Category Archives: Veterans

Bad dog

He’s dead. His name that shall not be mentioned,  they dumped his body in the ocean with good intent and purpose to prevent his reign of terror from continuing after his death. Some rejoice, some remember, some plot revenge. He was just one man, but he started a war with a cowardly plot. Celebrating his death only makes him more of a martyr for them. We should act as if we have finally scraped the dog poop off the bottom of our boot with a stick, not as if we won the world series.

Honor the fallen. Remember 9/11. Thank the troopers. Way to go SOCOM, you sneaky sneaky ninjas.

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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.

http://www.npr.org/about/press/2010/090910.PurpleHeartsTBI.html


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.

http://teamrubiconusa.org/


Are we freaking you out?

“Baby, Are we freaking you out?”

This was the question posed to me by one of the women that I have been working with in the hospital, while we were having to pack a horrible pressure ulcer. You could see spine and it was pretty gnarly. My facial expression I am sure was not too pleasant, but it was not because I was freaked out, I was just pissed that someone had neglected a defenseless person so long. So the question caught me by surprise. I said “No, it takes a bit to freak me out.” We packed the wound, it had an acrid smell, something I have not sensed since some of those combat engagements. There is a particular scent to open human flesh and it sticks with you.

I had worried when I started out into the medical field that what I saw in combat and my reaction to it might cause some difficulties even issues in providing care in the hosptital setting. I was dead wrong. It if anything has strengthened me on both counts. I am not only better medically because I have seen worse and I can spend my time learning not freaking the hell out while one of the care takers sticks three fingers deep into a patient’s back where a hole gives a clean shot view to bone. I can evaluate how the dressing is done and what should have been done to prevent it and how the patient is taking it. On the other side, me seeing this stuff in a controlled environment like the hospital, takes the sting and the myth away from the combat stuff. It makes my horrific imagniation have to face realistic first hand experience and tone down those adrenaline filled memories. Making my overall reaction to those memories dampened and dulled.

So back to “Are we freaking you out?” My internal monologue looked something like this: HA! Lady, I have been ass deep in casualties after a rocket strike, performing CPR on one Kid while lifting a stretcher with the other hand. I have had 60 patients with not a single first responder with more training than a 4 hour course. I have done everything from being a glorified IV stand, to tension pnuemothroax needle decompressions all while being under gun fire and rocket barage. I have taken life, saved life, and watched it fade out of too many teenagers and twenty year olds. I have given IV’s with NVG’s which is freaking impossible because you have no depth perception. I have been up to my elbows in blood and it wasn’t all from the same guy. If you knew how many pairs of ACU’s I went through in a year it would blow your mind… do you have any clue how hard it is to break in new boots! You are not freaking me out, you ain’t even impressing me. To freak me out, this guy would have to die and then jump up and start doing an Irish Jig.

My real response,” No, its takes a little bit more to freak me out.” Because words would not suffice nor explain nor even scratch the surface of how jacked up and screwed up our time over there was. In that fact, I find not just solace but pride. You can’t shake me, you can’t even make me take a double take as with most of the veterans you find.

“What the house is on fire? well, walk out.” “What do you mean you will kick my ass? I will break your neck.” “We don’t have any beds? Sleep on the floor.” This is what combat and war with all its gruesomeness has brought us, a baseline of what chaos is so far above everyone elses’ that we will forever be the clear head in the room. In the back of our minds there will always be one ever poignant phrase, ” This ain’t nothing to me.”

I find strength in my stigma, yea I got PTSD, you would too if you saw the stuff I did. I am stronger for it, I get a couple of nightmares and freak out everyonce in the while…. thats an incredible accomplisment all things considered.

So the real question in that room was not are you freaking me out, but am I starting to freak you out with just how calm I am about, blood, guts, gore, death, saving and or taking life. While these things are something you are remotely familiar with this is something I was immersed in for years and could do it all while eating an Otis Spunkmeyer Blue berry muffin and playing the celebrity name game.


The Uilleann Pipes

Fitting on St. Patty’s Day:

I strive to be relatively stoic or at least make fun of the bad or hard things that come along with these invisible scars. There is one thing though that will fill me with that little choking feeling and rush little pre-tears to my eyes. Bag pipes. I remember as a little private standing there at attention as “Amazing Grace” was played on the bag pipes as a soldiers funeral was coming to a close. I glanced out the sides of my eyes (you can’t move your head at attention) and I could see all of these grizzled sergeants deeply moved by the music, the song, the situation. I didn’t really understand then. I asked one of the guys, “What’s the big deal.” He smacked me on the back and said nothing. A week later I was in Afghanistan.

Flash forward a couple of years, and every bit of pain and emotion devoted to losing a soldier or a friend or a leader is attached to a bag-pipe trigger. Part of me hates it. Part of me is proud to have that kind of pride in my friends and their service. I also think it has a lot to do with the instrument used.

Its just broken and jaded sounding to evoke those level of emotions and then it sounds just pissed off enough to illicit that response. Whatever it is, it is powerful, palpable, and contagious. Too many quiet ceremonies with a group of tired soldiers staring a picture or a slideshow, while their buddy is heading home in a body bag. Too many, swallowed and bottled feelings of regret, anger, loss, buried way down deep. Those bag pipes for whatever reason allow a window into that dark pit of even darker emotions and just as I did not understand then, I doubt very much that an inexperienced onlooker would be capable of interpreting what was happening. Its like being dropped into a pitch black tornado and trying to determine where you are at.

