Breathe in. Breathe out. If you can.

At some point before I left Afghanistan in 2014 I started feeling like I was having breathing issues. I wasn’t concerned about it at the time, but it was noticeable. My bigger concerns were of other physical problems that I developed over there. And I wasn’t even slightly concerned with my mental health because I had been deployed before. I knew what to expect. But obviously, every deployment is different. And not everything about coming home is the same each time.

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My breathing continued to get worse after returning home. Sometimes it was accompanied by chest pains and lightheadedness. It had become difficult to do even moderately physical work. I wasn’t able to do the things that I used to do with ease and it didn’t seem to be getting better. I was driving to class one day a few months after getting home and the breathing was so bad I felt like I might pass out at the wheel. And my chest hurt. Instead of going to class I went to the emergency room at the local Navy hospital.

They hooked me up to all kinds of equipment, ran tests, did x-rays, and asked me a million questions. In the end, the doctor told me it was most likely anxiety and that I should seek mental health treatment. But before I even got home from there, he had called me and ask if I could come back for more tests and x-rays. They found something on my right lung and wanted to get more images from different angles. So I went back for them to poke and prod at me some more. The doctor confirmed a nodule in my right lung. He told me to follow up with my doctor and have further tests done. He wouldn’t speculate if it was serious or not, that a specialist would have to do that.

I waited a year before having it looked at again. I was in a downward spiral in my life at that time and didn’t really care about my health, physical or mental. That part of my life is documented in other previous blog posts. After my failed suicide attempt I decided that if I was going to live, I might as well have my lungs looked at. The doctor at the VA was a complete moron and should in no way be a doctor for veterans. He finally agreed to order tests for me after he realized that I already had some findings from the Navy hospital. During the phone consultation following the first test he informed me that the nodule was small and probably nothing to worry about, that there would be a follow up test in six months. He didn’t know that I already had a copy of the report. So I asked about the second finding in the report, COPD. And he asked, “Oh, are you having breathing problems?” I went off on him, I lost my temper right there. I reminded him that was the whole reason for my appointment before the tests. I couldn’t breathe. Moron!!

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He ordered more tests. Somehow those tests didn’t show any COPD. I guess my breathing problems are all in my head. However, I have documents showing how bad the air quality was in Kabul, where I was at for the majority of my time in Afghanistan. One document from 2009 states, “Kabul air has reached toxic levels….three to 7.5 times higher than WHO (World Health Organization) guidelines for acceptable level of exposure.” In a 2012 letter from Senator Ron Wyden to the Secretary of Defense he points out that “Kabul ranks near the top of worldwide rankings of hazardous airborne contaminants.” But maybe my breathing issues are in my head since the VA can’t find what’s there.

For those of you who have ever dealt with the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), you know it’s a broken system. Often times dealing with them is like getting slapped in the face, especially when the doctor I have is an ass and should not be dealing with veterans. Another slap in the face was when I recently filled out the paperwork for release of information from providers outside the VA to go along with my updated claim. I got a letter from them saying that even though I filled out the paperwork, it’s my responsibility to make sure they get the requested documents. Is that an ongoing problem? Do hospitals and doctors say no to the VA when requesting information? But I don’t have enough to worry about, so I’m glad the VA told me they aren’t responsible for receiving the documents I requested. Really, I was running out of shit to worry about. Morons.

This is a frustrating system to be drowning in. The bureaucracy involved is ludicrous. The lack of accountability is appalling. The number of veterans that die while waiting for care is growing. I vented to my psychologist about this and he asked me why I’m focused on fixing the VA instead of just getting done what I need to get done. He admits that the VA cannot be fixed. I don’t know about the other branches of the military, but in the Army we never leave a fallen comrade. I’ll get what’s due to me eventually. And I will continue to use my voice to help others lost in a broken system of ineptitude so as not leave someone else behind. But I can only make so much noise by myself.

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If you served in Kabul or Bagram and want a copy of the documents I have, let me know. If you have something helpful to share about this, let us all know.

This is frustrating to me. Why won’t they help? Why won’t they listen? Why won’t they look at the evidence that’s out there? It’s dealing with this kind of bullshit that doesn’t help my PTSD, anxiety, anger management, or hopefulness that I will get the treatment I need. This is where many veterans lose the will to fight the system. We can’t win, so what’s the use in spending time and energy on a losing cause? But I’d still go do it all again if asked. Even knowing what I know now.

Thanks for reading my rant. Good day, God bless.

Dave

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32 thoughts on “Breathe in. Breathe out. If you can.

  1. PTSD is a bad enough gig to fight. Fighting the system to get treatment for it or anything related should be criminal!

    All I can say is that the spirit which pulled you out should keep pulling you out. It’s stronger than the VA and PTSD too, because unlike those things, it lives inside you and is a native part of you. The rest of it is external BS, many, many times a total PITA. The PTSD is in residence, probably forever unfortunately, but hopefully you can get it to move to the guest room and stay there, most of the time. The VA I have no real advice for you, except to hang in.

    But I totally get this, even so. Ain’t it a bitch being semi able to cope, so that people think you’re “better” or “well” or “have no issues”? Damned if you cave in and damned if you don’t. One of the few things which makes me mad enough to spout on about it is the way that people with issues who cope are treated.

    The world is binary: either you’re sick or you’re well. There are a lot of people who cope sometimes, or most of the time, but when we need help when we can’t get it. And the better you get, the harder it is for people to take you seriously when you say you need help. I know people with Aspergers’ this is true for, I know someone who has a mild case of cerebral palsy it is too. Also true for my friends with lyme or chronic fatigue.

