Finally!!!!

I’ve written many times over the years about my struggles with the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Finally, one of my ongoing battles with the VA is coming to an end.  I’ve waited more than six years to get my foot fixed and it was operated on yesterday.  Better late than never I suppose.  But that was more than six years of extra pain to deal with.  Fighting with the VA about what you’ve earned and deserve can, and usually is, an exhausting undertaking. 

In 2013, I was in the belly of a plane loading bags for our trip to Ft Hood for pre-deployment training prior to heading to Afghanistan.  We were tossing bags to each other as they come up the conveyor ramp.  Toss, catch, turn, toss, turn, catch repeat.  As I went to catch one of the duffle bags, it hit my chest, slipped through my arms, and slammed my foot.  The Kevlar helmet that was packed in the top of the bag crushed my toe.  Turns out it wasn’t broken, but it was definitely not well.  It’s been swollen ever since.

After arriving at Ft Hood, “Doc” sent me to get it looked at.  X-rays showed it was not broken, but had in fact exacerbated an issue that I didn’t even know I had.  My foot had good days and bad days after the injury.  Sometimes it was bearable and sometimes it was excruciating.  And without a doubt, having to favor that foot created other issues.  Like when I injured my hip getting out of a helicopter and rocky ground. Now I was having to favor my right foot and left hip.  It was bad enough that the doctor at my little base wanted to send me to Germany for treatment then home.  I declined.  I wanted to finish what I started with my fellow Soldiers that we began the previous year.  But if I had taken the doctor’s advice, I wouldn’t have had to wait six years to get my foot fixed.  But I don’t regret my decision.

The hardest part in this battle with the VA had been getting them to acknowledge that my injury was service-connected.  Even with medical documents from the hospital at Ft Hood, the VA was denying that my injury was service-connected.  It wasn’t until 2018 that the VA sent me a letter saying (and I’m paraphrasing) “Oops, my bad, your foot is our problem.”  That’s what I’ve been telling you for years!  With the documentation I had, it really should have been an open and shut case.  But, being a reservist, sometimes we get swept under the rug.  And the Army didn’t do me any favors.  As we were out-processed at Ft Hood after coming back from Afghanistan, we were told that unless it’s a life-threatening injury we would be passed on to the VA.  I was examined before leaving Ft Hood and the doctor told me what needed to be done. He wrote it down.  It was in my records.  But the Army didn’t want to do it and the VA denied that it was their problem to fix.

Eventually I wasn’t able to get around like I used to.  Couldn’t run.  Couldn’t pass the Army physical fitness test.  I was eventually medically retired, which turned out to be a good thing.  But all the physical issues and poor self-image I developed from my physical decline only added to the downward spiral I was going through in life.  That led to a failed suicide attempt and being diagnosed with PTSD, major depression, and all the wonderful things that go along with that.  The deterioration of my body played a big role in my mental health.  The Army not fixing me and VA denying me made it feel like an insufferable weight.  I hit rock bottom.  Thankfully I failed and am still here today.

Yesterday, the doctor cut open my big toe, shaved some bone, took some bone out, sewed me back up.  Not only is my foot fixed and on its way to recovery to where I can hopefully fully function again, the VA hooked me up with a civilian doctor.  Turns out the Covid problem shut down all non-life-threatening surgeries being done by the VA when I started this process.  My VA pediatrist asked me if I would like them to see if a civilian doctor would do it.  For those of you that have dealt with military or VA doctors I don’t need to tell you how fast I jumped at that option.  I know I painted that last sentence with a wide brush, but there are more bad doctors than good ones at the VA so it’s easy to lump them all in the same group of being subpar. 

I’m off for at least the next three weeks from work.  I’ve been saving my vacation and sick leave for this.  I can’t drive until after my second follow-up appointment when the doctor will remove my stitches.  I’ll just be sitting on the couch eating snacks if you need me.  I have 150 channels or so on cable, a couple streaming sources, and more DVDs than anyone should own in 2020.  Who wants to bet I can’t find anything to watch?  LOL.  I’m getting around well on my crutches.  Last time I was on crutches they were made of wood.  I guess I’m old now.  The surgery shoe is not comfortable, but I have to leave it on until the stitches come out.  I’ll be sleeping on the couch because I don’t want to climb the stairs to the bedrooms for a few days. 

I want to thank my daughter for babysitting me yesterday, getting me to and from surgery, picking up my meds, making me lunch.  My girlfriend is also taking care of me and spoiling me.  I’ll be back to doing a few easy things around the house in a few days.  But I’m taking advantage of this downtime for the time being.  I will rest my body and let it heal.

