Monday, December 31, 2012

Where to give....

It's the end of the year and many people are looking for some tax deductions. I just wanted to share with you a list of great non-profits who have truly helped us on our journey. These are in NO particular order. I am simply going to list them out and give you a website to examine.

If we had a surplus of funds, I would just divide it evenly among them. I told one of my tax clients the other day that the market is not yielding any really good returns, but I have a list of non-profits who are! ;)

Yellow Ribbon Fund

Fisher House Foundation

Aleethia Foundation

101st Association

Helping A Hero

Help Our Military Heroes

Our Military Kids

Veterans Airlift Command

Operation Second Chance

Operation Ward 57

So please consider our friends your friends and put your dollars where they will make a difference!! As a tax professional, I would rather see your dollars go here then to the IRS on April 15th! ;)


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Trying to Understand

From my friend Torrey Shannon's facebook post yesterday, "Words of advice: If your loved one is a wounded warrior, or even someone who has been deployed multiple times and not severely injured, PLEASE be respectful of them when they politely decline your holiday invitations! They are not trying to ruin your holiday or hurt your feelings. You may have had a 'tradition' to have your son-in-law or daughter come to every holiday meal, but things have changed dramatically in their lives when it comes to being around crowds and noise. Don't berate them. Don't tease them. Don't get your panties in a wad. Just respect their answer and let them create their own holiday memories. It may not include don't make it about you. Thank you!"

I just love Torrey. She and I have never met in person, but we are kindred spirits for sure. (And somewhere in the Army and VA someone just freaked out! Yes, we have found each other. You have been warned. Ha ha!! ) I shared her comment on my own facebook page because I know too many families, including my own who have dealt with this.  I just wanted to expand on this a little and use our family as an example. 

We turn down a lot of invites and let me tell you why. First, we are tired! You cannot imagine how exhausting it is to heal our wounded. Our family loves days of nothing. We do not get very many, Chaz's days are still filled appointments and recently he has added more because he has flipped to the VA side of this journey. We cherish our little family and as much as we want to share ourselves with so many, we also have to find time to do nothing. 

You have to remember we are juggling appointments, meetings, homeschool, events and now I have a beyond full time job (that I love). And I am still running a tax company. We are busy, busy, busy. I miss the days where I could just sit on the phone and chat with my girlfriends. Please know I am not complaining, we love our life, it's just very well organized. ;)

Our girls need us more than you think you do and I have no problems letting people know that. Cutie number one and cutie number two are the top priority for Chaz and I. Everyone else just needs to get in line, sorry, but that is how we feel. Some people really don't like that I put the girls and Chaz first, but my give-a-damn broke almost two years ago. I have learned some really hard lessons about trying to please people. I learned a long time ago I cannot make everyone happy, so I'll just focus on the three that I know the best and whose smiles and laughs fill my heart.

Second there's the physical. In our situation, you can all see Chaz's legs are missing. What you can't see is that his arm is fused in a 93 degree angle. You cannot imagine what limitations that causes for him. When we have the adapted van, life is easier for us. When we are in TN with my vehicle or in a rental that day a new level of difficulty and that arm tends to get in our way. I had no idea how useful an elbow was until Chaz lost his. Try to lock your elbow and scratch your back, or adjust the collar on your shirt, or just drink or eat something. Now pretend you don't have legs and try to get around with a fused arm. It is really hard. Now here's a good dose of reality, Chaz is only ONE of hundreds of service members with these types of injuries.

One time the girls asked Chaz what is it like to walk with his prosthetic legs. He had them pull their feet up to their butts and walk on their knees. They both commented on how much it hurts. We have talked to many people who have assured us that it will get easier for him, but it's so easy to forget that we not even two years into this journey. Chaz is just not ready to be on his legs all the time and that means he needs to be in his wheelchair. The world is not very "cripple-friendly" as Chaz puts it. So you can invite us to whatever it is, but can Chaz get in? Does he have access to a bathroom? Can he easily get out in case of an emergency? 

