Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My 30 Days of Thankful!!

So I answered the 30 day challenge!! Everyday I thought of something I am thankful for. I put a twist on mine. I tried to find other things outside of the norm (kids, hubby, God). Also I made the rule that it had to be the first thing that popped into my head as I typed Day whatever. Well here's my list and now I am ready for the next challenge!!! 
Day 1: I am thankful for this journey! It has been hard and exhausting and there have been lots of tears. I am so thankful to say there have been triple (probably even more) the amount of laughs and smiles. I am thankful for every piece of this journey. It has made my family stronger and I thank God everyday for the strength and wisdom to survive this road to the new normal. 
Day 2: I am thankful for Team Allen. Who would have ever thought my great friend Demetria's idea of how to communicate Chaz's progress to others could turn into such an amazing thing?! I am thankful for everyone who is supporting our family's journey by "liking" Team Allen!!
Day 3: Today I am thankful for all the amazing non-profit organization who are out there to make our lives better. Non-profits are staffed by incredible Americans who want to reach out and take care of others. These people see a need and they fill it! Of course I am biased to the ones that our family has been involved with, but I know there are so many out there it would take me years to say thanks to all of them. Here's who popped into my head at 6am! This is not a ranking order, this is just who ran across my head very early in the morning, while still low on caffeine. ;)

Girl Scouts, Kappa Delta, Hero Miles, Our Military Kids, Fisher House Foundation, Operation Troop Aid, Operation Second Chance, The Yellow Ribbon Fund, NEES PTO, Operation Ward 57, Help Our Military Heroes, Veterans Airlift Command, Aleethia Foundation, Wounded Warrior Project, and The Gift of Laughter are just a few!!! We are so thankful for those of you on and off this list! If you watch Team Allen you'll see a posting sooner or later about so many different organizations. If you can help them in anyway please do! 
Day 4: I am thankful to be an American!! We may complain, but the reality is we live in one of the best countries in the World!
Day 5: I am thankful for the opportunities that continue to bless our families. Rather than looking for things to do as a family, people and organizations keep showing up with them. I am so thankful for all of these events!
Day 6: I am thankful for social media. Thanks to Facebook and all the other social media pages we are now able to share our lives with others. We are able to make others socially aware of issues and cause that need support.

Of course to me I am overly thankful for being able to know the names and faces of the military families who need our prayers. I am honored that I can send them a quick message to let them know they are not alone.  
Day 7: I am thankful for the DNA that gave me this big mouth and the brain to use that big mouth to articulate the needs of my family. I pray everyday that I have put and will continue to put it to good use and hope I can bless another family with it.
Day 8: I am thankful for growing up in a family who has shares the love of food. I was blessed to have so many "cooking lessons" growing up from several people. I am able to bless not only our family, but other families as well with this love.

As Guy Fieri said the other day, "We heal and grow from food and it can bond us together."
Day 9: I am thankful for patience. I am thankful I can use that patience to navigate through a crazy new life full of twists, turns and chaos. 
Day 10: Today I am thankful for the people who want to share our story with others. I am thankful that they see we just want to heal and move on, but have a lot of fun on our way to our new normal.

Chaz is always so honored when he is asked to be someone's Veteran to share with others. Every time I ask him if it's ok, his response is always sure, but why me?

I am so glad so many other people can see what I see.....a Hero and a Rock Star!!! 
Day 11: Today I am thankful for all of our Veteran's who have served in the past, the ones who are serving in the present and those who already feel the call to serve in the future. I am also thankful that we are blessed to have so many Veterans in our lives!! God Bless you all for your service and sacrifice!! 
Day 12: I am thankful for music!! Music can tell the story of our lives. It can lift us up, it can bring us down and it can heal our soul!!!
Day 13: I am thankful to live in a part of the world where I can witness some of God's beauty by watching the seasons pass!
Day 14: I am thankful to be celebrating my 33rd birthday with my incredible family and my friend Demetria in NYC!!!!!!! 
Day 15: I am thankful for digital cameras. It is so awesome to be able to capture so many memories and then be able to see them instantly!!!
Day 16: I am thankful for all the amazing opportunities that continue to pop up in our lives!!! Each one brings it's own dose of sunshine and happiness to our family! 
Day 17: I am thankful for the Army! We have been taken care of on this journey. The problems we have had have come from individuals, not the Army itself. I am thankful for those who have gone before us to make this path easier for our family. I am also thankful the Army as a whole realizes it can always do better and that they are trying to keep making it better.
Day 18: I am thankful to have such awesome friends who aren't afraid to go be silly girls with me!!! I am also thankful to be able to go have fun with these friends!!
Day 19: I am thankful for the care packages that have been arriving!! We are thankful we have been able to take them to the hospital for you!! Our family has truly enjoyed taking them to the families and medical staff and putting smiles on their faces!
Day 20: I am thankful we chose to home school the girls this year. We may not be teaching them everything the school systems may want us to. But what we are teaching them cannot be taught in any classroom. Chaz and I are making them better Americans by sharing so much of this experience with them.
Day 21: I am thankful for my stubbornness!! Sometimes it can be a pain, I believe it is this stubbornness that has led to my family's success! 
Day 22: I am thankful to be celebrating my hubby's 10th month Alive Day today!!!
Day 23: I am thankful that I got to wish Team McConnell a Happy 4th month Alive day in person. I am so thankful to be a part of their (and many other families') journeys!!!!!
Day 24: I am so thankful to have my hubby with his girls for Thanksgiving!!! Last year at this time he and his guys were in Afghanistan eating MREs.

