Save a life by sharing your story

Save a life by sharing your story

July 15, 2011 ~ When it comes to the world of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), the invisible wounds of war, most of us have a tendency not to share our stories.  There is an automatic respect given to those who come home from war with physical wounds, but for those who come home with mental wounds, we often look the other way or make judgments without understanding all the facts.

No one wants to talk about the way life turns out for those living with combat trauma because most of the time, it’s not pretty.

The experts will tell you that up to 20% of our troops are affected, but I beg to differ.  How can anyone serve multiple deployments, or even one deployment, in a war zone and come home unchanged?

The changes may be subtle at first, but for most of us who have a loved one dealing with invisible wounds, we can tell you that sometimes the symptomatic behaviors will come out of nowhere.  Many of us find ourselves trying to get to know a completely different person than the one we relinquished to the War on Terror.

There are countless articles out there to educate us on the symptoms of PTSD and TBI.  If you read enough of these articles, you can list the symptoms in your sleep, but it’s really hard to find someone who can help you learn how to live with the symptoms, especially if you are suffering in silence.

The stigma is stifling, therefore most will never step up and ask for help until the problem has manifested into a level out of control.

When it began to sink in that my son might be dealing with PTSD and TBI, I had no idea what to do.  The incident that we later found to be the cause of his brain injury had taken place almost three years earlier.  The subtle changes crept in and took over before any of us understood what was happening.  We had enough sense to know that three combat deployments must have had an effect on our child, but we had no idea what to do because we have never been to war ourselves.

Because we had no “incident” in the recent past, which defined when a change should have taken place, we began to get frustrated, wondering why he was so easily agitated, and never able to relax.  We took it personally when he overreacted with outbursts of anger, and we found it difficult to be around a once very funny and happy guy who now seemed to be down in the dumps more days than not.  When we tried to talk with him, it was as if reasoning skills had flown out the window and we found that we were growing further and further apart from our son.

The pressure being put on him, by the Marine Corps, to suck it up and get on with life was taking its toll and of course, we were forbidden to call the Marine Corps to get information. For six years, we had been well trained and we knew well that Mommy and Daddy do not call the Marine Corps…..ever!

We were six hundred miles away from our son’s base and we had no idea how we could be of any help from such a distance.  We looked around at the many friends we had with military children and things looked pretty good on their side of the fence.  We were too proud to mention what was going on, especially because we were considered leaders in the military support community.

The sad reality, three years later, is that I now know that each and every one of our friends with military children are all struggling with some aspect of PTSD and/or TBI.  I don’t know a single family with a combat veteran who doesn’t have some sort of struggle.  There was one family who seemed to have the picture perfect soldier, but even he, I just recently found out, is dealing with post traumatic stress.

I’ve been to two funerals for Marines who have committed suicide.  I have one friend whose son died because he took his overprescribed medication just as the VA doctor ordered.  I have another friend who buried his son because his boy took something to help him sleep and escape the nightmares after returning home from his second combat deployment. Another friend’s son is likely headed for divorce, and two vets I’ve known for years, have faced legal issues because their flashbacks took place in public places which landed them in the midst of a crisis with first responders who were not certified with Critical Response Training which would have helped the officers to deal more effectively with the post traumatic stress driving the situation.

The war has changed all of these men.  100% of the families we know have been affected by this war.  That’s a far cry from the 20% we are told about in the news.

I struggled with our little “secret” for at least a year before I finally opened up and admitted life wasn’t perfect for our family.  When I allowed myself to swallow my pride and tell a few close friends what we were dealing with, I was shocked to find out that I was not alone.

I wasn’t glad to find out that others were suffering, but I was empowered to become more transparent.  Having founded a nonprofit, I had been given a voice in the military community, but I had no idea that I might be using that voice to address a battle against the stigma of invisible wounds of war using my own personal experience as the cornerstone.

Allowing myself to tell a friend was just the beginning.  In the two years that followed, I learned how to exercise my rights as a taxpaying American citizen, to contact the many lawmakers we have elected to serve on our behalf and ask them to earn the paycheck I help to fund year in and year out. I learned to step out of my comfort zone and stand toe to toe with the highest ranking Marine officers to expose a problem that was being covered up, ignored, and swept under the rug.  I even hosted a DoD Inspector Generals team meeting in my home for four days when they called me one day, out of the blue, and told me they were interested in talking to me about all the reports I had been filing.

Part of the reason I learned to step into such dangerous territory was because there were others who came before me.  A soldier’s mom took on the Army.  When I read her story in the New York Times, it empowered me to speak up for my own son.  I was still afraid, but I couldn’t let my own kid down especially if someone else’s mom was able to stand up to the system!

Ten years of war has taken its toll.  Troops are suffering.  Their families are suffering.  Most are still silent because they watch the rest of us fight an uphill battle that never seems to end.  For every one of us who stands up to fight for quality health care and respect, there are ten bullies ready and willing to squash our efforts.

Please don’t let that silence you!

If you are dealing with the invisible wounds of war, rather it be personally, or because your loved one has served, please don’t carry this burden alone.  There are thousands upon thousands of us out here who can benefit from the de-stigmatization of PTSD and TBI. We can make a louder noise if we speak out together and with enough persistence, we can demand better care for our combat veterans living with PTSD and TBI.

Please contact us at Military Missions if you need support. We may not have all the answers, but we will sure do our best to help you find the support system you need to live life despite the invisible wounds of war.

Originally published by Military Missions Inc.

