The VA is Killing Me

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted anything here. I just haven’t felt like writing. It’s also been a while since I’ve read any of the blogs I follow. It’s been a rough few weeks. I have been busy. My busy doesn’t equate to productive by any sense of the definition. But the thoughts in my mind keep me busy, yet also inhibit motivation and desire to do the things that I need to get done or even doing the things that I enjoy doing. I’m stuck in a cycle of doing the bare minimum to survive. But there is a light at the end of this tunnel. I can see it. It shines bright enough to lead me to the end of all this. I just don’t know how long before I get there. But I will continue to put one foot in front of the other and move forward.

There are two main issues lately that have my mind in the darkness that I fight on a daily basis. One is the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (the VA). The other isn’t worth talking about and has no bearing on my future anyway. Some fights just aren’t worth fighting. The VA, however, is a fight that I have to keep fighting. And despite being set up for failure in that corrupt system, I must win. In reality though, who am I fooling? They would rather me die and save money for bonuses and art than to help me get well again. But I will go down fighting and swinging no matter what it takes. And before anyone reads anything idiotic into that, “going down swinging” is simply a figure of speech, not a threat. That disclaimer is for the one person that doesn’t know the difference, she knows who she is.

Concerning the VA. I had some appointments recently. Four out of five of them were with a medical group contracted by the VA to determine compensation and pension. My eyes were opened to how things really work, how things should work, and how veterans are just plain screwed in the system. First, every time I’ve seen my primary care physician at the VA, he tells me my breathing is fine. However, he’s the only one. I went to sick call at Ft. Jackson a couple months ago and the doctor that listened to my lungs wanted to order x-rays immediately because of how my lungs sounded. A follow up with a civilian doctor after returning home from that trip had similar results. The doctor I saw most recently for the compensation appointment asked me why the VA hadn’t already diagnosed me. She said there was already overwhelming evidence that the VA sent to her that I should have already have been diagnosed.

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The breathing test is a scam. I didn’t realize the first couple times I took it that I was taking it multiple times each visit until I passed. That’s how the VA works. Make the patient test until they can say there’s nothing wrong. But the doctor is sent only the results of the passing test. They don’t realize that it took me four times testing to get the minimum score. All total that day I took two different breathing tests seven times and passed one time on each test. Basically, I can breathe well enough 29% of the time. That’s good to know. That must mean I don’t need any breathing treatments or meds to help. They can now spend that money on other things that don’t benefit the veterans.

I saw something a while back where a person made a statement that veterans shouldn’t complain about free health care. I wanted to reach through the internet and choke that guy out. (again, just a figure of speech that isn’t possible anyway). I paid for this so called care. I paid for it with my health and my sanity. I paid a dear price for it. In addition, it’s not free anyway. Everyone in the VA gets paid. And they get paid pretty well, some more than others. It’s not a charity. It’s not a non-profit clinic that treats the poor. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry that has no accountability to the ones it is supposed to be serving. I don’t want free health care. I want the health care I already paid for. I want the health care that our taxes pay for with the VA.

In August of last year after my failed suicide attempt I went to the VA with the false hope of getting help. I spoke with the patient advocate at my local VA. I didn’t know where to start so I started with her. She assured me that I would get the help I needed and started making phone calls. When she finally got through to a live person the conversation switched from getting me help to her and the person on the other end of the phone bitching about not receiving their bonuses. And I quote the patient advocate, “Yeah, I haven’t got my bonus either. I’m about to drive over to Biloxi and ask her to her face where my money is.” I looked for her business card so I could call her out by name, but I don’t know where it is. Nice to see how much they really care, or what it is they really care about. She was going to drive 400 miles round trip to get in someone’s face about a bonus. Not sure why that needed to be discussed while I was sitting there.