I am thankful they are in America for a real meal this year. I am thankful for those who are doing what he and his guys did last year. And I am thankful for those who gave all so we can celebrate this day together.
Day 25: I am thankful for online shopping!! Since my life has changed so much I don't have anytime to go shopping anymore, except for groceries. Also I am thankful that we can enjoy all the Black Friday deals without have to get up so early for that craziness!
Day 26: I am thankful that God blesses us with absolutely beautifully perfect days in November. There's nothing like a perfect day at the park thrown in after it's been cold, gloomy and rainy for so long!!!
Day 27: I am thankful for my education and my degree in Political Science & History. Thanks to the excellent education I received over those years I am able to play very nicely with others. I especially enjoy shocking them with all of my knowledge, thus proving you should never ever judge an Army wife by her cover!! 
Day 28: I am thankful for my strong faith!!! I am so thankful that as Chaz says, "She has enough faith to share." I am thankful for my family who instilled this faith in me. I doubt we would be doing so well without it!
Day 29: I am thankful for our 1SGT & CO at WTB. They listened to me and helped me set up a NMA/Caregiver Resource Group for our company. There are so many wonderful people in our company and thanks to our company leadership I am helping them navigate this road a little better!
Day 30: I am thankful for small victories!! Small victories make the bigger ones even better!!!
 
 
 
 
 

Will It Be You?

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.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thank You Team Allen!!!!!

Once again I want to say thank you to Team Allen. I asked for things for our warriors and their families and you answered the call without hesitation. I also want to tell you we appreciate all of your care packages. Let me begin this by saying I know that you all are not financially blessed as others (trust me we understand). I am currently in the most frugal part of my life, I have a house to build to suit Chaz's needs you know and a future to plan for which includes Chaz's medicals needs, the girls' college and retirement. I am watching every penny in the Allen household. You need to know your posts of prayers and support are just as important as any care package that could ever be sent. These guys don't even know that their prayer pages exist and then one day some one tells them and they are blown away by all your kind words. So keep blessing them with you care packages of support on their pages. The need for that will never go away!! It's free, it's easy and that need will never ever go away!!!

I am trying to take pictures and post them with all the awesome goodies that we are receiving. I really wish I could have a hidden camera so you could see the look of the Army leadership when I show up with all of the goodies. Thank you so much for helping me pay it forward. Thank you for helping me bless these families. It makes our hearts overflow with joy.

Thank you for letting us be your intermediary for these blessings. You are blessing our family by helping us bless these other families. Our girls LOVE getting mail and when they see what's inside I have to get them to the hospital as soon as possible to give them out. The funny thing is the girls can tell you which soldiers & marines enjoy what now. It makes Chaz and I so proud to see their level of caring continue to grow. You are all helping us teach them extremely valuable lessons in giving, compassion and caring.

Every one of our wounded families are in crisis. We are all on a very long spectrum. Chaz and I are on the low end of the crisis spectrum thanks to all of your support. It is our hope that we can take your support and share it with these other families and bring them down to our end of the spectrum as well. Thanks to you and all your levels of support we are showing our wounded how much America cares. Thank you for helping us help other families heal. We are blessed to have you all in our lives. THANK YOU!!!!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Our Evening with Jon Stewart!!

I just realized I never shared our evening with Jon Stewart! Chaz and I met Jon Stewart this summer when Chaz had to go back into the hospital to have the abscess on his back removed. We were super excited to see him come in that day. I had made Chaz and our nursing staff some chili in my crock pot that day. Jon came in smelled in and you could tell he wanted some. So I offered and he enjoyed a bowl of chili with us during his short visit with us. Later he tried to steal one of favorite nurse's bowl of chili too. It was so funny. He tried to get that chili and she almost clobbered him. She hadn't had anything to eat all day. It was hilarious.

While he was with us he told us we had to visit NYC and be his guests at the show. So time passes and I contacted the show back in August. Turns out the person who answered the email knew exactly who I was. My birthday is Nov 14th and I decided this is what I wanted to do for my birthday. Chaz totally agreed and we were able to get tickets for that day. We are big Jon Stewart fans. I love him and Colbert. They pick on everyone, just like us!! And they like to laugh about life, just like Chaz and I do!

So fast forward I get an email telling me that Chaz and I need to be at the VIP entrance at 4:30. Demetria agreed to come and be our babysitter so we dropped her and the girls off at Toys R Us in Times Square. Then we made arrangements with the driver for after the show.

We're thinking it's just for the taping. Nope turns out we're there an hour and a half early. So we were totally stunned to watch Jon Stewart greet us shortly after our arrival. We thought we'll go in tape the show and go home, nope we got to have a ton of fun with The Daily Show crew. He came out looked at Chaz and then me and said, "Awesome it is you guys when he saw us." Then he looks at Chaz and says, "Dude you look awesome." He then asked us how everything was going and we talked for a little. Then he said they had us come early so we could watch rehearsal and go on a tour of the studio.

When we walked into the studio with Jon he said, "Hey everyone, this is Chaz and Jess and they're here for rehearsal." The producers greeted us and had us sit with them. They explained all sorts of stuff to us and gave us scripts to follow along. They then told us that we'll see it one way. Then they'll go back and see what works and what doesn't and then there's a chance we'll see a completely different show while we're taping.

After rehearsal we had our very own aide as a tour guide and we go to go all over the place. We would have seen more, but Chaz got really excited and asked tons of questions to the people in the Tivo room. This room is where they are watching all sorts of news and events looking for things to use for the show. Then Chaz was like a kid in the candy store in the graphics room. Chaz loves computers and this part of the studio had a bunch of computers. Our aide took me further and I let Chaz enjoy his computer lessons with his new friends.

Before we knew it, it was time for the taping. We had front row seats for the taping. We could have thrown a rock and hit Jon's desk from where we were sitting. We got to meet Jon's audience supervisor and became quick friends with her and the interns. We had a lots of giggles with them.

