Sunday, February 26, 2012

Watch Your Thoughts...

We all have different ways of handling the catastrophic events that happen in our lives. I am very proud of the way our little family has chosen to handle all of this. Let me tell you flat out being blown up by an IED and everything that follows it sucks big time. Sorry but there's no better word for it. But you have to make the choice along the way to embrace the suck and foster your resiliency or foster your resentment. You choose your path, no one can do it for you. The anger that comes with all of this will eat through your soul if you let it. You are the one that controls it all. You just have to pick your battles and make sure you put the right blocks onto your foundation. What I have learned about all of this, is that one person can change their life with their words.

In the movie Iron Lady, Meryl Steep acting as Margaret Thatcher said, "Watch your thoughts for they become words. Watch your words for they become actions. Watch your actions for they become your habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny! What we think we become. My father always said that... and I think I am fine."

Throughout all of this, I never let the damning thoughts into my head. I believe you can control your future with your words. I have never said Chaz will never walk again, or other detrimental things like that. No I chose to say things like "We'll fake it til we make it" and sometimes I'll quote Pat from Train, "If you don't know the words, then just make sh!t up."

I have always spoken what I have wanted for our family. When we didn't know if Chaz was going to keep his right arm. I told God we need that arm and God heard me (as well as all the others praying for Chaz.) I said things like my husband will walk again, he will drive again, and our family will be happier than ever. I know I said our lives will never be the same, but that's one never that came with a positive connotation. We will never be the same, because we will be better than ever. I choose my words carefully because I know God is listening and God will make things happen with time. I knew Chaz wouldn't walk immediately but I knew he would walk. I don't know how I am going to get his house built, but I know God does. I don't have all the answers, but I know God will give them to me as I need them. I just have to keep walking in faith.

I have been through so many fires and storms before. I have seen hell and it was way before January 22, 2011. I am so thankful for all of those fires and storms because they helped me navigate through this one. Others have not had the blessings of the fires and storms, this is their first rodeo and they have no idea how to hold on. People say some really ignorant things when they are dealing with a traumatic event. I have to tell you my all time favorite is "You don't understand." And my other favorite comes when another injured family member tries to one up our situation by alluding to the fact they feel they have it so much worse.

This is not a contest of who has it worse. So stop competing, you won't win a medal. No we are all here thanks to something that went on in OEF, OIF or OND (Operation New Dawn, yes folks there's another one). I have said again and again you and I are here for the same reason. I truly hate that I have to have met you here, but we're here together so let's not compete, let's work together and heal. This is not a contest, so stop making it one.

Chaz and I choose the company we keep very carefully. We want positive uplifting influences around us and our girls. We don't want your pity party and we won't give you one and we don't want your can't do attitude. Life is awesome, not awful. We want faith, hope, love and can-dos in our lives. We have always treated "can't" like it's a curse word in our home. Our girls will tell you that you should say can't. Why? Because you can do anything, sometimes you just need help.

It is so easy to look at a situation like ours and feel defeated. But you are only as defeated as you let yourself be. Thank goodness I am so freaking stubborn. Thank goodness I will not accept defeat. Thank goodness I know I am a child of the most high God. I know if he is with me, no one can stand in my way. God has planted so many seeds in my heart throughout my life and he chose to begin harvesting them on January 22, 2011.

Someone asked me how can you be so happy as you deal with this. Well first I reminded them we won January 22, 2011. The enemy tried to take my husband and failed. Then that day I sat down and said gees this sucks and I cried to my best friend and I got it all out. Then I grieved for my husband's change in physical appearance. By the time I saw Chaz for the first time I knew I was ready.

I have to tell you knowing I was being judged by so many people pushed me to do the best I could. Knowing that our girls were following my lead caused me to make sure I was laying the right path. I am so thankful for the pressure of those who wanted me to fail and even more thankful for our two beautiful little girls who demand the best out of Chaz and I and they don't even know they are doing it.

When you are going through the storms and fires of life you cannot hold up your defensive walls at the same time. I am so thankful God has taught us this lesson because he showed Chaz and I who needs to be on our team. He helped us make an all-star team. Then slowly but surely God has helped us put concrete on that foundation we built with this team helping us. Now since our foundation is so strong we are able to help others build their foundation too.

What a blessing this journey has been! It has been hard and exhausting but I am eternally grateful for this crazy journey we have traveled. And now I am more than grateful that we can pay it forward.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

11 years later....

Wow, time flies when your having fun and Chaz and I have had a lot of fun over the years. Today we will look back on all of that fun by celebrating 11th wedding anniversary together. 11 years ago today was a super crazy day (but aren't all wedding days). But it all worked out and we made it to the chapel on time.

Here's our wedding day picture. That's my oldest niece Salem in front of us. She wanted to be a princess like Aunt Jecca that day. She's now 17 and in my mind she's still this little girl.

I wanted to just get married at the courthouse. Yes me, I wanted that, Chaz wanted a wedding. I wanted to spend money on a honeymoon. But our families convinced us to have a wedding. Chaz was in Kosovo, so my sister, my mom and I tossed together a quick small wedding and reception in Nashville and it was perfect to us. It was a lot of fun putting it all together, but it was not fun dealing with all the criticism. It amazes me how when you get married people forget that it's about the two people getting married. Weddings are crazy. So glad I only have to do it once.