    And, according to a friend of mine who has contact with the VA, the problem with the VA is in part that the vets have to walk in and say “I’m sick, I’m sick, I’m sick!” before they get help at all. And to keep getting the help have to repeat that, probably with a new person every single time they see someone. Seriously broken.

    Cherish your feisty spirit, dig your heels in. Don’t let them get to you too much, if possible!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh Dave! Your entry stirred so many emotions within me. First and foremost, I feel blessed to have stumbled upon your blog but not because we share a common denominator ~ PTSD. Rather, I feel damn lucky to be following the blog of someone who gave so much of himself to protect our country. I have always respected those who served in the military. Not sure why as no family members were veterans but if I had to wager a guess I think it goes back to my childhood. Not fully comprehending war, military and especially Viet Nam, I remember hearing that people would be cruel to returning soldiers. Fuck! They spit on them and called them horrible names. And although I wasn’t old enough to understand the dynamics or rather, insanity of it, I remember thinking that soldiers are heroes so why are people being mean? Plus as I had more than my share of being called vile names I sympathized with soldiers. Weird huh how little kids think? From those early childhood lessons on the darker side of humanity however sprung a profound respect for the military that remains with me.
    As a nurse who has always actively advocated for my patients, I “get” what you’re saying about the docs. I’ve seen it within everyday civilian hospitals. When I became a correctional nurse I often had to interact with the VA hospital on behalf of one of the inmates. It was a sobering reminder that the VA was NOT doing what it should – at least in some cases.
    I will refrain from commenting on what your psychologist said regarding your focus on fixing the VA but will say this; it takes more than one voice to bring about change. To sit back and do nothing is exacerbating the problem.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Shared on Twitter, because you are not alone. I did not serve, but I know people who do and did and I know the VA sucks. I also know a Vet who became a nurse so he could work at the VA in Fresno California.

    I know it’s not much, but everyone who can is doing what they can, and what you are doing is good too. Don’t lose faith in your work. Do what you can. When you can. Write. Write. Write. Write. And blast the fuck out of social media with the blitz. BE HEARD. One to many. And then to many many more. Follow the ones that make the changes, blow up their feeds with your articles.

    Be heard.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a subject that comes up between me and my husband. He’s been to Iraq and Afghanistan and has worried about being exposed to all sorts of shit. His buddy in his unit just found a nodule on his lung. I’m sorry that this is happening to you. I work in a hospital and we are starting to see patients that the VA is sending over and I haven’t heard one good thing. They are all so frustrated with it all. Keep writing about it please!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Keep fighting David. As a former Respiratory Therapist, I am worried about the nodule in your lung. A nodule could be TB, or cancer, It needs to be checked out. Maybe and endoscopy or something like that. Keep pushing.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. After putting your life on the line for our country, this is what you get? It boggles the mind. I mean, police officers and firefighters get amazing benefits, but that’s by county or city. Seems like a very mixed message.

    And you’re right. Keep fighting for those who are lost. One person can make a huge difference. I believe this is using anger in the way which it was intended!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. We older folks who have dealt with the VA in a negative format know all too well that “crap” flows downhill. Thus all this red tape bullshit comes from the big house upon the hill (1600 Pennsylvania Ave) and flows so thick it covers everything in its wake. The VA is the most prime example of our government making a silent statement that the Veterans that the lasted war the US thrust itself into was a big mistake since it will cost a small fortune to restore all the damage done to the men and women sent to fight it. And you are right, there is no fix for the VA. It went through the cracks of our government, our society and we the people just didn’t see it happening. I have seen a lot of older vets living in one of the VA assisted care centers at Tuskegee and the majority can’t tell you the day of the week. They are mostly alcoholics from the past wars which was long before PTSD arrived officially. The VA and the ill-trained medical personnel didn’t know what to do back then either. I have a friend who was part of the PTSD from a less recent war and he was actually told he had to go through a “mental evaluation session” for one full year and then would be able to receive benefits. Is there a now limit on how much a Vet has to endure in a welcome home war zone? Or is this just a way for the government to continue to control in the same idiotic insensitive and hideous way because “they can?” Keep fighting and you have lots of people pulling for you. Prayers and love. L

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for your service. There are many of us who are grateful for the sacrifices you made and continue to make. Thank you for also for sharing your story- as I believe (hope) it will ultimately lead to change.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I experienced much the same with my spouse after retirement and my son after he returned to civilian life in 2004. There were days I wanted to scream and hit someone til the acted as if they cared. Finally Vietnam vets helped our son much more than drugs and an overworked, ill equipped VA psychiatrist. I can’t say my husband’s care has improved dramatically. Thank you for you service, Dave, and for you dogged determination…it’s a lead, follow, or get out of the way kind of world at times. May God bless you, grant you strength, health and much love.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Firstly I want thank you for your service. I am sorry that you are going through this. My father served in WW2 and Korea and my first husband was a Marine in the 1-9 better known as The Walking Dead. He lost his arm in Nam. We spent days and weeks waiting in VA offices for help. It’s a nightmare the way our veterans are treated and what you all have to go through. It sickens me. You have my prayers and my eternal gratefullness.

    Liked by 1 person

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  13. I am rather surprised at the treatment you got at the local VA. This is not good. I have heard from other Vietnam Vets from different area’s of the US that the VA did not treat them all that well for either one reason or another. Why this exists, I don’t really know for sure. I have gone to the Lebanon Valley VA here in PA on a number of times. I have been treated very well! I have no complaint about them. The Staff there, in passing me, say’s “Thank You for your Service in the US Navy!” “Can I help you?” The VA gave me hearing aids because I don’t hear well out of my left ear. This is due to a Gun Battery on-board my Destroyer. Over $5000.00 worth! I wish you well. Let’s hope that all will change for you!!

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