We had even more giggles with his audience warm up guy. He was hilarious. He was so nice and asked Chaz about his injuries. Then he had the audience give Chaz a round of applause. Time totally flies when you're having fun because before we knew it, it was show time. Jon came out and answered a few questions from the audience. Then he sat down behind his desk and the laughs kept coming. During one of the breaks the producers came over and made sure we knew we were not to leave after the show. They and Jon had plans to hang out with us after the show. (Super cool).

We finished the show and were taken back out to the lounge area we started in. I was given a bag with all sorts of TDS goodies in it and the book that the guest from that night had written. Nobel Peace Prize Winner Leyman Gbowee was the guest that night. Jon and his producers and some of The Daily Show staffers came out to hang out with us. Chaz has made leaps and bounds since Jon saw him this summer. Chaz wanted to show Jon how far and Chaz got up and walked across the room. The look on Jon's face was awesome. He was so proud of Chaz. My favorite picture is the one of them standing next to each other. You can see the pride in Jon's face. He looked at me and said, "Holy crap that's awesome."

We all hung out and talked about the show, our girls, our journey, computer games and all sorts of stuff. We made arrangements for Demetria and the girls to meet us there after the show. Jon insisted on sending us all to one of his favorite places for dinner. He also wanted to come out and meet our girls, Demetria and our driver Tom. I'd give anything if I could have gotten a picture of Demetria's face when Chaz and I walked out with Jon Stewart. Of course our girls were like "Hi Mr Jon." But Demetria's face was awesome, she was shocked. Bahaha!!!

We thanked him and his assistant for having us and for our awesome day. Then Jon's assistant gave me the address for where they were sending us to dinner. That was just beyond super sweet. While we were eating my friend from college was able to stop by and say hi. It was one great birthday!!!!!! I hope you enjoy some of my pictures from that day!















Thursday, November 24, 2011

My Meeting at the Pentagon with the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army

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!!!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

How Do You Know If They Care?!

Last night another caregiver and I were talking about all the problems we have faced since the merger of the two hospitals. We were comparing and contrasting the different environments. The one thing she asked me was "How do you know if they care?"

Chaz will tell you my Mommy gut has gotten even stronger since January 22. I have been able to weed through BS in record speed. So far I have been right each time. Seriously, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. That's not just a clever saying. I told her I know who cares by their reactions. The kicker is all of the people who seem so far out of reach are the ones to me who seem to care the most. But if you take a problem to them they rely on the people in between us to do what is right and what needs to be done. But unfortunately that does not happen. We are in the engulfed in a gigantic bureaucratic system. The road blocks are staggering. I am only talking about the red tape part here. I am not referring to the personal or medical battles. So what happens to these families. They give up. They are defeated. Well I will not accept defeat. I will not go away so I don't know why you think I will. If you won't help these families I will find another route to go to so I can make it happen. These families are not as strong as I am. They are exhausted from the medical, personal, psychological and emotion battles they face every day. They don't need the bureaucratic battle too. 

Last night we went to the Italian Embassy for a concert to honor the Wounded Warriors. We were asked by multiple persons how is everything. (Warning: If you are a high ranking person in the military, don't ask me this question unless you want the truth. You might possibly regret asking. I am not a soldier, I will tell you the absolute truth). I seriously thought one General's wife was going to cry. So I said to her, it will be ok. She said no it's not. You guys have enough. I suggested she come to Bethesda with me one day and let me escort her around and show her the hospital through the eyes of a wounded family. She said she thought that was a great idea. I truly pray she does. The only way to understand our struggles is to walk side by side with us. Which I welcome anyone to do with us anytime!

When the people in between you and the families tell you everything is ok. What are you going to believe? You're going to think that everything is ok. Medically it is all ok. But the bottom line is those people are not the wounded. They are the people assigned to be at the hospital where the wounded are. They think like "leg walkers" (Chaz's favorite term) they don't think like someone with a disability. Some of them have not even been deployed. Some of them have absolutely no idea what are families are dealing with. The answer at Bethesda is we are healing the solider. Well good luck on healing that soldier without someone by his/her side to help. I want to rent a board in Times Square and announce it takes a nation to heal our wounded. People need to wake up, this includes some of the people working in Bethesda who think they know what's best for our families. You should not pass rules and regulations about subjects that you are ignorant about. You should try to at least understand our families and our sacrifices before you tell us how to heal. Don't tell us how to heal. Putting our babies in day care is not an answer. Keeping our cuties out of the PT/OT area is not the answer. Focusing on creating a sterile environment only breeds hate and resentment. If you ask a soldier how is everything they will tell you it's fine. Hello they are soldiers and they were beat into submission back in Basic Training. You want honesty ask the families. You will get the truth. Better yet, spend one day with us and you will see the truth.

I hate that we have families who feel like no one cares about them. I can't tell you how many families I have had to convince that people do care. The families who were at WRAMC with us said it seems like Bethesda wants to treat our soldiers and get rid of us as soon as possible. They feel this way because of the lack of activities the families have now. They feel this way because there is no place for the kids to play and be kids. They feel this way because we don't have a place where we can all hang out and chat like we did at the Malogne House. They feel this way because the non-profits are being blocked from the patients because "the Navy hasn't vetted them all yet." They feel this way because they have the experiences to back it up. At WRAMC we were taken care of, all of us.