Out of eleven anniversaries together, Chaz and I have only had a few of them actually together. The first one was ours and we attempted to eat our freezer burnt wedding cake. The second and third had him in Korea. Deryn surprised us with her arrival September of 2002, so I had someone to celebrate with. We had our fourth together, but our fifth was spent with him in Iraq and me with two babies to celebrate with. After that it's all a blur. We had number six and seven together and God Bless him he forgot one of them because he was at the NCO Academy. He worked fifteen days on, four days off there so you can understand why. He was at a school for eight and nine. And I'll never forget our tenth.

Our tenth was spent in WRAMC on Ward 57. We had many people come together to help make our day special. Ortho Trauma gave us the gift of a surgery free day. Chaz's Dad had brought in some roses for Chaz to give to me. Our friends had helped us get a TV and DVD player so we could watch a movie. Chaz had finally gotten his appetite back so I let him choose dinner. I got to order us some Popeye's fried chicken. (I was not impressed, but let me note that I don't like fast food.) I don't remember what movie we watched but I know Chaz stayed awake for it and that was really exciting. Last year at this time we had celebrated our 1 month Alive Day the day before and then our anniversary. Chaz was still in a lot of pain then and didn't stay awake for long periods of time yet. So him making it through an entire movie was a big deal.

This is a picture of us from last year! He convinced me to crawl up next to him and give him his cuddles. So with the nurses permission, I did. I didn't stay long, but I stayed as long as I could because Chaz fell asleep on me. I waited until half of my body was numb then I epically failed as I tried to crawl out away from him. It was really funny. I woke him up and he quickly realized what I was doing and laughed at me. I slept in that delightfully uncomfortable pull out chair in his room that night. We truly made our 10th anniversary as fun as possible. Together Chaz and I made the best out of some really crappy circumstances.

With all my back and forth between TN and DC I promised Chaz that I'd be with him for our day. It was a simple day, but it could have been a day I could have remembered without him if that IED would have succeeded in its mission. I was so thrilled to be with him for our tenth anniversary together. The best part of that day was when he and I were alone watching that movie. For the past month we had had a gazillion people in and out of our room at a constant pace. The nurses tried to stay out as long as possible that day. I truly miss our nurses and staff from Ward 57. They became like family to us. They were so sweet to us on our anniversary and helped us keep the peace and quiet. Heck they were amazing the entire time while Chaz was in-patient, not just that one day.

I didn't care what we did last year because we were together. Now that we've moved on, I still don't care what we do because we are together. We are long overdue for a honeymoon and one day we will have that. We were supposed to go to Vegas this past summer and get remarried by a drive thru Elvis to celebrate our tenth. Instead we got to go on stage with Train in August in Nashville and celebrate their awesome song Marry Me with 11,000 other people. That trumps Drive Thru Elvis just a bit.

This picture is one of my all time favorites!! I love the pride you can see in Deryn's eyes. Ryann is being her shy self. Jimmy is clapping and Pat is having a moment. Me, I was thinking, I am truly one blessed woman. I seriously was so overwhelmed by the fact that the three people I love more than anything in this world are with me on stage with my favorite band whose music has provided the soundtrack to our lives.
What are we doing today?! Nothing! Well Chaz is at the hospital, I have to catch up on work and the girls' home school. Then we'll enjoy the rest of the day as a family. After all this is our family's anniversary and this year we're together to celebrate it. Maybe we'll get that honeymoon next year! ;)

I hope you all have a great day!! I know we will!!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Valentine's Day Baskets

Yes, I know this is a little late. We have been so busy. I am hoping to get caught up this week. I wanted to start with this awesome story.

About two weeks before Valentine's Day I received a Facebook message from a fellow wounded warrior family. Carlos and Rosemarie Evans had just been to San Antonio, TX and someone had shared a brilliant idea with them. They decided to share it with me and Chaz. Their friend in Texas decided that the caregivers needed something special on Valentine's Day. You see the caregivers (moms, wives, girlfriends, brothers, friends, etc) are there day in and day out. We give up everything to be there and it is exhausting. We are not looking for an award or anything special, but a thank you every once in a while just fills our hearts. So we set out to do just that.

Rosemarie told me the plan and we immediately got to work. We each went to the different organizations that we have contacts with and asked them to help us make this all possible. Then I went to the hospital administration and asked for help with a space to build our baskets, a place to store them over night, if we could pass them out and permission to do all of the above. I was ready to convince them to let us do it. But instead this is what I heard. "So let me get this straight...A Marine wife and Army wife want to make and give baskets to our wounded so they have something to give their caregivers on Valentine's Day?" I said, "Yes." It was followed with, "You don't know how much I love this idea. Absolutely you can do this email exactly what you need and it is done." Hello easy button!

Then the non-profits and friends just lined up to help! Together Rosemarie and I brought The Semper Fi Fund, Operation Ward 57, Operation Second Chance, Help Our Military Heroes, Freedom Petals, Maryland chapter Gold Star mothers, Aleethia Foundation, the Yellow Ribbon Fund, plus individuals like Donna, Susan, Karyn, Marisa, Keita, Cindy, Ed and Breck. Also I received some awesome Valentines from school children and Sunday School classes. Then I recruited my friends Mary, Margaret, Heather, Eliza, Siobhan, Emily and Laura to help us assemble the baskets on Monday the 13th. Of course we made our little cuties help out too. Which they were thrilled to do. Here's what our Monday looked like!!

So you can see we had a ton of fun and look what we accomplished together!! Can you say awesome?! We met at 10 and got done in time for lunch. Then we went and rested for the next day. We left feeling really awesome about what we had just accomplished.