Healing is important.  And it’s all tied together, both physical and mental.  I had to learn that a few years ago the hard way.  And I do much better now in my understanding that you must take care of both.  Each has its own time table which can be frustrating because physical and mental injuries can’t always heal at the same pace but they can have a huge impact on each other.  Take care of yourselves.  Take time to let yourself heal when needed.  And go easy on yourself when it seems overwhelming.

Thanks for stopping by today.  Good day, God Bless.

Dave

Who Are You?

I was mobilized for my second deployment in 2013, this time to Afghanistan. I was a chaplain assistant in the Army Reserves and was being cross-leveled and reunited with some great people that I previously served with. I was going back to the 143d ESC family, this time with the command. I had previously been in a battalion within that organization where I was a chaplain assistant to the chaplain I would now be going to war with. We would spend more than a month that summer at Ft. Hood, Texas, training for the upcoming mission.

During that time at Ft. Hood, it was to be decided which personnel would be going to Kuwait with the main body and who would be going to Kabul, Afghanistan and be attached to the 1st TSC to become part of their mission. I was going to Afghanistan. Then it changed. Then it changed again. When the rosters were finally finalized, my chaplain and I were in fact going to Afghanistan. A group of 80 of us, or so, left Ft. Hood on August 8, stayed a day and a half in Kyrgyzstan, then arrived in Kabul on August 12.

https://storyofmylife.blog/2013/08/13/a-day-and-a-half-in-kyrgystan/

Believe it or not, there was some miscommunication between the unit I was in and the unit I was being attached to in Afghanistan. I know, right? Miscommunication in the army? No way! Believe it. When my chaplain and I got there with the rest of the soldiers being attached to the TSC, the chaplain and I were not on the TSC’s list to be there. “Who are you? Why are you here? We weren’t expecting a Unit Ministry Team.” Umm… I’m still getting paid, right?

The new unit wasn’t sure what to do with us and didn’t have office space for us. The Chief of Staff for the TSC told my chaplain and I to go see the chaplain with USFOR-A, at his office in the basement, and ask if they had anything we could do or help with until the TSC figured out what to do with us. (USFOR-A = U.S. Forces-Afghanistan). The Chief of Staff  told us to work with USFOR-A, do what they do, and that we would get some office space with the unit soon enough. So, we went to the basement and integrated ourselves in with the USFOR-A chaplain team. That miscommunication ended up being a good thing for my chaplain and me as far as I’m concerned. It was like getting bonus adventures on what was already going to be an exciting deployment.

By the third day of the deployment, I was already getting outside the wire on missions with the USFOR-A chaplain team going to other local bases in Kabul. We were told to work with them and do what they do. So, we did. The USFOR-A chaplain team was busy, always going somewhere. Some of the missions I went on with them included taking the USFOR-A Command Chaplain to meetings, picking up the AFCENT chaplain for a visit, attending the weekly NATO ceremony at ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), and more.

 

 

 

My usual view from the passenger seat while TSgt Hivner drove, in and around Kabul.

On a side note, the USFOR-A Command Chaplain at the time was CH (COL) Hurley. He’s now a two-star general and the U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains. To this day, he is still the only chaplain to make me drop and do push-ups. But eventually, he warmed up to my sense of humor. And I’m sure that working with me is what set him apart from other candidates for the Chief job. He probably used me as a reference. Ok, that last part might not be true. (This would be one of those moments when CH Hurley might tell me to do push-ups).

 

 

 

Left:  CH Hurley after a chapel service at ISAF.  Right:  Me and my chaplain at the left,  CH Hurley and CH Fredrick on the right, SGM England and Air Force TSgt Hivner (Both USFOR-A chaplain assistants) kneeling.

One mission I went on with the USFOR-A chaplain assistant was to get a vehicle serviced. More specifically, to get the Duke system updated. The Duke is a device mounted on a vehicle that jams remote controlled IEDs. Some improvised explosive devices would be placed on convoy routes and could be detonated from a distance by the enemy with a cell phone or other type of remote control. Our Duke was non-operational that day. Completely dead. We had to make the short trip to Camp Phoenix without the protection it offered. But we made it there without incident.

DSCN3291

Me and CH Mac at Camp Phoenix, Kabul, AFG, 2013.