I suspect, that many of you have been nodding and understanding what I am talking about. The reason I am writing this is because of late I have found myself cursing every commercial or glancing blow of anything related to the bagpipes. I feel that is wrong and somewhat cowardly. The reason I do this is because I am trying to keep those demons locked up tight. I once wore these invisible scars with so much pride and I have some how reverse stigmatized myself. Its ridiculous, the goal that I had set to work to be stable again, that when I slipped or showed the tumultuous stuff under the surface I would lament myself and feel that I failed.

Those invisible scars are my personal badge of honor, meant for no one else but me. They remind me, I am here, I have lived that vigorous life, I did not take the easy route, and I have been tried and tested. I carry emotional baggage, really, if thats all I deal with after going through that meat grinder I should count myself among the lucky and proud. I should never be ashamed of being proud of my brothers’ ultimate sacrifice. I should never be afraid to show that yes I was emotionally connected to those great men, that I lived with, ate with, bled with. If they think it makes a man less manly… I will show them my stamped and certified man card.

The next time you get a chance to hear those bag pipes, it will unfortunately probably be at a funeral or at a memorial. But I challenge you to stand there and take it, let it rip that window into your soul and let a little of the pain go but hold tight to that pride. Not personal pride, but pride that you were once counted amongst men and women cut from a different cloth that were so proud of their country that they signed that blank check, men and women that so loved the others they served with they gave their lives to protect them. Dig in, grit your teeth and let those little badges of pain well up in your face and take it like a grown man or woman.

Happy St. Patty’s, everybody is Irish today, go get some green beer!


When the bullet hits the bone

He jumps in his truck, after hanging out with his dad for a couple of hours on a lazy Sunday. He backs it up into his neighbors drive way, looks left looks right, all clear he pulls out. Screeching tires.

Two teenage kids blow past the front end of his truck. As this happens he shakes his head. The passenger of the other vehicle leans out and throws him the bird as the fly past. Little kids down range from them are playing basketball and these guys are doing 40MPH in their direction.

The mental jet engine fires. The adrenal courses violently through the veins almost as angrily as his mind descends into darkness. The gear selector drops into D and his tires are now the ones squealing as his V8 engine comes to life and aims itself like a missile for the back of their hoopty.

They slam on the brakes like a challenge. He is out of his vehicle in under a second. The MP habit makes him put a thumb print on the trunk in case they draw on him. The driver door starts to open. He kicks it shut and in the most angry psuedo-clint eastwood voice grumbles sit down boy. The driver addresses him as sir, which immediately softens his tone. He politely says hey kid you need to slow down, your in a neighborhood. The rowdy one in the passenger seat, proceeds to cuss him out. The man politely tells the kid, to settle down. The boy replies f#$% you I will kick your ass. The man, replies, I have killed for less boy step outside and the only thing you will kick is the f#$%ing bucket. Watch your mouth or someone is going to show you just how soft and pathetic you are. Back to the other kid, slow down and pick better friends. The passenger says some other stuff. The man replies you are real tough inside your car, I am out here, waiting.

As he is walking back to his truck the passenger jumps out. Blood red, the pain generating machine is wide open. The man turns around, that calm demeanor is gone. Its time for combat, this kid just signed his own death warrant. The voice that yells at the kid, disturbs even the man himself. It is not a warning, it is not a threat, its begging. Begging for the kid to touch him, to make one move. It laughs at the kids that its been too long since its killed a person and that killing his dumbass would almost not even count cause it would be a service to humanity. Come on, kid! You are out of the car, come on, do it, commit suicide, all the cool kids are doing it! Whats the matter you scared you fing coward.

Sensing the fear in the kid and the sudden trepidation of action upon realizing that he was dealing with a psychopath hidden in a calm 5 foot 7 inch frame. The man told the kid, to get in his car and drive off. The boy replies stupidly, why you scared. The man replied, yes, I am terrified that I am going to beat you to death, I mean it not as a threat, I am begging you get in your car. The unspoken words: I don’t want your parents to bury you over nothing. Common sense or boredom prevailed he shot the bird one final time to solidify to his buddy that he was the merciful one not the man standing there with blood rage running through his veins with visions of tearing the kids throat clear out. And when it was over, the man felt nothing but shame. They were 16 or 17 they are young and dumb, whats his excuse. This is just like the bar fights and the wild nights. This is just like the road rage and the hate. This is not the way he is supposed to be after going to war, he is supposed to be the greatest advocate of peace, not the stark raving mad rabid psycho lurking beneath the surface, genuinely enjoying the promise of combat.

Obviously, I had an interesting experience this weekend. I undid a year of progress in less than a second. I also almost ended everything I have worked towards and for in less than a minute. Amazing how I think I have a grip on it and some stupid kid, blows it all to hell and almost lands my ass on CNN for breaking a kids neck in the middle of a quite suburban neighborhood. STUPID.

I would not be the first to do something incredibly stupid out of the oef/oif vets. I was lucky and things calmed down. It took me nearly 3 hours to come down from the unresolved rage and adrenaline. I was ready for war because a novice driver made a silly mistake and his buddy acted like a teenage boy. Seriously, how pathetic does it get. I am not a peaceful man, never have been. I will stand for what I believe in and fight for it just as quick. That doesn’t mean I should be walking around like a UXO waiting to pop in the unsuspecting person that kicks the can over.

The thing that shocked me was the anger. I haven’t been that mad since some of those nights in numaniyah after my friends were wounded. How in the hell does that kind of anger find its way to a suburban neighborhood.

Woosa…. this is the reason I don’t carry a gun in my truck.