Tuesday we met at 10 again and loaded up the carts and headed for the 4th floor. We had our own Navy escorts so we'd know exactly where to go. For those of us who have been on the outpatient side for so long it was a wow moment. For me I remember being in the hospital with Chaz. I remember being so tired and so worried about everything. As we walked we shared our stories of where we were and giggled about how bendy straws were a highly coveted item in the hospital. One by one we went room to room and shared our baskets with the warriors so they could share them with the caregivers. Many rooms were empty, but the Navy staff had written down who had how many caregivers for us. So the rooms that needed one got one, the rooms that needed two got two and we left a card on each basket that read "For your caregiver" on the envelope. So there were some nice surprises when the families returned.

The highlight for most of us came from these two rooms. One room had a solider from 10th mountain and his mom. We told him how we know how much they appreciate their caregiver, but its kind of hard to shop so we did it for you. That soldier was so thankful. When we told him who we were there was this instant bonding moment where you could feel the connection between us all. They were so thankful and sweet.

The second room that stood out had a warrior (I don't remember which branch) and his wife. You could see she was so tired and worn out. When we told her who we were, I thought she was going to cry. We took extra time with her. We reassured her we know what it's like to sit in those chairs all day and sleep in that pull out thing. I stayed in there with some others and we gave her some extra time. She needed to be reassured that she wasn't alone on this road. We left our cell numbers and emails for her to get in touch with us. But it was this look on her face of finally someone knows, that has resonated with me.
I know we made their day special and that was better than any gift or any amount of money you could ever give me.

We finished the 4th floor then went to the 7th floor and ICU. Since we had baskets left we took them over to the outpatient building and began passing them out over there. There were several guys who forgot it was Valentine's Day and now they had something to give. 

I am so honored Rosemarie and Carlos thought of me and asked me to help. Together we made one heck of a team. I hope this is one of many great ideas to come together. The Navy and Army were thrilled with what we did. I assume the Marines are too, but we're not Marines so I didn't hear from that side. One Navy staff member asked how did you gals do all this. I responded quickly with, "Because we kept you out of it until we had all of it together." He laughed and agreed, then said, "Well you ladies have done an amazing thing here and I hope you do it again." We all know the more hands you have in the pot, sometimes those hands have a tendency to ruin it. 

I want to thank Rosemarie for sharing her idea, my friends for helping us pay it forward, the non-profits and individuals who donated goodies to the basket and the staff of WFCC at the hospital for making everything so perfectly easy. It takes team work to make the dream work. We might not have made dreams come true, but we sure as heck made many days a lot brighter!!!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Keeping the Balls in the Air

I once was told the secret to juggling is to just keep the balls up in the air. My friend said once that if you look carefully your hands barely touch the balls. You just keep tossing them up. If you try to hold onto one too long you will drop them all. I have never learned how to actually juggle things with my hands. On this journey to the new normal, I feel like that is what I am constantly doing. I've always felt kinda like a juggler as a Mom, military wife and small business owner, but now there's just so much more as a wounded warrior wife. It's so true, "The fight for the wounded never ends."

On January 22, 2011, I was a Mom, Army wife, small business owner, Pampered Chef consultant, Kappa Delta Clarksville Alumnae Association Shamrock chair, Girl Scout leader, PTO volunteer, ASCPE Fellowship member, Dance mom and now I can't remember what else. Luckily I managed to keep it all very well organized and somehow managed to get it all done.

I have to tell you I laughed so hard last week when I was accused of controlling Chaz. True, I am have a little OCD. True, I have zero problem speaking up for what's right. True, I get crap done. Also the truth is my husband does not need for me to speak for him so I have not and will not do that ever. My husband may have lost his legs but his personality and brain functions are exactly like they were before he stepped on the IED. Chaz is so amazing. He doesn't need anyone to tell him what to do. Do I encourage him?! Damn straight, I do. There's a huge difference between encouraging and controlling. And seriously I need as many easy buttons as possible. I need Chaz to manage Chaz and I'll manage me, the girls, the bills, the girls' education and everything else.

Sure in the early days following January 22, 2011, I did way more for him than I do now. I helped him with all sorts of things. Come on, the guy only had one useable arm when I first got him back. But every chance I got I encouraged and pushed him to keep trying to do more. I still help him with a lot of things. I have never pitied Chaz nor told him he can't do something. But control him, that is far fetched?!

I already have so many balls in the air why would I want to add more?! Common sense would tell you I would be looking to drop some of them out?! And FYI I couldn't control Chaz if I wanted to, he's as stubborn as I am. My husband is a brilliant man and doesn't need anyone to tell him what to do. He has gotten this far with my support (notice the word support, not control). Do you think we'd be celebrating our 11th wedding anniversary if I had ever tried to control him?!

Part of the controlling part came when Chaz turned down a trip. The girls and I were not allowed to go. I didn't even know about the trip until after the rumors started. People don't understand why Chaz doesn't want to go on these trips where families aren't allowed. Here's why, Deryn is going to be 10 this year. Do you know Chaz has missed over half of her life thanks to his career choice? Thanks to the IED he is finally getting to be a Dad and he is enjoying every minute of it. Chaz wants to be with his girls. He has told me more than once that just being in the apartment and all four of us being here together gives him so much peace. The bottom line is the man almost didn't make it. He and I look at all of this as a gift. We are not staring a gift horse in the mouth. We are beyond thankful that we are all still together. Chaz just wants to be a Dad right now. Before we know it the girls will be grown and gone. There will always be trips, but we can't go back and enjoy our girls while their young. It's unfortunate that more people don't understand this. We are a team we heal together. That's what Chaz wants and that's what he gets! I know we are so weird because we like our kids and we like to do things as a family. We like weird and we'll stay that way. It worked out pretty well for us so far.

