Monthly Archives: April 2011

Put the Chevrons down and back away slowly

Got a letter in the mail, the US Army is no longer sure it requires my services. Apparently that old mTBI has snuck up and bit me. I was going to get out anyway, I think. I don’t particularly care for the reserves and how they do things. I don’t like putting on the uniform once a month and acting like my head is not completely up my ass as I boss a bunch of other kids around who are doing the same thing I am. It is an exercise in patientence and redundancy and had overall just been a source of frustration and resentment for me. So why then, does this little letter sting so well?

I think it comes from a very sad a pathetic place known as pride. I was blown up, thats for sure, so were the guys that were around me. I managed to escape with a headache. At least so I thought, then I started having trouble with memory, something I never had trouble with before. I chalked it up to stress or PTSD and just said ahh there is too much white noise going on for me to remember silly things like conversations or directions. These were things I never struggled with before. I also was pretty good at reading something once and it was burned in, now its a couple of re-reads and I have to write it down or transform the info in some way before it is solidly registered. I get these headaches or H/A as we call them in the school. They suck, I deal though, never liked taking medication for them, I just soldier up and muscle my way through. So there is something genuinely wrong, but it is not overt. It is yet another covert injury, lurking below the surface.

There is nothing wrong with being medically retired from the military for injury from combat. In fact that is down right honorable and badge of such that should be worn with pride. I however, have a covert injury. One that affects how I function but I have adapted and overcome its limitations. I have no backing to stand on, no proof to show that I am not the only one who feels I was wounded. This all happened before they awarded purple hearts for mTBI, now I hear you get them for concussions, so by my count I need about 5 of those, 10 if you count them all. So no PH, but yet the VA pays me disability for the injury, and then during a reserve health assessment it comes up that the VA is in fact paying me. “Uhoh” the big army said as they hurriedly stamped a P3 on my status, meaning that I am non-deployable. 5 months later I get a letter in the mail, telling me I am going up for med board.

“Injury not severe enough to merit purple heart.” Thats what the rejection letter read on the award sheet.  Not severe enough huh? Well then what the hell is this all about? If its not severe enough to merit the PH but its bad enough to where you guys shit the bed when I have headaches because I walked out of the freaking kill radius of a 107mm mortar. Are you kidding me? Not physically fit for duty, I think its the part that stings the most. I can out PT every single joe in that reserve unit. I could do it at the last unit reserve unit I was at too. I won their little best warrior competition too. Not physically fit, I am crazy, I got that, but you want me on your side in a fire fight.

Of course the soon to be wifey is attempting to hide her joy, about the fact I am in the chute to walk away. They haven’t kicked me out yet, and who knows they may not. The whole damn thing though is a slap in the face. If I didn’t merit a purple heart, they shouldn’t be able to tell me that due to combat injury I am unfit for service. Its not that I want the enemy marksmanship badge, but if you are gonna give me the boot for the freaking injury give me the 5 cent trinket that is held in great esteem by all of us who serve under the flag. Its sad and pathetic that I am so hurt by the fact that I didn’t get mine, but I always remembered those who weren’t there to have theirs pinned on or the guys who paid in blood and limbs. I didn’t have to do that, got a bloody nose, either from the pressure or the concrete wall I got thrown into, then I had to do first aid and get a soldier to the CSH. I survived that explosion, there is one who didn’t. So when viewed from the perspective of from the soldiers pain do I merit one, absolutely not. My injury is paled in comparison to the incredible sacrifices that our boys and girls have made over there. But when examined from the point of view of because I am so screwed up and liable to become critically wounded the first time I get a bump on the head, so you have to kick me out, I think they need to either just stop where they are or give me my parting thanks. Not something I could be proud of but just the simple parting appreciation that it has been rough and I have overcome this freaking thing. Acknowledging that whoever wrote not severe enough to merit a purple heart, was a prik and probably rode a desk his whole deployment.

So I will see, if they make me set my chevrons down and back away. Part of me just hopes it goes quickly, like ripping a band-aid off. Part of me doesn’t want to end my time on such a low note, over an injury that they show no respect or thanks for. Part of me is numb and part feels like a raw open wound. Most of all I can not shake the feeling of being a shit bag. I am being med-boarded for an injury they did not feel deserved the slightest bit of honor. The thing that disturbs me the most, I am not alone. There are by the army’s count 80000 troopers who have an mTBI and have not been given the slightest bit of appreciation or honor that our military provides for them when they get wounded or worse. I am lucky, my symptoms I could overcome. Some can not. Some have difficulty with activities of daily living and caring for themselves. Others have serious psychological implications that are associated with it. Also the link between PTSD and mTBI becomes more and more profound the more they research it. The dangerous thought I have is, how connected is TBI, PTSD and suicide?