My primary care doctor at my local VA has told me he didn’t want to diagnose me because it would have consequences on my career in the army reserves. Don’t treat me because I’m still in the reserves? In other words, “maybe you’ll die before the VA has to take full responsibility of you.” And at my most recent appointment he commented on my lungs, “We aren’t going to do anything yet. Let’s bring you back in in six months and see how they’re doing.” This is not what my body and mind paid for in Iraq and Afghanistan. I demand better service and better care. And I’m going to be as loud as I can to show everyone what veterans go through in dealing with the VA.

I know experiences vary. I know of a couple friends that got great service and care from their VA where they live. But they are few and far between. From what I can tell, most of us go through the same thing I’m going through with the VA. I can’t fix it. But I can make some noise. Maybe it won’t do any good, but I will be heard. The system will continue to remain broken. There’s nothing I can do about it. But I will keep moving towards my light at the end of the tunnel. And I will survive.

Thanks for reading this week. Sorry it was somewhat scatterbrained and all over the place. I only wrote it as it came to me. There’s no real flow in my writing lately, too much going on in my head. But I will make it to where I’m supposed to be. I am confident in that. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Other posts from me related to this:

https://davidegeorge.wordpress.com/2016/06/25/breathe-in-breath-out-if-you-can/

https://davidegeorge.wordpress.com/2016/04/02/crossroads/

 

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2nd Excerpt From My Book

I got nothing this week. Except anger, pain, and horribly dark thoughts. However, I will not have a meltdown in the blogosphere that I did a month or so ago. I thought about skipping this week and not making a post. Instead I will share a second excerpt of the book I am writing. For the other update I posted from Chapter 3, you can find it here: https://davidegeorge.wordpress.com/2016/07/23/448/.

In this part from Chapter 5, the main character, James, is in the middle of telling one of the stories of his war experiences to the psychologist during his stay in the psych ward at the hospital. I am slowly, but surely working on my book. I have added some content since the last excerpt, but mostly have cleaned up and re-written much of the first five chapters. I would like to finish by the end of October. We’ll see if that happens. I hope you enjoy the small part of the book here. All feedback welcome. Thank you for reading. Good day, God bless.

Dave


One day when James was by himself in the office the warning sirens sounded as the first explosion shook the small building. James calmly, but with purpose, grabbed his gear. James could tell from experience that this blast wasn’t dangerously close, but close enough to get his attention. This was nothing new to him. He had been there for four months at the time and had probably heard over 200 explosions that originated from somewhere in the mountains. James and the others had become pretty good at approximating how far away the blasts were by the sound it produced and the shaking of the building. Most of the time the enemy was aiming for the airstrip, which was fairly close to their office, but far enough away that if the first blast didn’t get the small building, anything that followed would generally be getting farther away.

Before James could exit the building to take refuge in a nearby concrete bunker, the second explosion hit surprisingly close. This one shook the building with more force, causing books and DVDs on shelves to fall to the floor. James ran out the door with his weapon and protective gear and got in the bunker. He sat in the dirt and leaned up against the wall listening to the sirens and voices over the broadcast system. Looking back and forth out both sides of the bunker James noticed there was no one else around him. He was alone in the bunker. He wondered where his two office mates were and where on the base the last rocket fell. James knew it had definitely landed somewhere close, closer to him than any previous blast had landed.

The third explosion felt like it was right on top of him. It crossed his mind that he might become a statistic, a number on the list of those that never made it home. But then it occurred to him, he would still go home, just zipped up in a bag instead, that is, if they could find all the pieces. James knew the enemy was ‘walking them in.’ They would fire a rocket, mark where it lands, make adjustments, and fire again getting closer to the intended target. Based on the sounds of the first three explosions, James believed in his mind that if they got off a fourth rocket, it would land right on top of him. James waited alone in the bunker with only his thoughts. The noise from the broadcast system, still blaring the warnings as loud as it could, faded in his mind. He could only hear his heart beating and a couple voices in his head. He thought about his brother Bobby grilling him a few years ago about why anyone would want to join the military knowing they would go to war and possible get killed. This thought presented quite a quandary to him. James thought that maybe Bobby was right, but if James died Bobby wouldn’t be able to tell him, “Told you so,” like he always did when they were kids. James smiled a little at this catch-22 of a situation he found himself in. Then he thought of Donna and the possibility of never seeing her again. His smile quickly faded.