People crack me up. We are living in an oxymoron. You are told that if you need help this is who you go to. Well that person blows you off, so you go some place else. Well then that first person gets their feelings hurt because you went to someone else. Then they get mad because it's the Army and they get yelled at when they don't do their jobs. To which I always reply, well then you should do your job. I have told several people that if you worked for me, I would have already fired you. So because I get things done I get accused of being controlling. I can see how determination becomes controlling. But that's not what is going on here. It all goes back to you not doing your job and me finding someone who does.

I am very familiar with the Army's structure of how it all works. That's how I know how to navigate the system. But WTB is not your typical line unit, but many working in it fail to recognize this. For over a decade Chaz did his job and I stayed out of it. At the beginning of this journey, I had to become more involved with the US Army then I ever have been. He needed me to handle it all and I did. At first we were told there are people there to help the families and now we're being told that they are for the soldiers only. Well this is not just about the soldiers. We are healing families. I know the Army doesn't normally mess with the families and now we're asking you to do something so far from the norm. But please don't tell me one thing and then come back and tell me the opposite. The bottom line is who is here to help these families?! We have got to make this system clear so families can navigate it. The wounded warriors need us to do this for them. In my words, it's time for a come to Jesus meeting. I can't stand watching this families suffer. They don't know where to go to get help and they are going through so much. Things were getting better, but we have slid back down a bit and now it's time to see what we can do to get it back and build on the good.

In the meantime, I am going to see about those juggling lessons. I missed the memo on controlling Chaz. So I guess I need to learn how to juggle more balls. I am so glad that we never truly graduate high school, we just learn how to weed through the BS. Glad I like gardening so well! ;)

Friday, February 10, 2012

SCAADL Confusion....

For those who have been following for a long time, I know I have explained SCAADL (Special Compensation for Assistance with Activities of Daily Living) before but this deserves repeating. For those new to WW (wounded warrior) battle, let me explain a few things to you. When your service member is injured, you (the caregiver) are first put on ITO (Invitational Travel Orders) to come be here with them. Once you arrive at their MTF (Medical Treatment Facility) you begin receiving $71 per day Per Diem (this is amount is based on your geographic location, $71 is for the DC/VA/MD area). Once your soldier discharges you then receive NMA (Non-Medical Attendant) orders which entitles you to continue to receive the Per Diem. You are on those orders until someone decides to stop them. It is truly unclear as to why the NMA orders end. I have asked many, many times and each time I get a different answer. The most recent one was "Well you've been here for a year." I have also heard, "You're warrior doesn't need an NMA." "They end once you are assigned here." "You're his wife, we shouldn't pay you to be here." I have several more comments like this. Funny thing is Chaz and many other service members will need a NMA for the rest of their lives. But I guess that fact is irrelevant?!

This past fall the SCAADL policy was passed. Here's the link to learn a little more about it.
SCAADL is a great way to help our wounded but a couple of little details were missed. The intent of SCAADL is to give the service member money to help pay for assistance to help them in their daily living activities. What I see is this. SCAADL was a way to justify terminating NMA orders and an attempt to save money from a very costly war. I pray that I am wrong.

Here's why I have that assumption. ITO/NMA Per Diem is non-taxable because it is a payment to help the caregivers with their expenses while caring for their loved one. In other words, it's a travel allowance. Caregivers are receiving $2,130 per month (tax-free) to be here. ITO/NMA funds are paid directly to the caregiver. On average, SCAADL pays the service member just over $1,000 and is fully taxable and is paid to the service member. So those funds are cut in half and fully taxable. I raise the question why?

First I question the taxation part. The IRS wrote Publication 3 specifically for the military taxpayer.  It outlines all of our tax benefits in great detail. I call your attention to Please look at page 4 Table 1- Included items. You will see all the special pays that are fully taxable to the military members. Please read the list carefully. Note that all the special pays listed, except SCAADL have an active component to them. For example Optometry pay refers to the fact that you are working in the Optometry field for the military. Veterinarian pay means you will be working as a Veterinarian for the military. Now someone please explain to me what out wounded warriors are actively doing to earn SCAADL? Their Caregivers are actively working to help their warriors, but the funds go to the warriors and are taxable to the wounded?! I am all sorts of confused.

Next on page 5 you'll find table 2- Excluded items. In this list you will find one pay listed as Disability, including payments received for injuries incurred as a direct result of a terrorist or military action. Doesn't SCAADL match this description?! Aren't we paying our warriors SCAADL to help them recover from their disability that occurred in military action?! Compare the description of SCAADL from the first link to this one. We have an apparent contradiction don't we?! Hmm...this is in Table 2 and listed as excluded from taxation.

Why do I care so much? Here's why. I have been completing tax returns for over 11 years now. I speak IRS very fluently. I know when something with good merits ends up with bad results. Take the Making Work Pay Credit that we've all had for the past 2 years for an example. If you did not adjust your withholding last year to compensate for that credit, your refund will be $400 (or $800 if Married filing Joint) less than what it was last year and you could owe taxes this year. Making Work Pay was designed to help you get ready for how the IRS readjusted the with holding tables two years ago. The grace period ended last year so you'll feel it soon. If you had a good preparer then they were watching this trend for you and advised you appropriately.

