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. http://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/finalrule/MilitaryFAQs.pdf
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!