Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Tale of Two Congressmen

Last week was a crazy busy week for me. Not only was I working in DC/MD for YRF but I was also there for the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. Being a part of both organizations and being able to pay our blessings forward is just indescribable. I had one of the busiest, yet amazing weeks last week and I just have to tell the tale of the two Congressmen I met.

Tuesday night I was invited to a dinner. Floating around me were some huge names that have a big effect on the Department of Defense. Also in attendance was a Congressman. I did not go out of my way to introduce myself, but once he heard my husband was wounded I had his undivided attention. He wanted to know all about our family. Then he asked me if I knew a few Marine and Army families that he had met. He knew them all by name as well as their family members. Then I learned he knew one of my favorite families, the McConnell family. His Chief of Staff joined in our conversation and we all shared some of our favorite moments we had had with that family. What a gift it was that we could all be brought together because we had a great family in common. That moment made my heart smile.

Then he told me a story about how Walter Reed wouldn't let him on post to see the wounded one time. His staff had been trying for days and finally he called himself. He told me how important it was to him to meet as many of our families as possible. Then when chatted about the VA and he felt our frustration and then assured me questions would be answered. You could tell how much he cared for our veterans and their families.

Not even 48 hours later I was on Capitol Hill. I went with another Dole Fellow and had two great meetings with the staff members of our two Tennessee Senators. Then I went and had two meetings Tennessee Representatives. The first one went really well, but the second meeting was not how I wanted to end my day.

Monday I noticed a Tennessee Representative boarding the same plane. He recognized me and we had that "how do I know you" moment. I informed him that he met Chaz and I back in 2011 and that Chaz had been wounded. He then asked what was I heading to DC for and I told him. He then told me to call his office and set up a meeting with him. I relayed that information to the Dole Foundation and they set it up.

When I got to his office for our meeting, he was not there. I was perfectly fine meeting with his staff. So I did. A few minutes into our conversation the Congressman appeared. He looked at me with a less than thrilled look and said "Are we going to do this?" His staffer jumped up and I sat for a second. The staffer asked me to join him. We went to the Congressman's office. I could tell the Congressman was in a foul mood, but I was not prepared for the hostile conversation that was going to take place.

I gave him the folder with information about the Dole Foundation and the bill Senator Murray was introducing. He picked up the folder and put it down and then asked me, "Do you actually understand how things get funded around here?" It was in such a hateful tone that I sat back in my chair and said, "No, please enlighten me." (He didn't like that.) I was given a cliff notes version on how a bill becomes a law, which School House Rock does a much better job of doing. He was so flippant and rude that I am still in shock that any person would speak to another like that.

Then he asked me why was all of this so important and I told him about caregivers like myself and what all we do. Then he says, "But how is your husband's care at the VA?" I told him fine because we go to the Murfreesboro VA, but the system of processing was a nightmare. He quickly told me that, "If you are fine with your VA care in Tennessee that is all I care about. I have 540,000 Tennesseans without health care because of medicare cuts that I need to focus on."

Then he asked where our kids go to school. I told him we home school. He had an appalled look on his face. He then informed me we have some of the best schools in the state of Tennessee. I asked him when was the last time he sent a child through our school system. He didn't answer that but told me that Nashville had two of the country's best high schools. I told him I am very aware of MLK and Hume Fogg and I am also aware of the lottery that you chooses if your kids attend that school. He didn't like that.

Then he said "If there's nothing else, I should move on with my day." I told him that was a great idea.

And I voted for him......It will NEVER happen again. I am pretty upset that I wasted my previous votes on that jerk. I understand that as a Congressman you have a lot of irons in the fire. I understand you are representing the people. I understand that picking issues is important and also difficult. But how in the Hell can you look at a constituent and tell her that you only care about the treatment her husband gets.

Our veterans are our national treasures and their caregivers are the hidden heroes that help them heal everyday from the wounds of war. It doesn't matter what state they reside in, you should care about them all. I know I do!

One thing I have learned from my week in DC is I now know where to invest my time. It's sad to say that I will not spend anymore time on the man I voted for and he lost my future votes. And I find it interesting that people I cannot vote for value my opinion and are still in touch with me. I have always loved politics, heck my degree is in it. (So yes, I do actually know how bills become laws and so on.) I am more invested now than I ever thought I would be. I just pray that as my life moves on, I will never become as flippant as the man I voted for.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Behind the Picture....

I had to laugh when I saw that ABC News used this picture. There is such a great story behind it. This picture was actually one of the best days of our healing after our OIF PTS (Post-Traumatic Stress). To me it is a snapshot of a victory for us.