I know that people care. Our company at WTB had the best change of leadership possible. Our leaders really, really care about our families. After months of pleading to get things started for the families Chaz's First Sargent listened and helped me make it happen. Our little caregiver resource group is growing strong and others are taking notice. So how do I know they care? I see little victories happening. FYI you cannot radically change the military, you have to do it a bit at a time. So I will continue to convince others to care so that not one single family feels like no one cares about them! I will help champion these families to anyone who will listen so we can heal these families!!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Night on the Hill with the Fisher House Foundation

Last night Chaz and I went back to Capitol Hill. This time it was not for a tour. The Fisher House Foundation (FHF) invited us to come and be apart of their reception on the Hill. FHF wanted to bring a family to the reception so the people attending could hear first hand from a beneficiary of the FHF. When these amazing organizations ask Chaz and I to come talk about them, we jump at the chance. Chaz, Demetria and I actually decided to leave NYC Tuesday night at 9pm so that way we could miss all the morning traffic. So we got in Wednesday morning at 1am and crashed into our beds! We wanted to be in Maryland so we could rest and actually enjoy our night last night and we accomplished that mission. Demetria stayed at our apartment with the girls and Chaz and I went on our little adventure.

We arrived early, but before we knew it the room was filled with people. You couldn't take two steps without walking into a high ranking military person or person associated with Congress. The FHF made sure Chaz and I were very well taken care of. If you haven't met anyone from Fisher House you should. They are the most extraordinary people. They want to help military families succeed. Their hearts are concretely in the correct place. They are constantly looking towards the future to see what else they can do for military families.

I have to tell you listening to Ken Fisher talk about our little family was an absolutely great moment. He wanted to make sure everyone there knew that our presence there was to remind them all what Fisher House was all about. My favorite part was that he pointed out we are only one family and that there are so many more of us out there. He told them about the millions of nights families have stayed at Fisher Houses across the country and in Germany and that Hero Miles just issued its 25,000th air plane ticket. It's just awesome!

The absolute coolest moment came when I saw Chaz across the room and people were lining up to meet him. Then I saw Montel Williams and he had a line too. But Chaz's line was double the length of Montel's, kind of cool, huh?! By the way Montel is another great American. We met him months ago and then again last night. He is a huge supporter of Fisher House. He even comes and cooks for the families staying in the Fisher Houses. He has supplied some of their kitchens. He loves to come in and just hang out with the families. But you know none of what I just told you will end up on the news. So let me tell you that great news!

Another one of my favorite moments came when someone from Fisher House came to thank us for coming. I stopped her and said, "Please don't thank us. Chaz and I are here to thank and celebrate Fisher House. It is our honor to be here. Fisher House is so amazing and has blessed us so much we are so thankful to come and be here tonight." I am glad I said that because it is so true. Fisher House has blessed us so much and we are so grateful to them for everything.

Fisher House helped Chaz and I make this all work. It was their Hero Miles program that paid for my plane tickets back and forth to TN and DC while Chaz was an in-patient. For those who don't know I spent one week with Chaz and one week in TN with the girls. I could not combine my worlds at the beginning or this and I could not clone myself so this was what I had to do to help my family. So one week I was a full time nurse and wife and then the next week I was a tax preparer, mom and etc. I was in Reagan National and Nashville International airports every Wednesday from January 26 to late April. Don't ask me how I did it, because to me the answer is you do what you have to do. You get up everyday and just keep going. Chaz was in too bad of shape for the girls to be around him. And our girls needed to be kids. They needed their school, girl scout troops and most importantly to have fun.

Fisher House blessed us again by providing us an ADA (American Disability Act) suite for our family to stay in. When Chaz got to go out on pass we could take him there. The room was compliant with OT (Occupational Therapy) standards. Then when he discharged from the hospital we stayed there together. Fisher House provides what the Department of Defense can't. The DOD cannot afford to do all the things they need to do, but Fisher House can. The DOD cannot solicit donations to make all these great things possible. So FHF steps in, takes the donations and turns that into a homes away from home for military families .

Living in a Fisher House is like living in a home away from home. You have everything you need, plus you have other families living there. You all share your stories with each other and you heal together. I am still in touch with some of the families that lived in our Fisher House with us. And I am so proud to have met them all and still be a small part of their lives.

I want to make it clear that our family is just one of the many families who have been blessed by FHF. Please don't think we are the only ones benefiting from the FHF. Our family has not received anything more than any other families have received or what is offered to them. FHF treats all families the same regardless of branch or rank. FHF sees that we are all military and all deserve the same treatment. This equality among ranks and branches is another quality that makes FHF so great!

Chaz and I chatted with so many people last night. They were all so fabulous and wanted to just get to know us better. I talked to many of them about continuing our conversations later and even bringing other people into our future conversations. I truly hope this will happen. Chaz and I want to blaze a trail and make life better for the families that follow behind us. I can only hope and pray these dialogs continue and together we make it better for others.

Long story short, Chaz and I had another great night. Many, many, many thanks to the Fisher House Foundation for inviting us last night. Also a million thanks to Fisher House for blessing our family.

Chaz and I have known about FH for a very long time. But to me it is shocking that more people don't know about Fisher House. They are absolutely amazing. So if you can tell someone about Fisher House today. Take a few minutes and visit www.fisherhouse.org to learn more about Fisher House. If you can have a little bake sale fundraiser or perhaps something bigger to help Fisher House help more families. Please remember whatever you do, big or small, it is all important and families like ours appreciate you and your efforts!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What to Do or Say?!

First let me preface this with the fact that this is how Chaz and I feel. I cannot, nor will not speak for everyone. Every person has a different view point and opinion. Many other families feel the way we do, but not all do. When I blogged about my social experiment yesterday it was brought to my attention that many people don't know what to do. And I bet Emily Post doesn't have an etiquette chapter on how to handle our situation. So I like to quote Pat from Train, "Just make crap up!" (Before the other Train fans correct me, I know he uses the other word for crap. I do realize this, but don't want to put that on here). In other words, when you see a soldier like Chaz or even a soldier with his family go with your gut and you'll be fine.