Now let's look at the typical wounded warrior and his taxes. The average wounded warrior is in their 20s and is single or is married with one small child. Since the tax laws are in their favor they never owe taxes. Those with children get a very nice tax return which includes earned income credit, additional child tax credit. If SCAADL is added to their pay then they are adding $10,000 to $20,000 to their taxable income. That additional taxable income will disqualify them for those tax credits and if they have not adjusted their with holdings appropriately then they will owe taxes when they go to file their return.

So I ask why are we going to allow our wounded to pay the taxes for their injuries? Their tax credits should not be in jeopardy because someone didn't read Pub 3 like they should have. So let's fix it while we can. There's a new National Defense Authorization Act that will be coming up in the Fall. the NDAA of 2011 put SCAADL in place for fiscal year 2012. So why can't we add a paragraph to correct the taxation of SCAADL in the 2012 and make it retroactive (Congress has made things retroactive many times before). We can fix this now and prevent all of this.

I had a Senator's Aide tell me that if we make SCAADL non-taxable then we have to find the money elsewhere because our country depends on that revenue. I would like to slap my BS card on the table right now. Here's why. 240 service members became amputees last year. The average person is receiving around $1000 from SCAADL and has an average tax rate of 10-15%. That equates to $100 to $150 and if you multiply that times the 240 and you have $24,000 to $36,000 per month or $288,00 to $432,000 for the year. There are so many variables that play into my figures and they are all worst case scenario. You are telling me that our whole country will cease from function if we don't make up for the lost revenue of the taxation of our wounded?! Really you guys spend that on a bomb?! Senator Paul from KY just gave $500,000 back to the Treasury just a few months ago. There see I already found your money for you! Problem solved, let's fix this! I bet if we ask a few people to foot the bill for our guys they would. Someone call Gary Sinise, I but Lt Dan would help us find that money somewhere s our amputees aren't paying taxes on their injuries.

My next counter to this "we have to put the taxes back" argument is found in the WTU policy. If you go to and go to page 75 to letter d, you'll see if our warriors are re-hospitalized because of their wounds from combat then their entire pay is non-taxable. So we can make their entire pay (which would include SCAADL) non-taxable while they are in the hospital and we don't have to replace those tax dollars? But it is vital we replace all the out-patient taxable income which might add up to $36,000 per month?! I am confused?! So we pick and choose which dollars to replace?! Wait, no that sounds about right. But the argument remains why are we making our wounded pay taxes on the SCAADL pay. They pay their taxes through the base pay.

Here's another piece to my argument. When service members are in a combat zone all of their pays are excluded from income. So there's more missing revenue that needs to be replaced?! Let me assure if we can make a Colonel's pay non-taxable while in combat, then we can afford to make SCAADL non-taxable period. Our Colonels generate way more in tax revenue then our wounded do. Military personnel have tax laws in their favor that have been there for over a decade. Someone just didn't take the time out to review them carefully.

My next problem with SCAADL is the fact it goes to the warrior not the caregiver. I have been blessed to hear the stories of the other families and how they have sacrificed everything to be here. Numerous caregivers have lost jobs, houses, friends, their freedoms, everything to stand by their warrior's side and help them heal. Wives, parents, siblings and friends depend on that little bit of income to pay their bills and eat while they are here caring for their warriors.

To me, the WTB here is way too quick to cut those NMA orders off. And I will tell you right now, if I hear one more person from WTB say, "We pay you to be here to do this job." I swear I'll scream. First you personally didn't pay me squat. You did not personally pull out your check book and write a check to me. Second we did not sign a contract of employment with you, nor the US Army. Third, we fill out a travel voucher and file it was Department of Defense Accounting Service after we've been here for 15 days. If we take our soldier anywhere we lose that little bit of income we had. So tell me again how you pay me to be here to do a job, but when we take them home we continue to do that same job?! If you were paying me to do a job wouldn't you pay me no matter where I am doing that job?!

I am curious how you can justify the claim, "You pay me to be here." Instead of dangling a carrot over our faces like we are work horses, you should be thanking us for helping take care of our wounded together. Please remember we did not ask to be here. We are here because we love our service members. Our warriors need us to work together. So your threats and condescending attitudes need to stop. We sacrificed everything just to help our warriors move on. Our sacrifices and hard work need to be appreciated not taken for granted and belittle. I would love to see these people who are so condescending spend one hour in our shoes. I would say a whole day, but my money says they wouldn't make it an hour.

You know what's funny?! The Nurse Case Managers are the ones who help maintain those NMA orders. You know I have never ever heard one of them say "We pay you to be here." I got to tell you, I love the Nurse Case Managers here. They are so compassionate and caring. Ours have been just awesome. I have never heard anyone complain about NCMs. That says a lot huh?!

So how can you help me fix this problem. You can contact your representatives and tell them to fight for our wounded. Tell them our wounded shouldn't pay taxes for their injuries. Here's the link for the House and here's the one for the Senate so contact them today! Feel free to send them this link. They might not be aware SCAADL is taxable and they might not realize the ramifications of this policy. So please educate them, don't yell at them for this misunderstanding. I will tell you right now it was a simple over sight. But it is an over sight we need to catch right now before it ends in disaster.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Sittin' on the sword...

"Do what you feel in your heart to be right- for you'll be criticized anyway. You'll be damned if you do, and damned if you don't." -Eleanor Roosevelt

I love this quote by Mrs. Roosevelt. It is so beyond true. Since we returned to Maryland last month, I have truly felt like I am sitting on a double edge sword and no matter which way I turn I am risking being cut. The truth is I am just following this quote. If I speak up I might be able to help these families. That means I will meet with important people and discuss important things. The consequence is because of who I talk to and who I am seen with, I get accused of so many things. (And let me tell you the accusations are hilarious. Chaz and I have had so many giggles over these silly things.)