Nothing is worse than inviting us somewhere only to realize that you did not plan ahead. We had that happen recently. I hate seeing that people have the best of intentions, but then their feelings get hurt because they assumed rather than ask what Chaz's needs are. Our world is very unique and some people have a hard time understanding what Chaz needs.

That leads to my third point, the mental. Chaz has done remarkably well with his post-tramatic stress (PTS) from his injury. We began dealing with PTS after Iraq in 2005-06. We are not pros at dealing with PTS, but I know his triggers better than he does. His physical limitations add into his PTS, but he handles it all like a rockstar. So many are so angry, but Chaz would not change a thing. He gets around very well, but the world is not designed for wheelchairs and that limitation adds to his frustrations. I think having the unconditional love and acceptance from the girls and I has really helped Chaz heal.

When we go places and meet strangers you just never know what they'll say. I have had one person tell me, "I've seen his pictures on Facebook. He's getting fat and you need to get that under control." We have had people just come right out and ask if we can have kids, which is their politest way of asking if Chaz has a genital injury. You seriously wouldn't believe the things people have said to us and to other families. We have some great stories to tell. My favorite was the random guy who sat down and wanted to talk about Chaz's PTS. Hello random stranger, yes let me divulge all my intimate secrets to you. 

What makes us laugh is people think kids asking us questions bothers us. We actually welcome the kids' questions. Kids are smarter than you think. We are pros at explaining all of this to kids. We've had a lot of practice. Chaz and I love kids and we love teaching them about adversity. I wish more adults handled out situation like the kids do. 

So back to Torrey's statement. Please try to understand that healing a family is not simply and easy. These guys don't just come home. It is long, drawn out process and sometimes is beyond exhausting. We ask too much of our military families. We ask them to go to war and deal with it. Then we ask them to just do this and that and we don't think about their feelings. I am talking about my family before injury. 

Now after injury, I'll just tell you flat out, it ain't about you, so stop trying to make it that way. Listen to the family and don't read into it. It's not that we don't want you in our lives. Some of us just want a little peace and quiet. Some of us are creating our own memories. Some of us haven't had Daddies at home for a long time or like in our case two years in a row. So please just listen and accept us and wish us a Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 17, 2012

That Monday

Monday has come. Just like you, I have talked to many people about the tragedy that occurred on Friday. I cannot make anymore sense of it then anyone else. This is a time in life that I call a faith tester. This is the time that you can ask why, but you have to hold onto your faith and know there will be answer. I know how incredibly difficult that is, but I know God is trying to show us something. I just won't pretend that I have the answers.

Our Ryann is 7 and every time I look at her all I can think is what kind of Monster could look at the face of a child and slaughter them? Much less how could a person do this multiple times? What monster could crush the dreams of so many with reckless disregard?

I love being around children. They fill my heart with such hope and love. My brain simply cannot understand why this would happen. So I have stopped asking.

As soon as the location flashed across the screen, I knew our friends from Help Our Military Heroes (who have become like family) were somehow involved. Yes I was right. One of their family members had children in that school. The kids ages 4 and 7 and made it out alive. My stomach fell when I read my text message. I know those children are safe, but what they went through is unimaginable.

I told my mom, and Demetria and I talked about walking into our high school the Monday after our three friends had been killed in a car wreck. I remember vividly walking into the classrooms I shared with them. I remembered I had to leave the classroom because I could not take it. I missed them so much and I was so angry that they had to leave us so soon. Now fast forward 18 years and I cannot comprehend how it would feel to walk into that school and have that feeling multiplied times nine. I cannot think about what it would be like to walk back into a place where your life was in so much jeopardy. I simply cannot imagine what the people of Connecticut are going through right now.

But here's what I can do. I will not get to know the person behind all of this. He had a motive and I believe it was to be remembered. I am so sorry, but I will not remember him. I will not even learn his name, no matter how many times the news shares it with us. Instead I will remember those beautiful children. I will remember the teachers, staff and principal who define the word hero by their courageous actions.