There was not to be a fourth explosion on that day. The sirens eventually stopped and were immediately replaced with a loud voice telling the base personnel what areas were now safe to resume movement. Sectors two and three were to stay put, but the area James was in was cleared by the big voice and those in that area could return to normal duty. He wondered where his co-workers were and hoped they were safe. James walked out of the bunker and headed back to the small building he had evacuated a short time ago. Though it felt like hours stuck in the bunker, in reality it was only about twenty-five minutes. He didn’t notice any damage to the outside of the building as he surveyed the area before entering, but saw the mess of books and DVDs that littered the floor inside from the shaking of the building. James sat back down at the main desk, picked up the phone to see if it worked, and logged on to the computer. He would give the other guys a few minutes to get back before he checked in for accountability with the unit. It was Sergeant Jacobs’ job anyway, but if he didn’t come back it would become James’ responsibility. James did not that responsibility, not this way. Miller came bursting through the door after a moment, startling James.

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Language, War, and the Bay of Bengal

I love language. I love communication. I love writing and talking. I enjoy words, their meanings, their roots, and how they fit into our lives and how we get our messages across to each other. When I first embarked on my anthropology degree, I wanted to be a Linguistic Anthropologist. Unfortunately, the university I went to didn’t offer that so I chose Cultural Anthropology and loved it. Language and culture go hand in hand and the more I got into my studies the more I enjoyed it. But in the long run, it didn’t matter since I quit school two semesters shy of my degree. But that’s a story for another time.

I think I’ve been to fifteen different countries. Some as a military dependent, some as a Soldier, and one or two just because. I have always liked learning about other cultures and I try to pick up a few words of their language when I’m there. Usually, “Hello,” “Thank you,” “Please,” and phrases like that. I think India was the most interesting place I have ever been. The different cultures I encountered within that country drew me in and the amazing and colorful people there fascinated me. The languages they spoke were different from anything I had heard. Yes, languages. The statistic I found states that India has 29 individual languages that are each spoken by at least one million people. There are many others languages that weren’t listed because the site said not as many people speak them. As many as 100 languages are spoken in India daily.

Our interpreter spoke four languages which helped us greatly in our travels. However, we did end up visiting a village on a beach on the Bay of Bengal that had been devastated by the Tsunami of 2004 and our interpreter didn’t speak their local language. We interacted with the people there, but we could not fully communicate. We had no idea what the locals were telling us but it was no doubt how their village was forever changed by devastating waves. In a later event, the interpreter was keeping up brilliantly in translating a sermon given by the leader of our group. Right up until he said, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” The interpreter looked right at the speaker and said, “Beg your pardon?” That phrase had no adequate translation to Telugu, the language of the people we were speaking to. This intelligent, very well-educated translator could not convey the simple phrase “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” He knew the words and what each word meant. But they had no meaning grouped together in that order in the translated language.

While deployed to Afghanistan, one of my favorite places I got to visit was the ISAF Headquarters base (International Security Assistance Forces). It was very close to the base where I was stationed at in Kabul. It was also connected to the U.S Embassy which was very cool to visit. I probably went on ten missions to ISAF. Most of the countries that were participating in the war effort had troops at ISAF Headquarters. I really enjoyed interacting with coalition and NATO forces. All of us from different cultures speaking a different a tongue, but on a common mission. I’m proud of the Bronze Star I received while there, but I think my favorite ribbon on my uniform is the NATO ribbon. It shows that I was part of something bigger than all of us, even if we couldn’t always understand each other.