On another mission with the USFOR-A chaplain team, we walked from our base to ISAF. It was a short walk, but to me, it was very exciting. It was a close-up view of the area that I could not get in a convoy or on a helicopter. I filmed the whole thing with a camera attached to my gear. I had my long rifle and my sidearm with me, both locked and loaded, both ready to go if needed. The following week, we were set to walk to ISAF again, staging behind the back entrance of the building we worked in. Keep in mind, we were told by the Chief of Staff to work with USFOR-A and do what they do. Imagine the surprise my chaplain and I had when our Command Sergeant Major showed up, about to pop a blood vessel in his forehead after finding out we did a walking mission the previous week, telling us that we are not authorized to leave the base on foot. He was livid. We made other transportation arrangements and still completed the mission.

https://storyofmylife.blog/2013/09/22/the-true-risk/

I thought we were going to be in trouble, well me, not so much the chaplain. When a Command Sergeant Major expresses his displeasure with you or your actions the way mine did that day, it can often mean you are in some sort of trouble. But, there was nothing in writing saying we couldn’t walk and we hadn’t been told not to. And the Chief of Staff told us to do what they do. We simply ended up being told to not do that again. Two positive things did come from that day. First, the entire command was given a memo very specifically detailing the proper procedures for going on any mission, to include prohibiting any walking missions. I should get a ribbon on my uniform for effecting such important change in a two-star command. Second, they finally gave us office space upstairs with the rest of the unit. I guess they wanted to keep a closer eye on us.

Thanks for stopping by this week and checking out my 100th post to Story of My Life. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Hit By A Bus

For the first time in almost a year and a half, I was ill enough to seek medical treatment. It’s not often, but when I get sick, it seems to hits me pretty hard. I’m not a man-baby when I get sick, I work through it, and do it very well most of the time. That’s probably why it feels as bad as it does when illness finally catches up to me, because I don’t take the time to rest and get well when I need to. Why can’t I just be sick on my days off? That would make life so much easier.

Basically, my kids make me sick. Wait! No! They got me sick, they don’t make me sick. I love them to death. And they love me so much, they shared their little germs with me. And now I’m sick. It started last weekend when my boys spent the weekend with me. Wait, no. It started two weeks ago, far from where I was. They passed it around to each other for a while until it finally caught up to me. They have always shared their things nicely, even being sick.

My two high school band kids had a band trip two weeks ago. Five hours each way, on busses, close quarters, lots of breathing on each other. Probably sharing drinks, perhaps some public displays of affection, or at least hugging and hand-shaking during the weekend trip. All those germs getting spread around just waiting for prey. Some of the band kids came home sick, at least one of mine at first, then the other to follow. I confirmed this with one of my co-workers who also has a child in the band, who also was sick. I think we have enough evidence to say that the high school band is at fault for me feeling like I got hit by a bus load full of viruses.

When I finally couldn’t take it anymore, I still made it to work but left two hours early to go see the doctor. And then I left early the next day as well. A big shout out of thanks to Cody for covering for me at work. And thanks to my boss for letting me go. Although, my boss might have just been trying to avoid the paperwork that comes from an employee dying on the job. LOL. Apparently, dying on the job is frowned upon and creates an abundance of paperwork that no one wants to do. But I wonder if they would clock me out or call 9-1-1 first, after I collapse. Hopefully, we won’t have to find out and the medications will start kicking in and making me well again.

I can probably count on my ten fingers how many full days I’ve missed of work in the last twenty years from being sick. And the last time I felt this sick was 2013 at Fort Hood getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan. In retrospect, it was good that I got sick there in 2013. The hospital did a chest x-ray, which showed my lungs to be clear as a bell. After deployment, a chest x-ray shows that my lungs are no longer clear. Much needed evidence in my continuing fight with the VA. But that’s a different story.

Back to my kids and them getting me sick. It doesn’t bother me, it’s not like I have a choice. This has happened dozens of times over the years. It’s one of the less-than-spectacular parts of being a parent, but it is part of it and usually not a big deal. Although, this time it felt like the Grim Reaper might be following me around to remind me that I am still just a mortal man. I already know that, so back off Mr. Reaper. We got nothing to talk about, this isn’t an episode of Supernatural.

As for my kids, they will continue to go on band trips, and to swim meets, and cross country meets, and all the other activities they are involved with in and out of school. And even though they will occasionally bring back the plague of death with them and share it with everyone else, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. They are active, talented, athletic, involved, and have wonderful, busy lives doing things they enjoy. That’s a fair trade. Go and have fun my kiddos, I love watching you all do what you do. And I love you bunches.

Good day, God bless.

Dave