Tuesday, September 4, 2012

How My Veteran Is Doing And New VA Programs For Family Members

Some of you who have been following this blog since it's inception may be wondering how Rick is doing.

He,as he always will,has good days and bad days. A good day is when he doesn't let his limitations frustrate him too much. A bad is when he lets his speech,reading,or thought patterns get to him and he gets overwhelmed and angry.

For those who are new to this blog,my husband was wounded in  an RPG attack in  Ramadi,Iraq on July 28, 2005. He suffers from chronic PTSD, and moderate TBI which has spawned all kinds of issues with reading comprehension,speech,thought process, writing,math,taste,smell,and memory. It has also caused issues with his pituitary gland,so he has to take testosterone shots,and he has hypothyroidism.The trauma also triggered Celiac's Disease. Our journey with the military and the VA,as well as our daily experiences dealing with all this led me to write this blog. It was a great outlet for me,and I was hopeful that perhaps someone who had been going through our experience could find solace in the fact that they are not the only ones who are dealing with these things.

Rick had begun a 12 week program through the VA called Cognitive Therapy. Unfortunately,as soon as he began remembering things that happened in Iraq ( causing him to have a bad flashback which led him to cry for almost an hour) his counselor wound up having to take a medical leave of absence. We are still waiting to  hear when a new counselor will be assigned. There are so many soldiers coming back with PTSD and TBI that the VA is having a heck of a time keeping up,and I am heartened that the President has called on the VA to hire 800 more new counselors and for more money to be spent for mental issues.While it seems frustrating  (and it can be!) the VA is actually in much better shape than in 2006 when Rick started going. The government was just not ready to deal with all the mental challenges that our service men and women were coming home with,and we actually had no TBI diagnosis until 2007. Now testing is mandatory when soldiers enter the VA system. 

At any rate,we are waiting for a new PTSD counselor,although to be honest,Ken (our old one) felt Rick was about ready to  start coming only every few months once the 12 week program was over,instead of every month like he had been doing before he began the program. He has been seeing PTSD counselors since 2006. 

Rick is on what is called in military speak,TDRL ( Temporary Disabled Retirement Program). He can be kept on this for up to 5 years. He has to submit to testing whenever the military wants. This is a mandatory program for all vets who come back with PTSD. The hope is that with counseling,the vet will get better and be able to function in society,work,etc. That is all well and good for a soldier that gets help once they leave theater,but Rick received very little help once he was sent stateside after he was wounded. (He was sent to Fort Gordon,GA med hold) They basically gave him Valium and maybe once a month therapy for an hour,if it wasn't cancelled. Again, the government was not prepared for the influx of soldiers with mental issues. He dealt with this for 9 months  and didn't start getting real help until the middle of 2006 when he started going to the VA,almost a year after his injury.The PTSD combined with his TBI makes me shake my head that the military is bothering to put him in this program,but I suppose rules are rules (even if they don't make sense-and the military rarely makes sense).

This past Spring,we went to Gilford for a physical and Boston for mental evaluations for the military.This was an update from when he went to the med board at Fort Drum three years ago to see if there was any improvement ,regression,or if things remained the same. We just heard back from them,and they want Rick to go through another physical evaluation-for his back (which has some problems with from back surgery long ago),his knees ( which are now fixed) and for his hearing (which,it was noted,has gotten worse). Why they are concentrating on these three issues is beyond me. The main issues are the mental problems,not the physical ones,at least,now since he has had both his knees replaced.The psychiatric Dr in Boston reaffirmed what others had told us-he can never work in the public realm again. Again, I don't understand the military's reasoning,but considering everything else they put us through (three med boards) we are just dealing with it.

Today he began filling out a form for a service dog so he can be more independent and go to stores,etc.They have great programs for vets that have PTSD/TBI. Right now it's too much for him to go to,say Walmart,by himself. We got as far as the second page and he had to stop. His poor brain was on overload.

