At our last deployment brief I told Chaz I had to stare at the floor. Every time I looked at one of the soldiers faces all I could think was will it be you? When Chaz went to Iraq his company lost over 30 guys and he lost his friend Mac. Now they were going Afghanistan and the assignment looked to be even more dangerous. I told him I just can't look up. Their faces are burning into the back of my mind. It was a horrible feeling and when I got to the car I had to take a minute. Somehow I held it together that long.
Now I find myself in a different place. I get the honor to be around so many amazing men and women who served and were injured but are strong and ready to keep on fighting. But what about the ones I haven't met? What about the ones who won't socialize? Then I read this article www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/02/suicide_n_1070491.html and I discovered we are losing 18 Veterans a day to suicide. 18 per day or 540 per month or 6,480 per year. Regardless of how you add it up it is unacceptable. To me the Army and VA are being proactive with the soldiers. I have seen what they are doing here and they are trying, but they are missing the boat big time. The families are being left out.
When your soldier is injured you and 2 others are invited here on ITO (invitational-travel orders) to come be with your soldier. The Army gives you a hotel or helps you into the Fisher House in addition they pay for one round trip airline ticket every 60 days to get to and from your home of record and you are compensated $71 per day for meals and incidentals. Once your soldier goes to the outpatient stage one person of the soldier's choosing will go on NMA (Non-Medical Attendant) orders. These orders will continue until the soldier assigned to the hospital. Then when your soldier's orders switch from attached to assigned they will attempt to terminate your NMA orders. The reason is the current policy says NMA orders are to be based on geographic location. Why?! I'm not sure, but here's where I stand. If your soldier's Primary Care Manager (PCM) and Nurse Case Manager (NCM) still feel that your soldier needs an NMA then that's who should control your orders. To me geographic location should be factored into the rate of pay because some places are more expensive, but to base orders on geographic location alone is asinine. I have been assured that this policy is being looked at.
I truly think the Army is underestimating the value of those orders. I think we have some people looking at the cost in terms of monetary value. Yes you are paying an NMA $2,130 per month or $25,560 per year to be here. Yes it is tax free and non-reportable because of the nature of the compensation. But we are asked to give up our jobs, our homes, our friends, etc. Can you put a value on that? I'll tell you flat out I make more than that. One wife here was a full-time teacher and she made way more than that. One mom was a full-time attorney we all know she made way more than that. My one benefit is that I have a mobile career. I can take my business with me anywhere, but I will lose clients because of our relocation. I currently have 125 in 2009 I had 136, I have already lost and I guarantee I will lose some this year. So I am losing income, those two ladies I spoke of do not have jobs. One resigned before she came here and the other was let go because she was gone for too long. Ask us if we'd change our minds about our decisions, the answer is no way!! We are exactly where we need to be. There are no doubts in our minds. We are here out of pure love. We love our soldiers and we will give up anything and everything for them. I have been assured that an exemption will be filed for any family member who needs to be on NMA orders regardless of the soldiers assignment. So there's one victory.
Next we have SCAADL. This is the new compensation offer from the government. I was asked to review it and give my opinion. Here is the link to the FAQ sheet www.wtc.army.mil/factsheets/wtc_SCAADL_fact_sheet.pdf
Let me explain it first. SCAADL stands for Special Compensation for Assistance with Activities with Daily Living. First let me thank our government for realizing the need for this. Now let me explain it. Your soldier's PCM and NCM fill out a form to rank your soldier's need for care. They are ranked by need High, Moderate, Low. An hour per week estimate is assigned to the Tier. For High they assume they will need a full time caregiver and there for would need 40 hours of assistance. Moderate is assumed at 25 and Low is assumed at 10. Then they consult the Bureau of Labor and statistics to determine an hourly wage for the caregiver. They refer to home health aide as the position to determine and then they go to the 75% percentile bracket to get the hourly wage. You'll see here www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes311011.htm that wage is $11.55 per hour. Then they multiply the hour wage by the hours of estimated work and then multiply that by 4.35 (This is the decimal amount assigned to the calendar month). Most of our soldier's will be ranked as moderate. So here's the equation 25x11.55x4.35=1256.06 is the monthly compensation.
Here's my problem with SCAADL. It is fully taxable and it is directly paid to the service member. First I want to know why it is fully taxable to the soldier. The soldier is not working to earn that wage. Earned income is defined here by the IRS. www.irs.gov/individuals/article/0,,id=176508,00.html So I ask what is the soldier doing as "work" to earn this money? This money is intended to help the soldier pay someone to help with their assistance. Shouldn't that be considered as an allowance and fall under the scope of Housing and Subsistence therefore be non-taxable? Also if you add this income onto the soldier's taxable income you will throw them into a higher tax bracket meaning they will pay in more taxes and more than likely be disqualified for Earned Income Credit and Additional Child Tax Credit and various other tax credits. Therefore in the long run you are costing these soldiers money that they are entitled to before this pay is added on.