Comments

  1. Marine Mom says:

    We are writing on behalf of our son . In May 2009 we sent a whole boy into the Marine Corp. He thrived through boot camp; Our son’s letters sounded like he was at summer camp, he was one tough kid. The youngest of three boys, he could carry his own weight and loved the whole experience of becoming a Marine. Upon graduation from boot camp we met some of his Drill Instructors, and they had high expectations for him. We were told he was mentally and physically stronger than most. Although our son is of smaller stature, 5’10”, for our family, everyone else is over 6’3 ft. this young man was used to carrying more than his own weight. . Our son, now a young man, graduated boot camp as a PFC, one of very few to do so.

    After graduation, our son went onto his SOI Training to become a 0341 Mortar Man, He excelled here and his instructor again told us he had great expectations for his career. As our son entered the fleet he was placed in the fleet our son was all set to go to war and fight for his country. As he started his training ops he was very close to his Marine brothers. On a few occasions we met his fellow Marines again hearing more stories of our son’s strength and determination. What our son lacked in physical stature was over run by his fortitude and motivation for becoming a Marine. There are many stories from boot camp through fleet training where this young man showed strength that came from within. He believed he was capable of anything he set his mind to and proved himself right time and time again.
     
    During field op training for his deployment he sustained a direct blast form a faulty mortar that exploded in the tube. This was the source of his TBI if we knew then what we know now this whole nightmare would have not been so. In September 2010, our son was deployed to Afghanistan where he did his job defending our country. He returned home in March 2011. At this point we noticed he had changed, there was something wrong and different. We did not mention this to him, we thought as time went on he would get better. He didn’t, and things only got worse. In April 2011 or the beginning of May 2011, during his Post deployment health assessment, he was flagged for a TBI and significant hearing loss in both ears. At this point there was no further medical intervention except another assessment here or there. We had to watch as our son’s emotional well being deteriorated, he was going down hill and fast. Before this he was a young man who was sharp as a tack. Throughout high school he never even had to study for a test, remembering everything, he was well organized, and confidant. We watched as our son getting worse each day; he couldn’t fine his keys, driver license, he couldn’t even remember what he ate by the end of the day. Our son was experiencing frequent headaches, extreme anxiety, constant fatigue, he became easily irritated, impulsive and startled easily, and he could no longer sleep through the night. His hearing loss also continued to be unaddressed. Even with all of the previous mentioned symptoms, four months later, he was still being trained for redeployment. In August 2011 he was sent on a 2-week field op. This for a Marine flagged for TBI, he was told to “suck it up and be a man”. It’s ludicrous to think that someone in his condition would be forced to sustain additional blasts and explosions. This clearly shows no concern for his well-being and most likely made the situation worse.

    Finally, in the beginning of October was he put on Limdu. He was then placed in Delta Co. only to be treated as a second-class citizen, harassed and belittled, a prisoner of the Corp. Some of his own Marine brothers even turned on him. The situation kept getting worse. We will never forget the phone calls that we received, stating how he felt useless and wished he had lost a leg rather than have the injuries he sustained, at least then he would be respected. There were quite a few times that we had to call upon his fellow Marine brothers to check on him because we were afraid for his life. He now admits that if not for his strong family bonds, he would no longer be on this earth. We continually told him to address issues with his doctors, he did but he was just given more medication and no therapy.

    On the first page of his Abbreviated Medical Evaluation Board Report it lists the diagnosis as Traumatic Brain Injury, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and significant hearing loss in both ears. The circumstances of injury are combat stress and blast exposures while in Afghanistan. But then again the Corp still dragged their feet; he didn’t receive his hearing aids till the end of November of 2011. It wasn’t until the end of his first Limdu that his doctor was changed and he was told that they were way behind in his medical care. His second Limdu was approved in May 2012. The diagnosis is still the same. At this point his medical care some what is improving, but the mental abuse continues.

    As parents, we can confirm that our son’s condition is declining. He has been broken down to believe he has no rights nor does he have any pride left. We are a proud family and have always taught our boys to do the right thing and take the proper steps when addressed with an issue, even if they are in the wrong. But, at this point he is no longer able to do these things. We sent the Marine Corp a whole boy; strong – both mentally and physically, full of confidence. In return, we received a man, a United States Marine, the strongest, proudest, one of the few. Since his return, we now have a broken sole, just another statistic of the war, and hopefully not another news story.

    Much has happening in the past 6 weeks we had to hit the ground running and fighting for our son. He has finally been moved to a 28 day program to address some of his issues where hoping that he will be able to transition to the Wounded Warrior Program being that a TBI is a permanent injury recovery will never fully happen. Still our sons MED Boards have not been started We have been notified that since he has so pending legal issues that he may not be eligible for the program. Mind you his legal issues are that he was in such a downward spiral when he came home for a short liberty we as a family would not let him return till we had a clearer picture of his mental and physical state. We consulted with our own medical Doctors and Physiatrists. We where right to do this all our fears where unfortunately validated and few more where brought to our attention As all this took place we were in contact with his chain of commands and assured them that our son had every intention of retuning to the Corps which he did.

    The military system is set up to weed out the week they punish for behaviors that come form these invisible wounds of war. Its funny that you can see commercials for TBI’s and PTSD but if you are still in the Corps your up a creek without a paddle. If the Corps admits that you are injured they have to pay your benefits. It cheaper and easier if they other then honorable discharge you or better yet on their part if you loss your battle all together and end up as another news story.

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