I am in two new programs in the VA. The first one is the VA Caregiver Support program for spouses who are caregivers for their veterans. We have a phone group that touches base twice a month,and we have a workbook with a different subject for each phone session. I was asked specifically to join this group from the head of the Poly trauma  (PTSD/TBI)  Unit at the Manchester VA (she used to be Rick's PTSD counselor before Ken).She felt that since I had been going through this for so long,I might be able to offer some insight to newer wives. Though it's a good program,I wish it had been available when I really needed it 6 years ago.Most of it is what I have already dealt with,although there are still ongoing subjects that we continue to  struggle with. This program allows us to  have a counselor come to the house every three months to check in on us to see if there is anything she  can help with,any questions she can answer,etc. Her name is Donna ( easy to remember!) and she is nice. She also brings a PTSD counselor that sits down with Brother B and I to discuss whatever issues may have come up. (Brother B is Rick's secondary caregiver).

The second program is called the SAFE Program-Support and Family Education. This is for members of the Caregiver Support Program. We meet once a month in Manchester,and like the previous program,it has a topic for each meeting.This is a more informative program rather  than a counseling type of meeting. Our first meeting is What Causes Mental Illness. Some other topics include Depression,PTSD and it's impact on the family,Setting Boundaries,Problem solving,Creating a Low Stress Environment,Taking Care of Yourself,Managing Stress,TBI, etc. I can go to whatever topic applies,so I don't have to go every month,though I will probably go to most of them. I am very happy that the VA is now not only looking out for the Vets,but their families as well. PTSD and TBI is not just the soldiers problem,as it affects all members and dynamics of the family.No one should be ashamed to ask for help. Too many veterans are committing suicide. It's so sad and horrible.

If you are a vet,or a family member of vet who needs help,please do not wait !!! Go to your local VA. There is no shame in admitting you need help. YOU ARE NOT ALONE!!!!!!!

Have a fabulous day on this Fabulous Planet!


  1. Donna - i am so glad that you and Rick and your family are finally getting the help that you have needed since Rick's return home. but one thing that drives me nuts...and i truly hope that i don't offend you with this - i can't stand that they label PTSD and TBI in regards to our combat vets as mental illness - it is not a mental illness when it occurs after combat but a PHYSICAL thing that happened that causes the brain to react in the exact same way to a myriad of people who all have one thing in common - combat experience.

    yes, if you are raped or raised in an abusive family - there is a very big chance that you may suffer from PTSD. but a combat veteran who has been shot at, blown up and exposed to non-stop fire is a much different story. men like Rick went into combat with full mental faculties. they were injured - their brains and mental faculties were injured - and they came out with PTSD. this is not a mental illness the same way that having your leg blown off by a car bomb is not a mental illness.

    ugh. i am sorry if this upsets or offends you. but i hate this. i have so many friends who maintained security clearances for many years (which includes heavy psychological testing) who were sent overseas in a combat situation and they came back with PTSD!!!! and TBI is another one that gets my goat - it is not a mental illness - it is an injury to the brain!!!

    again - i am very glad that you and your family are finally receiving the services that you should have received years ago. but i hate calling combat-related PTSD and TBI a mental illness.

    much love to you and yours. and much thanks for both of your sacrifices and both of your service. without people like you and Rick, we would not enjoy the lives that we currently do.

    your friend,

    1. No offense taken,Kymber! I don't refer to PTSD as a mental illness either,though above I did refer to it as a "mental issue"or "mental problem" for lack of better terminology- I meant mental in terms of the brain it's self and it's process....re-reading my post after your comment,I guess that my phrasing was not any better :( Rick does not like the term mental illness either-we just talked about this the other day,in fact!I,on the other hand,was born with a chemical imbalance which causes depression,therefore,I consider myself having a from of mental illness.

      You are correct.As Rick's wife,I should try and and use better terminology-"mental issues" or "mental problems" leave much to be desired and do not help the stigma that folks with PTSD deal with.

      Thank you for pointing that out to me. I I agree with you wholeheartedly and will use a better choice of words next time.
      I apologize.

      I appreciate your honesty.

      Your friend in NH,Donna