We are well aware our situation is unique. It would be interesting to see how many wounded warrior families you see in a year. Of course this is our reality so we have several families every day. Our days are made brighter by the simple gestures of others. We love seeing the posts on Team Allen and the comments on my blog. We love it when you stop Chaz and tell him "Thank you for your service." We love it when you tell our girls, "You're Daddy is a Hero." We love it when you stop and open the door for us. We laughed when this lady made everyone get off of an elevator so Chaz could get on it. She politely, but forcefully reminded them that Chaz was a wounded warrior. We have had random people buy our meals and pay for our parking too. We feel like this is all unnecessary, but as Chaz points out it is something we would do if the tables were turned. All of these things show us how much America appreciates its soldiers and their sacrifices. It sustains our faith and hope in America. It also shows our girls how wonderful our world really is.

Chaz and I do not mind if you ask questions. I spent a good 10-15 minutes in the entrance of American Girl with a little girl (who was probably about 5) and her mom answering all of her questions about Chaz's "silly" legs yesterday. When small children use words like silly, weird or strange it is ok, so don't be embarrassed. They are so little and those are the only words in their vocabulary that make sense to them. I always say, I will answer as many questions as you have as long as I have the time. I will also communicate anything and everything I can to help you understand this life we are living. Chaz and I are very open about his service and our sacrifices, so just ask.

If you see Chaz or another soldier fall yes it is polite to ask us if we need help, mainly because sometimes we do. But Chaz and his fellow warriors do have to sit and assess the situation so don't bombard them with "Can I help you?" Ask them once and wait for a reply. Also be willing to step up if they ask for help, don't just stare. Handing them a cane could be all they need. Also know that PT/OT has trained these guys how to get up off the floor in various situations.


The bottom line is you know if your heart is in the right place. Go with your gut and you'll be fine. Yes some are too stubborn or proud to take it, but you can still offer, I do all the time. Families like ours appreciate you and your thoughts, prayers, emails, cards and all the above. No good deed goes unnoticed. You will get instant gratification by simply thanking our soldiers, so feel free to do it often. It will warm your heart like never before! I hope this quick blog post helps to answer some of your questions! As always thank you for your support!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Our Little Social Experiment...

First let me say I am so thankful that Chaz and I are very confident people. We can get knocked down and we will get back up. But as we assimilate our little family back into the big wide world it is always interesting to see how people react.

Yesterday we met up with my friend from high school, Galen. Unfortunately he and Demetria got a crash course into our reality. First they got to observe how people look at us as we walk by. There's the pity stares, the frowns and my favorite the pity smiles. You can feel all the stares as you walk by. Chaz and I have gotten used to this. But for Galen and Demetria, this is a little new to them. You know what I'm talking about. You know that feeling you have when you know someone is looking at you. Well when we're out and about that is constant, because people are always staring. The girls even noticed it at the beginning but we've taught them to just move on and now it is a part of our new normal.

Second they got to experience how we have to reroute to get almost anywhere. Luckily almost every place we go has handicap accessible entrances and exits, but they are not always convenient and sometimes you have to go on a scavenger hunt to find them. Then you have to constantly go hunting for the elevators because stairs and escalators are not an option. But thank goodness other people have blazed that trail for us so the elevators are there for Chaz's use.

Third they got to witness me panic. Chaz is very independent and I am so thankful for that. But the girls are still so young and they know they have to stay with Mommy or Daddy. But when Daddy goes flying off (I am referring to the speed in which he takes off in his wheel chair sometimes) and Mommy can't move that fast they get confused. Sometimes I just can't handle it. The three people I love the most and have to protect cannot go in three different directions when we are in a crowded, unknown area. So Galen and Demetria got to witness me freak out a little. Imagine this. We are in this gigantic museum, Chaz is going in lightning speed one way and the girls are going two different ways and there are hundreds of people coming through all at the same time. See, that freak out is totally justified huh?! And besides I didn't yell and cause a scene, but communication had to be established. I needed to keep them together for my own sanity.

The fourth part occurred when Chaz walked out of the bathroom and fell. His prosthetic knees just gave out. So Galen and Demetria got to watch a big group of people stand there and stare and wonder what is the right thing to do. When he fell, silence fell all around us too. Everyone stopped to watch. All I could hear was the sounds of our voices talking to Chaz and communicating what Chaz needed for us to do to help him. The chatter around us came to a complete stop. Then once we got Chaz up and back to his chair people went back to talking. Yes it was awkward. But this is not mine and Chaz's first rodeo, so we just ignore it.

Fifth they got to witness the curiosity and the innocence of the children who walked by. In Central Park one child pointed and laughed at Chaz. Chaz looked at the little girl and said, "Yeah my legs look funny huh?" She turned away and buried her head into her mother. The family all spoke in a foreign language so we couldn't understand them. But Chaz always handles those moments with such grace and style.

Lastly and most importantly my old friends (and now Chaz's new friends) got to witness the resiliency of a wounded warrior family. They got to see how we get up and move on with our lives and how we have a lot of fun while doing it. But yesterday provided them a front row seat to our new normal. We had a great day, despite our little hiccups. For those social anthropologists out there, studying wounded warrior families could make quite an interesting book!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Veteran's Day

What does it feel to walk among Heroes?! It feels absolutely amazing!!!! My Grandfather and Chaz have been my Heroes for a long time. I have always been amazed at how these guys and gals give up everything to go around the world and serve our country. I admire their levels of unselfish sacrifice. But to be on that float with those Heroes, and to go down 5th Avenue in NYC and see so many Heroes is unforgettable. Then to see the people smile, cheer and even cry, then to read all the signs, I never thought I could feel even more patriotic.

