Today, Tom and I walked in almost 60 degree weather. Sorry to all those back home dealing with crappy, cold weather.
Today’s blog is written by another OIF Veteran.
Veterans Helping Veterans
It has been nearly 10 years now since Tom and I served together. Ten years, yet I can recall many memories of the long days we spent together in Iraq more vividly than I can what I did this past weekend. In those 10 years I can’t say that I have made closer friends than those forged under fire. With that said, after 10 years I still haven’t fully processed just what it was that we went through together, and the transformations that we all experienced as individuals. For me, Veterans Trek encourages me to reflect. It urges me to not only look back to times of war, but to look at the person I became when I came home from the war. Each night that Tom and Anthony are on the road is a little reminder for me to be thankful for my blessings, and mindful of my fellow brothers in arms who may be in need. We all struggle to reintegrate to civilian life. Because of the hardships of military life, because of everything we overcame to survive combat, because of all the days we sat on OP’s far from home and dreamed about the future when we would come home from the war, we expect civilian life to be somehow sweeter. When you get home and ETS sometimes reality does not add up to fantasy, and the hard facts of life can be hard to cope with. When you struggle in the military and seek help it can be looked down upon. You can be called or labeled a shit-bag, or malingerer, for seeking out or requiring ongoing care. If you are undergoing medical separation from the armed forces peer and command judgments can be especially harsh. Coming home from a war only to begin a battle with PTSD, depression, or other veteran related issues is tough, but can be made even tougher when your superiors are not entirely supportive. My friend and teammate, Ian, recently took his life after a long battle with both PTSD and depression, as well as a bitter separation from the military. Unfortunately, he is just one of the many veterans who tragically decide to end their lives early every single day. The way you perceive you are seen and accepted by your peers when you exit military service has a huge impact on your self-concept when you go to separate. Treatment at medical holdover units prior to separation can be a tormenting and miserable purgatory for an ill or wounded veteran to undergo. I can only speak, of course, based on my personal experience of my close friends and comrades. I do believe, however, that this is a larger problem than a majority of the public may be aware of. Another close friend and teammate of my second deployment, Ray, developed depression and anxiety upon returning home from our deployment, to the point that he was actually passing out from anxiety attacks. Unfortunately for both Ray and Ian, they were treated harshly and with suspicion by the command of our units and exited the military left with a bad taste in their mouths. We do not have control of the culture of the military, or how service members are treated in various units. We do have a say, however, in the treatment that veterans receive upon separation from the military. Personally speaking, navigating the VA system as a recently separated veteran was at times overwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, the VA is there to turn to, and supports millions of veterans across the country. My own experience, dealing with both the Montgomery G.I. Bill and VA healthcare system is that there is a lot of red tape, and you have to be extremely patient. While I tried to make full use of my benefits I often found myself at odds with the bureaucracy of the VA system. On many occasions the VA would schedule appointments for me without asking, sometimes over an hour’s drive from home, others at times that were simply not possible due to work and school. One example was seeking help for ongoing back pain. Simply mentioning back pain to a doctor likely makes them cringe, as it can be terribly hard to diagnose, and tricky to treat. My doctor at the VA had no problem at all prescribing muscle relaxers, 800 mg ibuprofen, and Vicodin, month after month. At first, I didn’t have a problem with that line of treatment either, that was until I did have a problem. The Army docs started treating my back pain with muscle relaxers and painkillers as far back as 2005, which kept me in the fight quite well. My condition all of this time was never physically treated, merely masked. I eventually weaned myself off of prescription drugs and began to treat my back pain with the help of a dear friend, Gonstead chiropractor, and Vietnam veteran, Dr. Joe. Dr. Joe operated riverboats during the Vietnam War, and became a chiropractor after the war. When I told him about my back pain and chronic headaches he urged me to come by his office to get my back checked out. After just a few adjustments my back was doing better, and my headaches were all but gone. Unfortunately, I was living on the G.I. Bill at the time, and didn’t have money for treatment. Dr. Joe, being himself a combat veteran, treated my back in exchange for whatever small amount I could afford. Going back to the VA I shared my feelings about masking my symptoms with pills, shared about taking myself off of that line of treatment, and how much Gonstead chiropractic work had actually helped my pain. My doctor replied that he didn’t have the authorization to prescribe rehabilitative types of treatment, and said in his own words that his function at the VA was more of a “pill pusher.” In no way do I mean to knock my VA doctor. He is a kind, and honest man. He himself has lamented to me about the red tape of the VA, and I honestly believe that he is there to help veterans to the best of his ability. What we do need to consider is how to best improve veterans care to offer treatment that heals the mind and body, done so in a way that does not turn people off of or away from seeking treatment. I think that getting a conversation started about how to improve helping veterans can only be a good thing. Looking for ways to make improvements in veteran care is not an attack on the VA or government, rather a mission to literally save the lives of our brothers in arms. Tom, Anthony, thank you both for your continued efforts, and have a Happy New Year! You guys deserve it!
Thanks for the support.
See you on the trail,
Anthony and Tom