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And of course, with that many troops from that many different countries there were some language and communication issues. Most notably, and to be honest the most entertaining to me, was a conversation I watched between two Service Members from different countries (one was Italian and I can’t remember the other). Both men spoke some English, enough to be able to talk to me for the most part. But their broken English was not good enough to talk to each other and it was the only language they had in common. They were actually arguing about something in broken English, not getting anywhere with each other. I was no help because I couldn’t figure out what their disagreement was. But it was amusing to me. Sorry, I find things funny sometimes that aren’t always funny to others.

Speaking the same language does not always mean two people can understand or effectively communicate with each other. Sure, one might know the words that are being spoken, but he might not understand the meaning of what is being said. That’s a hard concept to grasp. Even as I write this, I’m trying to figure out what I’m saying, trying to say it in a way that is logical to you.  It should makes some sense, then, that people get upset when arguing. A person understands the definition of each word being said, but he can’t grasp the concept behind all the words together, in the order they come, or the meaning portrayed by the speaker. Perhaps the speaker should say them louder and be more animated, maybe that will help. And, that’s how the fight starts. I think I do that sometimes when trying to describe my PTSD to people who cannot comprehend or begin to understand. It’s frustrating. I know it’s not from lack of trying. But people who have never experienced what’s going on in my mind, can’t fully understand what I say when I talk about it. Much like the two Service Members from different countries trying to figure out their problem. And no different than the locals on the beach in India that we could not understand at all.

But I still love language. I love putting all the words together and giving them meaning and feeling. Whether you understand me or not has no bearing on what I write. I’m doing this for my own good, for my own therapy. I do hope you enjoy it and get something out of it. I always appreciate feedback, good or bad. Mostly, I hope you have a better understanding of what many of us struggle with daily. We are doing our best to communicate, but it’s hard sometimes, especially when often times we are not understood.

Thanks for reading. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Update and Excerpt

If you saw my post from last week, here’s an update: It hasn’t gotten any better. Basically, if it can go wrong, it has. On the flip side, a lot of things have also fallen into place. Don’t patronize me with, “Oh, good, look at the positive.” The only things that are falling into place are a direct result of things that have gone wrong. I’m not making any forward progress, actually, going in reverse lately. It is not exactly balancing out. The bad is outweighing the good to me this week. The low point was last Friday. It was the lowest I’ve been since my failed suicide attempt last year and many of the same thoughts about death ran through my head. I spent about 10 minutes on the side of the interstate with my broke down pickup truck debating life and death before I called for a tow truck.

I blew a tire. At 75 miles per hour. Front driver’s side tire. It messed up the wheel well, the bumper, the hard-plastic mud flap behind the tire. And surely messed up the front end alignment, as one tire was facing straight and the other tire was off at an angle. Somewhere around Tuesday I realized how lucky I was that I maintained control of my vehicle at that speed and didn’t get myself killed. It sounded like an explosion and felt like I had run over something. The weird thing is, it was just the steel belts that flew off. The tire still held air, but the truck was not drivable. The tow truck driver said he had never seen a tire do that before and still hold air.

Whatever. I’m alive. Moving on to other things. Last week I mentioned that I might do an excerpt from the book I’m writing. I think I’ll do that since I don’t much feel like writing more about my week. Let me set it up for you. First, this is fiction. Yes, I use my life experiences and those of others, but the characters are fiction, this is not an autobiography. The main character, James, is a young war vet trying to figure out life after he failed to kill himself. The story I am writing will take you through the process and days that follow his attempted suicide and him coming to terms with the fact that he is indeed still alive. This excerpt is from Chapter 3.


James laid down in his bed and stared at the ceiling. He was restless and rolled to his side. He saw the dresser and remembered thinking about what reason they would want him out of his room earlier. He jumped up and opened the top drawer. It was still empty. He proceeded to check the rest of the drawers. Nothing. He was still paranoid. He looked under his bed, around the sink, peeked inside the shower room. He looked around the other side of the room where a roommate would be if he had one. He found nothing to confirm his paranoia but also found nothing that would put him at rest. He laid back down and tried to figure out the dream from last night. Perhaps he was dreaming within his dream and all this was just still a dream. But he knew this was real. And he knew he was really losing his mind.