What makes our country great? Our Veterans and their families. Our Veterans serve, but they bring their stories back to us and it is our job to pass those stories along. It is our job to not allow them to be forgotten. I will tell my Grandfather's stories to our girls and they will tell his story, Chaz's Dad's story and now their own father's story as the years go by. Our girls are learning the important lesson that our country is made up of great Americans and they are blessed to have such an amazing father to tell the world about.

Why did I say yes to the parade? Yes it was me that set that up. (I know I am evil, but WWP offered it to me and I jumped on it). Why didn't I ask Chaz for his permission? (Well I sort of did.) But Chaz doesn't think he's a Hero. He thinks he just did the job he was called to do. Chaz is just like every other soldier out there. They don't expect a pat on the back. They believe in our country and believe it is their duty to honor and protect it. But I wanted Chaz to see how many people support the job he did and is still doing. I wanted our girls to see first hand the support for our veterans from our nation. I wanted our girls to have an amazing lesson in patriotism. What our girls saw yesterday cannot be taught in a classroom. It is a lesson that must be learned through experience. Our girls know that parade was for not only their Daddy, but for all the Veterans who went before us. That parade was for their Grandfather and Great-Grandfathers and so many other ancestors they don't even know about yet. Our girls got to watch person after person thank their Dad for his service. How awesome is that?! They got to see first hand how people appreciate their Dad and what he did for our country.

Thank you Wounded Warrior Project for inviting us here! Thank you NYC for putting on such a great parade!! Thank you America for being such a great country!!!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

One-Tenth, One-Hundredth or One-Thousandth......

Yesterday I had to come home from Bethesda and drown myself in my music. Before you even ask, yes it was all Train. Weeks ago I was asked to help our company help the NMAs/Caregivers. I knew I was taking on a lot, but I truly didn't realize how much until yesterday.

I know what I have given up. I know what I have sacrificed. But like an idiot I naively thought no one else had outside drama. I really thought they just had the medical drama. I was in my own tunnel. Which is totally understandable, if you think about it. How could I not be in some sort of a tunnel? I am healing myself, my husband, my kids, home schooling the girls, running a house hold, taking care of a house in TN, trying to keep my business up and running, trying to stay involved in my friends life and trying to hold on to any piece of my former life. Yesterday I began to feel guilty about being in my tunnel, but then I realized if you put your family first how can you avoid that tunnel.

Yesterday the magnitude of all this crashed into me. I see all this 99% percent stuff, but I am not the 99% I am part of the one-tenth or maybe even smaller. The military is comprised of less than 1% of our population and now we are a wounded family so when you boil it down we make up about one-tenth of our population. I wish I could go raise hell on wall street, or on Capitol Hill, but instead I am going around a hospital and letting families know that Chaz and I are here to help and that we understand. Then I go navigate through ulterior motives at a gigantic hospital to find someone (hopefully more than one) who gives a damn about these guys, their families and their healing. I realized yesterday because I am taking a proactive role in all of this that makes me even smaller like maybe the one-hundredth.

It is so hard to be the one people come to. It is so hard to bare that cross for other people. It is so hard to fight everyday for something that should just be common sense to human beings. But these humans are a part of the military industrial complex. They are lost in the bureaucracy and have lost touch with the fact that they are controlling peoples lives. I know the families come to me because I understand and I can help. I really do not mind helping at all. I really enjoy helping the ones who I know appreciate it. Sometimes that helping is just listening and sometimes I can guide them down the right path. I realized yesterday I could not be a shrink. I cannot handle all the drama. First I don't like drama, so therefore it's kind of hard for me to be sympathetic. If you bring me drama, I will tell you how to fix it, if you don't fix it, don't bring me more. Please for the love of all that is holy, don't try to bring me into your drama. If you try and bring me into your drama I will walk away from you all together. I am a positive and constructive person. I will not allow you to tear me down and drown me in your pool of negativity. So don't try it.

There is so much anger around here that it is toxic. We try to keep the girls away from it, but it is almost impossible. People are angry over the BRAC move. They are angry because they had to leave their lives behind. They are angry over their loved one being hurt. They are angry over everything. Which I do understand, oh do I understand. But I refuse to let the anger win. I cannot be angry at anyone. Chaz could have been injured in a car wreck. Chaz could have not come home. We'll never know who caused Chaz's injuries and he and I don't care who it was. Because truth be told, if the tables were turned we would have fought to protect our country if they came into our town and tried to tell us what to do. We are at peace with why. God will lead us to the rest of the answers. God has already blessed us with so much and he will continue to do so. So when you factor in our faith that puts us into the one-thousandth percent.

So the question is how do you heal these families? How do you heal their battle buddies? How do you heal all the lives that have effected by the blast of an IED? How do you convince people to listen?  How do you convince important people to give a crap about these guys? How do you convince them that even just a card can make their day brighter? How do you convince people that these guys are not worried about themselves and their injuries, they are concerned about their families? How do you convince them if you just keep smothering the problem down it will not make it go away? I challenge the people who can make a difference to keep pushing all of this down. Keep shoving it in the floor boards. Just like the characters from Edgar Allan Poe's Tell-Tale Heart you will one day rip those boards up to see what you are covering up. My advice is deal with it all now. I know you can't fix it all today, but just show us you care and let us see progress. I am totally happy with baby steps. I am not looking for the 10 meter jump here.

Why has our media stopped reporting on our troops? Why are the lead stories about Kim, Lindsey, and the doctor who killed Michael Jackson. They are such a microscopic percent of our population, yet they get the majority of our media's attention. Does anyone see a problem here?! All lives are important and all lives should be celebrated, but Kim's divorce and Lindsey's jail time is no where close as valuable as the soldier who left his life and love behind to serve our country for 3, 6, 9 or 12 months. I think our priorities need to be reevaluated and I think our media should blaze the path less taken!

