Monday, July 29, 2013

When the Lights Went Out....

When both of the lights that are under the microwave went out last night, I sent myself to my room. You might be thinking that is just so silly, but really it was the final Grrrrr.....for me. Let's do a six month review to explain me enforcing my own time out.

Chaz retired in January. Of course nothing was as easy as they promised. Our move was denied. Our postage was denied. WTB wanted to charge us $600 for our apartment. It was one thing after another. We finally get to leave and arrive home that Sunday to our beloved Arf. Our precious 10 year old Yorkie had gone into congestive heart failure just days before we arrived and now was entering his last days. We made the hard choice and had to put him to sleep. The next day he was buried on our new land. We had our "ground breaking" six months ago today. On that day the girls and I walked to the back of the land and told Arf good-bye.

We had immediately entered all the VA in-processing fun as soon as we arrived home. We were so bogged down in VA things we barely had time to grieve for the dog and an even bigger shocker happened. We get the news that one of our friends committed suicide. He was gone and left behind a beautiful family and it still breaks my heart.

Then Chaz had a flesh eating bacteria invade his body and had to be hospitalized, required surgery and was going to need a PICC line. Just days after the surgery, we get the news our dear friend, Derek had passed away. I stood in Chaz's hospital room just crying because I wasn't at Walter Reed to help Derek's family.

The day after I received the news about Derek, girls and I traveled to DC/MD while my mom took care of Chaz. That was such a hard trip to take. Chaz was supposed to have traveled with us to get his legs that had been ordered in November, but didn't arrive until after we had left. Of course they wouldn't let me have them. They had to do this that and the other. Now looking back I am glad they didn't give them to me because at the time the VA still had not granted Chaz's prosthetic adviser permission to work on X2s yet. We filed for it in January and they poor guy didn't get the permission slip until June and by then Chaz had used his GWOT privilege and got them fixed at Walter Reed when he joined me in June.

Ok back to March, I was working, taking care of the girls and trying to help our friends. It was such an exhausting trip. I got home and jumped into 3 PICC line treatments per day. Luckily our girls were on Spring break from homeschool during the "Daddy is sick again" phase. About the time we got his PICC down homeschool restarted. Then I was back to DC/MD for more work. (So thankful to have such a great job that I love so much). I had to work out more care arrangements and that's when things started breaking.

Here's the list. Please note all are separate occasions. I know I am forgetting so much, but oh well....
  • HVAC outside unit locked up.
  • HVAC unit in attic froze up.
  • Both garden hoses had ruined. We found out the hard way they had to be replaced. 
  • Had a recall on my car.
  • The bolt holding down the ramp to the concrete at the top is stripped and isn't holding it down anymore. 
  • Chaz broke a piece off of his wheelchair
  • Then the chair portion wore out.
  • One of the prosthetic legs (that the VA wouldn't give the guy permission to work on) broke.
  • The other leg started locking up randomly. 
  • HVAC outside unit crapped out again. 
  • Upstairs toilet had to have the kit replaced. Then a plumber had to be called in because the shut off valve was so old it had to be helped.  
  • Found hail damage to the girls' window screens. 
  • Found a leak under the kitchen sink. Determined it was the garbage disposal. It was repaired. 
Now let's get to the week that led me to time out.

First there was this....
Chaz's leg locked on him causing him to fall into the door. After rushing to see if he was ok and confirming he was, I immediately asked if he punched the door. He laughed and pointed out that if he punched the door the tint would not have saved it. He is totally right. ;) I looked at the door to see his whole arm left a mark in the glass.

If you look closely at the picture you'll see he is just walking right along. We are so thankful for my brother tinting that glass. Chaz could have easily fallen through all that glass and had been seriously injured. Thanks to the help of the neighbor, I got the glass out (yes it was a huge mess) and put the screen in for a temporary fix. (Yes to answer your question, we'll need a new glass door.) Then then kitchen faucet just stops working. Hello another plumber call. Faucet had to be replaced. Then he looks and the garbage disposal is leaking again. Now it has to be replaced. Chaz lets the guy check the rest of the house to determine we'll need a new water heater and new toilet within six months.

The day before all of this I filed a claim with our homeowner's insurance. After looking at the window screens, I found cracks and holes in our vinyl siding on three sides of our house. (There's no telling what I cannot see.) I bet now you can see why when the lights went out on the microwave, I just had to go to my room.