James went back to the bed and laid down. In his head, he recounted the story he told to Dr. Andersen. Every detail. Every word. Every moment from last night that he could remember, he told the doctor. He hated that he survived, that he was still alive. He wondered what he did wrong, it should have worked. Or at least he thought it should have. He was becoming upset that the doctor didn’t fix anything for him. All that talking James did and Dr. Andersen didn’t fix a thing. He pondered the motives of Dr. Andersen. Was her plan to get him to talk, tell his story, and admit that he wanted to die, just so they have a reason to keep him longer? He realized that he got suckered into talking. How could he not see that coming? It was a scam and he fell for it.  James was angry with the doctor, the cops that brought him in, the paramedic that checked him out, and everyone he encountered since his incarceration to the psych ward. But most of all, James was angry with and hated himself. All James wanted to do was die. He couldn’t even do that right. And since his best effort had failed, he was now stuck in the psych ward.

James did not trust anyone in the psych ward, except maybe Nurse Angie. But even his trust in her was conditional and almost nil. He was paranoid of everyone and their motives. To make matters worse, he was now becoming paranoid of his own mind and thoughts. He wasn’t sure he could trust what his own mind was thinking or if it was even real. The dream he had was all too real. What if he did in fact venture to some other hidden place in the mind and that’s where his truth was hidden. What if he had become immortal and could not kill himself? Just thinking about these things, James felt crazy. He felt he had no control over his thoughts. And he certainly wasn’t free to have control of leaving where he was. He was trapped in his mind and in the hospital.

A nurse he hadn’t seen before showed up in the doorway to his room. She scanned the clipboard she was holding. “Hello,” she said, looking up “you must be James. How are you feeling?”

“I feel like I want to get the hell out of here,” he said in a dry monotone.   “Where’s the other nurse that was here earlier? From when I woke up?”

The new nurse looked down at her clipboard for a moment then asked, “Was it Angie? If that’s who it was, she’s checking on some patients in the other ward. But we’re all here if you need something and we’ll all be checking on you.”

“Great,” James said, showing no interest.

“Did you get shown around? Did you see the daily schedule? Were you shown how to use the phones when they’re on between group sessions?”

“I’m not going to group sessions,” James said. “I already told the other one. Ok? I really don’t want to be around anyone, thanks.”

“Well,” she started, “going to group sessions will be a way to show that you can function around other people so that you can get out of here. I highly recommend going. The better you do in groups and the more you go to, the quicker you get out. Why don’t you go down the hall and at least be around the other patients and get comfortable. There’s a group session starting in 10 minutes. You can make a good start on the road to getting better and out of here by going to it. It’s not as bad as you think. Let me know if you need anything, I’m Sue. I’ll be here until y’all go to dinner.” Sue smiled at him and left the room to continue her rounds that required all patients be check on every 10 minutes.

James laid there thinking about life and about how much easier it would be had he succeeded in his suicide attempt. He had no desire whatsoever to go to a group session. He also had no desire to be stuck in the hospital. He had no desire to be alive. How did he get in this situation? Could he find a way to escape or would he have to wait until they decided to release him? And how long would that be? He was frustrated and hated his life. He tried hard to figure out how he went from being a warrior to the sorry excuse for a man he was now. He didn’t even recognize himself anymore. He was a Soldier, or at least used to be. And he was good at it. He never feared anything and now he was scared of himself. “Who am I anymore?” he asked out loud as if someone or something could magically give him the answer he wanted.


