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.