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.