It’s a work in progress. I know it needs some work, but it’s coming along. Thanks for reading. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Memories and Afghanistan

My memory is horrible. It has been for a while. I missed my most recent appointment with my psychologist because I forgot what day it is. Forgetting what day it is happens to me frequently, but missing an appointment, or even being late, is absolutely not normal. It’s not just days, but also months and years. I sometimes have to confirm what year it is because I’m not sure. Not long ago I was at my kid’s school filling out a form for one of them. I filled it out, signed and dated it, and gave it back to the lady at the desk. She looked it over, handed it back, and asked that I correct the date before she put her notary stamp on it. I looked at the date I wrote and asked was it not the 21st? She said, “It’s the 21st. It’s just not September.” It was February. I had no idea why I thought it was September.

I’m not sure why, but I can remember things like numbers, movie lines, songs, years that something significant happened in history, baseball statistics, directions (most of the time), and a bunch of other trivial nonsense. I would make some money on the game show Jeopardy. But other things in my memories seem to escape my mental grasp. For some things it’s like a blank slate. It annoys me, but I’ve gotten used to it. It has become part of my new normal.

In the last meeting with my psychologist I remembered something that I had previously completely forgotten. The memory was triggered when we were discussing an event that happened between therapy sessions. An event that had me pissed off to the point that I almost got into a physical altercation with someone. I wanted to. I really wanted that guy to get out of his car and give me a real reason to get out of mine. I would have likely done permanent damage to the individual. I just needed him to start the physical aggression. He had already started the verbal attack. But I didn’t let myself get baited into it, even though I really wanted to. Short of the story was this guy was trying to exit a one lane, one-way, entrance only driveway to the school, as school was ending. Imagine the traffic piling up on the road behind me as I had no place to go. It was getting chaotic, especially in my head. Being trapped like that isn’t the best scenario for someone with PTSD.

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The memory that was brought on by this event was something that happened in Afghanistan. I was in Kabul, going from my base to one called Phoenix with the USFOR-A chaplain team (my unit eventually stopped letting me go on missions with them, but that’s a whole different story). I was in the front passenger seat of an up-armored NTV (non-tactical vehicle). It was only me and the driver in the lead vehicle and two others in the rear vehicle. The driver and I were having a normal conversation like we usually did. Probably talking about going to Green Beans or Pizza Hut. Our base didn’t have those kinds of things, so when we traveled we always talked about what we were going to treat ourselves to. Here’s how the conversation ended up going:

     Driver: “Shit, we took the wrong road.”

     Me: “Maybe this one comes back out where we can get back on the other one.”

     A few second go by as we come around a curve to a pickup truck in the road with 8-10 pissed-off-looking dudes in the back with AK-47s.

     Me: “Turn around, man. Turn the fuck around!”

     Driver: “I’m trying, there’s no spot.”

     Me: “Make one!”

     The men took notice of us, although they made no aggressive moves. We immediately made a place to turn around. They probably thought we looked stupid and laughed after we left the area.

     Driver: “I don’t think they’re going to bother us, they would already be coming after us by now.”

     Me: “You think they’ll give us directions?”

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I had completely forgotten about that event until my therapy session a couple weeks ago. I wonder what else is trapped in my head that I don’t remember. It was a weird feeling to have that memory come back like that. I clearly remember that day now, but for the last couple years it’s like it never existed. It’s not uncommon for most of the Afghans to have AK-47s. But to see a group of men in the back of a truck that looked like they were organizing for something and ready to go, on a road we weren’t supposed to be on was a bit unnerving at the time. It certainly can lend some explanation to me feeling uncomfortable in stand-still traffic. As long as we’re moving, I’m ok. But long stops with a lot of other vehicles around makes me nervous. That’s what happened with the jackass going the wrong way out the entrance, I felt trapped.

I have thoughts in my head that I’m not sure sometimes if they are part of a memory of an event or part of a dream I’ve had. Maybe both. But I know I miss my memory. Well, I think I do. I guess I don’t really know, do I? LOL. I make a lot of jokes about my memory not being so great anymore. I can’t remember shit sometimes, but at least I can laugh about it. I’ve rescheduled my appointment with the psychologist for next week. Don’t let me forget.

Thanks for reading. Good day, God bless.

Dave