Why am I whining about this? Well to be honest, just get it all out. It just seems like when it rains it pours. The past six months have just been so stressful. Today I am putting my big girl panties on and getting all the whines out of me. I am going to make a list with an attack plan and get it all done.

I am declaring that things are going to start going our way. I am not going to allow all these little hassles to way us down. Great things are in store for us, I just know it. Today is another beautiful day and why not pick today as the day to forget about all the hassles and focus on the positive!

Alright time to go make that list and start attacking it!!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

DIC, SBP, Life and Death.....

The one common denominator I have notice in all people is no one likes to talk about death and the what ifs. I don't really like to talk about it myself; however, I do know that the one certainty that I have in this life is that it will end at some point. It sad and depressing to think about it, but it is irresponsible not to talk about it and plan for it.

I have been doing taxes and financial advising for years. The one thing I have witness is the lack of preparation most Americans have in regards to their future and for the possibility of an untimely death. One thing I have noticed as Americans is we tend to think that if we don't talk about it, then it will never happen. Well in my opinion if we truly love our family and friends, we will take care of the end of our life so they don't have to. We need to allow them to just grieve. We have all been there. Grieving the loss of a life precious to us is hard enough, but then searching for funds to pay your respects and handling your loved one's final expenses is just horrible. So let me just add another level of fun to your brain....let's talk about the wounded and another battle they face.

Healing a wounded hero is hard enough. Then you have to add in the battle with the system. We get to face that almost daily. Then you add in the family dynamics and the list goes on and on and on. I cannot begin to explain how exhausting it all is. Just when you put out one fire, poof there starts another. Just went you get this stack of paperwork filed, here comes another set. One day you have to face the reality that more than likely you will out live your wounded Hero. And what if you go first? If you go first who will be there to take your place? These were the things that kept me up at night. Now I have them settled and I am going to share my planning with you in the hopes it helps one other family.

When you are transitioning out of the military, so many things are thrown at you at 100mph. You have to run all over your installation to get a ton of signatures. You have to sit through a ton of briefings. The sad thing is we (the military community) are not making sure that the briefings are simplified enough for the average service member to understand them. I have spent the past few months going over benefits trying to help out so many families that I have lost count now. So many have said, gees I wish someone would have explained it to me that way. Or I wish I would have known. So here's my attempt to explain my opinion about one topic for wounded military families everywhere, DIC, SBP, Life and Death of our 100% disabled. Or as some would put it "Life of the P&T." P&T means permanently and totally disabled. ;)

DIC stands for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation. What does that mean? Here you go...
Basically it is compensation paid to a person when a service member has passed from service related injuries. The stipend comes from the VA, once proof has been substantiated that your veteran's death was service related. It's a monthly stipend that will adjust for cola and inflation. Here's the monthly rates for 2012.

Here are additional links for DIC

Ok now for SBP. SBP stands for Survivor's Benefits Plan. What does that mean? Well is basically a way for spouses to continue to receive a monthly stipend once there service member passes. To simply it, you pay 6.5% of your monthly retirement into SBP and when your service member passes, the survivor will receive 55% for the rest of their life. Let's use even numbers to clarify. Let's say you currently receive $3000 per month. You would give $195 to SBP and when your service member passes you receive $1,650 per month or a yearly income of $19,800. Here's a pretty good overall explanation of what SBP is.

Additional links for SBP

Now let's compare the two. DIC is free, SBP costs 6% of your current monthly retirement income. DIC requires paperwork and processing and can take over a year to process and could be denied several times before you finally begin receiving it. SBP begins as soon as retirement income ceases due to death. DIC is non-taxable. SBP is fully taxable. Both adjust for inflation and COLA. Confused yet? Just wait...

If you have both DIC and SBP, then once the DIC claim is accepted then you will receive the non-taxable DIC and then they will subtract that from your SBP and SBP will give you the difference the SBP portion will be fully taxable. In addition, as the law stands you will be refunded some of your SBP premiums once your DIC claim is accepted.

So let's look at that example from earlier. You service member passes, you receive $1650 per month. Then your DIC kicks in. You will now get $1215 (non-taxable) from DIC then $435 (fully taxable) from SBP. (I am not going to get into the SSIA payments because they are set to expire in a few years. SSIA is Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance and applies now. I am looking to beyond their expiration and planning for such.)

Here are a few comparison links of DIC and SBP.

