Dear Mr. O’Reilly,
Our government can enlist, train and send a new recruit off to war in a matter of months. Officers take perhaps slightly longer. Thanks to amazing technology and the near elimination of hand-to-hand combat the vast majority of our sailors, soldiers, marines, and airmen no longer return home in the body bags so common during previous Conflicts. Make no mistake; whether they realize it or not, whether they admit it or not, and whether they choose to seek help or not many are still returning as Wounded Warriors.
The statistics on soldiers returning with PTSD and Combat Trauma are staggering and you probably know them better than I; any Google search will yield numbers from 10-20% and nearly all surveys indicate that less than half actually seek help. Of course, the effects are highly individualized but those effects will be felt by at least 10 people surrounding the Warrior. Think about that ripple. Those who choose to get help can receive medical attention relatively quickly but attempting to get the government to take responsibility with benefits is fighting another battle, albeit on the home front.
I am married to a Wounded Warrior. My husband was a US Navy Chaplain who was injured in a combat training simulation in December 2007. The injury occurred stateside as part of a work up to deployment in March 2008. My husband nearly drowned, upside down, in a helicopter simulator. As a result he suffers PTSD and acute depression. I have watched my Warrior, my Man of Faith, fight his depression and his faith to the brink of suicide, earning him three stays in military mental hospitals. When his command decided to seek a medical retirement (December 2009) it took nine months and multiple appeals for a medical board to acknowledge a correlation between his PTSD and his depression. To us this felt like eternity and was beyond stressful. Others have had to wait years. To date, we are still waiting to hear about his benefits from Veteran’s Affairs. Initially he was told he was on a fast track of 3-5 months waiting; that was in October 2010. Since March he has been calling the VA once or twice every week and the only answer he receives is that his file is waiting to be reviewed and there is nothing he can do. Sadly, this is not abnormal. Nearly all veterans fight a similar battle.
Our life, financially speaking, is rather hanging in the balance. When faced with medical retirement, and the uncertainty of what a highly trained minister could do in a civilian world when no longer able to do formal ministry, our family decided to buy an RV and travel the country, living off a modest retirement income and savings. Our intent was to try to spend quality time together with hopes of healing a little of the pain incurred over the past several years. We travelled with our two boys from November 2010 to April 2011 (www.thetwistwanderers.blogspot.com details our life on the road) when we decided to settle in Salem, Oregon. Believing we would be hearing from the VA any minute we began negotiations on a home in a lease to buy situation. We have moved 17 times in 17 years of marriage and this is our first home purchase. Our savings is diminishing and because we must provide proof of income for our mortgage process to continue and we have no idea when we will hear from the VA my husband has put in over 20 job applications, without a single response. Instead of having benefits coming in monthly, which would allow him the “luxury” of further healing, the cycle of frustration/anxiety with the VA causes his PTSD symptoms to worsen. Furthermore, because of how his medical board convened, his injury was determined “combat related,” according to the UCMJ, and should allow him to receive both retirement and VA benefits; this is not normally the case. Our concern is will the VA recognize this so that there is no interruption with the military retirement already being received. The VA seems to be wholly unaware of UCMJ policy, expressing this to my husband on numerous occasions.
Our military members choose to sign the dotted line. It’s not glamorous and most do not get paid what they are worth. To have to continually fight to get benefits after being injured in the line of duty is unthinkable. The worst part is that there is no smooth avenue for veterans and their spouses to get the help and answers they need in a timely fashion. It regularly takes 45 minutes to get through the line to the VA. Their website, which they highly recommend for checking status, is virtually unnavigable. My husband and I have master’s degrees and we have yet to figure it out.
My plea is this: while awareness of PTSD is becoming more and more widespread there needs to be clear channels of communication and quicker decisions regarding benefits. The military and the government need to be in close contact with how they are going to work together on this specific issue. My husband is weary of talking to the VA only to be told “We’ve never heard that before.” Our story is not a one off; I attended a retreat for wives of Combat Trauma/PTSD victims in Colorado last month and I heard stories worse than ours. This should not be my soapbox alone. This needs to be our nations soapbox. Wounded Warriors should not have to continue fighting when they get home; they should be allowed to seek healing and refuge aided by whatever benefits they are entitled to receive. I’d love to advocate help for my husband and the rest our nation’s veterans but don’t know how on my own. Surely you may have some ideas?
Sincerely and with hope,
Denise J Twist
USN CHC (Ret) Wife and Patriot (not Pinhead)