They are trying to help, but remember they haven't walked in your shoes. Slow down and explain it to them, they'll listen. Don't attack and yell at them. Figure out your argument and propose a solution. Work together. This is all I have done. I am just not afraid to speak up and neither should you.
I know this is not all that we discussed, because there was a lot. But things are the things that popped into my head the fastest as I am writing. I am now going to go begin my Thanksgiving. I hope you all have a great one too!! Mine is already great because my family is together!!!