I still want to know what is everyone ashamed of? Yes our government sent us to war to fight. Some of us question their motives and if we wait a few more years it will all come out like it always does. But these soldiers are proud of their service and sacrifice and we all should be. I know I am, I know everyone who comes in contact with my family is. So let these guys know how proud you are. When you celebrate our service members, you are also celebrating our families and we are so thankful for that. Celebrities usually come to the hospital all poopy faced and down until they meet our soldiers and there families. Then they realize what they were afraid to face was exactly what they needed. This is what we all need.

We all need to look and meet the amazing families that comprise this one-tenth, one-hundredth or one-thousandth percent of our population and tell their stories. Celebrate them, celebrate their triumphs over adversities. Celebrate these amazing doctors and nurses whose passion and intelligence makes all of this possible. Celebrate the families who want to help the soldiers live a life as close to normal as possible. Stop enabling the media to clog our airwaves with drama about celebrities who live a life we'll never know, nor understand. Speak out and speak up!!! You want to raise hell, raise hell for the guys who serve for you!! Raise hell and celebrate the very small percent who sacrificed so much and ask for so little. One little ant can only do so much, but when a bunch of ants get together we can move mountains.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Green is not your color....

I seriously walk around in a happy bubble. I think everyone is kind and cares for others. I love my happy bubble. (I am the yellow fish from Nemo, "My bubbles") When you pop my bubble, I get a little upset. This weekend I discovered I am not the only one who has had people say some truly ignorant things to them as they have tried to heal their loved ones. I woke up this morning with it on my mind. The mom said to me this weekend, "I'd give anything to have your strength and nerve." Well I've got plenty so this one is for her and all the other girlfriends, wives, moms, dads, brothers, sisters, uncles, etc, etc who don't have my nerve.

(clears throat and grabs soap box and stands on it)

Do you have any feasible idea how incredibly hard it is to heal a wounded warrior? Have you walked in our shoes? Have you given up your friends, family, job, life, everything to heal someone you love? Have you had to build up a young man or woman who sacrificed his life and returned from his job overseas only to relearn his entire life? Have you had to sit down and have a thousand conversations with your children on why they can't go home yet? Have you had to take a crash course on narcotics or wound care or PIC lines?! Have you had to change your whole life? Do you get up everyday thinking about what you have to do for someone else so they can have a good start to their day?

If you answer no to these questions then don't judge me for my actions. Jealously green is not a becoming color and you shouldn't wear it. It is like spandex, just because it's an option, it doesn't mean you should wear it.

Yes we get to meet the President, various celebrities and athletes. Yes we are given opportunities the average American is not given. Yes we get to go places and people step up and bless us with vehicles, concerts and gifts and even trips. Yes we go and get massages and have the option for spa days and such. And you know what? We deserve every single thing that is given to us. Our warriors have been through so much and they deserve every freaking smile we can put on their faces. Our children deserve to get out and have fun. We NMAs and caregivers deserve to go have a 90 minute massage. We deserve to go have a day away from the hospital. What we are doing is absolutely positively exhausting. That 90 minute massage may be the only thing we get to do for ourselves for days or even a month. We get up everyday thinking about our warriors and our families, not ourselves. We don't get up thinking, well what can I get out of this for myself. (Yes I know those people exist around here, but they don't last because we weed them out.) We get up at 5 or 6 am and hardly sit down to eat much less rest. We don't stop until 10 or 11 (or later). We finally do stop our bodies now get coma like sleep because we are so exhausted. After the first few days or this crazy pace, your body just accepts it as your new normal. We have a crappy diet of whatever we can get our hands on while our warriors are in-patients. When they go out-patient we finally develop some sense of normalcy. But that is quickly interrupted by the WTB or random appointment or repair that has to be done to a wheelchair or prosthetic. From the moment you get the phone call that your soldier has been injured, your life is no longer yours. You willingly give it all up for whatever is in their best interest. Sounds like the life, huh?! You may think you have something to compare this too, but unless you have experienced a traumatic injury of this caliber you've got nothing in the vicinity that remotely compares to this. So please don't try to compare it, just try to support us.

But wait, you go on trips and meet celebrities. First let me tell you those celebrities take time out to thank us all for our service and sacrifice. It is so awesome that they take time out of their busy lives to come say hi. If they have enough time they hang out with our families for a few minutes. They don't come everyday. But when they do come it's only for a little bit, you get to take that little break and then it's back to business. The business of waiting for the human body to heal itself. The business of every day filled with appointments and doctors and therapists. As for the trips out and away, we all deserve to get away from the hospital. Gees, you try being there every single day and see if you don't need a break. It's not like all we do is hang out with celebrities and go on trips all day every day, we don't even do this every week.

I double dog dare you to swap lives with one of us for just a few hours. Those of you who are pointing fingers and judging us, let me assure you, you would not survive here. You would tuck your tail between your legs and run like the coward you are. Sure you can type things out on your keypad and hit send or post. But I'll bet money that you will not dare bring that to my face. Let me heed this warning to you. If I find out you bring that crap to one of our families I will happily take time out and sit you down and lay all this out for you. You will not like the dose of truth that I will dish out to you. When I have to lay out the truth to my clients I always ask are you ready to rip that band-aid and get to the truth of this and heal this wound. I also always remember my Grandaddy always said, "Be careful when you are pointing that finger, because you have 3 pointing right back at you." That's what we have going on here. It's called projection anger. You are so angry about what is going on that you project you anger to the person who looks the strongest. You take your own insecurities and toss them at someone so you don't have to confront your fears.