I feel if I don't speak up then these families will not get help and then the number of vets committing suicide goes from 18 per day to a higher number. I cannot stand the thought of losing another one of these Heroes. I can't stand the thought of their families going on without them. I already know enough kids growing up without their Dads because they were killed in action. If my speaking up causes rumors and panic within the military and that means I make this road a little easier for one other family then keep throwing your stones. I can take it. But the one thing I will not tolerate is idol threats towards Chaz and his career. I have yet to get involved (yes in all 14 years) in Chaz's career, but if you want me to start now I will. I double dog dare you to threaten my hubby over one more thing that is absolutely ludicrous.

I think that some people in the hospital have forgotten one key thing. I AM NOT IN THE US ARMY.  You cannot order me to do squat. If I tell you something it's our of courtesy not obligation. My NMA orders ceased on January 31. According to the Army I can go home now because my orders ended because we've been here for a year. But on the next breathe I have been told that I am expected to stay because I am his wife. Nice, huh?! How about I really don't care if you give me orders or not? How about I am going to do what's in the best interest of my family regardless of your opinion? How about I will continue to have my "secret meetings" with people who intimidate you so I can help these other families? Your accusations are ridiculously unfounded and simply make you look like a fool. You are sincerely only hurting yourself. I will sit back and let you hang yourself with your own rope. One thing life has taught me, it's that you must pick your battles. Well your ignorance is not worth my precious time. I don't have enough time to spare as it is.

Chaz has made fun of me for years because I have never paid attention to that whole ranking system thing. Here's how I work. You are human being like me, right?! So I am simply going to treat you exactly how I want to be treated. It is that simple. I am not a kiss ass, I am a direct shooter and that's why the people I am working with like me. I tell them exactly how it is and as I'm talking to them I offer up solutions. I work very well with others especially those wanting the same outcome I want. I like working together with people. I am not the typical jealous girl who is only out looking for herself. No I think globally, not locally.

I get it. When you are the military, you have a rank and file system. It scares the crap out of you to see an E6's wife talking with Generals, Admirals, Senators, Congressmen and the White House. I get it. But here's how I stand if you are doing your job then you shouldn't be concerned for one second who I am talking with and about. If you are running around and starting rumors then that tells me you are paranoid. Why are you paranoid? Why are you trying to get someone else in trouble?! The first time I let it slide but then when it keeps happening I begin thinking you are covering something up. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Well your fooling has been halted.

You want to know what I am talking about to these people who intimidate you?! I am talking about these amazing families that are not getting enough support. I give examples of their sacrifices. I talk about how they are losing their jobs and homes because they gave it all up to be here with their wounded warrior. I am discussing policies and laws. We are brainstorming policies, events and ideas to help these families. Our warriors are getting what they need but their support system is not. Our military families need a strong support system to help them through their healing. We can and will do better.I am so honored to be a small part of a team that is producing so much good for others.

Why are they talking to me? Because I am on the ground floor and I have the perspective they need so they can understand what's going on. And finally someone is not afraid to be honest so they ask me more. The people I am talking to are constantly having to navigating through the system to find the truth. I am their easy button. Add to that I have a degree in Political Science and History. I have studied laws and policies and I get it. I understand both sides. I communicate very effectively. Yes I got an A in speech and debate. I have the perspective they need and the education and experience to back it up. That's the bottom line on that issue.

The bottom line to all of this is my heart says help these families. So I will continue to speak up! So many of these families are so very tired. They don't have the energy to navigate the system. God seems to just keep putting people right on my path. Together we can make changes. In your eyes, I may just be a little E6's wife. In my eyes, I am a woman who has the education and experience to speak up for what's right. Your ignorance will not stop me. You will not get me down and you sure as heck won't order me to do so. I ask that you please just go do your job and quit meddling in my business. The only person on this earth I answer to is my amazing husband. He is very proud of me and very over protective. I wasted tears on you once, their will not be a second time.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

What keeps me up at night?!

Our family has been healing for over a year now. It's interesting to me to see how much my worries have changed over the past year. One year ago I couldn't sleep because I was worried about my little family. The what if's had me tossing and turning all night some times. Then there's the dreams where I see Chaz actually walking beside that wall and being blown up and yelling for the medic. I still have those dreams. When I do, I wake up immediately and reach out to touch him to make sure he's still with me. The bad dreams about my family have reduced tremendously, but now I have other things keeping me up at night. Now I constantly think about the other families on this journey. It is my worries for them that keeps me from sleeping sometimes.

We have been blessed by so many people throughout our journey. We have made friends that we would not have had the pleasure to meet if we all didn't have IEDs and injuries in common. I have tried the best I can to help these other families. Even if it's just making them smile when I bring in some home made goodies into our weekly meetings or sharing goodies that people have sent to us with them. I am constantly trying to think of more things that can be done to help these other families. This road to the new normal is so incredibly hard. Curve balls are constantly being thrown at you. You constantly feel like you are in the middle of the ocean treading water and randomly some one comes by and pushes down on your head and it feels like you can't come up for air. The families of our wounded are in crisis and it's beyond time to address those issues. We are all on this very long continuum and we need to work together to get as many families to the low end of the crisis line as possible.