Here's my second problem with SCAADL. You have caused the Caregiver to be dependent on that soldier. So let's look at it like this. You have a mom who lost her job because she was here caring for her son. Her NMA orders that called for her to receive $2,130 were terminated. Now SCAADL pays her son $1,256 to help support her while she's caring for him. Her little bit of independence was cut in half and now she has to ask her son for money. Do you see where I am going with this one? You are adding stress to this families by taking this course. In my household SCAADL will work. Chaz and I work as a team. So to us it is irrelevant whose bank account it goes into. But what about all the other families? How do they function? We don't know so we cannot be ignorant about this one. We need to assume the soldier and caregiver operate on separate bank accounts and treat it as such. NMA pay is paid directly to the Caregiver, therefore eliminating that dependency.
We have a lot of parents (mostly Moms) here supporting their soldiers. To me it is humiliating to ask the caregiver to be dependent on the soldier for money. We are already dependent on the Army for housing, medical care and support for our soldiers. Most of us are not used to being dependent on the government for things. But we suck it up because we need to be here and we just make do. I will be the first to say I am very happy with our housing and medical care. But we do not need to go to our wounded soldier and ask them for monetary support. To me this dependency will yield resentment and additional stress.
It is time to rip off the band-aid and see what we are dealing with. We have families in crisis. We are all on this long spectrum of crisis. Chaz and I are on the low end. Why?! We have been married for over 10 years and been together for over 12 years. For us, we just had to alter our plans a little bit. We are more mature and can handle things like this. Most of these soldiers are in their young 20s they have only just begun. We need to make their lives as stress free as possible. Do you know the number one cause of divorce is money? So how can we help these families. We can make sure their finances are squared away and we can make sure they don't have to worry about affording to live in DC. These families cannot just run out and get jobs. But we have caregivers working at Subway to make ends meet because their NMA orders were terminated. This is unacceptable. I found out that another wife took their kids and left her soldier because her orders were terminated and she felt she was unwanted. Now there's a lot more to that story, but you know the finances had a part in it.
Those NMA orders entitle the caregivers to more than just compensation. Those orders say to them that the Army values them and their role in the soldier's life. Those orders say we need you here, we can't do it without you. I have talked to caregiver after caregiver. Their orders have been terminated. One said, "Well I guess I'm not needed. The Army can figure it out." She ultimately left her husband. Another said, "I don't know what to do now that our squad leader told me it's my job to be here as a wife I don't need to be compensated for it." This spouse's soldier has a colostomy bag that she changes for her husband. She truly defines home health aide. But since her husband was assigned here her NMA orders were terminated and her squad leader told her it was her job, nice huh?! I have story after story after story. These caregivers come to me for help. I try my best to convince them to stick it out and fight. But as one said to me "We're tired of fighting and we shouldn't have to." She is absolutely right. So why are we?! We are fighting because we need to be heard. It is working by the way. Changes are happening.
Here's my ultimate fear. What happens when the soldiers and families leave our little bubble here? What will they do without an advocate like me who isn't afraid to ask the questions and do the research to support my arguments and raise hell if necessary? Will they throw in the towel? Will their soldier become one of the 18 per day? I now find myself in a battle to get this number down! 1 per day is too many, so what can we do. But I can't help and think when I look at them.....will it be you?!
I'll say it again, YOU CANNOT HEAL A SOLDIER WITHOUT A GREAT SUPPORT SYSTEM BEHIND THEM!!!!! (Maybe if I put it in all caps, someone new will get it.) We have to support these families so they can support their soldiers. I have found the ears that believe me and I know they will help me help these families. But as a country we are so focused on healing the guys that we are not supporting their foundation. What good is a structure without a good foundation? It is no good at all and it will crumble and fall. We can do better. We can heal these families. These soldiers needs their families. Family is vital!
I am so thankful for our First Sergent and Company Commander who listened to me and gave me the opportunity to prove that I am right. Together we are making our families stronger. I have concrete proof that great Army leadership paired with the inside opinion can do great things. I am excited to see what we can do together to get that 18 per day down.
What can you do?! You can contact your Congresspersons and tell them to champion the military families. Tell them to revisit the SCAADL policy and all other policies that effect our families. Tell them to make sure they know what is in the best interests of the families. You can go to www.whitehouse.gov/joiningforces/thanks and use their site to send a message of support to our soldiers. You can visit the Team Allen link and you can click and visit the other Facebook support pages and leave support messages on their pages.You can get addresses to send soldiers and their families cards or care packages of support. You can host a fundraiser in your area for Fisher House, Help Our Military Heroes, Operation Ward 57, Operation Second Chance, The Yellow Ribbon Fund or any other non-profit listed on our page. The possibilities are endless. Let your heart lead you and you won't go wrong.
Lastly and most importantly PRAY and talk about our families. Share our stories!!! The more prayers we have going up for us the more blessing will come to everyone involved. Pray for our leaders. Pray they are leading with their hearts. Pray that our families will make the right decisions everyday. Pray that God will give us strength to support each other as we move forward. Pray that we stop losing 18 Veterans a day to suicide.