I searched for an article that did not mention the gunman's name, but told us more about the lives he took from us. I ask that you too refuse to learn his name and instead learn about those he took from us.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Loving My Job

It's public knowledge that I have been helping other wounded warrior families long before now. However I never imagined I could help so many more by simply saying yes to a job with the Yellow Ribbon Fund. Since September, I have helped more people than I ever imagined I could and I just got started. I have come to realize everyone should feel this great about their employer. What's so funny is I never thought I'd have a boss again?! I was content just running my little tax company. But as you all know my life was changed a little bit almost two years ago.

My family first learned about YRF from Stephen Colbert. He partnered with Ben and Jerry's a long time ago to create his American Cone Dream ice cream and proceeds from the sales of that ice cream go directly to YRF. By the way that ice cream is delicious and I happily purchased it to support YRF before they touched our lives.

YRF was one of first non-profits that came into our lives during this journey. They blessed us with a rental car while Chaz was an in-patient. We were so thankful to have that car. I was able to go get groceries to cook Chaz some meals. I was able to get those fruitistas from Taco Bell for Chaz and a few other guys. We were able to get out of the hospital whenever we wanted. That car was such a blessing to us and for so many more families. Did you know that YRF has put wounded warrior family members in over 1800 cars this year? Isn't that amazing? I didn't even know that until I started working for them.

I had no idea a job could be such a blessing. I have enjoyed filing tax returns for people for over a decade. I have enjoyed being called their "easy button" and I plan to continue that job as well. I am just so thankful that I have such an amazing job that enables me to pay what we have been blessed with so far forward.I have been able to connect so many people to YRF. I have been able to take the talents of others and help them find a way to help our wounded and their families. Yesterday was a great example of how I can connect the talents of others to bless so many more. I have created so many smiles and laughs and I am loving every minute of it. I sleep so very well at night now knowing that I am a small part of a great team. Together the 9 of us are changing lives. We are supported by an excellent Board of Directors who truly value our service and then we are backed by donors who know they are investing very wisely in YRF. Together we are planting little seeds of happiness all over the wounded warrior community and it's just terrific. I am just so thankful to be a part of such a great team! 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

An Amazingly Great Day!

Every once in a while a day happens that just goes so perfect that you just can't help but think did that just happen? I had one of those days today. First let me tell the story of how it came to be.

While on our cruise to Bermuda, I met this wonderful lady in the line at Starbucks. (Proof that Starbucks makes the best things happen.) Marirosa had seen our family around the boat and we just started chatting. I found out that she was a Navy spouse, a photographer and she lived in the DC area. She offered to take pictures of our family and we exchanged cards and agreed to stay in touch.

Fast forward a few weeks and we decide to have a day of sessions for wounded warriors and their families. I proceeded with securing the location and filing all the paperwork with the hospital. Marirosa contacted a few of her friends to see if they would like to help. Poof, the Navy said yes, Fisher House said yes and Marirosa had three other friends to join her. All we needed to do was sign the families up.

Fast forward a few more weeks and I am hosting our first cooking lesson with Admiral Winnefeld's culinary team. We decide to have them come back and host another cooking lesson the same day as the photos. Once again paperwork is filed and we're all set.

Fast forward and I put out the email to get the families signed up. Then I am informed that it's Army/Navy weekend. Then I find out that the hospital has a trip planned for the game, a trip to Vegas and one for Breckenridge. I remained optimistic and we stuck with our original plans. Well that hope and optimism paid off big time today.

We all showed up at 9 this morning. The chefs went to the kitchen and the photographers set up in the living room. My family dropped me off and went to grab breakfast at McDonald's. By the time they came back we were all set up and ready to go.

Our first family showed up early and we got the ball rolling. Over 20 families showed up to have their pictures taken by our four lovely ladies. Here's a quick pic I grabbed of them so I could show the faces of the incredible professionals who donated their time and services and USB drives to our wounded warriors and their families today.

Each family had a little mini-session and received a USB drive with five pics on them. This way the families could go home and upload the pictures at their leisure. Then they can create their Christmas cards or maybe even just give grandma a updated picture for her brag book. How great was it that these ladies gave our wounded warriors and their families their time and talent today?