Why are our injured service members so confused? Well because you'll see no one really breaks it down for them Barney-style. Here's the kicker. You must enroll in SBP before you retire. If you do not, then you have lost the benefit. In 25 years they have only allowed retirees to randomly enroll 4 times. So if your exit counselor doesn't break it down to you in words you can understand then you deny the benefit and then what? Many of our families just see the premium and freak out and immediately say it is too expensive. However, what they don't understand is if they don't have a pre-existing life insurance policy obtained prior to injury, SBP really is the most feasible option. 

Now let's chat about life insurance....Companies would love to insure our Heroes. They'll happily for it for a very hefty price tag that usually exceeds the SBP payment, with a much lower payout. That payout will be a one time shot and will not adjust for inflation or COLA, but hey, it should be non-taxable, so you are all set right? Why is it so hard to insure our Heroes? Well....PSTD, TBI, blood clots, drug use, increased risk of cancer and other life threatening illnesses are among the short list.

The SGLI (Servicemember's Group Life Insurance) which ever active duty service members recieves during active service, covers our P&T for two years after medically retiring from the military. After those two years you have the option to enroll in VGLI (Veteran's Group Life Insurance). Make sure you look at the rates. Here's where and why I like SBP over VGLI. You stop paying SBP once you reach 70 and make 360 payments. Look at the VGLI rates for $100,000. Yup $225 per month. That exceeds your SBP rate by quite a bit and if we are looking to 35 years from now that $100,000 will be worth about half of that.

So what have Chaz and I done. First we took out a life insurance policy back when we were 21. (Seriously one of the smartest moves ever.) Next we are paying for SBP. Then I took out an additional policy for me, because I know if Chaz loses me, he and the girls will need a lot of help. We also have $10,000 for each of our girls. Funerals cost right around that amount these days. And if we lose one of the girls, money is the last thing I want to think about. I cannot imagine I will be sane if that happens.

I will never figure out why our society makes so hard to talk about death. I know it's depressing to talk about the loss of someone. Lord knows I don't just sit around talking about it all the time, no thank you! Chaz hates talking about it. He says it just makes you so uncomfortable. I totally agree, but I love my family so very much I want to make sure I do the right thing and help them through that horrible transition.

For the wounded families out there, I have gathered some of the facts up for you. I truly hopes it helps you in your future planning. I seriously cannot stress enough that you really need to be thinking about how to take care of your family in the event of your untimely passing. I can't stand the thought of a world without Chaz in it, but I know that planning for the what ifs is exactly what I must do. I did it when we were 21 and now thanks to an IED I had to think about even more what ifs and update my plans accordingly. I hope you will too.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Heat and the Amputee

We have been so blessed this summer. Our temperatures have been so unusually mild for a summer season. It has been such a blessing for Chaz. He has been able to be outside quite a bit more and stay longer out there and enjoy it thanks to these great temperatures. Many do not understand the difficulty amputees have with the heat. So I am going to share with you a bit of our struggles.

Before Chaz's injuries, he was a hot-natured person. He passed this trait onto Deryn. Both run a core temp that hovers around 100 degrees. Boy is that fun! I have had to file statements at school for Deryn. If she runs around the gym and gets hot she goes over the 101 and they want to send her home from school.

Guess what?! Girl Scout Camp has a TSA like check in when you go in and drop off too. The girls had to take off their shoes and everything. I ran into the core temp problem at Girl Scout camp this year. Deryn was 100.4, they panicked. The lady then says, "But she looks fine." I explained it all to her. From now on I am supposed to provide a doctors' note for them too. Got to love having high core temp babies. Oh well, moving on.....

Chaz and the other amputees have quite a bit of difficulty in the heat. Their poor bodies have been rewired because of their injuries. What we don't realize is what all that the rewriting does so much to their system. Chaz still runs his core temp at around 100, but thanks to his amputations, he gets so hot and even dehydrated way faster than you and I can imagine.

We keep the air set at 69 degrees in the house for him. The girls and I can layer up, but he cannot layer down. I confess I am cold!! I seriously can be found wearing sweat pants and a jacket in our home when it very well could be 90 degrees or higher outside. At night I sleep with two blankets at a minimum.

When it gets hot like it has the past few days, you get to hear me yell shut the down too many times to count as the girls and their friends run in and out of the house. Right now I have three fans blowing straight on Chaz's desk (because you all know that's where he is 90% of his day). Then I have all of the ceiling fans on and two additional floor fans blowing air around the house just to keep him comfortable.