Chaz was in Iraq September 2005-06. That deployment was Hell, I mean Hell for us. That was the deployment that tried to take my husband, in more than one way. Chaz lost over 30 guys in that year. His friend Mac was killed and the "Green Incident" occurred. It really was a true breaking deployment for us. Chaz was battling everything there and I had a baby with every baby thing a baby could get and a 3 year old with almost uncontrollable asthma that at one point required breathing treatments every other hour for over 24 hours.

I remember noticing on his R&R he was different, but those 2 weeks flew by so it wasn't enough time to really see the difference. No the difference came home in September 2006.

My fun, silly husband was this angry, jumpy man I didn't recognize. He barked orders at us and got mad when the simplest things didn't go his way. I couldn't stand to be around him a lot of times. Cutie #1 screamed in his face all the time. Life was rough then. Worst of all, if you asked for help from the Army then, you were cast out like damaged goods. We knew we were on our own to figure it all out.

I fought for our marriage. I remember one day I told Chaz I wasn't leaving and that we were going to figure this all out and we needed time to do so. It was a day when he barked orders at me like I was his soldier. I just lost it.

Well the answer to us was moving, we needed a fresh start. But the Army locked us into Campbell so we were stuck. A Senior NCO got Chaz an interview with the NCO Academy. It was a long shot because his rating NCOs has crushed him with a Bronze Star denial and horrible NCOERs (performance reviews) all thanks to the "Green Incident" that he and so many others in the platoon had nothing to do with but they were sure getting messed up for it.

To make matters worse, we couldn't escape the Green Incident. Every time we turned around someone was talking about Green or Chaz was being called to testify. One day I lost it on the lawyer who showed up on our door step to ask us questions about everything. I slammed the door in her face and told her, to give Green back to Iraq and let them figure it out. No she never came back to our home. Yes I was rude and she was only doing her job. but I was just at my end with the Green case. I just wanted to put it all behind us.

We needed a fresh start, but the Army wouldn't let us leave Campbell. So we bought a new house in Clarksville in 2007. Then Chaz worked his ass off to get into the NCO Academy. That work paid off and he was invited to be an instructor. His schedule was 15 days on 4 days off, but he finally was able to spend time with us. And thanks to the Academy we finally had Federal holidays together and 2 weeks of leave every 6 months. I finally had my husband more than a few hours at night thanks to the Academy. Don't get me wrong those 15 days straight were rough, but time flew by and before we knew it another 15 day cycle was behind us.

During this time Chaz started dating me again. We had to find the times where it was just us. We had to find those places where we could find those kids who fell in love before 9-11 changed everything.

Chaz started "dating" Cutie #1. Their relationship was so strained we thought Daddy-Daughter dates would help a lot and they did. But Cutie #1 had a lot of resentment towards the Army. She was so smart even back then. She knew where Daddy's anger came from. She would talk to someone in civilian clothes, but not in uniform. She related Daddy's anger to the uniform. It was something else we knew we had to work on.We would have friends come over and get to know her without uniforms, then when they were in uniform she seemed to accept them. We had to ease her into knowing the uniform was just clothes. We even had to have Chaz change immediately when he got home to ease her stress.

Cutie #2 was only 2 when we moved and started over. Chaz had a blank slate with her. This might explain why they are so close even today. #2 showed Chaz a lot of love just for being present and he really needed that.

Two years later in August 2009, Chaz's term at the Academy ended. He worked so hard at healing our family and being a great instructor, he won NCO of the Cycle 4 times and then won the MG Aubrey "Red" Newman Award (the one around his neck in the picture). But this picture of Cutie #1 hiding is so funny. We tried to get a family picture again and again. But every soldier in the room was standing and applauding Chaz that made the girls panic. You see Cutie #1 is hiding in our legs and #2 is holding blankey and Doug as tight as possible with that thumb in her mouth. Chaz and I were laughing. They just did not understand what was going on. It was so stinking cute.

It was a very great day for us. We committed those two years to our family. Chaz went from bad NCOERs to winning awards. We learn that for us surviving PTS meant investing in our family's love. Are we healed? No, I really don't think you ever are fully healed from PTS. I think you learn how to cope.

Chaz and I think we have handled healing from his physical injuries so well because we already fought with PTS and won. We know how to respond to PTS when it rears its ugly head and know how to minimize the damage it can cause. Our battle with PTS is so very far from over, but we the love and support of each other we are ready to battle and win every time!