I got to join many other caregivers last Monday and listen to our First Lady announce some of the new revisions that the Dept of Labor has been working on for our military families. There were two that made me the most excited. One was to allow families to enjoy all 15 days of their soldiers' R&R and not have to worry about losing their jobs. Also caregivers coming to care for a service member are protected for up to 26 weeks under the new FMLA. I won't go into all the details because it's a big package. But it is a huge step in the right direction! If you are a military family you should read this over to make sure you understand how it effects you. If you know a military family you'll want to share this link with them so they can learn more. Here's the link where you can learn more about the changes. 

I have been with Chaz for over 13 out of the almost 14 years of his military career. I have had so many friends lose their jobs because they chose to be with their spouses when they came home for their 2 weeks R&R from OEF or OIF. I don't think that the average American understands how crucial these changes are. When our service members return from overseas duty they need family time with the ones they love. It is vital to their reintegration. Their spouses need to be able to enjoy them without having to worry about if they have a job to go back to or not. We all need that time to be together and talk about what they've missed over the past how ever many months or for Army families, the past year. Every time Chaz would come home from deployment, we would stay up all night talking about what he missed and me showing him the pictures and videos of the girls. I loved our reconnecting time. But I never had to worry about losing my job. I worked for H&R Block for 7 years and they were great about me taking time off for Chaz. Now I work for myself and my clients all totally understand, heck most of my clients are active or retired military. Thankfully now other families won't have to either.

Now as a caregiver, I have lost count of how many caregivers have lost their jobs because they are here caring for our wounded. These parents, siblings, girlfriends, etc are sacrificing so much and then they lose their jobs, homes and the list keeps going. At least now with the changes to the FMLA, they don't have to worry about their jobs for 26 weeks. I am so happy that they have some piece of mind. I know for some it is too late, but we all know we will have new members of the Wounded Warrior club. The ones who follow behind us will benefit greatly from these changes.

Our service members and their families deserve better and people are working on making it better. I am so honored that I was able to be in the audience to hear the Secretary of Labor and First Lady talk about the changes. I have to admit my favorite part was listening to the caregiver (I believe her name was Ryanne) talk about her journey. I loved it when the First Lady told us all that this caregiver got her family back on their feet and then she went on to complete her Ph. D.  I thought how awesome is that?! If she can get her Ph D, I can get my law degree.Wahoo, there's hope!

Another great part of the announcements was when Mary Winnefeld was thanked by the First Lady for her hard work. Mrs. Winnefeld has been working so diligently to get more jobs for military families and so much more. I have had the pleasure of speaking with her on several occasions. She is so passionate about helping the military families. I was beyond thrilled to hear her thanked publicly by the First Lady. It's thanks to Mrs. Winnefeld that the job fairs sponsored by the US Chamber of Commerce are being opened up to the caregivers of the wounded. Normally these events are only open to military spouses and service members. But thanks to Mrs Winnefeld speaking up, the caregivers have a great resource to go to look for a new jobs.

The biggest highlight of my day came when I was asked, "Hey Jessica can you come with me for a minute?" Once I was away from the crowd, I found out that Mrs. Obama had requested to speak with me. You may recall the phone call from November. Well turns out she's been trying to meet my family since. But we spent a month in TN then came back to MD for 8 days to go to Vail. This event was a good way to put us in the same place at the same time. Unfortunately Chaz and I didn't have time to get him the proper attire for the event. We had landed in DC at 6pm Saturday and found out about the event right after we landed. Then we found out Sunday about the dress code. The event was at 9:30 Monday morning, so that left us no time to shop or prepare. Since I have been to many other meetings and conferences I was set. We knew the girls would be bored so we put them into Austin's Room to play instead. Mrs. Obama only got me on Monday. It was bittersweet, I was beyond honored, but I had no one with me to share that honor with immediately. Had I known the meeting was going to take place I would have made sure the other 3 parts to our team of 4 would have been there. One thing I have learned about the White House is they like surprising our military families. They like putting smiles on faces just like I do. Chaz and the girls were super excited for me and the girls have asked for the pictures several times. The White House photographer took them so we'll have to wait for them. It was cool to come home and share that with my family and see how proud they were of me.

I got 3 big hugs and many thanks for my hard work. She told me that she wanted me to know she knows and many others know what I have been up to. (So big brother does watch you! Good to know. Hee, hee!) But best of all I got to thank her in person for championing military families. So many before her have talked the talk, but very few have walked the walk. I was so excited that I got to talk to her. I got to tell her about Hero Miles and the Yellow Ribbon Fund and what they are doing for military families. We got to talk about the awesome Vail Veterans Program. Then I got to tell her how amazing the medical staff that we've been working with has been for the past year. I truly loved sharing with her that one year ago last week Chaz was in ICU, but that same week one year later he was skiing in Vail. It was a great moment to share.

I will once again say regardless of your political views being requested by the First Lady is such an honor. I am beyond grateful that I got to thank her in person for what Joining Forces is trying to do for our families. I still can't believe it happened.

All this week I have thought again and again what else?! What else can we do to help?! I blame the First Lady for this. She said it in her speech. She said, "What can you do?" So what can we do? I know God will continue to put the right people on my path. But how can I connect all the dots to really make a difference. Then the ultimate question is can I make a difference? Lord I hope so.

A Marine family asked me to help them with an idea they came up with this week. They want to make Valentine baskets for the in-patient warriors to give to their caregivers on February 14. So there's one answer to my prayers. I am honored they asked me for help. Together we have already brought some amazing people together to make these baskets exceptional. Their will be some big smiles on Valentine's Day. We are proving what happens when the service members and families join forces. The Evans and Allen families have both spent Valentine's Day as in-patients. Our warriors are more than taken care of that day, but our caregivers need a valentine too. So we're going to step in and bring some smiles on this day of love.