So let's rip that band-aid off and look it that wound. Here's the truth, someone you care about has been hurt. They chose someone that is not you to take care of them and you are extremely jealous of that and that pisses you off. So what do you do? You attack that person and try to tear them down. You look for any sign of weakness. You tell them they are too happy, or disillusion, you ask stupid crap like "Are you happy they were hurt?" You accuse them of making you loved ones' injuries about them self. You question them leaving the hospital for a break. Well that is just genius right?! Why don't you sit down and look at your own insecurities rather than picking apart someone who is going through so much right now? The bottom line is they are finding their inner strength and are driving forward and are driven by the best interests of the warrior they love. You just don't get it. You want to sit in your corner and cry. You just can't stand up and do what they are doing and you are jealous. You are jealous because you are not that warrior's soft place to fall. You want to be their everything. You want that front row seat, but they didn't choose you. Well here's what I say to that. We are a little busy healing over here and they last thing we need is your drama. We've got our own soap opera going on and we don't have time to fade into another story that is all about you. Get over yourself, and here's a news flash, THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU!!!! Suck it up, get over it and go find a hobby!!!

Our families are going through so much! We have to physically and psychologically heal our loved ones. We are in the middle of a hospital merger and are trying to sort it all out. We have the Army and the Navy fighting over territory. Then we have to deal with the Army and VA policies. We have to help our soldiers figure out what's next for them. We have to get help them get what they need for the rest of their lives. Then caregivers like me have kids to raise. NMAs/Caregivers are balancing so many full-time jobs that I lost count and we get a whopping $71 per day for all of this glamorous work. I bet your job is looking really good right now. So what in the world makes you think you have the audacity to questions or motives or attack us for our choices.

The last time someone attacked me for the choices we have made for our family I told them this. I will pray for you. I will pray that when you have a bad day someone is kind enough to put their arm around you to help you. I will pray that God will lead you to the light of hope. I will pray that your family never ever has to endure what my family is going through. But until you come and spend one hour in my shoes shut the hell up.

I stand 101 percent behind what I say. Caregivers need these breaks so they don't exhaust themselves from compassion fatigue. I can speak about projection anger and compassion fatigue because I fell victim to both of them. I am thankful I endured both because now I can help others heal from it and hopefully avoid it. Our warriors are given so many opportunities but our Caregivers and children are not. So when the opportunities arise I jump on them, because I don't know when the next one will arrive. I am sorry you do not understand. However, you can move on with your idiocy and leave us to heal. We need support, smiles and hope. If you cannot offer those to our families then best wishes to you.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Operation Home Cooking

Yesterday I along with 2500 other military spouses were given the gift of Operation Home Cooking. The organizers of the Metropolitan Cooking show here in DC decided they wanted to treat military spouses to a special day out. It was a great way to spend a day.

We got to start off our day being greeted by lots of military officials and then we had a cooking demonstration by Peter Smith, who came in 2nd place on Top Chef and owns a restaurant in DC. He was really fun to watch and created a scallop and pasta dish. Then a Master Sargent from the Army and his crew showed us his favorite pecan pie. He also provided the crowd with a bunch of tips.

I was excited to see Dr Jill Biden walk up beside us. I have highly admired what she and the First Lady Michele Obama are trying to do for our military families. I wanted to run up and thank her, but the Secret Service are not big fans of you doing that. So I just took pictures of her instead. Dr Biden talked for a little bit and thanked the crowd for their service sacrifices. She was an amazing speaker and you could feel how sincere she was about her words. Dr. Biden then introduced Guy Fieri.

Guy is hilarious. I have watched his show several times, but I had no idea how funny he was. We laughed and laughed and laughed. He kept giving things away to the crowd and at one point he threw a ham. Guy made a bacon-pork roll up and green bean casserole. It smelled so yummy and delicious. I really wish they would have let us try some of it.

Our special event was over and my friend Heather (who I came to the event with) and I saw some of our other friends from the hospital. We went over to talk with them and then I noticed Dr. Biden was talking to other spouses. I told Heather I wanted to meet her and we decided that we would hang around long enough to meet her. I am so glad we did. We got to watch Guy walk up and talk with Dr Biden and it was so cool to just watch them hang out. Then Guy suggested that we take a group picture.


After the group picture we started to walk away but Dr Biden's aide told us to stay and get our own pictures. We waited around a little longer and we got our one on one!! Dr Biden was so gracious and lovely. I would LOVE to sit down and have a real conversation with her and thank her for everything she is trying to do for our military families. She offered to take one on one pictures, but Heather and I decided to get one together because their were so many others behind us. We wanted to give them their turn. Dr Biden asked where we were stationed and when we told her we were wounded warrior wives, she immediately asked if anyone from the White House had reached out to us. I got to tell her I had met the President twice and that his fabulous aide was in touch with our family frequently. She then asked for our names and wished us and our soldiers well.

Heather and I ventured out into the cooking show. It reminded me of the Southern Living shows we have in TN. Tons of food and drink samples, cooking demonstrations, cookbooks and on and on. We bumped into one of the moms whose son is in the same company as our husbands. So our duo became a trio. We had such a great day. We walked around and compared and told our stories. It was great to have a day away from the hospital and it just be about us gals. We discovered some awesome peanut butter, some great granola and I found this awesome coffee stuff.

When I returned home I got to hear all about Chaz and the girls' day. Chaz drove them to the hospital for their Fall Family day and then to Taco Bell for lunch. It is so awesome that we have our van. Help Our Military Heroes thank you again for awarding us that van. Our van gives Chaz his freedom back and it is just incredible. He can just get in a drive, no legs required. The girls love having Daddy drive because they think it is so cool. Chaz can have his Daddy/Daughter dates just like he did before January 22, 2011 thank to your organization. After we shared our day with each other, we all jumped in our bed and cuddled and watched some Disney together.

Days like yesterday make the road to the new normal so freaking awesome! Thanks again to Operation Home Cooking and Help Our Military Heroes for making our day so great!!!