What is more shocking is that my statements here, are viewed as offensive to some. There is a large group of service members past and present that feel that honoring these 80000 troopers sacrifice as cheapening the honor of the Purple Heart. Their reasoning is that it didn’t break skin and so there is no way to prove it happened. To that I offer this simple metaphor: Let me hit you up side the head with a baseball bat, if I do it just right it won’t break skin and then we can discuss if you feel injured or not, then I can explain the physics behind the pressure differential of an explosion and how I would have to hit you on all sides of your head simultaneously with the same bat twice as hard. Feel wounded yet?

How do I put the chevrons down and back away? I don’t know the answer to that question. I hope that I can do it with courage and grace and not express the amount of anger and resent I feel. Who knows it may not come to this. The interesting thing is that it has shown me how much those things actually still mean something to me. If you want more info, just google TBI and Purple heart, USA today has a good article on it, here is an NPR link.


Snap Crackle Pop

Suicide. Explain it to me, because I don’t get it. What brings a person to the point of taking their own life. I don’t understand what the common thread that binds those soldiers that have killed themselves or is it some implication that we are simply correlating on them. Perhaps the ones that have taken their lives would have done it anyway. The VA has tried that thought process stating that 20-25 is when men typically present with personality disorders. I have to call bullshit though, there is no way that those guys were simply gonna do it anyway.

So then it falls to PTSD or does it? Could it perhaps be the culture of the modern military, we are quick to kill and fast to not care about it. Our PTSD comes from our losses not theirs. Perhaps we have been taught to kill so well that we do it quickly without hesitation. Our generation is accustomed to danger and death. So many of our ranks have shown incredible bravery, running into hostile fire or braving booby trapped roads, houses, and fields. There was no hesitation, consideration of the repercussions, no pause when it was time to kill. Bring that home when it comes to an emotionally compromised person that ability to kill swings into action and without pause, consideration of the risk or repercussions, pull the trigger.

So its the culture thats killing them? What about the supposed cure or treatment. I have long felt that the suicide prevention approach of the army particularly is ass-backwards. They turned it into a form of buddy aid, the responsibility of suicide prevention falls to the buddies and the supervisor. This seems counter-intuitive to me. It also makes the suicidal person not only helpless and hopeless but removes the responsibility for their own actions from them. While this wouldn’t work for most populations, the military population is different. We don’t need hand-holding and stroking. We need purpose and a challenge. It is my belief that these service-members who are struggling would benefit from being shown how much they are needed, take away their ability to self-pity because others need them. This is  a common value found in all service members, we will give of ourselves until it kills us or heals us. I feel that those that are feeling lost, those that are feeling desperate, should volunteer to go help others. Be shown that what happened then doesn’t influence now. Remind them that they are living for their brothers and sisters who can not. Show them that they can make a positive impact, transitioning from taking life to saving lives.

In my very limited experience in the hospital I have felt this feeling of purpose and sudden solidification of motivation. Save a life, help a helpless person, make a dying person smile and forget their pain for a millisecond, erase the smallest iota of bad karma that is etched on your soul. Save a life and honor the lives lost over there. Beyond that, find that meaning, that purpose, the niche that all veterans must find when coming home. Few will be as rewarding as saving life and it is something that veterans are distinctly prepared for.

That phrase,”From taking life to saving life” I have used it a lot. Its how I describe why I am in nursing school, probably helped me get into the school in the first place, I used it in the interview process. My words I recently found echoed in a marine who recently took his life or perhaps his words echoed in me, or maybe its a common trend. I didn’t know him, but he was a great man judging by those who mourn him. He had this same idea I do about challenging the vet, not coddling them. One of his friends commented, “God must be in one hell of a fight because he keeps taking the greatest Marines.”

One final thought, it maybe historically incorrect but are we not the first generation to come back from war and the vast majority of us remain in the military to continue being a service member for a couple of years. A lot of Vietnam veterans, to my understanding were drafted and when they came home, they were done and walked away. WWII, had an even more prolific exodus of military service members. The key factor… they got away from the uniform! Show me another form of trauma where day in day out, you are constantly not only reminded of the trauma but also live in it. We are volunteers that sign multi-year contracts and do multiple tours inside that time. When we come home, we are more or less held hostage by our contract, if you were suffering and are having this feeling of being trapped, suddenly suicide starts creeping in and the next thing you know, bam. In Dan’s ideal world and military, tours would be offset, not necessarily by time off but by humanitarian missions. If you did a trip to afghan, you would come home, had down time, and then were sent to south america or some other place for a month to provide aide, then you could be eligible to do another combat tour. Bad karma and good karma getting balanced. But that will never happen. No we come home, prisoners of our minds and guilt and contracts.

Geez, I am a downer today, just frustrated, sorry.

Crossing the Rubicon

I just applied to join this its called Team Rubicon. Whats most important to his message is the last 2 minutes, if you’re impatient.