I know I cannot change the world but I do know I can help bring smiles to faces. I am so thankful to have people in my life who have the same goals as I do. We just want to make the journey to the new normal easier for others on the road. I am so grateful that all I have to do is plant a little seed of hope and together we make it grow.

I would give anything if I could push a button and fix everyone's problems. I wish the solutions could pop in my head like the worries of how to help the other families do. But that's not reality now is it?! Oh well, we've moved in baby steps for over a year now, what's a few more?! Right?! Knowing that our government is trying to make it better makes swallowing all of this a lot easier. I am not giving up anytime soon. I just pray the epiphany strikes me soon so we can make changes to make it better.

I am so thankful for the caregivers who were caregivers before us. They are the ones who flicked the dominoes to help those with me now. They paved the road with their sacrifices for our families and I am thankful for every one of the. We still have more work to do. Together we can make anything happen one smile at a time!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Our Amazing Trip to Vail

One week ago today we were winding up our trip to Vail that was made possible by the Vail Veterans Program and the Wounded Warrior Project. This trip was a dream come true. Every detail was perfectly planned down to the minute. It was the best little getaway that made celebrating our Alive week even more special.

Behind all this excellent planning stands Cheryl Jensen and her angels. Together they put together all of the transportation, lodging, meals, lessons, equipment rentals and activities that led to smile after smile from our veterans and their families. Jensen and her friends currently have the the only trip out there for the warriors and their families. You may think well why is that special?! Here's why. Family and love are the best medicines anywhere out there. You can't heal a warrior alone, it is a team effort. Cheryl believes this as much as I do. I can say without a doubt our lives are better because we were able to share a few days with her. She is such an amazing American and I truly wish every person could meet her. Our warriors need more Cheryl Jensens and her friends like hers in their lives. It is people like her who take the resources they have and make them into blessings for families like ours.

We arrived at the hospital at 4:30am Tuesday, January 24 to meet our group. We all boarded the shuttles for the airport. We got there super early but filled our time with lots of giggles. We had an excellent escort from TSA from the curb to the terminal. Before we knew it, it was time to board our Frontier Airlines flight. The staff of Frontier was so wonderful. They made sure we were all in and settled before they let anyone else on the plane. This is really wonderful when you are traveling with wounded warriors who have wheelchairs, all sorts of accessories and then their kids too. The attendants came around and swiped their cards so we could all enjoy the Direct TV while on our flight. This little bonus was a huge hit with our girls. I came prepared like any other mom planning for a long plane ride with their DS games and coloring books and etc for the flight. But Frontier trumped me with their 25 channels of Direct TV.

We landed and were once again assisted by TSA and this time the Denver airport greeters joined in to welcome us to the area and walk us through. They had us point out our luggage and they loaded it all up for us. Then we boarded our shuttles to go to our lodging destinations. Our rooms were in various resorts spread out over the Vail Village area. We were all within walking distance of each other and to our dining and skiing locations.

We all went and got settled into our resorts. We were all super worn out. So we we barely got everything unpacked before we crashed! We all met back up at 6 for dinner so we meet the programs organizers and found out the plans for our stay in Vail. We also got to meet the other families from BAMC (the Military Treatment Facility (MTF) in San Antonio, TX) and the families from the San Diego MTF who were also invited to be a part of this incredible trip. Our dinner was delicious and our dining companions were terrific. It was so great to meet other families that are in different parts of the country, but are on the same road we are all on.

We all went back to our rooms and settled in for a good night sleep. The next morning we walked to the town bus (which was handicap accessible) and took it to the ski lodge. Here we were treated to a delicious breakfast and then got to meet our ski instructors for our trip. Moments after finishing our breakfast a very sweet lady came and took our girls to ski school for the day. Then Chaz went his instructor and I joined some of the wives and our OT from our hospital for our groups' snowboarding lessons. We all went and got our equipment rented and then went out to our training area. Luckily we were right where we could see our hubbies. We loved being able to turn around and see the guys out there skiing and snowboarding.

The one thought that just kept running across my mind again and again was where we were one year ago. I still can't believe one year ago we started this journey. Chaz was still in so much pain and we were just beginning to figure it all out. I was so overwhelmed with trying to figure all the details. One year later he's snowboarding and skiing down the slopes. It is so amazing to see how much life can change in just a year. Watching Chaz and the girls have so much fun was the perfect way to reflect back on the year prior. It was the perfect way to remind us how far we have come on this journey.

Our days in Vail went like this. Skiing from 9-12, lunch, more skiing from 1-3, get kids from ski school, rest and then meet up for dinner. Thursday we got to go tubing at Adventure Ridge. And Friday our girls went ice skating and then we all got to go bowling. Or how about this for simplification fun, fun, fun, fun oh and more fun. There were meals thrown into all that fun. That's how our three days in Vail were. One word sums it up, perfect.

Thank you doesn't seem like it's enough to say to the Vail Veterans Program and Wounded Warriors Program. They did an excellent job arranging this trip and thinking of every detail. Our family is so honored that we were chosen to attend. Cheryl and her friends started these trips in 2004. They have been able to bless so many families. With their amazing spirits, they'll be able to bless countless more families to come. Here's a link to a story on some of the other amazing veterans and their families who were with us! And here's the link to the program so you can learn more about these amazing people.

Here are some of my favorite pictures from the trip.