Now in the kitchen, three of Admiral Winnefeld's culinary team were cooking up some Paella. Once again these guys showed up to share their talent with our wounded warriors and their families. The families love the cooking lessons. Now only are these lessons quick and easy, but the food at the end is simply amazing. Here are the guys showing off their delicious masterpiece.

I just love hanging out with these three. They always have the greatest stories to share. They really love their jobs and they really love giving back to our wounded warriors and their families. You cannot imagine how awesome their Paella was. I give it four stars.
Thanks to some great teamwork over twenty wounded warrior families were treated to free professional pictures and a delicious lunch today. To add another level of this awesomeness, Admiral Winnefeld and his amazing wife Mary stopped by just to hang out with the families and say hi. They are always such a delight to be around at any time.

The entire day went so incredibly smooth. There were smiles every where. There were very happy bellies everywhere. I still can't believe how great the day turned out. I want to thank all the people mentioned above for helping me pull off such a great day today. I also want to thank Becky, the Manager of the Fisher Houses at Bethesda, for letting us all invade today!! I guess this is all proof that when amazing people come together to share their time and talents with others great days are created!!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Recovering Warrior Task Force

Weeks ago I was chosen to speak on a panel in front of the Recovering Warrior Task Force. Of course I said yes. I couldn't resist the chance to throw my two cents into their pot. Yesterday was the big day. It was myself, another caregiver and two wounded warriors on the panel.

Yesterday we were mostly asked about the IDES (Integrated Disability Evaluation System) process. So what is that?! Well a few years ago someone realized that rather than having you transition out of the Army and then enter the VA system you should do it together. I completely agree. The process is a great idea, but the problem is the system is supposed to be (check the first word) integrated. So the military is supposed to be communicating with the VA and VA to the military. This is not really happening. The whole reason the system was created was to help our military get on with their lives a little faster, instead IDES is future proof of the one way communication system the military has in place.

It was interesting seeing the faces of the crowd as we spoke. Some were thrilled and a few mouths dropped open as we spoke, but the nice thing was the four of us had their complete attention and they listened. Yes you read that correctly, they listened. Being listened to was a very nice change for us.

Our statements were the pretty much same. You enter the IDES process. You are sent to your VA appointments and are threatened to not miss them or you will start all over. Then you wait. Then your narrative summary comes in. You are told you have 7 days to go over the 30-something pages and turn them back in. (Heaven forbid, if you find errors). You turn that back in and wait for your findings. Then those magically come in and you are called and told to come in and sign those (once again within a few days or you are told you will have to start the process all over again). Then you wait for all of this to go back to the Army and wait for more magic phone calls. Then all of the sudden someone gives you a list of everything you only have weeks to do. They tell you to get on it. Then as you visit the people to get it all done you are informed again and again that you can't do this or that until you have a DD214 (official retirement paperwork). You do not get a DD214 until you retire. So you are stuck. Once again we are hurrying up to wait. Go Army!

Chaz and I have done everything we can without that DD214. I pointed out that my problem with the IDES system is this. Last year we had to help them find Chaz's medical records because they were lost in the merger. Thanks to high level help, they were found quickly. Then we had to prove Chaz had legs when he entered the Army in 1998. Let's ignore that he has deployed multiple times. Let's ignore all the other physicals he has had along the way. Let's ignore the battlefield reports that disclose all that happened to him. Let's ignore the evacuation orders, medical records and all of the above. We could not begin Chaz's VA appointments until they had his initial entry physical from June 1998 proving he did not have pre-existing conditions. 

Fast forward to this year. Last week we had to get our marriage license and the girls birth certificates and bring those in to prove that we are married and the girls are Chaz's. Let's not acknowledge that I have military ID stating my effective date is 23FEB01 (It's written like that). Let's not acknowledge that we had to provide all those certificates to the DEERS system in 2001, 2002 and 2005. No we have to bring it all in. Thank goodness I have the girls birth certificates and I have a friend who has a key to our home and could get me the marriage certificate. By the way you get no notice that you'll need these items. I am not kidding. People do not understand that we are displaced from home and we're not going to be carrying around our marriage certificate. So those coming behind me, go home at Christmas and grab all your documentation so be ready for the MEB/IDES process.