Next comes hydration. I make him consume so much water that he complains when I fill up his bottle again. I always load it up with ice so that way it will tempt him even more to drink it. I make sure to have nice cool things on hand like watermelon and other fresh, cool fruits and veggies for him as well. I'm so sneaky aren't I?!

Why do I do all of this? Well it takes years for our amputees circulatory systems to readjust to the amputations. While we're waiting for that adjustment, the heat makes them miserable. Way more miserable than you and I could ever be. Our amputees dehydrate faster than anything I have ever seen. I have seen dehydration a several times before, but when one of our amputees begins the downward spiral they almost always have to get an IV to get back to themselves. Chaz has already been there done that three times since discharging and let me assure you it is not pretty. So I take the extra precautions to keep him far away from the downward spiral.

What can you do? Really simple help keep them cool. If you are at an outdoor event encourage and help them seek air conditioning. If that is not available find a fan or other cooling aid. Offer them some water, not soda, not a sports drink, water. Keep an eye on them to make sure they don't pass out. Most importantly if you have an outdoor event during the summer heat and invite a Wounded Hero to attend, do not get offended when they decide to either not come or leave early. There is usually a good reason behind it.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Our Homeschool Life.....

So many ask how we do it, so I am going to lay out what we do for our two cuties. I know what we do may not work for everyone, but hopefully it will help someone.

At first we were going to just homeschool them through local school system. However in all honesty, they made it too difficult and just didn't understand our family's needs at all back in the Fall of 2011. You can imagine it was extremely frustrating. But before I knew it great friends appeared with great advice and now we are a homeschooling success story!

First we registered with Homelife Academy. They keep our records, like grades and attendance, for us. Here's the link. They have been wonderful and I highly recommend them. We enrolled in MTHEA for local support. Here's their link. And we are also members of HSLDA. The last one was a just in case we need it, we view HSLDA as homeschool insurance. They also have a lot of great resources too!

According to Tennessee laws, you have to must hold classes for 4 hours per day for 180 days within   one 12 month period. We use a year round calendar that begins (this year) on July 15th. We will hold classes for 9 weeks and then we take off for 3 weeks (Fall Break), then back for 9, off for 4 (Christmas break), back for 9, off for 3 (Spring Break), back for 9 off for 6 (Summer Break). This is how our school year breaks down. If you look and see, you'll see we hold school on some federal holidays. This is not a big deal to us at all. We just make it work. We'd rather go straight through and enjoy the weeks off, rather than take a day off here and there.

Many people think that is hard to find things to fill up 4 hours a day, but actually it's very easy to occupy those hours every day. Our school days are Monday through Friday from 10am-2:30pm. Yes we usually let our girls sleep until they wake up, but we expect them to be up by 9am or we sound the alarm. They brush their teeth, get some breakfast and get ready for the day. We take 30 minutes for lunch in there somewhere. Then we finish getting our tasks done for the day.And we're done!!! Yes it really is that easy. And yes sometimes our school is from 2-6 or 10-12 then 4-6. We have to be flexible, but we try very hard to stick with the plan as many days as possible.

Here's a list of our resources that fill the 4 hours a day for the 2013-14 school year. I provide links to the resources following the titles.

Math U See
Essentials in Writing
Daily Geography and Daily Reading Comprehension
Real Science 4 Kids
A Child's History of the World

Those are our "textbooks" we buy for the girls. We also teach cursive writing, hold laboratory time, field trips and so much more. For example in our first quarter of the year, we are reading A Wrinkle in Time together as a family. We will watch the movie at home when we finish the book. We also plan to see the play at Nashville Children's Theater in September. Then we will be evil parents and make them write about the differences between the book, movie and play.

Our family handles our school year one quarter at a time. This is mainly because we never know what is going to happen in our lives. We have learned with our life we can never plan too far ahead! Many times we have had to take a week off during the 9 weeks and then take that week from break. In the end, we make sure the girls get their 180 days. Ah the life of healing a have your rough draft and some of the content makes it into the final draft. ;)

Many people panic at the price tags of the resources we use. I don't think we have paid full price ever for any of these. I frequently stalk eBay, amazon and several other places to save our family money. I take advantage of sales and discounts offered by Homelife Academy, MTHEA and HSLDA. I stock up on school supplies during the back to school sales. I also look for friends that will share books and resources with us. Chaz and I feel we have come out ahead financially and emotionally by homeschooling our girls. We are proof that any one can homeschool with a little guidance and support.