Let me acknowledge that I get it. People abuse the system. But we have more than enough documentation as well as the Army's system to prove who we are that all this extra hassle can be eliminated. If we are going to make the system work we have to examine all aspects of it. We don't need to reinvent the wheel here. We need to stop our one way communication and chuck the egos.

Here was one of my points to the panel. The IRS handles all of the entire United States. They communicate with all of the servers of the tax preparers across the country. They communicate with all of the banks in the country. They communicate with the Social Security Administration. They communicate with the 50 states to help with collect back child support and student loan debts. So explain to me why we can't make a system work for the less than 1% of our citizens who serve our country. You can say what you want about the IRS. I have been dealing with them as long as I have the Army and their system is way more efficient and the IRS is dealing with a many more people. Just a thought to roll around in your head.

Most issues involving the IRS are resolved in 6-8 weeks. The IDES process will take us about 396 days to complete. We are on our tenth month. So the end is near.

The best part about yesterday is that finally people are listening. People are trying to help our warriors. I can only hope my big mouth helped a little. I can assure you this will not be the last blog on the RWTF.

Monday, December 3, 2012

30 Day Recap

Here's a recap of my 30 days of thankful!!!!

Day 1: I am thankful for medical technology. I have witnessed miracles and have had the honor to walk with them and I am so thankful for that.

Day 2: I am thankful for Sisterhood!!! From my only sister, Janice to my friends who are like sisters to my Kappa Delta sisters to my Army wife sister-friends and to my WW sister-friends. If it wasn't for all of them I would have never survived the days after January 22, 2011

Day 3: I am thankful for the Angels who walk among us. God can truly put some amazing people on your path. You never know when they will bless you. Thank you to all the angels out there who have blessed our lives.

Day 4: Today I am thankful for the top military leadership officials who truly care for our military families. You think they all sit in their offices and don't care about our families, but trust me some of them care way more than you'll ever know!!! I am so thankful to have the true open door relationships I have with them! 

Day 5:  Today I am thankful for education. I would not be who I am if God had not blessed me with amazing teachers. I want to thank the teachers who blessed my brain and accepted the challenge of dealing with my stubbornness!

K-Mrs Walker, 1st-Mrs Simmons, 2nd-Mrs Templeton, 3rd-Mrs Cathcart, 4th-Mrs Britton, 5th-Mrs Spray, 6th-Mrs Newman & Mr Dunlap, 7th and beyond-Mr Collins, Dr Greer, Mrs Greathouse, Mrs Hitchcock, Ms Clark, Mr Smith, Ms Collette, Mrs Dunham, Dr Conroy, Dr Schoenbachler, Dr Bradshaw, Col Vaughan, Dr. Oetinger, thank you for investing in me!!!! 

Day 6: Today I am thankful for democracy!! I don't care how you vote, just please pray, vote, then pray again today!!!

Too many have sacrificed for your privilege and right to vote. Make sure you use it!! 

Day 7: Today I am thankful for the blessing of forgiveness. I am thankful that I know I can mess up and those who truly love me will accept me for my flaws. I am thankful that I am also able to extend the same gift to them.

We are all human and we will all fail at some time. It's those who will accept us when we mess up who truly define love and friendship!

Day 8: Today I am thankful for transportation. Today we are heading San Antonio to attend the Fisher House Gala. Saturday we will be heading to OK to celebrate Veteran's Day with Chaz's family and hometown.

I am thankful we have the ability to get on planes and arrive at these places to fellowship with amazing people.

Day 9:  Today I am so thankful for the strangers who have become life long friends. So many new people have entered our lives since January 22, 2011. I still get emotional thinking about how blessed we are that God put them on our path

Day 10: Today I am so thankful Fisher House allowed us to speak on behalf of the wounded warrior families last night!! Nothing was better than having other WW families thank us for sharing "our" story!!

We are all one military healing together. It is our story and I am proud to share it!!!

Day 11: Today I am thankful for all the Veterans who have so unselfishly served our country. I am thankful that I am blessed to know real heroes and that I can tell them thank you for serving our country everyday!!

Day 12: Today I am thankful for the Facebook!! Without Facebook Chaz and I would not have been able to share this amazing journey with so many people!!!

Day 13: Today I am thankful for music. Music heals the soul. Music expresses things that we might not have the words for. Music has filled my soul and I love to share it as much as I can!

Day 14:  Today I am thankful to have my little family with me as I begin my 34th year of life!! I am also thankful for all the little freebies you get on your birthday! Starbucks and Redbox here I come!!! ;)

Day 15: I am thankful for the little joys of life that make me so happy. I am thankful for the laughter of our children any time of the day. I am thankful a great cup of Tazo chai in the morning, Starbucks and tacos from taco casa. I am thankful for friends who raid my home when they find out I am cooking one of their favorite things and for friends whose kids call me "Aunt Jessica" or call me "my second mom" because we are so close. I am thankful for a great book that makes me cry and for my husband's smile that makes any moment better.

Day 16: Today I am thankful that God blesses us with amazing people on our path. I am thankful to have them in the boat rowing through the storm with me. I don't know how I'd get through the storm without them by my side.

Day 17: Today I am thankful for Pinterest. Sounds trivial, I know, but thanks to this site I have found so many amazing ideas. It's amazing and I am very thankful for it.

Day 18: On this day in 1994, three of our high school friends were taken to Heaven way too soon. I am so thankful that God allowed me cross paths with Ryan, Dean and Melissa. I have a permanent imprint on my heart from meeting them and am so thankful I can share so many great memories of them.

I am so thankful God allowed us to keep our other three friends who were also in the vehicle. My friend Emily was severely injured and she taught us what a true fighter is. She, like Chaz and our wounded warriors, are living proof of God's amazing miracles. I am so blessed to still have her in my life.

I'll never ever forget November 18, 1994, but I am thankful for the lessons God taught us about how to truly appreciate life at a young age.  

I ask that you please lift up the families of not only my 6 friends involved in this tragedy, but all of those, like myself and Demetria, who were forever touched by the events of this day.

I have another trivial one, but I think if you are thankful for the little things, then the big things become even more important!

Day 19: I am thankful for my iPhone!! It is my personal assistant. It sure comes in handy a lot!!!

Day 20: I am thankful for my job with the Yellow Ribbon Fund!! I work with a fantastic team of people and we are changing lives! Woot-woot!!

Day 21: I am thankful for keeping my bar low with the military. It makes disappointments so much easier!! Now if I could teach this to my fellow WW Families!

Day 22: I am thankful for a second Thanksgiving in a row with my little family together!!! This is a new thing to us!

Day 23: Today I am thankful I just realized that this time next month I'll be baking up a storm in my kitchen and getting ready for Santa to come again!!!!

Day 24: Today I am thankful for seasons. I just love watching God's work!

Day 25: I am thankful for great books. There's nothing better then sitting down and escaping by allowing someone's writing take you on a new adventure!

Day 26: I am thankful for great girlfriends who let me whine and complain and don't judge me!!!

Day 27: I am thankful for finally learning that it's ok to say "No." I might hurt someone's feelings, but at the end of the day I know I have put my little family first and that's what matters.

Day 28: Today I am thankful for people who do their jobs for the right reasons. I love working with people who aren't in it for the money. I love being among those who are in it for the smiles and results and who get the big picture.

Day 29: I am so thankful to wake up some mornings and feel so blessed that my head might explode! I am so tired from this crazy week, but it has already been filled with awesome!!!!

Day 30: I am thankful for all the unique opportunities we have been blessed with! We get to go to very cool places and meet very cool people. Tonight we had a date night at the Australian Embassy. It was so much fun!!! We are so thankful for fun nights like tonight!